Drew Brees, as expected, ended his NFL career after 20 seasons, and decided to retire from the Saints on Sunday, 15 years after he signed in New Orleans. The future pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, who turned 42 in January, fought for an injury-plagued second year in a row with New Orleans and failed another Super Bowl in a four-straight postseason.
Brees won a ring, in Super Bowl 44 over the Colts in 2010, in addition to posting a .601 regular-season winning percentage, which includes his first five NFL seasons with the Chargers. Brees holds the record for the most passing yards (80,358), just ahead of Tom Brady, and finishes with 571 passing touchdowns, behind only Brady. Brees is the fifth most efficient passer of all time (rating 98.7).
After watching Brady lead rival NFC South Buccaneers to victory in Super Bowl 55, Brees pulls away after a difficult game in the NFC divisional playoff loss to Tampa Bay. After missing five games with a thumb injury in 2019, Brady missed four more games with battered ribs in 2019.
Brees didn’t win the NFL MVP in any season, but he was the Super Bowl MVP and accomplished everything else in the game with excellent stats and offensive leadership from Sean Payton. Signing as a free agent with New Orleans in 2006, he was key both in reshaping a franchise into a consistent winner and helping inspire a city that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Here’s a look at why Brees made the decision now, what his legacy is, and what the future holds:
MORE: Exploring the Saints QB Options for 2021 After Drew Brees Retirement
Why did Drew Brees retire from the NFL?
There was nothing wrong with Brees’ efficiency as he stayed in triple digits for six consecutive seasons to end his career. But before the last two seasons, he was an ironman for the Saints. If the thumb and ribs were the only things, that would be one thing. But the ribs also came with a collapsed lung. According to his wife, Brittany, Brees also played with a torn rotator cuff and torn fascia, adding shoulder and foot to the list of worrisome injuries.
Brees made the announcement in a post on his Instagram with his four children.
There was also a decrease in Brees’ arm strength. Deep balls were a fight. Brees finished 34th in the NFL in average predicted passing yards per attempt at 6.1. Last season, he finished 32nd in that category with 6.4.
Brees has been in tremendous overall physical shape to play at this level for so long. But there have been signs that he is breaking down in his early 40s, very different from Brady. Mentally and athletically, Brees can still play quarterback better than most and help his team win many more games. However, the constraints that prevented him from executing with his high level of execution became too much in 2020.
How much did Drew Brees mean to the Saints organization?
The Saints became engaged to Brees in 2006 even though some other teams, like the Dolphins, were concerned about the condition of his right shoulder as he jumped from injury when he was displaced by Philip Rivers in his final season with the Chargers. When the Saints had faith that Brees could be the right quarterback to join then-new coach Payton’s offense for a long time, he rewarded them by immersing himself in the culture of the team and the city.
While the Saints helped rebuild their career to become a Hall of Famer, Brees was right there helping New Orleans heal, both with his upbeat winning spirit on the field and his contributions to rebuilding off the field. For his immediate charitable efforts, Brees was honored as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year after his first season, when the Saints triumphantly returned to the playoffs playing in the Superdome.
Brees has continued to plant stronger roots with “Who Dat Nation” for two successful decades, investing more in the community and increasing his philanthropy along the way. Brees gave the Saints the longtime leader they needed in every sense of the word. He will become, hands down, the best professional athlete to play and stay in New Orleans. Looking at the fleur-de-lis on his helmet for all these years, it can be mistaken for the symbol of a heavy heart.
The Saints have retired two jersey numbers in their history since entering the NFL in 1967, Jim Taylor (No. 31) and Doug Atkins (No. 81). Expect Brees to join that club, with no one ever wearing number 9 for New Orleans again.
Where does Drew Brees rank among the best quarterbacks of all time in the NFL?
Brady is the GOAT with his seven Super Bowl rings. Joe Montana is No. 2 with his four 49ers championships. Then it becomes more difficult to complete “Mount Rushmore”. The late Johnny Unitas, for what he did to modernize the NFL passing game long before his time, deserves a strong mention and rating. Likewise, thinking of QB’s pioneering game and leadership, the late Otto Graham was also a throwback superstar.
So it’s Brees against two more contemporaries, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, and against two strong-armed legends, John Elway and Dan Marino. Regardless of how you rank them, Brees has a firm spot in the top 10, just outside the top five. Their longevity, durability, and prolific numbers cannot be ignored. Brees has also tied Rodgers and Russell Wilson in non-Brady rings with one, one behind Manning and Elway and one more than Marino.
Brees managed to break through with a ring once in an era dominated by Brady, and that’s huge. With the league’s passing explosion and several young players like Patrick Mahomes heading for brilliant careers, Brees still has enough of a cushion of passing numbers to stay between No. 6 and No. 9 on the list for a long time.
What’s next for Drew Brees after playing in the NFL?
Brees already knew what he planned to do last year. In April 2020, he agreed to sign a contract with NBC Sports to be a soccer analyst on college and professional broadcasts. The network had to close the deal early with ESPN as a competition for the rights to present its brilliant mind and eloquent voice on television.
There are signs that Brees will be poised to replace Cris Collinsworth as the lead commentator of color on “Sunday Night Football,” just as Mike Tirico is hoping to replace Al Michaels as the play-by-play lead player. Collinsworth is 62, while Michaels is 76.
Meanwhile, Brees is expected to work as a studio analyst on “Football Night in America” on Sundays and will also contribute to the coverage of NBC’s home games at Notre Dame on Saturdays.
NBC hopes that the personable and personable Brees will show off his footballing smarts and share it simply with viewers, just as CBS won the jackpot with former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, another former No. 9, alongside Jim Nantz. Brees should be on television talking about the NFL for a long time instead of playing in it, as should Collinsworth and Troy Aikman of Fox.
Brees may no longer be out on the field for the Saints, but he will be a national fixture and will continue to represent New Orleans well in more ways. You will also have more time to spend with Brittany and her four children, sons Baylen, Bowen and Callen, and daughter Rylen. Brees won’t stray too far from the NFL, and the league’s presentation will be better for her.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.