Updated: Apr 4, 2020
Recently, Sean Payton in an interview on ESPN's "Get Up" said that Drew Brees announced that he is coming back to New Orleans for his final season. This statement either came as shock or confirmation to millions of Saints Fans. Drew Brees didn't say in a press conference or an interview that it was his last season, but Drew Brees and Sean Payton are one of the closest duos in sports. Besides, Sean Payton is one of the most "closed in" coaches in the NFL, no pun intended. Payton rarely ever has a slip of the tongue when he intends to hide information. So one could assume this is really it for Drew Brees and this, his 15th season as the leader of the New Orleans Saints is truly his last hoorah. If this is it for Drew Brees, it's been quite a remarkable ride. Brees has without a doubt been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL since he signed with the New Orleans Saints. Brees has also been a pillar of the community in New Orleans, he's been one of the most genuinely generous individuals with his time and his charity, and took the Saints to places the City of New Orleans never dreamed of going. Most would say that Drew Brees showed the entire NFL what it looks like to wholeheartedly love a city and have that city love you back. So if this is it, then I'm sure he walks away with very few regrets, but something tells me that some things could lure Drew Brees back for Season 16 with Saints.
Before Drew Brees came to New Orleans, the Saints were one of the saddest stories in the National Football League. A team seemingly on the brink of breaking out of mediocrity, finishing the 2004 season at 8-8, was suddenly a team without a home due to Hurricane Katrina. Given the right set of circumstances, the 2005 Saints team could have prevented Sean Payton and Drew Brees from ever coming to the Saints. They boasted one of the best wide receivers in the game in Joe Horn. Horn was surrounded by some of the fastest wide receivers in the league in Donte Stallworth, Devery Henderson, and Az Hakim. The offense also had a great young running back in Deuce McAllister, a great veteran in running back Fred McAfee, and on defense, the Saints had one of the best defensive lines featuring the late Will Smith, Charles Grant, and Darren Howard. However, the team had issues in the secondary, even though an investment in CB Mike McKenzie would pay off later; Highway 21 Fred Thomas and the young tandem at safety were far too much to overcome defensively. Couple that with less than stellar coaching by Saints Head Coach Jim Haslett, horrible quarterback play by Aaron Brooks, Deuce McAllister's torn ACL, all while dealing with one of the worst disasters in the history of Louisiana, it's easy to see why a team once teetering on the brink of mediocrity was suddenly 3-13, and gravely in need a rebuild.
As the story goes, in the middle of New Orleans doing its best to rebuild and recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the Saints began rebuilding as well. First adding new head coach Sean Payton and then welcoming new QB Drew Brees, fresh off of a disappointing ending to his time in San Diego. Yes, unbeknownst to some newer Saints fans, the Saints did not draft Drew Brees. Generally, you wouldn't have to say it but a meme recently emerged claiming that Drew Brees spent his whole career with one team, so I figured I should remind some of you newer generation Saints fans. Either way, in some cases, it's better, because while the city was at its lowest point Drew Brees choose New Orleans. He saw the potential of the city and the team and decided to be a part of the rebuilding process.
On the field, Brees immediately put to rest any doubts Saints fans, or more famously the Saints coaching staff, had about his healing shoulder. In his first year, Brees turned a 3-13 team into a 10-6 NFC South champion and led New Orleans to their very first NFC championship game. The glory of the 2006 season would serve as one of the greatest foreshadowing moments in NFL history. A few years later Drew Brees would do what most Saints Fans thought was impossible and lead the New Orleans Saints to the Super Bowl. Every Saints fan around the world would have been satisfied with just making it to the Super Bowl. Beating Star Quarterback Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts seemed too far-fetched, too much like a dream. However, a legendary onside kick, some creativity on offense, and an unforgettable pick-six would turn that dream into an unfathomable reality.
If it ended there, it would still be one of the most remarkable stories in sports history, but it doesn't. Brees has gone on to be the model of excellence and consistency in New Orleans. He has been named to multiple Pro Bowls, He owns a multitude of passing records, and he boasts an ungodly amount of personal achievements and accolades, and though that second trip to the mountain top has been ever-elusive. Brees has become the face of New Orleans sports for nearly a decade and a half. If Brees does retire after the 2020-2021 season, the city will forever owe Brees a debt of gratitude. I can almost say with certainty that the team will build a statue of their hometown hero outside of the Mercedes Benz Super Dome within a month after he retires. However the question remains, is this truly it for Drew Brees, and if not what would make him come back for the 16th season in New Orleans.
