Drew Brees is about to start his 10th preseason with the New Orleans Saints, coming off of what might be his most frustrating year with the team. New Orleans missed the playoffs for the second time in three years, going 7-9 and finishing in second place in one of the worst divisions in NFL history.
As Brees prepares to start his 15th season in the NFL, questions surround his future with the Saints. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported in November that New Orleans was looking to draft a quarterback that could eventually replace Brees. The veteran scoffed at the report, though the team did select quarterback Garret Grayson in the third round. Brees has just two years left on his contract, and there hasn’t been any movement on a possible extension, even though one could give the Saints more salary cap space in the near future.
"Oh, not often,” head coach Sean Payton said regarding discussions he’s had with Brees about his future beyond 2015. “We certainly wouldn't be talking about it with training camp. Without speaking for Drew, our focus is always on that upcoming year that is approaching us. I can't think of many conversations where he and I would be talking about two or three years from now."
With their starting quarterback set to turn 37 years old before the next Super Bowl, it only makes sense that New Orleans would begin to think about life without Brees. His 33 touchdowns last season were the lowest amount he's thrown in seven years, even though he attempted more passes than in all but one other season. But there are a number of reasons why it would benefit the Saints to keep Brees through 2016 and possibly beyond.
Brees might not have been an All-Pro in 2014 like he was in years’ past, but he was still among the best quarterbacks in football. He ranked in the top six in yards (4,952), completion percentage (69.2), touchdowns (33) and passer rating (97.0). The veteran helped the Saints total more offensive yards than any other NFL team, and it was New Orleans’ No.28 scoring defense that was largely to blame for the team’s nine losses.
Coming off a disappointing season, Brees might be as motivated as ever to have a big year. Playing in a weak NFC South, the quarterback has a chance to put up terrific numbers and lead the Saints back to the postseason.
"My mentality does not change from year to year," Brees told reporters. "I always feel like there’s something to prove. You can make the argument that as you get later in your career, people are always looking for the excuse as to if you have a down game or a down year or whatever it might be ... The bottom line is I approach each and every day, practice, game, as if I have something to prove, never that I’ve arrived."
He’s one of the longest tenured quarterbacks in the league, but that doesn’t mean Brees can’t still be among the best players in football. Older quarterbacks are thriving in today’s NFL. Tom Brady turned 37 years old before last season, throwing 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions while leading the New England Patriots to another Super Bowl championship. Peyton Manning is still one of the league’s best quarterbacks at 39 years, and he won his fifth MVP award at age 37 -- in just his second season back after having four neck surgeries.
Even if Brees’ performance does start to decline, he’ll likely still be the Saints' best option for the next two years. Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson both came out of the 2012 draft, but the last two drafts have produced unreliable starting quarterbacks. EJ Manuel, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel have all struggled. Teddy Bridgewater showed promise last year, but he still only threw two more touchdowns than interceptions, and it's hard to believe he’ll be anywhere near as productive as Brees in 2015.
There’s no telling how good Grayson might be, but he’s not expected to be a top NFL quarterback. Even if he does become a regular starter in the league, it would likely take a few years for him to develop.
Brees and the Saints could have their share of struggles in the upcoming season. Having traded their best playmaker in tight end Jimmy Graham and needing more help on defense, New Orleans isn’t one of the favorites in the NFC.
But Brees still looks to have a lot left, and he can help the Saints in the next few years.