Drew Brees, as expected, ended his NFL career after 20 seasons, deciding to retire from the Saints on Sunday — 15 years to the date after he signed in New Orleans. The future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, who turned 42 in January, fought through a second consecutive injury-riddled year with New Orleans and fell short of another Super Bowl for a four straight postseason.
Brees did win one ring, in Super Bowl 44 over the Colts in 2010, along with posting a career regular-season winning percentage of .601, which includes his first five NFL seasons with the Chargers. Brees holds the record for most career passing yards (80,358), just ahead of Tom Brady, and ends with 571 passing touchdowns, behind only Brady. Brees is the fifth most-efficient passer of all time (98.7 rating).
After seeing Brady lead the NFC South rival Buccaneers to victory in Super Bowl 55, Brees walks away after a rough 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 NFL MVP in any season, but he was a Super Bowl MVP and accomplished everything else possible in the game with great statistics and leadership in Sean Payton’s offense. Signing as a free agent with New Orleans in 2006, he was key to both remolding a franchise into a consistent winner and helping to inspire a city that was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Here’s a look at why Brees made the decision now, what his legacy is, and what his future holds:
Why did Drew Brees retire from the NFL?
There was nothing wrong with Brees’ efficiency, as he stayed in triple digits for six straight seasons to end his career. But before the past two seasons, he was an ironman for the Saints. If the thumb and the 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 through a torn rotator cuff and and a torn fascia, adding shoulder and foot to the list of concerning injuries.
Brees made the announcement in a post on his Instagram featuring his four kids.
There also was declining arm strength from Brees. The deep balls were a struggle. Brees finished No. 34 in the NFL in average intended air passing yards per attempt with 6.1. The season before, he finished No. 32 in that category at 6.4.
Brees has kept himself in tremendous physical shape overall to play at this high of a level for so long. But there have been signs of breaking down in his early 40s, a lot different than Brady. Mentally and athletically, Brees can still play quarterback better than most and help his team win a lot more games. The limitations keeping him from executing at his high standard of exeuction, however, became too much in 2020.
How much did Drew Brees mean to the Saints’ organization?
The Saints made a commitment to Brees in 2006 despite some other teams, such as the Dolphins, having worries about the state of his right throwing shoulder coming off injury when displaced by Philip Rivers in his final season with the Chargers. When the Saints had faith Brees could be the right quarterback to attach to then new coach Payton’s offense for a long time, he rewarded them by immersing himself into the culture of the team and the city.
While the Saints helped rebuild his career into 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 rebuild off the field. For his immediate charitable efforts, Brees was honored as the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year after his first season, when the Saints made a triumphant return to the playoffs back playing in the Superdome.
Brees has continued to plant stronger roots with “Who Dat Nation” over two successful decades, investing more in the community and raising his philanthropy along the way. Brees gave the Saints the long-time leader they needed in every sense of the word. He will go down, hands down, as the best professional athlete to play in and stay in New Orleans. When looking at the fleur de lis on his helmet all these years, it can get confused with 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 No. 9 again for New Orleans.
Where does Drew Brees rank among the NFL’s all-time best QBs?
Brady is the GOAT with his seven Super Bowl rings. Joe Montana Is No. 2 with his four 49ers championships. Then it becomes harder to complete the “Mount Rushmore”. The late Johnny Unitas, for what he did to modernize the NFL passing game well ahead of his time, deserves a strong mention and ranking. Likewise, thinking back to pioneering QB play and leadership, the late Otto Graham was also a throwback superstar.
So then it’s Brees vs. two more contemporaries, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, and vs. two strong-armed legends, John Elway and Dan Marino. However you rank them, Brees has a firm place in the top 10, just outside the top five. His longevity, durability and prolifc numbers cannot be ignored. Brees also has matched 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 guns such as Patrick Mahomes headed to bright careers, Brees still has enough of a passing numbers cushion to remain 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 soon last year. In April 2020, he agreed to sign a contract with NBC Sports to be a football analyst on both college and pro broadcasts. The deal had to be done early by the network with ESPN looming as competition for the rights to feature his bright mind and eloquent voice on television.
There’s every indication that Brees will be groomed to take over from Cris Collinsworth as the main color commentator on “Sunday Night Football.”, much like Mike Tirico is standing by to take over for Al Michaels as the primary play-by-play man. Collinsworth is 62, while Michaels is 76.
In the meantime, Brees is expected to be employed as a studio analyst in “Football NIght in America” on Sundays sand also contribute to coverage of NBC’s Notre Dame home games on Saturdays.
NBC is hoping the personable and affable Brees will show his football intelligence and share it in layman way with viewers, much like CBS hit the jackpot with former Cowboys QB Tony Romo, another former No. 9, alongside Jim Nantz. Brees should be on TV talking NFL for a long time instead of playing in it, much like Collinsworth and Fox’s Troy Aikman.
Brees may not be taking the field for the Saints anymore, but he will be a national fixture as well as still representing New Orleans well in more ways. He also will getting more time to spend with Brittany and their four children, sons Baylen, Bowen and Callen and daughter Rylen. Brees isn’t going too far away from the NFL, and the presentation of the league will better for it.