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Jokes aside, Brees grateful for NFL longevity

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Drew Brees has been joking about retirement lately on national television.

For now, it's just part of a fictional advertising campaign for an open-air, three-wheel vehicle which Brees' football contract forbids him from riding.

The truth is, even as Brees enters his 14th NFL season at the age of 35, he plans to play well beyond the three seasons left on his current deal with New Orleans.

''I joke about retirement, but I'm not naive,'' Brees said this week while doing promotional work for the Can-Am Spyder. ''I've played 13 years and it's gone by so fast. Each and every year, it's just like, `Wow, I made it through another year.'

Coming off three straight seasons with 5,000-plus yards passing, there's no sign of decline yet.

''Do I hope I can play into my 40s? Yes, I do. As long as I'm healthy and playing at a high level, then why not?'' Brees added. ''I certainly don't take it for granted and know that obviously you've got to prove yourself every year.''

This season, he'll have to prove himself without two players who helped him set a slew of franchise and NFL passing records during the past few seasons: running back Darren Sproles, who was traded to Philadelphia, and receiver Lance Moore, who was released and since signed by Pittsburgh.

Brees is eager to see how New Orleans' offense evolves and figures first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks will play a significant part in that process.

''There's no doubt he's a guy who has the ability to be a big contributor for us on offense this year,'' Brees said.

It would be a mistake to view Cooks as a replacement for Sproles, Brees said, because they play different positions. Still, Brees sees similarities.

''They're both kind of smaller guys but extremely quick, versatile, matchup problems,'' Brees said.

''Then you lose a guy like Lance Moore who could play outside and inside,'' Brees continued. ''Cooks is a guy who can play outside and inside, so maybe there's a correlation there. Again, you lose a versatile guy and you get a versatile guy.''

Cooks took part in Saints rookie camp last weekend but then returned to Oregon State to finish out the school year. Brees won't get to work with him for another month or so.

''Now it's just a matter of us spending time together, just like I had with Lance and Sproles, to develop that rapport and kind of see how he works himself into the offense,'' Brees said.

One aspect of the offense Brees does not expect to change is the production of Jimmy Graham, regardless of the tight end's current hold out for a contract extension. Brees went through a similar episode in 2012, when he, like Graham now, was designated as the Saints' franchise player, blocking him from free agency while saddling him with an unsatisfactory one-year deal.

Brees ultimately signed a five-year, $100 million deal shortly before a mid-July deadline to reach an extension. Brees accepted that protracted period of limbo as part of the business of the NFL and has little doubt Graham does as well.

''I really haven't thought twice about it. I know this is part of the deal,'' Brees said of Graham's holdout. ''This is the process sometimes. We text pretty often, actually, and a lot of times just as friends, really nothing to do with football.''

Graham's current franchise tag would pay him $7 million, but the NFL Players Association has filed a grievance on Graham's behalf which states he should receive a wide receiver tag worth $12.3 million because he most often lined up split out from the offensive line last season. An arbitration hearing is scheduled to start on June 17, unless a long-term extension is reached before then.

''I know he wants to be (at offseason workouts and practices) with us, just like me two years ago,'' Brees said. ''The big thing is, don't take it personal and this will happen in due time - hopefully sooner than later so we can get some time together before the season.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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