WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.VA. >> Drew Brees was calm and non-confrontational when asked repeatedly why he and the New Orleans Saints weren't able to negotiate a contract extension before Thursday's opening practice of training camp.
If anything, the star quarterback sounded testier when the subject of a rookie safety's interception came up.
Standing nearby, one of Brees' oldest teammates, right tackle Zach Strief, hardly seemed surprised, and viewed it as an example of why the Saints shouldn't worry about Brees' ability to compartmentalize the uncertainty that arises for any player in the last year of his current deal.
"Look, he's a highly competitive and highly professional guy that is way more worried about the fact he threw an interception in seven-on-seven than he is about a contract right now," Strief said after the first practice. "That's just how Drew is. ... Everything he does is like, unbelievably focused. He's like a weirdo."
Around the NFL and in New Orleans in particular, many seem puzzled by the fact that the Saints haven't been able to nail down a new, long-term deal with their franchise quarterback, who has passed for 48,555 yards and 348 touchdowns in 10 seasons with the club — not to mention MVP honors in New Orleans' only Super Bowl triumph.
After all that, and the fact that the 37-year-old Brees has repeatedly said he wants to end his career in New Orleans, shouldn't an extension have been easier to hammer out?
"I would hope so, but I also know that sometimes these take time," Brees said, stressing that "nothing is adversarial."
"I've got a great relationship with (general manager) Mickey Loomis and have for my entire time here," Brees continued. "There's a process to this and it's not an exact science."
Brees has stated that once the regular season begins, he intends to cut off negotiations because he doesn't want his contract status to distract him from preparing for a game.
He took the same approach in 2011, which was not without risk because an injury could have undermined his value going forward. Instead, Brees passed for what was then an NFL record 5,476 yards to go with 46 touchdowns, which ultimately earned him a five-year, $100 million contract that, in 2012, was the richest deal in the NFL.
"My mindset is the same whether I've got a one-year deal or a five-year deal," Brees said. "'Each and every week, I've got to go out and I've got to prove it. I've got to prove that I give us the best chance to win. I've got to prove that I'm a leader on the team that's going to get the best out of everybody around me and myself."
Coach Sean Payton dismissed the notion that Brees' contract status would overshadow the club's preparations.
"That is something that cannot be the focus of what we're doing," Payton said. "That's the one element that I'm sure will take care of itself."
Added Loomis, "Lots of players play into the last year of their contract. It happened the last time with us. It's not our preference, but it happens. Nothing unusual here."
Loomis added that Brees is paid like an elite QB and the Saints "expect to do that."
Strief said he "cannot fathom" Brees finishing his career elsewhere, but understands that when a contract is of the magnitude an elite player like Brees commands, the details can take longer to iron out.
"I could have signed my deal with Mickey in five minutes," Strief said. "It's just not that type of situation with" Brees.
Brees has declined to get into specifics about sticking points in negotiations, saying he wants to keep that between his agent, Tom Condon, and Loomis, who also won't discuss details of negotiations.
But Brees, who led the NFL in passing last season, seemed eager to discuss a possible divergence between what he called an "old-school way of thinking" about quarterback longevity and how he sees his own longevity in light of evolving science pertaining to training and nutrition.
"I don't see any reason why I can't play at the highest level for the next five years, minimum," Brees asserted.
As the quarterback later wrapped up his interview session, discussion turned to second-round draft choice Vonn Bell's interception of a deep pass Brees intended for Brandin Cooks during practice.
"Good for him," Brees said. "That won't happen again."