Drew Brees is perhaps the single most important sports figure in the history of not just the Saints, but all of New Orleans sports heroes of present and past. In a nation where the NFL is far-and-away the most popular sport, Brees stands as the main source in resurrecting a city that gave the world Jazz music and is properly nicknamed the “Big Easy”- because of all the joy that can be had in “NOLA” for a generous price.
Ever since 2014 when the Sean Payton-Drew Brees tandem failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008, The (currently) 39 year old Brees has been the topic of media-outlets from all over. An article from the 2014 season claimed the Saints organization “wish (ed) they had done this in previous years” in regards to planning to draft a quarterback high in the draft. When the saints did indeed draft a quarterback with the 75th pick in the 2015 draft, I was floored but many were excited for what they called Brees’s “heir-apparent”. The excitement probably came from the media people like those over at fanbuzz.com who called Brees’s 2014 season one of his worst in New Orleans, not elite, and contemplated the thought of the Saints moving in to the top 5 of the draft to select either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota.
Sure it was only a third round-pick that the Saints spent on Grayson, thank god, but one has to keep in mind how valuable even the 75th pick is to a team who has just missed out on the playoffs. Some of you may be thinking: in hindsight that was obviously a bad pick, but what should they have done instead? It’s quite obvious what they should’ve done if you look at what unfolded later in the third round- LSU DE Danielle Hunter(88th) and NIU RB David Johnson(86th). If you recall the Saints had the 78th pick(P.J. Williams) in addition to the 75th(Grayson), so it is entirely possible that the Saints could’ve obtained both the all-pro running back and young defensive end who’s already secured 25.5 sacks in three seasons.
Ok, so Johnson was a diamond-in-the-rough of sorts, so the Saints would’ve probably not selected him, but Hunter having been at LSU would’ve definitely been a possibility. Keeping in mind what the Saints logistically would’ve been trying to do in this draft to recoup after having the leagues 31st ranked defense, Defensive End would’ve been an ideal position to draft as Hunter could’ve played a similar role to what’s currently expected of Marcus Davenport. The saints were a mess in the secondary in 2014, so P.J. Williams made sense, but imagine if the saints had both Mark Ingram, and David Johnson for the past 3 seasons. If you were to look up Danielle Hunter, the first or second article listed would say- “Vikings Danielle Hunter is the NFL’s best Pass Rusher that nobody’s talking about”. Your welcome if hearing that the reason why the Minneapolis Miracle occurred was because of the Saints drafting Garrett Grayson, but we may have had the number one seed if we had only dismissed the urge to draft a QB.
Danielle Hunter leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks as of November 6th. Ironically, Hunter (37 career sacks) has recorded a sack in all but one game- vs the Saints.
Put simply the talk about adding the “heir-apparent” has been a non-stop crisis, but was Brees even regressing to the degree of meriting concern? No, simply put he was still a great QB, and had only been viewed as “struggling” because he had one of the most consistently worst defensive units in the history of the NFL. And because of his own high bar, Drew Brees led the NFL in passing yards in that “terrible” 2014 season, with 4,952 yards, the 11th highest total ever and nearly another 5,000 yard season for Brees. Also, that 2014 season included the 10th highest comp. % season at the time. You don’t have to take my word for it though, because in 2015 and 2016 when the media continued to create the same ‘ole “Drew Brees isn’t that great anymore” headliner, the Saints defenses were setting records of their own in an embarrassing way- 2015: Most Passing touchdowns ever allowed(45) and 2016: League-worst passing defense. It’s probably worth mentioning the 2012 defense allowed the most total yards ever(7042). All in all, this means that since the 2009-10 Saints team won the super bowl, every Saints team ranked in the bottom two in defense has failed to make the playoffs, and any team inside the top 30 has made the playoffs. That’s not a whole lot to ask of a defense, so just leave my boy Drew Brees out of your discouraging articles, it’s less his fault than your entitled to think.
(Actual Stats) Now that you know how bad the Saints defense has been, it’ll probably help to see how great the offense has been. Since 2006, when Drew Brees joined the Saints, their offense ranks 1st in the NFL and their Defense ranks last(32nd). Additionally it is the Passing Offense(Brees) that carries the Saints to the #1 overall offense, because the Rushing Offense has been average in a majority of Brees’s seasons. Brees has led the NFL in passing yards seven times(NFL Record)- Brees has five of the nine 5000 yard seasons ever- and passing touchdowns four times in his twelve seasons in New Orleans. Furthermore his accuracy is off-the-charts with 3 of the 4 best completion % seasons in the history of the NFL, including a record-best 72% in 2017, so he clearly hasn’t slowed down.
Importantly for this entire argument, Drew Brees’ 2018 campaign is one of his bests. I’ll admit to having written the first three sections of this paper before the season even started, and that’s what makes Drew Brees so special- I could see this season coming, but because of all his doubters, and lack of press compared to other greats, few others could too.
He was the best in the business in 2009 and 2011 but there was no MVP to show for. Now in 2018 he’s the NFL’s leader in Completion Percentage, with an unreal 76.3% conversion rate. His touchdown to interception ratio is 18-1, which if maintained would give him the best ratio of any QB in any season in NFL history. His 120.6 passer rating is 1.9 off of the greatest single-season mark- Aaron Rodgers 2011 season that is higher despite Rodgers recording less good #’s in every meaningful stat. Lastly, Brees is nearly on pace for another 5000 yard season thanks to four out of eight games thus far with well over 300 yards (346 vs Rams, 363 vs Redskins, 396 vs Falcons, and 439 vs Buccaneers), and has positioned the Saints for a first-round bye in the uber-competitive NFC playoffs thanks to a 7-1 record. If Brees keeps these marks up, and is not named MVP at the end of the season, there should be riots. On October 21st (week 7), against the Ravens, Brees became the third QB ever - Favre and Manning - to beat every team in the NFL. He had beaten the first 31 already by 2013, but failed to defeat the Ravens when he last faced them in 2014.
Drew Brees’s lack of supporting cast
Every great QB has played with a pro-bowl wide-receiver. Drew Brees hadn’t until last season- Michael Thomas. Before Michael Thomas, Brees’s top wide-receivers in his career were Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Kenny Stills, Willie Snead, and Eric Parker (San Diego). If that list seems to lack stars, that’s the point. Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, and Willie Snead are the only former receivers of Brees to have similar success with another quarterback, but neither have produced a better season elsewhere than they had in full-seasons with Brees. Cooks had more yards, more touchdowns, and a higher catch % in each of his two full-seasons with Brees than he had with Tom Brady. Kenny Stills had more receiving yards in 7 starts for the Saints in 2014 than he had while starting all 16 games for the Dolphins in 2017. Stills also had a 76% catch rate in 2014 with Brees, opposed to a high of 55% in his 3 seasons with the Dolphins. Similarly Ted Ginn went from having one of the worst catch %’s in the league w/ 2015 MVP Cam Newton, to having one of the best in the league in 2017 in his first season with Brees.
The purpose of addressing the receivers in Drew Brees’s career has a point in the outlook of preparing for the next era. No matter how confident the organization is in a new quarterback, they must consider the fact that no receiver in Drew Brees’s career has made the Pro Bowl without him. What all this means is that even if the Saints feel like they have enough offensive weapons to be successful with someone new, it is reasonable to assume the receivers are much less effective with “insert name here”. All in all, the Saints are much better off waiting until the Drew Brees era is over, or he’s severely declined, before bringing the future franchise quarterback to the huddle.