Brees’ Last Handoff

At 41, Saints QB Drew Brees still has enough to win it all

Illustration by Tony Healey

Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com.


 

Drew Brees is 41. In the world of NFL quarterbacks, he’s ancient. But he remains one of the league’s best.

Brees holds multiple career and individual records, is a Super Bowl champion, surely a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, and, arguably, the savior of the franchise that kept New Orleans an NFL city.

There’s not much more that can be said or written about the caliber of player he is or the man he is away from the gridiron. But the quarterback is at a crossroads in his illustrious career.

Figuratively, he’s got his team lined up in the I-formation. The defense can’t zero in on a run or a pass, because either play could come. Will he call a handoff to another player to make the next gain, or will he pull the ball back and go for one more strike downfield?

That’s the question facing Brees, the New Orleans Saints, the Who Dat Nation, and, ultimately, the rest of the NFL.

Brees has earned all of the major accolades a professional football player could hope for, minus one — NFL MVP. He is the NFL’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes, passing yards, and completion percentage in both a single game and over the course of a full season; he’s won a Super Bowl; made several Pro Bowls, and, maybe most amazingly, transformed a down-on-its-luck franchise into a perennial playoff contender.

Brees came to the Big Easy in 2006, broken and recovering after suffering a career-threatening injury to his throwing shoulder. His surgically-repaired rotator cuff scared off every quarterback-needy team in the league, except for one: the one that needed a quarterback to take a chance on them.

His new city, too, was recovering, reeling from the effects of the near citywide flood after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region. Together, they leaned on each other for support, strength and a resilient comeback.

In their first year together, general manager Mickey Loomis, new head coach Sean Payton, and Brees led the Saints to an improbable NFC Championship Game appearance. The city fed off the Saints’ success. If the team could make such an amazing comeback — from orphans playing “home games” in New York, Baton Rouge and San Antonio in 2005 to creating some of the franchise’s apex moments in 2006 — the city could and would rebound, too.

The team went on to win its first Super Bowl after the 2009 season, has appeared in three conference championships, had two of its best three-year runs in franchise history, and suffered devastating last-minute playoff losses just to show up again, hungrier, the next year.

But this team is at a crossroads. All three QBs are free agents, and their future depends on Brees’ decision.

No one could fault Brees for choosing to hang up his gear, spend time with his family, and look forward to life after football. If he feels like he’s ready to move on, so be it. Succession plans are in place.

But seeing is believing. Brees is still one of the NFL’s best — even if he’s no longer in his prime. Yes, he had a bad game against Minnesota, but look at the entirety of the season. He’s the best QB on the roster.

Brees should consider pulling that outstretched ball back to his side and windup for one more deep ball to the end zone. This team is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. It will take some financial Jiu Jitsu to re-sign Brees and get the roster under the salary cap, but, as we’ve seen this season, he’s played some of the best football of his career. His tank isn’t empty.

If he feels like he can do it, Brees owes it to himself — and the guys he fought so hard with — to make one more attempt to reach the pinnacle.

Of course, if Brees stays, it’s likely that Teddy Bridgewater will try for the opportunity to be a starter with another team. That will cause the dynamic with Taysom Hill to change because the Saints don’t want to injure their backup QB.

It’s going to be an interesting offseason with lots of moving, interconnected parts.

The ball’s in your hands, Drew. Make the right call.

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