When the topic regarding the greatest quarterbacks of all time is discussed, quarterbacks such as Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Terry Bradshaw and John Elway all come up, and rightfully so. However, fans always seem to forget about a certain quarterback that plays for the New Orleans Saints, who didn’t crack Sports Illustrated’s 2017 list of the top 10 quarterbacks of all time, or ESPN’s John Clayton’s list of the top 15 quarterbacks of all time compiled the same year.
It’s forgivable, though. Drew Brees is used to being overlooked.
The 11-time Pro Bowl, four-time All-Pro and future Hall of Fame quarterback is currently playing in his 17th season in the NFL at 39 years old, and has shown no signs of slowing down, as he is currently having the most efficient season of his career.
However, while the league MVP race heats up while the 2018 season winds down, it seems as if Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes may barely edge Brees out and win the only major award Brees has yet to win, primarily because Mahomes’ numbers are gaudier.
Brees has not only been overlooked figuratively, but literally as well. He was deemed too short to be a successful NFL quarterback. He slipped in the 2001 NFL Draft because he was considered a “college quarterback” who thrived only in the spread offense, and “experts” didn’t think he had enough arm strength. Because of this, he fell out of the first round of the draft and was selected by the then San Diego Chargers with the first pick in the second round. Brees wouldn’t start a game until the 2002 season.
Because of his struggles in the 2003 season, the Chargers acquired Philip Rivers in the 2004 NFL draft. The Chargers essentially gave Brees a vote of no confidence, and would make him prove his worth to the team that preseason. Brees would prove he’s no slouch, and made the Pro Bowl in 2004, leading the Chargers to the playoffs, while also winning Comeback Player of the Year.
While he threw more interceptions in 2005, he proved he was meant to be a starter for the Chargers’ franchise for a long time. However, that would all change at the end of the season.
Brees didn’t ring in the 2006 New Year with the fireworks he’d expected.
On Dec. 31, 2005, Chargers quarterback Brees suffered a dislocated right shoulder against the Denver Broncos. The “one-in-500” injury, as it was described by The New Orleans Advocate, is one of the worst injuries a quarterback can suffer. Many thought the rising star Brees would never be the same following the injury.
They were right. He wouldn’t be the same. He’d be better.
Of course, no one would know how much better he’d be. Brees, who was a free agent heading into the 2006 season, spoke with just three teams in the 2006 offseason — the Chargers, the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints. The Chargers offered him a contract that essentially stated they had no faith in him, as it was incentive-laden with a low base salary. The team also had Rivers waiting in the wings, so Brees’ starting status was in jeopardy.
The Dolphins were searching for their first franchise quarterback since Dan Marino retired following the 1999 season, and seemed legitimately interested in Brees. However, they deemed him too much of a risk, and traded for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper instead, who was incredibly talented in the early portion of his career. It seemed that Brees’ time in the NFL as a starter was coming to an end.
Then, the Saints came marching in.
The city of New Orleans had just been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The Saints were 3-13 in 2005, their stadium, the legendary New Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome, was damaged in the storm.
The city of New Orleans needed the emotional lift that a successful sports team could bring them. On Jan. 18, 2006, the Saints hired Sean Payton as their new head coach, and were looking for a franchise quarterback to develop the team in order to give New Orleans a team to cheer for. The Saints decided to take a chance on Brees and signed him on March 14, 2006.
He would prove they made the right choice, that 31 other teams made the mistake of overlooking him once again.
Brees led the Saints to a 10-6 record and an NFC Championship Game appearance in his first season. The team’s improved play gave the city of New Orleans something to cheer for. It was cathartic for the city. The team’s first game back in the Superdome on Monday Night Football is known as one of the greatest moments in the sport, with the stadium often being described as one of the loudest environments in sports history. Steve Gleason’s blocked punt in the upset of the Atlanta Falcons has been immortalized in football lore, and set the tone for the forthcoming Payton-Brees era.
