Payton assures record-setting QB Brees will return to Saints

METAIRIE, La. -- While Drew Brees could become a free agent this winter and shop around for another team, that scenario strikes New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton as a bit far-fetched.

"I don't even know if stunned would be a strong enough word," Payton said Tuesday after players had been dismissed for the season following their divisional playoff loss at San Francisco. "I don't see that happening."

Brees has thrown for more yards than any NFL quarterback since joining the Saints in 2006 and passed for an league-record 5,476 yards this season, breaking Dan Marino's 27-year-old mark of 5,084.

Brees was among a number of players who already had left town and weren't available for comment Tuesday, but he also has said he expected an extension with New Orleans to eventually be completed. The quarterback likely will command a salary in the range of $18 million per year, which would be commensurate to the level of pay for New England's Tom Brady and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning.

Payton didn't want to discuss a timetable for completing a new deal with Brees.

"Certainly, the sooner the better, and yet I think this time away here initially after season ended will be good for everyone to kind remove yourself from the emotion of the season," the coach said.

Wide receiver Lance Moore said he already was operating under the assumption that Brees would be his quarterback next season.

"As important as he is not only to this team but this city, this whole area, you kind of have to do right by him and sign him to a long-term deal because he's earned that," Moore said. "Where would we be without Drew? You can't even fathom that."

Still, Payton acknowledged free agency will be challenging for the Saints because other key players from his record-setting offense have expiring contracts, including Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks and wide receiver Marques Colston. Other free agents include cornerback Tracy Porter, defensive tackles Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers, linebackers Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Ramon Humber, and backup defensive ends Jeff Charleston and Turk McBride.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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