By BRETT MARTEL, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees wants a long-term extension with New Orleans completed before the club's offseason training program begins in April. The quarterback also is bothered by the way the Saints have been portrayed in the wake of the NFL's bounty investigation.
The Saints' more pressing concerns may have less to do with public perceptions than the reality that their record-setting quarterback may decline to practice or play under his current franchise tag designation.
"I'd say that this is a very critical period here over the next short while until we start April 16th," Brees said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. "What I'm really focused on is continuing to negotiate toward a long-term deal and I really am not going to look too far down the road other than just what's right in front of me.
"I want to make sure that this is done the right way."
In addition to his disappointment with the pace of contract talks with New Orleans, Brees discussed his concerns about the NFL's bounty investigation of the Saints.
Brees said he has been on a "fact-finding mission" since the NFL released some of the findings of its bounty probe on March 2.
The quarterback said he doesn't know all the fact about the bounty scandal. He said, however, he is under the impression some current and former defensive teammates are worried they'll be punished, and have their reputations tarnished, primarily because of bravado and tough talk that is not meant to be taken literally, but which is common in football locker rooms.
"I feel like the perception might not match up with reality in this thing," Brees said. "I think the perception is that we have our entire team, our entire coaching staff, our entire organization involved in this bounty thing where we're actually going out with malicious intent to hurt people and end their careers, and that's so far from the truth.
"I know the NFL staged a two-year long investigation and that they have documentation that proves certain things," Brees continued. "There are still some unanswered questions and things that we don't know, so it's hard to speculate. All I can do is speak on behalf of my teammates, knowing who they are and what they represent, and our organization, how we pride ourselves on professionalism and doing things the right way and treating people the right way."
Brees said what bothers him most about the bounty probe is that the Saints are being portrayed as a bunch of "hit men."
"That we're a bunch of guys out with malicious intent to seriously injure people and end guys' careers, that we take pride in that, that we compensate guys for that, we incentivize guys for that," Brees said. "That's really disheartening for me when I look at all that we've been able to accomplish over the last six years. ... It's somewhat of a black eye for the organization right now and I would just hope that people would reserve their judgment until all the facts come out, until the truth is known, instead of speculation."
Since the Saints were eliminated by San Francisco in the divisional round of the 2011-12 NFL playoffs in January, Brees has been splitting most of his time between homes in San Diego and New Orleans with his two young sons and wife, Brittany, who is expecting a third boy in a little under five months.
Brees spoke to the AP by phone from California. He is conducting interviews this week as part of his promotional work with Dick's Sporting Goods, which is offering the chance for a sweepstakes winner to go on a shopping spree with the quarterback.
Although he hopes not to miss any work with the Saints, Brees made it clear that he is uncomfortable working under the franchise tag. He noted that the only time he has done so was his final season in San Diego, which ended with a career-threatening injury that left him with few suitors in free agency.
The Saints were one of those suitors, and Brees said he intends to end his career in New Orleans, albeit under a contractual agreement that he sees fit. However, Brees declined to answer directly whether he would practice or play if a new extension is not complete by the time next season arrives.
"I won't give an answer other than (playing with the franchise tag) was never my intent when I entered into these discussions with the Saints," Brees said. "It was to extend the deal and to sign long term and finish my career in New Orleans. ... That's what I'm working wholeheartedly toward and that's really all I can say."
Brees is the reigning AP Offensive Player of the Year. Last season, he set NFL single-season records with 468 completions, 5,476 yards passing and a completion percentage of 71.2.
The quarterback is expected to receive a contract paying in the range of, if not more than, the $18 million-per-year deals that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning had signed in recent seasons. Manning, however, was released by Indianapolis after missing all of last season with a neck injury and is back on the free-agent market.
When Brees eventually returns to the field, he'll rejoin one of his favorite targets, wide receiver Marques Colston. The Saints re-signed Colston to a five-year deal Tuesday, but Brees will be without free agent All-Pro guard Carl Nicks, who signed with Tampa Bay.
"That's tough. Tough to lose him, period — even tougher to watch him go to a divisional opponent in Tampa," Brees said. "He's been a mainstay for four years on the offensive line, a huge part of that Super Bowl run and you're happy for a guy like that who's certainly worked hard. You hate to see him go, but that's the nature of our league and this business, and when you draft guys and they become great players, I guess it's impossible to keep them all."
Brees added he is confident general manager Mickey Loomis, Saints scouts and Sean Payton's coaching staff, who took a chance on Nicks in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, would find a way to make up for his departure.
"We've been very competent at drafting. ... That's a big tribute to Mickey and the scouting department and coaching staff," Brees said. "We've done a great job of finding free agents to fill spots."
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