NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees didn’t just break the NFL passing yardage record Monday night. He did it with his foot slammed down on the gas pedal.
Sure, the New Orleans Saints‘ 39-year-old quarterback relished every moment of his record-breaking night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, eyes welling up with tears as he shared the love with teammates, family members and the home fans.
QB Drew Brees is now the NFL’s all-time passing leader after surpassing Peyton Manning (71,940 yards) during Monday night’s Redskins-Saints game.
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And sure, his football immortality is now intact — as if it wasn’t already. Forget “first-ballot” Hall of Famer. They should just hand Brees his gold jacket and bronze bust the day he retires and skip the five-year waiting period.
But Brees wants more than that. He wants a second Super Bowl win. And this season might be his best shot.
Here are the three biggest reasons why:
He’s surrounded by cheap talent
The way the Saints (4-1) are built right now is kind of the opposite of how the Philadelphia Eagles were built with quarterback Carson Wentz on his rookie contract last year, or how the Seattle Seahawks were built when they had Russell Wilson on the cheap.
Brees is making $25 million per year, but he is surrounded by lower-priced, Pro Bowl-caliber talent throughout the roster, thanks to some outstanding draft selections in recent years. And that won’t last forever.
Running back Mark Ingram becomes a free agent after this season. A year later, receiver Michael Thomas and offensive linemen Max Unger and Andrus Peat are all scheduled to hit the open market (as will Brees).
In 2021, running back Alvin Kamara, DE Cameron Jordan, safety Marcus Williams and Pro Bowl guard Larry Warford will be free agents, while CB Marshon Lattimore and OT Ryan Ramczyk are due for big raises with fifth-year option bonuses.
They probably can’t afford to keep everyone on that list. And on top of all that, the Saints have already traded away their first- and third-round draft picks for next year.
In other words, this is probably as loaded as this roster is ever gonna be around Brees. So this window of the next one to three years probably represents the Saints’ best opportunity to win a Super Bowl.
The NFC is off to a rough start
This could change quickly, but for now, the NFC standings are stacking up in New Orleans’ favor. The Saints are one of only four NFC teams with a winning record (Los Angeles Rams at 5-0, Carolina Panthers at 3-1 and Chicago Bears at 3-1).
Other expected contenders such as the Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers have gotten off to much slower starts. And the Saints need to take advantage.
On the flip side, back in 2011, the Saints might have had their best team ever — arguably even better than the 2009 Super Bowl championship team. That was the season they set the NFL record with 7,474 yards. But somehow they wound up as the No. 3 seed despite a 13-3 record, and they lost on the road at San Francisco in an epic 36-32 divisional-round playoff game.
And oh, by the way, the Saints are playing their best football heading into a Week 6 bye. The pass defense got off to a dreadful start in the first three weeks, but it has tightened up quite a bit over the past two weeks — even after losing Lattimore to a concussion in the first quarter of Monday night’s 43-19 rout of the Washington Redskins.
Brees might not play forever
This is the obvious one. Brees turns 40 in January, and at some point the skill level or desire is bound to drop off, right?
Brees has talked often about believing he can still thrive at age 45. And I’m not going to be the one to doubt him after he just completed 23 of 26 passes for a career-best 89.7 completion percentage on Monday night, with 363 yards and three touchdowns.
He has the highest passer rating in the NFL this season at 122.3, with 331.6 yards per game, 11 TD passes and zero interceptions.
Sure, Brees doesn’t hit the deep ball with quite as much zip as he did in that 2009 to 2011 prime. But arm strength was never his greatest asset. And he obviously finds ways to manage the game just as effectively. He just set the NFL record for completion percentage for the third time last season at 72.0. And he’s on pace to break it again this year at a whopping 77.9 percent.
But in theory, some of those numbers are bound to start declining at some point. Maybe.
When I asked Brees on Monday night if he feels like he’s playing as well as ever, Brees joked about how his youngest son, Callen, always tells him he’s not throwing the ball in the right place when they try to make diving one-handed catches on the sofa at home.
“So they’re my toughest critics,” Brees said. “They keep me honest.”
Brees has also said that having his four children growing older and getting to appreciate the experience of being around him for all these special moments is one of the things that keeps driving him. So maybe he will play until he’s 45.
But as long as he’s got that foot on the gas pedal the way he does now, he might as well try to drive straight on through to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta just to be safe.