Brees’ retirement makes for a hard act to follow

Drew Brees pulled the pin on his 20-year NFL career, 15 of those seasons with the New Orleans Saints, on Monday morning Australian time as his four kids shared the spotlight on his Instagram account to make the announcement.

Brees’ resume with the Saints – and with the San Diego Chargers before that – is well-cemented with a spot for his bust in the Hall Of Fame in Canton, Ohio, waiting for him after the mandatory five-year waiting period.

To complement the Saints’ only Super Bowl win in 2009, where he was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIV, very few quarterbacks can match what Brees has accomplished statistically over the course of a career:

  • All-time records in passing yards and completions

  • Trails only Tom Brady in touchdown passes

  • Holds the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (54)

  • Passed for over 300 yards in a game 123 times, the most ever

  • Led the NFL in most passing yards in a season seven times, another all-time best mark

  • Passed for over 5000 yards in a season five times – no one else has done that more than once

  • And owns the best single-game completion percentage mark – 96.7 percent, on 29-of-30 passing for 307 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-7 win in 2019 against the Indianapolis Colts

Moreover, Brees leaves a legacy as a player who delivered more than just a championship and a set of gaudy statistics for a football team – he departs having meant something to a community in need of heroes after the Hurrican Katrina tragedy decimated New Orleans and the surrounding region in 2005.

“When Drew first joined the Saints in 2006, my late husband Tom was determined to deliver a team to New Orleans that would win a championship on the field and become a leader in the community following the setbacks that Hurricane Katrina dealt our region. Over and above his outstanding performance, Drew came to represent the resolve, passion and drive that resonates not only with Saints fans and football fans, but our entire community,” Saints owner Gayle Benson said upon Brees’ retirement announcement.

“He played the game and played the position at its highest level, but just as important, represented our organization and region in the highest fashion.

“We will forever be grateful to him for what he brought to our club and the entire Gulf South community, showing everybody what can be accomplished by putting our sleeves up and showing leadership, determination and hard work,” Benson added.

Saints coach Sean Payton, who arrived in New Orleans just as Brees did in 2006, feels blessed to have witnessed one of the all-time greats at his position, as well as drafting up plays and game plans for him.

“Throughout his career, his consistency and dedication to excellence were unparalleled,” said Payton.

“He was a magnificent leader both on and off the field. His attention to detail and competitive spirit were infectious. For all of us that have had the chance to coach him, it has been our privilege, we are better for it.

“I am forever grateful for what he has done for our team, our community and for me personally,” added Payton.

“His mental approach to the game, his locker room presence, his makeup, being such a great teammate – all the things that you don't see on the field, you just knew were outstanding, exceptional,” Pete Carmichael, an offensive coordinator and position coach for Brees both with the Saints and the Chargers before that, said on Monday.

Brees’ shoes will be hard to fill – something which Payton, Carmichael, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and Jeff Ireland, the Saints’ player personnel director, have already combined to draw up a succession plan for.

When their pre-season training camp opens in July, Taysom Hill – who recently put pen to paper on a new contract over the weekend – will battle former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston for the top job.

Winston had been signed as a free agent in the offseason following the 2019 campaign as an heir apparent to Brees. However, when Brees was injured with broken ribs and a collapsed lung and missed four games, the multi-faceted Hill was Payton’s first choice to run the offence.

Otherwise, the Saints hold the 28th pick in the first round of May’s NFL Draft, so perhaps a drafting-for-need situation may apply there or in the later rounds.

Also, in a quarterback-rich drafting pool – with the likes of Trevor Lawrence (Clemson), Justin Fields (Ohio State), Zach Wilson (BYU) and Trey Lance (North Dakota State) all destined to be top-ten picks – the Saints could be in a position to be trading up as well.

Whatever the case, all eyes will focus on the performance of Brees’ successor in New Orleans – even as Brees himself heads to NBC’s broadcast set-up.

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