The bad news didn't get any worse for San Diego quarterback Drew Brees on Wednesday, when an examination of his right shoulder confirmed there is no damage to the rotator cuff, and that just the labrum will have to be surgically repaired.
The surgery, which will be performed Thursday by noted Birmingham, Ala., orthopedic specialist James Andrews, is expected to sideline the Chargers' starter four months. It will almost certainly preclude San Diego from trading backup Philip Rivers and could complicate Brees' contract negotiations.
Andrews examined Brees on Wednesday, and his evaluation concurred with that of the San Diego medical and training staff, that the five-year veteran tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder Saturday during the season-ending loss to the Broncos. The injury occurred when Brees was sacked and stripped of the ball and then dived into the pile attempting to recover the fumble.
Brees' right arm was pinned behind his head, and he walked to the sideline clearly trying to immobilize the arm.
There was concern, until Andrews examined Brees, that the rotator cuff might have been injured. Had that been the case, the rehabilitation time would have at least doubled. Andrews is typically used by the clients of IMG Football for orthopedic surgeries. In the past year alone, Andrews repaired the shoulders of IMG quarterback clients Chad Pennington (twice) and Tim Couch.
San Diego officials are hopeful that if all goes well, Brees will be able to participate in some of the organized workouts in late spring.
The injury all but assures that the Chargers will retain Rivers, a first-round pick in 2004 who was acquired from the Giants in the draft day trade involving Eli Manning, for at least one more season. Rivers has played sparingly in two seasons. But perhaps the most intriguing element to the Brees injury is how the Chargers handle his contract now.
Brees played the 2005 season under the one-year qualifying tender for a "franchise" free agent and has been adamant in his desire for a long-term contract. San Diego officials might be reluctant to propose a multi-year deal but using the "franchise" label again is also dicey, because Brees could sign it immediately, and be guaranteed a base salary of about $9.7 million for 2006. Based on how they gauge his recovery, the Chargers might consider using the lower-level "transition" marker on Brees, which would permit the club to retain a right of first refusal.
For the first time in his career, Brees started all 16 games in 2005, completing 323 of 500 passes for 3,576 yards, with 24 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.