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Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints reportedly $10 million apart

NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints still must close a significant gap in guaranteed money if they are to agree on a five-year contract worth about $100 million by Monday's looming deadline for a long-term deal, a person familiar with the negotiations said.

The sides were more than $10 million apart in the guaranteed portion of the contract on Wednesday, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because talks are ongoing.

The stakes are high for both sides and the negotiations have lasted for months, including long gaps in communication between the two camps.

Brees, who is 33 and entering his 12th season, has never before had the chance to negotiate a contract on par with the elite quarterbacks of the game. The Saints, meanwhile, risk alienating the best quarterback in franchise history, not to mention their fan base, by failing to make an offer to his satisfaction by Monday -- the deadline for players with the franchise tag to sign long-term deals.

Several months ago, Brees first raised the possibility that he would not report to the opening of training camp if all that was on the table at that time was the one-year franchise tag of about $16.3 million. People familiar with the quarterback's plans say that remains the case.

Both sides have offered proposals that would give the Saints more flexibility under the NFL's salary cap than New Orleans would have if Brees played for the franchise tag the club has placed on him. In those proposals, a relatively low base salary number in the early years would be offset by guaranteed signing bonuses that are pro-rated, for salary cap purposes, over the life of the contract.

Such a contract structure would increase the salary cap burden of Brees' contract significantly in the final years, but the salary cap likely will be higher by then.

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If the two sides can narrow their differences on the guarantees, the remaining portions of the contract should be easier to figure out. The two sides are working from a framework of five years. The difference in the annual average pay is about $1.25 million, with the Saints' last offer at about $19.25 million and Brees' last proposal at about $20.5 million.

However, it is not yet clear how much Brees is willing to come down from a $20.5 million annual figure that some in his camp have argued is low, based on past trends.

If the deadline passes without a long-term contract, Brees could still hold out for a one-year contract worth more than the current franchise tag. Brees could also hold out until the Saints put it in writing that they will not use the franchise tag on him again next season, allowing him to test the open market.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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