The Saints have passed on using the franchise tag on LT Jermon Bushrod, allowing the deadline to pass.
The two sides at the negotiation table have a week to sign Bushrod to a new contract before the free agency market opens on the afternoon of March 12.
At 28, Bushrod is in his prime and ready for a major payday. Two years ago, Bushrod took a two-year contract averaging just under $5 million per year. Bushrod started every game since and is now ready for long term money.
Bushrod's agent has been aided by two would-be free agents in the NFL. LT Will Beatty got a five-year contract averaging $7.75 million per year from the Giants, and Kansas City franchised T Brandon Albert, removing him from the market to the tune of $9.83 million for one year.
That pushes Bushrod, a 2012 Pro Bowl starter, up the ranks of available left tackles in the league, driving up his market price. The Saints will face competition from the Chicago Bears and their offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who was Bushrod's offensive line coach from 2009-2011.
Atlanta's Sam Baker, Miami's Jake Long, New England's Sebastian Vollmer, and Cincinnati's Andre Smith are also impending free agents at the offensive tackle position.
Meanwhile, the Saints were supposed to have been grooming 2010 second round pick Charles Brown to take over at left tackle. That may not have happened, as Brown has yet to contribute because of health reasons, missing his big opportunity last year when he suffered a season-ending knee injury while holding tenuously onto the starting right tackle job in the absence of injured starter Zach Strief.
Brown is entering his contract season and has every incentive to have the season of his life at left tackle, but the Saints can't have any faith he'd stay healthy as the full time starter.
Like Brown though, Bushrod stepped into the starting lineup after two seasons without contributing anything. Following the loss of starter Jammal Brown to hip and hernia injuries, in preseason, Bushrod played well against then-Houston DE Mario Williams in an exhibition game in August 2009 and seized the job for good.
Add RT Zach Strief's struggles with injuries, and the Saints have none of the leverage in negotiations for Bushrod, the franchise left tackle they need desperately to keep on the roster to protect the highest paid player in team history - Drew Brees.
Bushrod has improved each year since he was good enough - but shaky at times - in the Saints' 2009 Super Bowl run.