Saints tag Brees, could Redskins benefit?


And so ends another pipedream.

The New Orleans Saints have slapped the exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Drew Brees, guaranteeing the 2011 offensive player of the year will spend next season raking in, at minimum, a healthy $14.4 million while decked out in the black and gold.

By utilizing its exclusive negotiating rights versus the generic franchise tag, which would allow other teams to negotiate with Brees but require that they provide New Orleans draft pick compensation should they sign him away, the Saints have dashed the foolish fantasies of many NFL fans hoping a scorned ‘Breesus’ might become their football savior.

In recent days the ongoing drama in the Big Easy has even had some Washington Redskins fans wondering whether Brees could be the answer to the ongoing and dependably depressing quarterback carousel in the nation’s capital.

Alas, it (always) was not to be. But the Saints’ inability to reach an agreement with Brees — reports have the two sides about $5 million apart in annual salary figures — could end up benefitting the Redskins.

The Saints have several players in addition to Brees set to become free agents, including guard Carl Nicks and receiver Marques Colston, who just so happen to play the Redskins’ two offensive positions of greatest need, excluding quarterback.

Had the Saints signed Brees to a long-term contract, they could have worked out the deal to make it cap-friendly in the short term, allowing them to re-sign some of their other pending free agents.  Even if it couldn’t come to terms with Nicks or Colston, the team would still have had its franchise tag to use on either player.

Now, in all likelihood, both Nicks and Colston will hit free agency, and either would give the Redskins’ offense a tremendous boost.

Nicks is regarded as one of the top interior offensive linemen in the NFL, if not the best. To secure his services, it would likely take a contract north of the six-year, $51 million deal signed last year by New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins, the league’s highest paid interior lineman.

The Redskins are expected to have about $40 million in salary cap space once free agency begins March 13. Would it be wise to shell out $8.5 million or more in annual salary on a guard? The Redskins began the 2011 season with a starting offensive line making less than $10.5 million combined, $7.85 million of which went to left tackle Trent Williams alone. Though they recently re-signed center Will Montgomery to a four-year, $12 million contract, the Skins could stand to invest a little in the guys entrusted with protecting the team’s most important investment: whoever the next quarterback is (RGIIIRGIIIRGIIIRGIIIRGIIIRGIII).

It would also be hard to find a safer signing than Nicks — he’s 26, in his prime, and has never missed a game in four NFL seasons. He’s the definition of an elite free agent, one that plenty of teams will be anxious to sign. If there were ever a free agent whom Dan Snyder could open his wallet for and not engender criticism, Nicks could be the one.

As for Colston, he would be part of a pretty darn good class of free agent wide receivers that includes Vincent Jackson, Wes Welker, Pierre Garcon, Dwayne Bowe, Mario Manningham and Steve Johnson. He’s also the kind of big-bodied receiver that the Redskins have lacked for a seeming eternity, one that can bail out his quarterback and win jump balls, especially in the end zone, where Washington’s lousy offense becomes anemic.

Among the receivers set to become free agents, Jackson is considered the best, but Colston isn’t far behind, having recorded 1,000 yards receiving five times in six seasons. At 28, he will likely fetch a five-to-seven year contract worth $8-to-$10 million per season. Would he be worth that kind of scratch to the Skins? Perhaps, but Colston will likely exit his prime years halfway through his next contract, which is something whichever team signs him will have to consider and be willing to live with.

If I had to choose between Nicks and Colston, I’d go with the younger, better Nicks. But the Skins will have the cap room to sign both and, if they go all in on a certain Heisman-winning quarterback on draft day (plzplzplzplzplzplzplz), might have to rely on free agency to fill holes elsewhere on the roster.

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