Drew Brees and the Saints Are Cracking Up; The NFL Busted a Bounty Ring

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Today in sports: Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are in a bad spot in their relationship, the NFL's Friday news dump included the discovery of a massive bounty ring, and Jim Calhoun is plotting his return, but maybe just to say farewell.

NFL free agency begins in less than two weeks, and the New Orleans Saints and all-galaxy quarterback Drew Brees are still far apart on a long-term contract extension. Things haven't gotten ugly between the two sides yet, but both are starting to test the other. For example: a "league source" -- who is almost certainly a member of the Saints front office -- tells CBS Sports that the club offered Brees "a long-term contract before the 2011 season that would have made him the highest-paid player in the NFL, and Brees and his agent, Tom Condon, turned the contract down." Now, why would Tom Condon, a smart man who works on commission, do something like that? Probably because there was something wrong with it: Much of the value could have been in incentives or maybe the money was loaded on the back end, which isn't something you want to wait around for when you're a 32-year-old quarterback who's six feet tall and has already had major shoulder surgery. Now there's a story making the rounds that Saints GM Mickey Loomis "tried to define Brees as 'very good'" rather than "great" during conversations with three separate league sources at last week's NFL Combine. Brees -- who is great, incidentally -- wants to make $23 million a season in the first three years of his new deal. The Saints are offering $18 million. So there's a $15 million gap, and bad feelings are in the air. If a deal isn't in place by Monday, the Saints have made it clear they'll designate Brees their franchise player, which means he'll receive a one-year contract for next year worth the average salary of the five highest paid players at his position. That's going to be worth about $14.1 million, $4 million less than New Orleans is offering in their deal, and $9 million less than what Brees wants. And he won't even have a multi-year contract. To his credit, Brees saw this coming: he unsuccessfully asked to be exempt from the franchise tag last summer because he was one of the named plaintiffs in the antitrust suit players brought against the league after the NFLPA disbanded. Quietly, the feel-good story of the quarterback who signed with New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and galvanized a region and won a Super Bowl is heading toward a very dark, very money-drunk place. For sheer ugliness, it has the potential -- if both sides don't find middle ground on a new contract over the weekend, and based on Loomis' comments and the leak about the previous contract offer, that's hard to imagine happening -- to make Peyton Manning's long farewell in Indianapolis seem cathartic. [ESPN.com]

Even the NFL is not above a stealthy Friday news dump: The league casually announced this afternoon that they've been poking into some business about members of the New Orleans Saints maybe putting bounties on opposing players for the last three seasons. The investigation turned up "between 22 and 27 defensive players and at least one assistant coach [who] were involved" in the head-hunting. No suspensions, punishments, or fines have been doled out yet. This raises some alarming questions about how this could be going on for three years and involve half of a team's roster, all of which will have to wait until Monday. Even better, it can be forgotten, just like the alleged $50,000 the team pooled into the bounty during the 2009 playoffs. [CBS]

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Another highly respected star who's getting upset about the lack of progress on a new contract is Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, a prince of a guy who entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of John Carroll College in 1998 and has made 164 consecutive starts. He's 36 now, and coming off maybe his two best years in a career that has been, if not Hall of Fame-caliber, definitely Hall of Fame-ish. He said he wants to finish his career in Washington, and the Redskins have said they want him, but the talks aren't going anywhere. Fletcher was frustrated enough to fire self-styled pitbull agent Drew Rosenhaus yesterday and also announce to the world that he's willing to leave Washington if management lowballs him. As per usual with the Redskins under owner Dan Snyder, it's unclear whether this is an actual negotiating strategy or they just plain forgot that they needed to re-sign their team captain, best all-around defensive player, and fan favorite of a fanbase that hasn't had much to cheer about lately. [Fox Sports]

UConn men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun was spotted at Gampel Pavilion this afternoon just days after undergoing spinal stenosis surgery in New York, which resulted in a "large extruded disk fragment" being yanked out of his back. UConn plays Pitt tomorrow afternoon on Senior Day, and given the Hall of Fame coach's health problems and recent dust-ups with the NCAA, it's not unrealistic to think Calhoun may be coming back to say goodbye one last time to the home crowd. ESPN's Andy Katz notes that even if he wants to be on the sideline, his status for tomorrow's game and the upcoming Big East conference tournament at Madison Square Garden is "fluid" as of Friday afternoon. Then again, this is Jim Calhoun: He'll coach tomorrow, if only to show his spine who's boss, and then probably take his mediocre, listless UConn team on a run to the Sweet Sixteen. Then he'll coach for another five years and make the Final Four one more time, probably by outcoaching Mike Krzyzewski again. [ESPN.com]

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