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Drew Brees has announced his retirement on Sunday after a 20-year career in the NFL and a historic 15-year run with the New Orleans Saints. Brees retires as the current all-time passing yards leader in NFL history with 80,538 yards and is second all-time in completion percentage (67.7%) and touchdown passes (571).
Brees is unquestionably the greatest player in the Saints’ franchise history, breaking nearly every quarterback record in franchise history along with leading them to the franchise’s only Super Bowl victory in 2009 where Brees led the Saints to a 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl 44, winning Super Bowl MVP. While the Saints were not able to reach the Super Bowl again after that, Brees helped make the Saints one of the most respected and consistently successful franchises. Before Brees became the QB for the Saints in 2006, the Saints had only made the playoffs five times in 39 years with only a single playoff win (31-28 victory over the St. Louis Rams in 2000). With Brees, the Saints won a Super Bowl, made the playoffs nine times in 15 years with nine playoffs victories in that time span.
With his gaudy stats and his ability to turn the fortunes of the franchise, Brees will become a first-ballot Hall of Famer and will be considered to be one of the 10 best quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. Perhaps his greatest impact, however, was what Brees did for the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. He signed with the Saints the following offseason after the team had to play on the road the entire season and vowed to help the city heal and rebuild. He led the Saints to a 23-3 win on Monday Night Football over the Atlanta Falcons in their first home game since Katrina hit, allowing fans and the city to feel immense joy after a year of hardships. Along the way, Brees helped rebuild the community and provide aid to many residents in need, leaving a monumental impact on and off the field.
Despite Brees being beloved in New Orleans, him retiring now was the right decision. The last three postseasons, Brees struggled and the Saints lost at home in heartbreaking fashion. This past postseason, the Saints lost 30-20 at home to the eventual Super Bowl champions in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brees faltered in his final game with 134 yards on 19 of 34 attempts with one touchdown and three interceptions. With Brees taking a $24 million pay cut, the cap hit for the Saints will only be $11.1 million instead of twice that amount, allowing the Saints to shed further salary that puts them closer to the cap.
The question now is where does this leave the Saints going forward at the QB position?
Immediately after Brees retired, the Saints gave swiss-army knife QB Taysom Hill a huge contract extension of four years, $140 million, locking him up as the long-term replacement for Brees. Hill started four games for the Saints last season, going 3-1 with eight total touchdowns, 1,043 total yards and a QB rating of 96.9. Hill’s arm talent is limited and the contract is a bit steep for someone who has only started four career games.
Luckily, as the Saints continue to shed salary, they resigned backup QB Jameis Winston, who threw a 56-yard touchdown pass in the loss to Tampa Bay. Winston, while suffering from his well-documented interception issues, is a productive playmaker at the position with 5,109 yards passing and 33 touchdown passes with 30 interceptions. With Winston resigned, the Saints now have two QBs they can depend on as they can rotate between the arm talent of Winston and the athleticism of Hill. Saints’ head coach Sean Payton should have a busy but fun offseason creating packages to use the talents of both QBs.
With Brees now retired, the Saints can now move forward and try to get back to the postseason with new leaders and a somewhat-depleted roster as they had to shed salary, letting stalwarts such as pass rusher Trey Hendrickson and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Time will tell if Winston and Hill are the long-term replacements for Brees but for now, Saints’ fans can look back at the fond memories and success Brees brought to the city and the franchise, despite the heartbreaking defeats in the postseasons over the past decade.