In 2009, as Saints’ broadcaster Jim Henderson so famously exclaimed at the end of that season’s NFC Championship, pigs had flown, hell had frozen over and Brees led the franchise to its first Super Bowl win in Super Bowl XLIV.
Brees outplayed Saints’ legend Archie Manning’s son Peyton Manning, who had upset Brees for the MVP award that season and was named MVP of the game. With the win, he etched himself into the annals of football history.
He wouldn’t stop there.
While the Saints became a roller coaster team overall following the Super Bowl victory, Brees never faltered. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 32 or more touchdowns every year since the Super Bowl season. He threw for 5,000 yards in a single season five times in his career — no other player has done so more than once.
He set the single-season completion percentage record in 2017, when he was 38 years old, broke Johnny Unitas’ record for passing touchdowns in consecutive games in 2012, and broke Dan Marino’s single season passing yardage record — which has since been broken. Though Brees has grown older, however, he has only gotten better.
The 2018 season has been one of Brees’ most efficient. Through Week 13, he has led the Saints to a 10-2 record, while completing an absurd 75.5 percent of his passes and passing for 3,262 yards, 30 touchdowns and a mere 3 interceptions for a passer rating of 123.2 out of 158.3, which is higher than the single season record that Aaron Rodgers set in 2011 when he edged Brees out for the MVP.
He has been a record-breaking machine this season. He broke Favre’s record for most career completions against the Falcons on Sep. 23, broke Peyton Manning’s career passing yardage record on Oct. 8 with a 62-yard touchdown to Tre’Quan Smith, and moved into second place all-time in career passing touchdowns, throwing his 518th on Nov. 29. He figures to break Peyton Manning’s record of 539 career touchdowns before he retires. He has put his team is in its best position to win the Super Bowl since 2009.
Brees has accomplished what he has this season with receivers such as Michael Thomas, who is incredibly talented, but also with guys like Smith, Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr and 37-year-old tight end Ben Watson.
He’s doing more with less, which deserves recognition at the end of the year. It’s something he’s done his whole career. The committee may sway the award toward Brees, as a sympathy vote is a real thing when it comes for voters. Brees has never won MVP, and that will play a factor into the voters’ decision.
That being said, nothing has ever been a given in Brees’ career.
Brees has been the victim of one major variable when he’s stacked against other quarterbacks —the era he’s played in.
Many argue he is a product of his time. He is a quarterback who plays eight games a year in a dome, playing in the most explosive offensive era the league has ever seen.
He’s never won MVP, even if he should have. His contemporaries have been the likes of Brady, Manning, Favre, Rodgers, Kurt Warner and more who are all considered future and current Hall of Famers in their own right.
However, Brees has as many Super Bowl rings as a starter as Rodgers, Favre, Warner and Young — one, which is still one more than Marino. Championships are a team accomplishment, however, and Brees has been on teams that frankly were not good during his career — particularly on the defensive side.
Statistically speaking, however, Brees will most likely break every passing record ever before he retires, besides Favre’s dubious record for most career interceptions. His career passer rating of 97.8 is 11.4 points higher than Marino’s, nearly 18 points higher than Elway’s and 27 points higher than Bradshaw’s.
Again, times have changed, but the argument needs to be made that what Brees has done with the players around him for as long as he has is deserving of his being considered a top-10 quarterback of all time, and arguably even higher. Should he win MVP this year, another Super Bowl championship or both before he retires, there would be no question that he is ranked above most of the quarterbacks previously mentioned. To many, he already is.
This piece isn’t meant to sway the opinions of those who don’t believe Brees belongs higher on the quarterback list.
In the end, all of these “best of all-time” lists are completely subjective, as the game has changed drastically over the years.
Brees will go into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He will be remembered as a legend both on and off the field and as the man who turned the “Ain’ts” into the powerhouse Saints.
He will be remembered as the quarterback who did more with less than almost anyone who ever put on pads and a helmet. This is a call to fans and experts to stop overlooking Brees’ greatness and appreciate the quarterback mastery he’s presented us.
However, being overlooked is nothing new to Brees.