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Chargers QB Brees signs franchise tender

SAN DIEGO (March 4, 2005) -- Drew Brees signed a one-year contract that more than quadrupled his pay from last year, when he came off the scrap heap to lead the San Diego Chargers back to the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons.

The Chargers put the "franchise" tag on Brees on Feb. 17, meaning he'll get the average of the NFL's five highest-paid quarterbacks in 2004.

Brees returned from a vacation in Australia late on March 3 and signed the deal as soon as he could the next day.

"I was ready and eager to get the thing official," Brees said.

It wasn't the long-term deal he wants, but it was the next-best thing.

"I'm very happy," Brees said. "I'm ecstatic, the fact I get to be here for another year and build on the foundation that we've already kind of set for ourselves. We're only going to get better."

Brees doesn't seem offended that the Chargers aren't interested in giving him a long-term deal -- for now, anyway -- or that coach Marty Schottenheimer has refused to ordain him as the starter for next year, meaning he'll have to compete with Philip Rivers in training camp.

"Of course I want to be here, and of course I want a long-term deal, but the main thing is, I wanted to be here, I wanted to be a part of this," he said. "I just think we can do something special."

Brees was all but cast aside last offseason, when the Chargers were coming off an NFL-worst 4-12 record. Brees was an easy scapegoat after recording 15 interceptions and only 11 touchdown passes, getting benched for five games in a row and being yanked from two others.

General manager A.J. Smith declared that the Chargers needed to "upgrade" at quarterback, then swung a draft-day deal that brought highly touted prospect Rivers to town.

But Rivers held out for half of training camp and Brees kept his job. He tallied 27 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions as the Chargers won the AFC West. Brees was named Comeback Player of the Year and went to the Pro Bowl.

"I think it's kind of the same situation as last year: Are you out to prove people wrong?" Brees said. "I'm not out there to prove people wrong. Is there slight satisfaction in it? Yes. But I don't want to win the Super Bowl next year and make the Pro Bowl again and do all that stuff just to prove somebody wrong. I want to do it because that's what I set out to do from the beginning.

"That seems to always be an issue. There's always somebody that thinks you can't do it or that it was just a one-year thing or whatever. I'm not going to worry about it."

The Chargers say they've cleared some $21 million in salary cap space for the 2005 season, which will allow them to keep Brees and Rivers.

"I want to take every snap next year," said Brees, who succeeded in keeping Rivers on the bench for virtually all of 2004.

The Chargers were 1-5 last season against playoff teams, including a 20-17 overtime loss at home to the New York Jets in a wild-card game. Their schedule will be considerably tougher in 2005.

"The challenge for us is: Don't get complacent on that 12-4 record," Brees said. "We need to build on that. Our schedule looks to be a bit tougher. We've got a lot of playoff teams we're going up against. It's going to be a huge challenge for us, but one I definitely think we're up for."

Also, the Chargers re-signed free safety Jerry Wilson, an unrestricted free agent, and center David Brandt, a restricted free agent, to two-year deals.

Wilson will have to compete for his job with Bhawoh Jue, who signed a three-year deal March 3.

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