We begin a series that will likely span the length of the entire New Orleans Saints offseason where we look a key questions the Saints will face at various points of the year - the 2017 NFL Draft, free agency, and the 2017 regular season. We begin with a topic of dread for Saints fans and the elephant in the room that will exist for the foreseeable future: Drew Brees’s age and it inevitably catching up with him.
Critics look at every year for evidence of Drew finally beginning to fall off a cliff, but 2015 was still another stellar year for the veteran QB. Brees led the league in both completions and attempts, with a completion percentage over 70%, his highest since 2011. He led the league in total passing yards, the fifth time in his career he passed for over 5,000. Admittedly, Brees saw a slight uptick in his interceptions, but it wasn’t even close to his career’s season-high. By all accounts, Drew Brees had a great year.
But Drew is turning 38 in 5 days. He is currently ranked 3rd all-time in passing yards, so let’s compare him to the other three (in the top four) and their age 38 seasons.
Peyton Manning (1st all-time passing yards)
After throwing for a record-high 5,477 passing yards in his age 37 season, Peyton Manning threw for “only” 4,727 yards in his age 38 season. Peyton saw a decrease in his touchdowns and an increase in interceptions, with his QBR in his age 38 season still 75.12 and his completion percentage 66.2.
Passing Yards: 13.69% decrease TD/INT: 5.5 (age 37) vs 2.6 (age 38)
Brett Favre (2nd all-time passing yards)
Brett Favre actually saw a significant improvement in his age 38 season from the year before. In 2006, his age 37 season, Favre led the league in attempts for the second year in a row, but had a career-low completion percentage. Favre threw for 3,885 passing yards in 2006, but then 4,115 passing yards in 2007. It is clear then why his QBR went from 39.85 in 2006 to 60.63 in 2007.
Passing Yards: 6.95% increase TD/INT: 1 vs 1.87
Tom Brady (4th all-time passing yards)
Like Favre, Brady saw an increase in production in his age 38 season. After throwing for 4,109 passing yards in 2014, his age 37 season, Touchdown Tom thew for 4,770 yards in 2015, his age 38 season. In 2015, Brady led the league in passing touchdowns and in interception percentage (INTs per passing attempt, minimum of 1,500 pass attempts). Brady’s QBR of 102.2 and completion percent of 64.4% were both four-year highs.
Passing Yards: 16.1% increase TD/INT: 3.67 vs 5.14
So what does this say about Drew Brees and the likelihood of a decline in 2017?
Of the three QB’s in the Top Four in passing yards who have been there before, who have played in the NFL in their age 38 season, only Peyton Manning saw a decline in his production. It is important to note, though, that even considering the drop in production in Peyton’s age 38 season, his passing yards total was higher than that of Favre’s and mirrored that of Brady’s. Peyton’s TD to INT rate was higher than Favre’s by almost a full touchdown. So the “drop” in production in Manning’s age 38 season was more likely due to the inability to replicate a record-breaking year prior, not necessarily the result of a decline due to age.
This seems to indicate that while Brees may or may not have another 5,000 passing yard season in 2017, we should still expect to have another extremely productive year. It’s also interesting to point out that Drew’s passing yards total in the 2009 Super Bowl year was the lowest of his career in New Orleans, at “only” 4,388 (in 15 games). However, it wouldn’t even be out of the question for Drew to actually have a better year next year than what he had in 2016 as both Favre and Brady were able to show. It actually looks to be more likely Drew has as-good of a year, if not better, next year as opposed to experiencing a drop-off of any sort.
It is also worth pointing out that of the three QBs discussed above, all three of them made it to the postseason in their age 38 season, two of them made it to the Super Bowl (Brady and Manning), and one of them (Brady) won it all.