Brees’ injury tough to shoulder
Without a new contract, it may be time for the Saints to part with QB
The New Orleans Saints are just two games into the 2015 season, and already the team and its fans are experiencing their worst nightmares. Quarterback and team cornerstone Drew Brees injured his throwing shoulder in Sunday’s 26-19 loss to division rival Tampa Bay. The defeat dropped the Saints to 0-2 for the second time in as many years. In some weekly rankings of NFL teams, the Black & Gold dropped to rock bottom as the last of 32 teams. Now fans are wondering if the window of opportunity to win a second Super Bowl championship with No. 9’s leadership has closed.
On Monday, speculation ran wild about Brees’ shoulder. The rumor mill ran with stories that he tore the same rotator cuff he injured in 2005 that nearly ended his career. Some said he’d even announce his retirement. That afternoon, ESPN reported Brees suffered a bruised rotator cuff and could miss several games.
Orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, MD, considered to be the world’s best sports medicine doctor, affirmed that diagnosis Tuesday.
While the extent of the damage hasn’t been immediately clear, the injury could have a significant impact on the team now and in the future.
In an interview with WWL TV, Buddy Savoie, MD, the chief of sports medicine at the Tulane University School of Medicine, said the muscle that lifts the arm over the head that controls the arm’s fine motor skills and bone in Brees’ throwing shoulder were smashed together and bruised on the hit by the Bucs’ defensive end Jacquies Smith, who had three sacks and led a pass rush
“For a quarterback, it's hard to imagine he could actually throw,” Savoie said. “It shows how tough he is, but the precision and the velocity and the force that he would normally generate would not be there.”
That’s a scary thought for a team that has shown an inability to run the ball or stretch the ball with the deep pass when Brees was healthy.
For strategic reasons, the Saints are generally very tight lipped on updating information on the status of injured players, if they announce a player is hurt at all. They simply do not reveal any information that they don’t have to.
It wasn’t until training camp this year that Brees revealed a lingering oblique injury that affected his throwing motion and dogged him throughout the 2014 season. On Sunday, he also admitted to a shoulder injury last year. But he couldn’t keep this one a secret. Where Brees’ normally throws a crisp deep ball directly into his receivers’ hands, in the third quarter, a long pass to Brandin Cooks wobbled short of its mark and was easily intercepted.
For 10 years, Brees has been the cog that has made the Saints offense so precise. There is naked fear that if the cog is broken or has to be replaced with a sprocket that the machine won’t run nearly as efficiently. The prospect of New Orleans playing without Brees is one the team and its fans don’t want to shoulder.
At this point the severity of Brees’ shoulder injury is unknown. Experts expect him to miss some games. But it’s unclear how many, if any at all.*
With the start the Saints have had this season, management and coaches need to take time to not only evaluate Brees, but the entire roster as well. There is no need for him to rush back in order to save the season. While anything is possible in the last 14 games of the season, it’s highly unlikely the Saints will make the playoffs.
USA Today reports that since the NFL playoff format expanded to 12 teams in 1990, only 11.2 percent of 0-2 teams (23/204) have gone on to make the postseason. More troubling, since 2009, the year New Orleans won the Super Bowl, only four percent (2/45) of 0-2 teams, went to the playoffs. The Saints have never started 0-2 and made the playoffs.
A shoulder injury, even a bruise, will take time to heal and has the potential to become a nagging, season-long issue. It would be mutually beneficial for Brees and the Saints for him to miss some games and get healthy rather than rush back and risk further damage.
While Brees rehabs his shoulder in hopes of returning to the field, the team and their quarterback need to negotiate a contract extension which will be for both parties.
Brees is 36. His physical abilities are starting wane and he is dealing with another injury to his throwing shoulder. He came to New Orleans with a six year, $60 million deal in 2006, and signed a five-year, $100 million extension in 2011. Saints management mortgaged the team’s future to make championship runs while Brees was in his prime. Unfortunately, because of injuries, attrition or just being outclassed, the team hasn’t had another Super Bowl appearance since the 2009 season. Over the past few seasons, the bill has come due and talent has been shed and replaced with lower priced fill-ins a notch or two below the players they replaced.
The Saints have $30.9 million in dead money going against this year’s salary cap, and already have $14.8 million in dead money toward the 2016 salary cap. Brees has a $26.4 million salary cap figure this year. It increases to $27.4 million, almost a fifth (18.3 percent) of the total cap in 2016, the last year of the deal. It’s just too much for one player when the rest of the roster needs desperate attention.
If the injury looks as if it will limit Drew’s potential to be effective, the Saints should trade or release him before June 1. The move would free $20 million for salary, while the team would lose $7.4 million to dead money. (This is a nuclear option, and not wished for.)
Of course, if the lasting impact is minimal, the team should work out a contract extension with the aim of freeing cap space to improve the overall quality of the roster and stabilize the quarterback position until a successor is ready.
*Sean Payton announced after Friday’s practice that QB Drew Brees (shoulder) has been ruled out for Sunday’s game at the Carolina Panthers.