Drew Brees and the Saints reached a deal on par with the quarterback's record-setting play, giving New Orleans' fans some news they can celebrate after an offseason rife with turmoil.
The team announced Friday that it had agreed to a five-year contract with Brees. A person familiar with the deal said it's for $100 million, with $60 million guaranteed.
The deal will also pay the quarterback $40 million the first year, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because financial details had not been publicly announced.
Brees posted a note on his Twitter page reading, "Deal is Done! Love you, Who Dat Nation. See you soon!"
He had been tagged as the Saints' exclusive franchise player and could not negotiate with other teams.
Had a deal not been reached, the tender for a quarterback was worth $16.3 million. Brees would have had to play for that amount or hold out for a better one-year deal, which would have left his long-term future in New Orleans uncertain.
Brees skipped the Saints' offseason practices while holding out for his new long-term contract, which now gives him the highest average annual pay ($20 million) in NFL history. Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams also has a $100 million contract, but for six years.
"With a contract like this, people can say they're paying me what you earned or what you deserved. In my mind, I always feel like I've got to go out every day and earn it and show people why you're at that level," Brees said in an interview Friday night with the Saints' radio network, WWL-AM. "I can tell you from the start of this negotiation, I have not thought once about, 'Hey, I want to be the highest-paid guy or what have you.' ... It was more about trying to look truly, just objectively, at the numbers the last decade for a top-tier quarterback and where it has been and where it is going and just trying to do what is fair and justified."
Now Brees is set to report for the opening of Saints training camp on July 24, a needed dose of good news for a club whose offseason has been plagued by the bounty scandal that resulted in the season-long suspensions of coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, among other sanctions.
"What Drew has accomplished in his time with the Saints, he deserves to be the highest paid player in the league," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. "We are excited to have this deal done and behind us and look forward to the next five years with Drew as our quarterback."
Brees' teammates quickly took to Twitter to congratulate him.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins wrote "Congrats bro ... You've changed the game on and off the field!!! No one deserves it more than you."
Tight end Jimmy Graham tweeted: "Congrats (at)drewbrees ... very happy for you, your family and all the Whodat Nation .... let's go get the trophy."
Even LSU coach Les Miles chimed in, tweeting: "It's a great day for New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. Congrats to both Drew Brees and the Saints on reaching a deal. Who Dat!"
The contract, which includes a $37 million signing bonus, also gives the Saints more flexibility under the NFL's salary cap. Because bonuses count against the cap on a pro-rated basis over the life of the contract — $7.4 million per year in Brees' case — the quarterback will cost the club only $10.4 million against the cap in 2012. That gives Loomis nearly $6 million more in wiggle room to manage the entire roster than if Brees had played for the franchise tag.
His cap number will rise well above $20 million by the final years of his deal, but Loomis will at least have more time to plan for that, and the current salary cap of about $120 million is expected to have risen by then.
New Orleans had designated Brees, 33, its franchise player in March after the club was unable to reach a new long-term extension before his previous six-year, $60 million contract expired.
Brees, however, was steadfast in not wanting to play for a one-year deal.
During the past six seasons, Brees has not only led the Saints to their only Super Bowl title, but has completed more passes (2,488) for more yards (28,394) and more touchdowns (201) than any other quarterback in the NFL. His 67.8 percent completion rate spanning the past six seasons also tops the league.
In 2011, Brees set NFL single-season records with 468 completions, 5,476 yards passing and a completion percentage of 71.2. His prolific passing numbers helped the Saints set an NFL high for total offensive yards in a season with 7,474. Brees' yards passing record shattered a mark of 5,084 set by Dan Marino back in 1984.
He led the Saints to a 13-3 regular-season record and second NFC South title in three seasons. New Orleans defeated Detroit in the first round of the playoffs before falling in the final seconds of its second-round game at San Francisco.
Arriving in New Orleans the season after Hurricane Katrina struck, Brees has become arguably the most popular sports figure in the city's history. In addition to leading the club to its lone Super Bowl title for the 2009 season, Brees has become a civic pillar of the community. He and his wife have worked through their Brees Dream foundation to sponsor about $8 million in projects primarily aimed at improving the lives of children in the area through the refurbishing of schools or renovation of athletic fields and facilities. His foundation also has supported the arts, along with hospital facilities for cancer patients.
In the Big Easy, he enjoys the status of royalty, even being invited to serve as the honorary "king" of some of the city's biggest Mardi Gras parades.
This offseason marked the first time Brees had the opportunity to negotiate a major, long-term deal with the leverage provided by a string of injury-free seasons highlighted by a slew of individual and team statistical records, in addition to a championship.
He commanded only second-round money when he was drafted by San Diego, and the Chargers placed the one-year franchise tag on him when that deal ran out in 2005. The right-handed Brees then had an injury the following season that required major surgery to his throwing shoulder, and which left him with few major offers during the 2006 offseason.
He wound up signing the six-year deal in New Orleans that left him playing for well below what the top quarterbacks in the league earned during the past few seasons.
Brees' new deal tops the previous benchmark contract for elite QBs set by the $96 million, five-year deal Denver gave earlier this offseason to Peyton Manning, who is three years older than Brees and sat out last season while recovering from neck surgery.