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Drew Brees’ change in contract and how it doesn’t apply to Ben Roethlisberger

While some are comparing the Drew Brees contract to Ben Roethlisberger, the situations are not the same.

Pittsburgh Steelers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

On Friday night, a story broke from that the New Orleans Saints had re-worked the contract of Drew Brees, lowering his salary cap hit for the 2021 season by almost $24 million.

Seeing Brees take a pay cut of $23.825 million, some Steelers fans looked at this as an example of how Ben Roethlisberger’s contract should be negotiated in this offseason. Unfortunately, these two situations are extremely different both in contract structure and both players 2021 season.

To understand how different this is, we first must understand Drew Brees’ contract. Although Brees has a contract which runs through the 2023 season, the final two years were voidable years in order to spread out his signing bonus.

For 2021, Drew Brees has a $11.15 million dead money hit and had been due a $25 million salary. The additional two years of the voidable contract carried $5.75 million in each year for a total of another $11.5 million.

So on Friday morning, Drew Brees counted as $36.15 million towards the salary cap for the New Orleans Saints. With the anticipated retirement of Brees, his $25 million salary is not going to be paid or counts towards the salary cap this coming season. So why would they bother to change his salary if he’s not going to collect it anyway?

Ultimately, the Saints are trying to keep as much of Brees’ dead money hit out of 2021 as they can. If they wait until June 1 before officially having Brees’ retirement on the books, the $11.5 million in dead money, which would have been due in the voidable years, can actually all go towards the 2022 season. By waiting to June 1, Brees will only carry $11.15 million in dead money for 2021 rather than $22.65 million.

Since the Saints have to wait until June 1 to make this move official, Brees’ salary will count towards the salary cap until this date. Carrying an extra $25 million counting towards the salary cap to a team that is in the worst cap situation in the NFL for 2021 would have them completely handcuffed. By giving up almost $24 million in salary for next year, Brees now only counts an extra $1.075 million, the league minimum for his years of service, towards the salary cap until June 1.

I making this move, Drew Brees has in essence announced his retirement. There would be no reason to walk away from $24 million on the table, and the NFL Players’ Association would most likely be filing a grievance against such a large cut in salary if it were not for his imminent retirement.

The biggest reasons this situation is not going to work for Ben Roethlisberger is that he’s not retiring this season and he doesn’t have years left on his contract past 2021. Everything with Roethlisberger‘s contract for 2021 has to do with him playing this upcoming season. Because it is the last year of his current contract, there would be no reason for the Steelers to wait until June 1 because there isn’t any future years with dead money they would need to not count for this coming season. So even though Rothlisberger is set to earn $19 million in salary this year, should he retire all that money would come off of the salary cap right away.

In other words, Brees is helping out the Saints by taking a $24 million pay cut because he’s not going to see one dollar of that money anyway. Because of that, he’s not setting a bad example according to the NFLPA. Should Roethlisberger take an enormous cut in pay for this season, the union would likely feel this would set a terrible precedence with contracts moving forward.

So instead of taking a huge pay cut, look for Roethlisberger’s salary to get moved into a signing bonus with added years. He could possibly take a little less money as this bonus, but not a 95% reduction like Brees.