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“I won’t give an answer other than (playing with the franchise tag) was never my intent when I entered into these discussions with the Saints,” Brees said. “It was to extend the deal and to sign long term and finish my career in New Orleans. … That’s what I’m working wholeheartedly toward and that’s really all I can say.”

Brees is the reigning AP Offensive Player of the Year. Last season, he set NFL single-season records with 468 completions, 5,476 yards passing and a completion percentage of 71.2.

The quarterback is expected to receive a contract paying in the range of, if not more than, the $18 million-per-year deals that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning had signed in recent seasons. Manning, however, was released by Indianapolis after missing all of last season with a neck injury and is back on the free-agent market.

When Brees eventually returns to the field, he’ll rejoin one of his favorite targets, wide receiver Marques Colston. The Saints re-signed Colston to a five-year deal Tuesday, but Brees will be without free agent All-Pro guard Carl Nicks, who signed with Tampa Bay.

“That’s tough. Tough to lose him, period _ even tougher to watch him go to a divisional opponent in Tampa,” Brees said. “He’s been a mainstay for four years on the offensive line, a huge part of that Super Bowl run and you’re happy for a guy like that who’s certainly worked hard. You hate to see him go, but that’s the nature of our league and this business, and when you draft guys and they become great players, I guess it’s impossible to keep them all.”

Brees added he is confident general manager Mickey Loomis, Saints scouts and Sean Payton’s coaching staff, who took a chance on Nicks in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, would find a way to make up for his departure.

“We’ve been very competent at drafting. … That’s a big tribute to Mickey and the scouting department and coaching staff,” Brees said. “We’ve done a great job of finding free agents to fill spots.”