Now before I say this, let me clearly state that all the signs point to this being the last season for Drew Brees in New Orleans. In a recent interview with Ross Jackson, editor for Canal Street Chronicles and the host of the Locked on Saints Podcast, we discussed the major signs that Brees displayed that signals that this is the end of his career in New Orleans. However, there are a few things that have made this matter a bit more intriguing, that were not true or even thought possible when Drew Brees informed Sean Payton he was coming back for what would be his final season in New Orleans.
Let's start with the biggest factor, Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. Drew Brees and Tom Brady have long been in friendly competition with one another. The two have never faced off in a Super Bowl, but almost every meeting has been significant. When the Saints were on their way to the Super Bowl in 2008-2009, it was their dominant win over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots that signified to Drew Brees that his team was ready for greatness. After stumbling against a beatable Bengals team in 2013, a comeback victory over Drew Brees and an undefeated Saints team marked a signature moment of the 2013 season for Tom Brady. Drew Brees currently owns a 3-2 edge in face to face meetings with Tom Brady, though those two wins have been in their most recent matchups. Drew Brees is 41 years old and Tom Brady is 42, both have said on separate occasions that they want to play until they're 45. Just recently Brady increased that number to 46 or 47. Among NFL records, of which Drew Brees owns a ton, Drew Brees is currently the NFL All-Time Leader in Passing TDs at 547, only 6 TDs behind Drew Brees is Tom Brady at 541. This upcoming year Tom Brady will be flushed with offensive weapons in comparison to what he's had in New England over the past season. While Drew Brees will also have a great number of weapons, if Tom Brady has a "2013 Payton Manning" type of season and overtakes Brees as the All-Time leader this season, I'm sure that will not sit well with the highly competitive Brees. Drew Brees has also owned the NFC South for the last 3 seasons, winning the division title in 2017, 2018, and this past season. If Brady comes into the NFC South and steals the division crown from Brees in his first season in the NFC South, Brees may rethink his 2021 status.
While Tom Brady could be a huge motivating factor for a 2021 return of Drew Brees, a shot a third title would be quite motivational as well. Wait, a third? When did he win the second? Therein lays my premise. Drew Brees will be entering into his 15th Season in New Orleans on one of the most talented rosters he has ever had since he's been in New Orleans. While the Falcons, Bucs, and Panthers have also increased exponentially in talent this off-season, so have the Saints. New Orleans has been slowly building a juggernaut for years. The process began with an epic 2017 draft (Lattimore, Ramczyk, Kamara, etc.) and from there they have evolved into a perennial top contender. Though the playoffs have not been kind to Saints, most believe the Saints playoff woes can be accredited to a lack of great leadership on defense, and a lack of weapons outside of Pro Bowlers Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Last offseason, the Saints started to address those holes with the addition of tight end Jared Cook, coupled with the emergence of Swiss army knife WR/TE/RB/KR/QB, Taysom Hill. This off-season with the addition of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency, this 2020 Saints team will be the most complete in the NFL. While Drew has led some amazing offenses in New Orleans, this season the defense should see vast improvements in communication and less defensive lapses due to the Saints bringing back safety Malcolm Jenkins. Along with the improvements on offense and defense, the Saints also boast one of the best special teams units in kicker Will Lutz, punter Thomas Morstead, and the undrafted rookie turned Pro Bowl kick returner, Deonte Harris. This Saints team is loaded with talent. With the added motivation of playing one last season for Drew Brees, one can easily see why it's not far-fetched to predict the Saints as possible Super Bowl champions. If that happens, does Brees ride off in the sunset like the aforementioned Manning, or does he saddle up for one more run with this talented squad?
Whatever happens throughout next season or the next two seasons will only add to the remarkable story of Drew Brees and his time in New Orleans. If this season is his last, then New Orleans will be left with lasting memories of the greatest quarterback to ever wear a Saints uniform. Drew Brees has been a great leader, servant, and friend to the city. Drew Brees embodies the phrase "Face of the Franchise", and his time in New Orleans has been far more than anything 2005 Saints Fan could have imagined. The wheels also seem to be in motion for his departure as the Saints seemed poised to either move on with Taysom Hill or select a quarterback in the upcoming draft. However, if the right circumstances cause Brees to decide to come back after this season, I'm sure his head coach and his city will welcome him back with open arms, and that's not something Brady can say about his time in New England.