Drew Brees is known for being a consummate professional. Nearly every one of his press conferences is full of what some might call “safe” soundbites about the Saints and his tenure with them. In an interview with Cox Sports’ Mike Nabors, however, Brees dropped his guard a bit.
Brees stated that he is “not sure how much longer [he] can do this, tired of saying next year, next year” to Nabors. To be clear, Nabors clarified that Brees was speaking in the context of his career, not Saints’ management. With that being said, extrapolating upon Brees’s comments from the past, he seems to be confident that his ability is as good as it’s ever been.
Brees, 37, closed out the 2016 season leading the league in passing yardage at 5,208, his fifth 5,000 yard season. Only four other quarterbacks have ever broken 5,000, and no one has done it more than once (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Stafford & Dan Marino, if you’re curious). Even Matt Ryan, in what may well have been an MVP campaign this year, came up 53 yards short.
The 2016 Saints will likely be remembered (for the brief time they’ll be remembered) as a team that was just unable to put all three phases of the game together at once. When the offense was clicking, the defense couldn’t get it together (Raiders, Falcons part one). When the defense was grooving, the offense couldn’t score (Buccaneers part one, Giants). When both units played relatively well, the special teams fell apart (Broncos). The fact is, the Saints had the talent to be a better team in 2016, and Brees’s comments are just salt in the wound of another disappointing season.
Obviously, the Saints need a change. They have a great deal of dead money coming off of the books for the 2017 offseason, and they have some serious emerging talents. Michael Thomas was a huge bright spot for New Orleans, breaking several team rookie records, and Mark Ingram became the Saints’ first 1,000 yard rusher in a decade. However, in a persistent issue, the defense ended up 27th in the league in total defense, and 31st in points allowed in Dennis Allen’s first full season as defensive coordinator. There were bright spots, such as Nick Fairley and Sheldon Rankins’s terrorizing of interior linemen, but they could never really overcome holes in the secondary created by injuries to CBs Delvin Breaux, Damian Swann and PJ Williams (among many others).
Firing Allen may not be the answer, and moving away from Payton almost certainly isn’t the answer. However, Payton may need to shelve his pride. Payton took playcalling duties from Pete Carmichael Jr. from the Detroit Lions’ game onward. Over that five game span, the Saints went 2-3, beating the Cardinals and the Buccaneers. They were 5-6 under Carmichael Jr. Payton’s “inner circle” also poses a problem. The massive regression of 2015 first round pick Stephone Anthony is just the latest in a series of Joe Vitt projects gone awry, while the horrific special teams play forced Payton to bring Kevin O’Dea in to “help” Greg McMahon.
The result is another year and another 7-9 season. Brees is still shattering records week after week. But the Saints can never seem to put everything together. Eventually, fans will have to join their quarterback in asking how long they can keep saying “next year” before it’s time to embrace a rebuild in New Orleans.