First place free agent
Drew Brees is NFL’s best free agent signing by far
This week Mike Triplett reported that an ESPN survey of all 46 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters found the Green Bay Packers signing of defensive lineman Reggie White in 1993, the first year of unrestricted free agency, as the greatest free-agent signing in NFL history. White led the field with 27 votes. Brees was second with 15.5 votes. Peyton Manning’s move to the Denver Broncos came in third with three votes, and Deion Sanders, who signed with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, rounded out the list with a half a vote.
With all due respect to the men in the gold blazers, they’re wrong.
Drew Brees is, by far, the greatest free agent signing of all time.
The common denominator between the four free agent signings is the Lombardi Trophy. White won Super Bowl XXXI here in New Orleans. Of course the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV. Manning just capped his career with Super Bowl 50. And Sanders won Super Bowl XXIX with the Niners and Super Bowl XXX with the Cowboys.
Brees rises above the others, however, because he was the centerpiece of his team’s sustained success, whereas the other players were a part of a team that had better talent that contributed to their winning. White’s Packers had Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre and Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard on his squad. Additionally, White was a known commodity and almost as sure of a sure-fire, can’t miss signing as there ever could be. Sanders had Jerry Rice and Steve Young, both Hall of Famers, in San Francisco and Troy Aikman, Emmett Smith and Michael Irvin in Dallas. While it’s too soon for any of Manning’s Broncos teammates to be in the hall, there’s no doubt that Peyton was aided by linebacker Von Miller, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, and defensive end DeMarcus Ware. Finally, the Packers, Cowboys, 49ers, and Broncos are all NFL royalty. They were previously league champions, and the identity of these franchises or their cities did not change with the Super Bowls these teams won.
When the Saints signed Brees to a six-year, $60 million free agent contract 10 years ago this week, the team was coming off of a 3-13 campaign that saw them play home games in New York City, San Antonio and Baton Rouge after the Superdome was ravaged throughout the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Brees was sent packing by the San Diego Chargers after tearing up his throwing shoulder in what many thought was a career-ending injury. Miami Dolphins head coach Nick Saban passed on Brees, but new Saints head coach Sean Payton put on an all out blitz to recruit the quarterback to not only be the cornerstone of the rebuilding franchise, but the devastated city, as well. Payton and Brees led the Saints to the conference championship game in their first season together. Four years later, they brought New Orleans its first Super Bowl championship. In his time in the Big Easy, Brees took a team dubbed the ’Aints for much of their futile existence into one of the NFL’s must-see teams.
Brees spent a third of his career in San Diego, but in his 10 years with the Saints he’s racked up nearly 80 percent of his career stats, entered the conversation of being among the best quarterbacks of his generation, and became a certain pick for the NFL Hall of Fame.
It didn’t turn out so well for the cast in Miami. After passing on Brees in 2006, neither Saban nor Culpepper were in south Florida the next year.
Decade of dominance
In his 10 years with the New Orleans Saints, Drew Brees has racked almost 80 percent of his total statistics in his 15-year career.
Year Team G Att Comp Pct Yds TD Int
2001-05 San Diego Chargers 59 1,809 1,125 62.2 12,348 80 53
2006-15 New Orleans Saints 158 6,276 4,240 67.6 48,555 348 152
Career Total 217 8,085 5,365 66.4 60,903 428 205
% with Saints 73% 78% 79% 80% 81% 74%