By Richard Fischer
The term window of opportunity is a complementary but slighting term that gets thrown around in the world of sports quite a bit.
It is complementary because it means a team has a shot at the title, slighting because it means that shot has a time limit. It is an expression that elite teams dread and poor teams strive for.
And no matter how you feel about the phrase, it’s one that you’ll hear quite a bit about the New Orleans Saints in the near future.
That’s because the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV winning quarterback and quite frankly the biggest reason why New Orleans is in the hunt in the first place will play his first game this season as a 35-year-old, and Drew Brees will be 36 by the time Super Bowl XLIX in the desert comes along.
That’s not alarming. Not yet. A total of nine starting quarterbacks have reached the Super Bowl aged 36 or older, four of which won the big game.
But no quarterback aged 38 or older has ever started America’s most watched sporting event.
That means unless if the Saints and Brees are to achieve something unprecedented in the storied 48 years of the Super Bowl era, New Orleans has three more chances to go for the gusto.
And their moves so far this offseason have shown just that.
It all started when the team signed All-Pro safety Jairus Byrd to a 6-year, $54 million contract on the first evening of the 2014 free agency period.
Byrd signed a team-friendly deal in year one as his cap hit will be only $3.5 million before being near or above $10 million every year over the course of the remainder of his contract.
Then New Orleans inked a similar deal with right tackle Zach Strief March 17, keeping him in black and gold on a five-year deal worth $20 million. Strief will make only $2 million against the cap in 2014 before that number goes up to has high as $5.1 million in the final two years of his deal.
In separate moves to help the team get under the cap, running back Pierre Thomas and cornerback Keenan Lewis restructured their contracts with the team. Thomas likely would have been in danger of being released had he not restructured, and Lewis – an Algiers native who already gave the team a hometown discount when he signed last year – has once again made a selfless financial act for the team.
All of those contracts are great for New Orleans this year, but the trade off is that many of them include high cap figures in future years and even higher dead money figures, limiting New Orleans’ ability to release them if they aren’t performing.
It’s an all in move by Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis as he tries to maximize the team’s chances at earning a second Super Bowl ring in the Drew Brees era.
But at some point, the Saints are going to have to pay the piper, if you will. Now, Loomis has shown his brilliance in maneuvering and meandering his to perpetually keep his team under the cap.
However, this offseason is by far the most aggressive Loomis has been in terms of paying cheap salaries up front with high dollar figures on the back end. That’s usually a sign of a team going for it all now. Tomorrow be damned.
And if it works out that the Saints did everything they could do to bring home as much hardware as possible – even at the risk of placing the team in salary cap hell near or at the end of the Brees era and therefore making championship team building impossible for a few years – I’ll take it.
And I hope you would too.
Even if blackouts and brown bags come back in the late 20-teens, it was worth it.
It was all worth it.