There were a few benchmark achievements between 2000 and 2020 that led teams to be increasingly delusional about the shelf lives of their quarterbacks. Whether it was Tom Brady’s agelessness, Eli Manning’s late production spike with Odell Beckham and Ben McAdoo or a few of Ben Roethlisberger’s best years in his early- and mid-thirties with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, coaches lucky enough to have these generational talents shifted from sane, pragmatic individuals to shaky gamblers laying their retirement account on one spin at the roulette wheel.
Who needs to plan for the future when we can cement it right now?
Instead of viewing really good players as assets that simply depreciate a little more slowly than average, the obsession over capitalizing on and extending realistic windows of competitiveness grew. Decisions were made to maximize the waning years of players who had no guarantee of aging gracefully. And eventually, teams like the Giants found themselves buried underneath a mountain of bad contracts and the unenviable situation of having to start over instead of deciding to.
Drew Brees announced he was coming back for his age 41 season Tuesday through a social media post. And while this would seem to be evidence of the same cautionary tale, Brees, like Brady, has earned his coaches and personnel executives a reprieve from that discussion. Everything in New Orleans has been building to the crescendo of a second Brees-Sean Payton Super Bowl, following their victory in Super Bowl XLIV, now more than a decade ago. Replacing either of those two parts would symbolize the true moving on from an era, and as long as both are of (relatively) sound mind and body, there isn’t much of an argument for bailing until the moment the car flies off the cliff and into oblivion.
One reason for this? Through the strength of their offense alone, New Orleans has somehow maintained its torrid, competitive pace despite regularly cementing itself in salary cap hell, which made all of the crazy decisions they’ve made to this point seem sensible. They are the football team equivalent of the high-energy coffee and cigarette addled human who leaves doctors wondering how much longer can they reasonably keep this up?
The other reason is that Brees has aged more gracefully than almost any quarterback in modern NFL history. Pro Football Focus noted that in 2019, despite declining deep-yardage numbers, he still threw fewer negative passes than any player in the league and graded out among the best overall passers in football. Taking into account situational performances and defensive strength, ESPN’s total quarterback rating put Brees behind only regular season MVP Lamar Jackson and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes.
There isn’t a player on the market or in the draft who could replace both his institutional knowledge of the offense and in-game efficiency in time to maximize the present.
When Brees is gone, it will take a while for the Saints to become the Saints again. Or, we will have to get used to the idea that the post-Brees Saints are something different altogether. There will be a hole that they’ll finally have to crawl out from underneath regardless, but Brees is the only person capable of making that all worthwhile.
We’ve seen how this typically irrational behavior tends to sink franchises at an alarming rate. However, we’ve not seen many quarterbacks like Brees.
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