Is Drew Brees Still the Right Quarterback for the Saints?
The 41-year-old quarterback is trying to overcome Father Time and a tumultuous offseason
Over the next six weeks, we’ll be preparing for the kickoff of the 2020 NFL season on September 10 by attempting to answer the most important question facing all 32 of the league’s franchises in order of their 2019 finish, from worst to first. Today’s team: the Saints.
No. 10: New Orleans Saints
2019 Record: 13-3
Points For: 458 – Points Against: 341
Projected 2020 Over/Under Win Total: 10
Though he was never expected to leave New Orleans or announce his retirement, Drew Brees made it official he would be returning to quarterback the Saints in 2020 when he agreed to a two-year, $50 million contract extension on Saint Patrick’s Day.
Although things in the outside world were descending into chaos thanks to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, all was right in the Crescent City because Brees was back in town for his 15th season and a chance at bringing home a second Super Bowl.
The warm fuzzy feelings lasted for a little bit more than two months, until Brees erased them on June 3 when he told Yahoo Finance he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country” — his putative interpretation of the National Anthem protests — in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police on Memorial Day.
Whatever message Brees was trying to convey with that comment, he would have been wise to keep it to himself. In the days following the statement, he was predictably lambasted by teammates, opponents and other pro athletes for not understanding the message Black athletes have been attempting to deliver for years.
“We need help. I considered you a friend,” Malcolm Jenkins, a teammate, said. “I looked up to you. You’re someone who I had a great deal of respect for. But sometimes you should shut the fuck up.”
Brees quickly apologized — multiple times — for not understanding the gravity of what he was saying or the context in which he was saying it, and it sounds as if the apologies were accepted (within his locker room, at least) and the focus is now back on football.
One person not accepting Brees’s apologies? Eagles defensive lineman Malik Jackson. “I don’t accept his apology,” Jackson said, via NJ.com.
The Eagles and Saints will face off on December 13 and Jackson said he has the matchup circled on his calendar. He also alluded to the notion that, once games actually start in the fall, New Orleans players may realize they still find themselves at odds with what their quarterback had to say over the summer.
“Definitely excited to play him this year,” Jackson said. “I’m going to have a lot to say. Hopefully, I don’t get too wild with it, but I don’t understand how you could say that when you have people blocking for you who are Black, catching balls from you who are Black and people that are running the ball for you who are Black.”
Does that mean offensive lineman on the Saints are going to ease off their blocks and let Brees take hits, or wideouts Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are going to intentionally drop his passes? No, of course not. But is it really crazy to think that the little bit of extra effort — that 110 percent, if you will — could be compromised? Not at all, especially when reminders about the murder and systemic inequality that led to the quarterback’s original comment continue to occur.
Ultimately, the season will probably proceed as normal for the Saints. They will probably have one of the NFL’s best records (having gone 37-11 overall over the last three seasons, taking home the NFC South crown each time), and Brees will probably play well for most of the season before fading a little bit down the stretch, as he has been his habit in recent years, especially when New Orleans has to play outdoors in the cold. But overall, he’ll be good and there won’t be any calls for him to be replaced by triple-threat Taysom Hill or newcomer Jameis Winston. (Those will come after the season.)
Then, when the Saints get into the playoffs as one of the tops seeds in the NFC, they’ll find a way to lose in a strange way, the same way they have the last three seasons. (Miracle pass to Stefon Diggs of the Vikings; a missed pass interference call on LA cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman; an overtime loss at home to a Wild Card team.)
That will be the story of the season in a nutshell, just like it seems to be every year for these Groundhog Day Saints.
But one of the biggest storylines throughout it all will be a new one: the lukewarm reception Brees will likely get from both teammates and opponents in 2020.
“I think if anything, the team is probably closer for it, because we’ve had to have those tough conversations,” Jenkins said earlier this month of the Brees situation. “Oftentimes those adversities or those intimate kind of engagements bring people closer. And I think this is no exception.”
Jenkins is probably right, and at this point in time, Brees is probably still the right quarterback to lead the Saints. But partially due to his age and partially due to his mouth, that time is almost certainly drawing to a close.
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