Sometimes I hate my job. This past Sunday was one of those times. You see, earlier this past week, I had written a long, eloquent column about Drew Brees’ demise detailing how the team should begin to make a plan to find his replacement.
Wouldn’t you know it, Brees went out and tossed something like a half-million touchdown passes on Sunday, watering down the points I wanted to make.
But to me, one game doesn’t change the big picture, so I will still run my column unedited from the way it was written this past week before the Steelers game.
Here goes – please attempt to avoid slinging egg yolks my way.
For the past nine years, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been absolutely elite – unquestionably one of the better quarterbacks (if not the best) in the entire NFL.
His accuracy has been superb. The plays that he’s made have been abundant – so much so that countless NFL records have fallen along the way.
And the entire package has served as the elixir that’s cured a franchise that had known nothing but heartbreak prior to Brees’ arrival.
Drew Brees has been a God-sent to the city of New Orleans – there’s simply no other way to state it. And without him, we may be writing a column this week about the San Antonio Saints, because this team’s future in New Orleans was absolutely, positively in question prior to his arrival.
But what happens when the magic act isn’t magical anymore? What happens when the rabbit stops coming out of the hat when it’s supposed to and the magician can no longer wow the audience to the level that he once did?
That’s the conversation that Saints executives need to be having privately in the next few weeks, because it’s become apparent that the once-magical Brees is now just a mere-mortal now in today’s NFL.
Now 35 and with the 36th birthday coming in about 45 days, there is plenty of reason to believe that Brees’ downward descent will only get worse in the coming years.
When he was at his peak, Brees was an absolute nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. He could beat you with short passes, intermediate looks and even the bomb deep down the field.
He was able to connect on all of these throws to every quadrant of the field and in every situation.
In the 2011 NFL season, Brees completed 468-of-657 passes for an absolutely ridiculous 5,476 yards with 46 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He was a force to be reckoned with – a fantasy football owner’s dream.
But in the past few years, the once-statistical juggernaut has regressed just a tad. And this year, the erosion has become steadily more noticeable to the point that Brees can no longer be considered one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.
Let’s look at the numbers – the dude just turns over the ball too much.
After Week 12’s debacle against the Ravens, Drew Brees was 29th among 32 NFL starters in interceptions with 11. The only players with more are Jay Cutler, Eli Manning and Blake Bortles.
Being compared to Jay Cutler is never a compliment when it comes to NFL quarterback comparisons. Brees’ turnovers have gotten a bit out of hand.
But what hurts worse than the turnovers themselves are the spots in which they occur. A lot of interceptions in the NFL take place on deep, high-risk throws down the field – passes that amount to the equivalent of a punt more often than not. Sure, they’re not good. But they aren’t back-breaking when they occur.
In the Saints’ offense, most of the passes are short, and those interceptions are brutal – often going back the other way for points. Three of Brees’ picks have been of the Jarrett Lee variety this season – backbreaking swings of momentum that just cripple a team’s offense.
Negative plays aside, Brees isn’t making nearly the same amount of positive plays, either. In 2014, Brees’ touchdown numbers are way down – a trend that’s started since 2011. In that season, Brees had 46 strikes. In 2012, he had 43. Last year, he had 39. Right now, he’s projected for 33. From 46 to 33 in four seasons. Looks like an obvious decline to me.
Brees’ yardage numbers also aren’t on par to where they once were – in part because of his unwillingness to take shots down the field and get big chunks of yardage.
So with all of this said, I think now is the time that the Saints’ higher-ups collaborate and contemplate who is the quarterback of the team’s future.
And they must do so in a way that shows as much respect to Brees’ legacy as possible.
The front office must first determine if current backup and former Tulane standout Ryan Griffin is their quarterback of the future.
I, for one, think that he is not. If Griffin is such an All-World talent, why couldn’t he post better than a 2-10 record in his senior season at Tulane, facing subpar Conference USA defenses along the way?
If Ryan Griffin is so NFL-ready, why did he have 33 touchdowns to 21 interceptions in his final two college seasons, while completing less than 60 percent of his passes? None of those marks – the high turnover rates or the low completion percentage – would cut it in the NFL. If he couldn’t do it against Tulsa, East Carolina and Rice, he won’t be able to do it against the Falcons, Panthers and Bucs.
If the team agrees with my assessment, then the NFL Draft will likely be the best outlet to prepare for the future.
I don’t think the Saints should use an early-round pick on a quarterback. The team has too many holes on defense – save those high picks for the secondary and the defensive line.
But in the fifth or sixth round, I think it’s time the Saints roll the dice on someone that they like and begin to groom the player that they hope will be the next Drew Brees.
It’s a painful thought to imagine life without such a beloved player, but it’s a life that’s going to be here before we know it.
Brees is already on the decline, and his battle with Father Time will only get worse before it gets any better.
The magic just simply isn’t there as often as it used to be. The sooner this team begins to groom its magician of the future, the better things will be in the Saints’ quest to stay relevant long-term.
The Steelers game was a flashback to the past – a reminder of a time that once was. Days of that consistent success are long gone.
It’s someone new is considered for the future.