BY SHELDON MICKLES
July 16, 2012
New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead couldn’t help but think about the irony of the date after star quarterback Drew Brees agreed Friday to a five-year, $100 million contract to remain with the team.
Morstead, who played his college football at SMU, was in Houston early Friday afternoon when he got the news that a 51/2-month impasse between Brees and the team had finally come to an end with Brees getting the richest contract in NFL history.
“It’s an exciting day,” Morstead said when reached on his cellphone, “and it’s Friday the 13th.”
Indeed, it was a lucky day for Morstead and many of his teammates.
At the same time, the four-year veteran couldn’t help but think about loyal Saints fans who had been on pins and needles for months while waiting for Brees, a five-time Pro Bowl selection in six seasons with New Orleans, to receive a long-term deal from the team after being franchised in March.
“I was excited when I heard about it, as I’m sure the whole city of New Orleans was,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that Facebook and Twitter have frozen by now.”
While Brees and club officials beat a Monday deadline for franchised players to sign long-term deals by a little more than 72 hours, Morstead said he had remained confident the two sides would end the stalemate and come to an agreement to get Brees to training camp on the July 24 reporting date.
If the long-term deal had not gotten done by Monday, Brees would have had to sign a one-year franchise tender of $16.371 million, which he didn’t want to do for fear of suffering a career-ending injury, or sit out all or part of the upcoming season.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Morstead said when asked if he thought a deal would get done. “I knew Drew wasn’t going to play for a one-year deal and I didn’t think he would sit out.
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous about it, but I was confident that they would get a deal.”
Both Morstead and wide receiver Lance Moore said it was finally some positive news for a team that has had little to shout about since ending the 2011 season with a 36-32 loss to the San Francisco 49ersin the divisional playoffs.
A pay-for-performance scheme the NFL said former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams ran from 2009-11 resulted in the suspension of coach Sean Payton and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire season as well as eight- and six-game bans for General Manager Mickey Loomis and assistant head coach Joe Vitt, respectively, dominated offseason talk.
Defensive end Will Smith also faces a four-game suspension when the regular season begins in September.
Then, Loomis was accused of listening in on opposing coaches from his suite in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, charges he has vehemently denied, and Payton filed for divorce last month.
“To have some positive news is exactly what we needed,” Moore told ESPN. “It’s been kind of a black eye for our organization this offseason and to have this come around (now). … To have our quarterback, our leader, our guy, back in that offense and in that huddle and in that team meeting room is just going to be amazing.”
“It’s great news,” Morstead said. “It’s nice to get this going into training camp. There has been a lot of negativity toward us nationally, and this gives us a nice little kick-start going into camp.”
When asked about his immediate reaction when he heard the news, a chuckling Morstead said, “I don’t know if I can repeat that.”
Saints center Brian de la Puente, a former practice squad member who was inserted into the starting lineup midway through last season, said he was in a gym back home in California when he got the word.
“It’s real exciting. … We have our leader back,” he said. “It’s exciting because Drew is a competitor on and off the field and he pushes everybody to do their best.
“The timing was right. I’m excited that he’s back.”