On Monday, October 8th 2018, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees dropped back to pass against the Washington Redskins, cocked his arm, and threw a perfect pass down the right sideline to Tre'quan Smith for a 62-yd. touchdown. The completion moved Brees past Payton Manning into the top spot on the NFL all-time passing yardage list, one of now countless times Brees has made history in his legendary career. Now 40 years old, Brees prepares to enter his 19th NFL season. As all 32 teams prepare for training camp in just a couple of weeks, Brees finds himself at the helm of perhaps the league's most complete roster. As we resume our training camp position preview, we have a look at the team's most stable position currently, but perhaps the one with the most long-term questions.
Drew Brees had one of the most efficient seasons of his historically efficient career in 2018. He broke his own league record by completing 74.4% of his passes, the fifth time he has led the NFL in that category. He threw 32 touchdown passes against only 5 interceptions, added another four rushing scores, and threw for over 300 yards in five of the first ten games last season. The Saints were not as reliant on their quarterback's passing production in 2018 as they had been in years past. Brees would throw 489 passes last year, his fewest in a season since 2004 while with the San Diego Chargers. He finished with 3,992 passing yards, snapping his NFL-record streak of twelve consecutive years with at least 4,000 yards passing. Some critics, who seem to be anxiously awaiting a severe dropoff in the quarterback's play, have pointed out that Brees significantly slowed down over the last 1/3 of the year. He would fail to throw for even 200 yards in four consecutive games between weeks 12-15, throwing four of his five interceptions during that span. While Brees did show a drop-off in his play down the stretch, there were contributing factors with injuries along his offensive line and lack of production from his receivers outside of stars Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Brees would rebound in time for the playoffs with a 301-yd./2 td effort against Philadelphia and 249 yards with two scores in the NFC Championship game against Los Angeles. Brees earned his 12th Pro Bowl nod in 2018, but the major question continues to be this: How much longer will he play at such a high level?
New Orleans obtained Teddy Bridgewater in an early season trade with the New York Jets last year to fortify their backup quarterback spot. Bridgewater would re-sign a 1-yr. deal with the team this offseason, after flirting with the Miami Dolphins. The 27-yr. old quarterback threw 23 passes for 118 yards with one score and an interception for New Orleans last season, mostly in mop-up duty and starting the regular season finale. He has completed over 64% of his career attempts, going 17-12 as a starter, and has thrown 29 touchdowns against 23 interceptions. Bridgewater, the 32nd overall selection by the Vikings in 2014, has been a quality starter for a playoff team in Minnesota, leading many to believe that he could be Brees' eventual successor. He has good mobility with a strong arm, and Saints coaches have raved about his ability to run their offense. Brees is expected to get limited snaps through the preseason, so expect Bridgewater to receive the bulk of the work with the starting units.
Taysom Hill became a fan favorite in 2018, but not because of his abilities as a quarterback. Hill was a special teams demon, kickoff returner, and Jack-of-all-trades offensive weapon for coach Sean Payton. Primarily used as a running threat when in the lineup, Hill used his strength and athletic ability to bully his way to 196 yards on the ground and two rushing scores. He was used sparingly as a receiver, although he did catch a touchdown pass in the conference championship game after three regular season receptions. As a quarterback, Hill threw 7 passes, completing three, for 64 yards and an interception. He did impress observers as a quarterback during a 2017 preseason stint with Green Bay after going undrafted out of Brigham Young, completing 14 of his 20 attempts for two scores. Hill was released by the Packers in 2017 though, where he was quickly signed by New Orleans. Prior to the team's trade for Bridgewater last summer, Hill failed to impress in his bid for backup quarterback, displaying poor accuracy and slow decision making. He will again have a chance to carve out a quarterback role this preseason, but seems best suited for his important role on special teams and as an offensive gadget.
T.J. Barrett was signed by the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2018, after a record setting career at Ohio State. Barrett saw limited duty last preseason, but stuck around on the team's practice squad, although released and re-signed numerous times. He has an uphill battle for a roster spot, but coaches obviously see something in the young signal caller that they like to keep bringing him back for a chance.
Both Brees and Bridgewater have contracts that will expire at the end of the 2019 season, while Hill will be a restricted free agent. Despite reduced passing numbers, Brees is still the heart and soul of this Saints team, and must continue to play at a high level if New Orleans is to be successful in their elusive chase for a second championship. The question of when he will retire, and if Bridgewater will be his replacement are both valid and polarizing, but debates best saved for another day. For the 2019 New Orleans Saints, there is only question at quarterback that matters. Does Drew Brees have at least one more great season left in his illustrious Hall of Fame career? Given the strength of the Saints roster, it's an answer that might result in another Super Bowl title.