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Saints are suffocating themselves by clinging to Drew Brees

How long is it worth holding on to an elite QB while everything else crumbles?

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Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Finding a good quarterback is difficult, but finding a great one is such a rare accomplishment that teams will do everything to make sure that player doesn't slip out of their grasp. And justifiably so.

All NFL teams are in constant pursuit of a passer who can lead the way to a Super Bowl, so it seems crazy to trade one or let him walk. But at what point is it no longer worth it to cling to an aging quarterback when a roster is in disarray?

Drew Brees, 37, is due to count $30 million against the New Orleans Saints' salary cap in 2016, after counting $23.8 million against it in 2015. It's a crippling amount for a franchise that has had one of the NFL's worst salary cap situations for several years.

Of course, the Saints could get a reprieve soon if a contract extension with Brees defers some of his salary to later seasons and eases up the burden on New Orleans for 2016. The quarterback sounds optimistic that a new deal with the Saints is on the way too.

"I'm very confident that it will [get done]," Brees told Sirius XM Radio in April regarding his contract negotiations. "I've got one year left, so it's not the end of the world if it doesn't and we play through the year. I'd rather not do that."

But what's the point?

The Saints finished dead last in points allowed, and discount shopping for players like James Laurinaitis and Nick Fairley isn't the best way to turn things around. Drafting Sheldon Rankins and Vonn Bell is a good way to begin the rebuild of the franchise's defense, but grooming those young players to eventually lead a top unit will be an exercise in patience.

And that's where holding on to, and throwing record contracts at, aging passers becomes a pointless act. Paying Brees more than $20 million is a move for an impatient team looking to win right away, but that's not the Saints ... or at least, it shouldn't be.

Brees accounts for nearly 20 percent of the Saints' salary cap, a much higher percentage than any other player in the NFL. While dead money to players no longer on the roster like Junior Galette and Brandon Browner is a big part of the problem for the Saints, Brees is easily the most damaging contract.

Philip Rivers carries a $21 million cap hit, which represents 13.4 percent of the San Diego Chargers' salary cap in 2016. Eli Manning will cost the New York Giants $24.2 million against their cap, or 14.5 percent. Both players are on the tail end of their careers, but worth the money so long as the Chargers and Giants believe they can rebuild around their veteran quarterbacks in time for another Super Bowl run.

Pulling off one of those rebuilds is more difficult with a cumbersome contract to work around, though.

In Kobe Bryant's final seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, he played on a contract that reflected his lengthy accomplishments and Hall of Fame career. But the team fell into disarray around him and struggled to work around his crippling deal, especially when his eroding skills meant he was no longer the top player he had once been.

The play of Brees, Rivers and Manning hasn't dropped off the way it did for Bryant, but the Saints, Chargers and Giants can take a lesson from the NBA and avoid sinking with their own franchise greats.