METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Drew Brees took some time out of his Sunday to sign autographs on items ranging from a black jersey handed to him by a fan to a $100 million contract handed to him by the New Orleans Saints.
The star quarterback, who had agreed verbally to his historic deal Friday, visited team headquarters to take a physical and put pen to paper on the five-year contract that gives him the highest average annual pay ($20 million) in NFL history.
Brees then grabbed a sandwich to go at a Jimmy John's sandwich shop he owns, where he posed for photos, shook hands and signed autographs for star-struck fans before hopping in a white sport utility vehicle and heading for the airport.
Looking satisfied and relaxed in a black T-shirt with (hash)NOLALOVE printed across the front, the clean-cut Brees said he was eager to rejoin his teammates after a protracted contract holdout that ran parallel to a bounty scandal that has swirled around the Saints since March.
"It's been a little surreal just because of the process throughout the offseason, and just how challenging an offseason it's been for everyone, obviously everyone within the Saints organization, this city," Brees said. "It's just been a crazy offseason and I think we're all just ready to get back to work and excited that it's all starting here in a week. It's hard to believe."
Brees, his currently pregnant wife, Brittany, and their two young boys spend parts of offseasons in southern California. Brees will be back in New Orleans again soon, though, as the Saints report for training camp July 24.
A year ago, Brees was organizing and running a voluntary minicamp at Tulane during the NFL lockout. This offseason, he missed all of the voluntary practices and mandatory minicamp while his agent, Tom Condon, and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis worked on a new long-term contract that gave Brees a payday on par with his record-setting performances on the field.
Brees said he had been training hard on his own in California and had maintained close contact by phone with teammates and assistant head coach Joe Vitt throughout the offseason. Vitt is handling most big-picture head coaching duties in the absence of Sean Payton, who has been suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in connection with the bounty investigation.
"I talked to coach Vitt all the time. I talked to (backup quarterback) Chase (Daniel) quite a bit," Brees said. "For me, I certainly wanted to keep up on my team and my teammates and make sure everybody was doing OK. Guys were texting me all the time, so I was in constant communication with many guys on the team."
Brees also expressed confidence that, after six years in the same offensive system, he was "absolutely" ready to pick up in training camp where he left off last season, despite the offseason work he missed with the club. He added that he was eager to test his skills in camp against the scheme being installed by new Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
"I just look forward to getting back to work," Brees said. "It does feel like it's been a while since I've been out there with my guys and we were running our offense.
"Camp, for me, especially now with Spagnuolo and a new defensive scheme, that's fun for me because just as a competitor, you go through about a four-week period where you're competing against your own defense and they're scheming you up and you're scheming them up," Brees added. "I missed the guys; I missed the competition. I'm just excited to get back to work."
In 2011, Brees set NFL single-season records with 468 completions, 5,476 yards passing and a 71.2 completion percentage. His prolific passing numbers helped the Saints set an NFL high for total offensive yards in a season with 7,474. Brees' yards passing record shattered a mark of 5,084 set by Dan Marino back in 1984.
Brees also has been highly active in the community through his Brees Dream foundation, which has sponsored more than $8 million in projects primarily aimed at improving schools and athletic facilities for children, along with supporting the arts and cancer patients.
For all of those reasons, fans like Gerald Hebert, 40, of Slidell, were delighted to share a moment with Brees in the parking lot outside his sandwich shop.
"It's a big relief going into training camp," Hebert said. "It's a huge win for the city all the way around. With him being here, it's one less thing to worry about, especially with a lot of the negativity that's come up this offseason. ... It was pretty cool to actually see him and it shows how much interaction he has with the community."