The short-term, high cost nature of a Drew Brees contract has always led to speculation that the soon-to-be 39-year-old would end his career outside of Louisiana, playing a Brett Favre type mercenary role for a playoff-caliber roster devoid of quarterback talent.
However, the resurgent Saints have changed the tune. Young, talented running backs and wide receivers. Shutdown corners, competitive defense. Why would he move his family to pass that up? Tucked inside a recent NFL Network report questioning Brees’ long-term plans was this tidbit: “he's privately said he doesn't want to play anywhere else.”
In a radio interview Tuesday, Brees addressed the situation with his normal arsenal of platitudes, but sounded positive about the prospect of staying put.
“I feel like we’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us and I don’t plan on leaving New Orleans ever,” Brees told the Hardwick & Richards show in San Diego, via Pro Football Talk. “Hopefully, I know all of that stuff takes care of itself when it’s supposed to. I have not approached them about any contract. We just have a great understanding here. Listen, we’re going to go through this season and we’ll revisit it in the offseason. For right now, I’m in the moment.”
Imagine the once-loaded veteran quarterback free agent class of 2018 without him. It’s no longer hard to believe that neither Brees nor Jimmy Garoppolo will even make it to the open market, assuming Garoppolo plays well enough in his 49er audition to earn an enhanced four-year Brock Osweiler-to-Texans type deal.
Here’s our look at how the class breaks down without them, plus a few notes:
1. Kirk Cousins, Washington: Cousins, 29, is making $24,250,000 this year and if the Washington somehow manages to bungle negotiations again this offseason, could end up with a salary as high is $34.47 million if another franchise tag is applied. While it almost certainly won’t get there, this will be a banner offseason for those who love parsing the minutiae of different one-year contract options (like the transition tag). The one problem? Who is bidding against Washington if the 49ers are out? Alex Smith could theoretically be on the market further dwindling the need to pay big money for a Pro Bowl-caliber star. Depending on how the top half of the draft shakes out, anyone from Eli Manning to Philip Rivers could be available for the right price. The Browns (maybe Jaguars?) could be one of the few teams with enough cap space (and a void at the position) to invest that kind of money.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings: Bridgewater just turned 25 and, if Case Keenum keeps up his strong level of play this year, could end up entering free agency without much of an audition tape post-injury. The Vikings are confident enough in his recovery to activate him on game days now and even entertain replacing Keenum with the former first-round pick. The worst part of the Bridgewater injury from a football perspective was that it occurred at a moment when he was coming into his own. Will teams bet on a promising 2015? And how much will they be willing to wager?
3. Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings: Keenum is hitting his stride at the right time. He’ll be 30 at the start of the league year and has already thrown for 1,914 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions in seven starts – numbers that, if projected out over a full season look better than any of Mike Glennon’s best years before singing his sizable contract with the Bears this offseason.
4. Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings: Bradford’s one full start this season was electric – 27-of-32 for 346 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against a Saints team that has become one of the league’s best defenses. Given the uncertainty surrounding his knee injury, he may not be an $18 million per year player on the other side of this recovery, but he does provide teams with an above replacement level starter out of the box.
5. Josh McCown, New York Jets: McCown will be 39 before the start of the 2018 season if he opts not to retire. Given the current NFL landscape, he could be the Jets’ best option next season, too. At $6 million (incentives not included) he’s a bargain for a QB1 Pro Football Focus currently rates above Jared Goff, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton and Joe Flacco.
6. Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins: On Monday Night Football, the broadcast crew noted that Cutler, who is 34 (35 before training camp 2018) and making roughly $10 million per season, seems to be interested in staying unretired and out of the booth. Over his last four starts, he is completing 67.97 percent of his passes for 813 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Could he build a market or dig his heels in with the Dolphins?
7. Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins: Moore’s 2017 numbers (364 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions) are the average of two night and day performances. Moore turns 34 right before camp, but played well down the stretch during Ryan Tannehill’s 2016 absence.
8. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: There will never be a season without Ryan Fitzpatrick. The one-time Jets starter turns 35 just before Thanksgiving and will have a potential half-season audition as Buccaneers starter on film depending on what happens to Jameis Winston.
9. Chase Daniel, New Orleans Saints: Daniel is not that far removed from a three-year, $21 million deal in Philadelphia. But is he that far removed from the perception that he could potentially start regular season games?
10. Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos: It seems Osweiler will be a placeholder for Paxton Lynch in Denver and then…? His 2017 numbers seem to be a similar version of the ho-hum stat lines he delivered in Houston last year. That would seem to eliminate him from starting contention for the foreseeable future.
Honorable mention: Tom Savage, Houston Texans, Geno Smith, New York Giants, E.J. Manuel, Oakland Raiders, Drew Stanton, Arizona Cardinals, Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars, Blaine Gabbert, Arizona Cardinals, Colin Kaepernick*, free agent
* Obviously, Kaepernick would be a preferable option to some of the players on this top 10 list. However, if NFL teams did not sign him amid a flurry of QB injuries in 2017, his outlook for playing next season does not seem bright.