If after the game, in frustration, you called for Drew Brees to finally end his Hall of Fame career don’t worry, you’re not alone. Simply searching for “Drew Brees retire” on any social media platform brings up more results than many ever dreamed possible. After becoming the only team in NFL history to finish the season 13-3 and lose in the Wild-Card round of the playoffs emotions are running high for everyone.
The question is, is there any validity to an argument that says Brees should retire? Or, is it simple example of frustration boiling over to the point that it clouds people’s judgments? Honestly, I think it’s both.
You can easily make an argument for why Brees should retire, and not with just a singular point. None of this changes the fact that Brees is by far the best quarterback to ever don black and gold and will be enshrined in Canton five years after whatever season he chooses to retire. But all good things must come to an end.
In a week’s time (January 15) Brees will turn 41. With his contract designed to expire after the 2019 season ($21,300,000 dead cap number in 2020 according to Spotrac) this places the Saints in the awkward position of having three quarterbacks be free agents. Jack of All trades, and master of all of them, Taysom Hill is a restricted free agent so he’ll be much easier to hold onto. However, Teddy Bridgewater joins Brees as unrestricted free agents who will hit the open market.
What might be the biggest point for letting Brees walk (retire?) would be the cost of bringing him back to the team. Spotrac gives Brees a “market value” of 37.1 million. That is what they would estimate his average annual salary would be on the open market. While Mickey Loomis throwing that amount at Brees is extremely unlikely, even 30 million a year could put the Saints in a spot that makes it extremely difficult to keep some key pieces to the team.
Starters like A.J. Klein, Vonn Bell, Andrus Peat, Eli Apple and David Onyemata are free agents this offseason. Key role players like P.J. Williams, Justin Hardee, and J.T. Gray will also need to either be re-signed or let walk. No one should doubt Loomis’ Sith-Like power when it comes to contracts, but even he could have difficulty bringing back so many key pieces if he’s forced to devote substantial money to the quarterback position.
Sure, many fans will say it’s time to simply move on from Bridgewater, thank him for his contribution in the Saints 5-0 run during Brees’ absence, and keep moving. However, Bridgewater showed he could start in this league and got better as his reps increased under Sean Payton. Of course the Saints aren’t the only team to have seen this and you can expect them to come courting Bridgewater just as the Miami Dolphins did during the 2019 offseason.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots won their most recent Super Bowl with Brady being 41 years of age. That is the oldest a quarterback has ever been and win a Super Bowl. Peyton Manning held the record for a short time after the Denver Broncos took home the Lombardi with Manning at the end of his career at 39 years old. Another Bronco held the previous record with John Elway being 37 & 38 during his wins.
However, for the most part history indicates the likelihood of Brees returning to the big stage is quite slim. Most analysts agreed that the injury he suffered in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams was setting up to be a blessing in disguise for the aging gunslinger. The almost two months of rest would allow him to come into the playoffs fresh.
Brees did finish the 2019 campaign with some of the best numbers of his entire career, and while his average depth of target, deep field ball placement, and yards per catch have continued to drop he seems even more efficient. At the end of 2019 Brees had set a career best in TD % with 7.1% of his passes finding the end zone and combined that with the 2nd lowest interception rate of his career at 1.1%. Even if he was targeting shorter field those are still impressive numbers. Oh, and he had his 6th season of 70% completion percentage or higher (A NFL Record).
While all of these numbers are great they came to a crashing halt in the playoffs. Brees’ struggles to stretch the field reared their head, his ball placement seemed off at times on routine passes and his ability to avoid pressure at times eluded him. The loss to the Vikings surely cannot be placed squarely on his shoulders, but it’s unlikely that time will make any of the issues that have come up over the past few seasons start to go away.
None of these things necessarily say Brees is playing poorly or that the Saints can’t win with him at the helm in 2020. If anything, it’s obvious that they can. The real question that arises is whether or not his Super Bowl window is still open. If it is not, but you can still win games, do you keep Brees until he is ready to hang it up his cleats on his own?
In this scenario imagine that in 2020 the Saints have the ability to win 10-12 games with Brees at quarterback. Due to cap struggles they’ve been unable to retain all of their veteran starters, but have supplemented the roster through the draft. It’s arguable that no team in the NFL has been as good as New Orleans has been since the addition of Jeff Ireland in the draft. All of these wins are for naught, however, as the team continues to lack the playmakers and depth to push for a Super Bowl run.
In scenario B the Saints move on from Brees which likely results in less wins during 2020. However, with over 100 million in cap space in 2021, a full slate of draft picks and all of their non-quarterback stars still on the roster they’re able to re-tool to make a push with either a young and/or rookie quarterback or a combination of Hill and Bridgewater. (Because hey, if we’re going to play imaginary scenarios, why not dual quarterbacks?!).
Moving on from Brees potentially allows a Super Bowl window to form in 2021-2023. This three year window opens up time to prepare and execute. It’s probably no coincidence that the quarterbacks making the most money haven’t often represented their conferences in the Super Bowl. Unarguably the most important position in the game, it’s also the most expensive.
In the end I think the Saints and Brees continue to join forces to conquer the NFC South and attempt to make one last run at a Lombardi Trophy so all of this theorizing is likely for naught. Yet, you aren’t crazy for thinking there is another way. It might sound crazy to get rid of Brees for the chance of a window in the future. Hell, the odds maybe against you, but as a really cool guy wearing a cargo jacket once said, “Never tell me the odds. “