Is Drew Brees in Decline?

Brees only managed three TDs over his final four regular-season games last season

Is Drew Brees in Decline?
Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints during a 2019 preseason game. (Chris Graythen/Getty)
By Evan Bleier / August 13, 2019 2:41 pm

In a piece entitled “Saints Concerned About ‘Noticeable Decline’ in Drew Brees,” Bleacher Report asserts the New Orleans Saints are preparing for life without the Purdue product.

Of course, that piece was published in 2015, and four years later, and the future Hall of Famer is still quarterbacking the Saints.

Last year, during his 18th season in the NFL, Brees hit the best pass- completion percentage mark of his career at a blistering 74.4 percent and also had his highest regular-season quarterback rating, at 115.7. His 32 touchdowns were well short of the career-best 46 he tossed in 2011, but he also threw the fewest interceptions of his career (five) outside of his rookie year, when he hardly played.

When looking at the 40-year-old’s 2018 regular season as a whole, signs of decline are negligible, if even present at all. But if you break it down into portions, as ESPN’s Bill Barnwell did in a recent piece, some cracks in Brees’s season begin to appear.

I feel like I’m pretty aware of what you lose in the aging process. So you just try to stay ahead of that curve, stay ahead of that curve. And so far, I feel like I’m beating it. – Drew Brees

Consider: In Weeks 9, 10, and 11 last season, the Saints scored 45, 51 and 48 points, respectively. But from Week 12 on (excluding Week 17, when Brees rested ahead of the playoffs), the team averaged just 15 points per game.

Though New Orleans won all but one of those games, Brees was far from good, managing just three touchdowns over his final four regular-season appearances. During that stretch, the Saints offense averaged under 215 passing yards per game and Brees tossed a trio of picks.

“Overnight, he went from playing like an MVP to putting up numbers in the range of quarterbacks such as Derek Carr and Case Keenum,” Barnwell writes.

Despite that late-season swoon, Brees still finished in the top eight among quarterbacks in numerous advanced statistical categories, including ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement and Pro-Football-Reference’s Approximate Value

So is the end of the season enough to say Brees is in decline? Maybe.

Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints. (Sean Gardner/Getty)
Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints. (Sean Gardner/Getty)

In an analysis of where Brees’s play fits in to the broader context of how aging quarterbacks have fared in the NFL, FiveThirtyEight concluded that the end for Brees “could come gently” but it’s more likely “it will come without warning.”

What that conclusion doesn’t tell us is whether the end of last season was the beginning of a gentle decline into mediocrity or the beginning of the end for the 12-time Pro Bowler.

During training camp, Brees himself was asked an age-related “dropoff” is something he studies and worries about.

“Yes. I study all that stuff. Again, I feel like I’m pretty aware of what you lose in the aging process,” Brees said via NOLA.com. “So everything I do from a training perspective … is to combat that. Right? So you just try to stay ahead of that curve, stay ahead of that curve. And so far, I feel like I’m beating it.”

So far, he’s right. But if his play from the end of last season continues at the beginning of this one, the Saints may finally need to start looking for that replacement Bleacher Report proposed four years ago.