In 2012, Drew Brees will be challenged as never before. (AP)
It's been quite the little offseason for New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. While his head coach, general manager, former defensive coordinator, two defensive teammates, and two former defensive teammates were all sent packing for various lengths of time by the NFL in the wake of the bounty scandal, Brees held things together the way he usually does -- by being a family man, and as the primary leader of his team.
After receiving the exclusive rights franchise tag -- which led to talk that he might skip training camp -- Brees was rewarded for half a decade of nearly unparalleled statistical dominance with the richest contract ever given to an NFL player. On July 13, he agreed to terms on a five-year, $100 million contract with $60 million guaranteed in the first three years, and $40 million in the first year alone.
Is that going to change Brees? Clearly not. Brees appeared to be as focused as he's ever been, with an extra touch of defiance after all that the NFL has thrown at his guys. I once saw Brees throw a pronounced F-bomb on the sidelines of a meaningless early preseason game when backup quarterback Chase Daniel threw an interception. There is no break in his passion for the game.
"To me, it's just business as usual -- I'll be honest," he said as the Saints reported to 2012 training camp at the team's Metairie, La., headquarters. "You might look at me and think I'm crazy, especially after the whole process went during the entire offseason, and the ups and downs, and how it was dragged out until the very last minute. But for me, I could not wait to get back here, and get back to work. Back to playing football, and bring around the guys in the locker room. On the field, with the fans, and just soaking it all in again."
Brees kept himself grounded through all the ups and downs-- or, that is to say, his family kept him grounded. Asked how he reacted to that huge contract, the quarterback reminded everyone that when it's family time, the little things tend to take precedence. Especially when two young sons are involved.
"Somebody asked me what I did when I found out that the contract was done two Fridays ago, and I came here on Sunday and signed it," Brees recalled. "That Friday, we agreed to terms. The minute I got off the phone [agreeing to terms on the new deal], I changed Bowen's poopy diaper, then I went downstairs and did a load of whites in the washer, and then I went upstairs and put Baylen's lunch away in the refrigerator. That was pretty much standard operating in the offseason, so nothing changed.
"Was I excited it was done? Was it a relief? Yes. Other than that, I had the same mindset."
Yep -- nothing like poopy diapers to keep a man's ego in check. As for the 2012 season, Brees put it on himself to make sure the remaining Saints players are able to overcome all the drama as much as possible.
"We don't necessarily know what to expect,'' he said. ''With all this stuff swirling around us, in the end, all we can worry about is what we can control. ... I know the type of guys we have. I know the coaches we have. I'm excited to watch it all come together ... There's no greater opportunity than what we have right now in front of us."
Brees can certainly run Sean Payton's offense without the coach's help -- he's been doing so at a preposterously high level since 2006 -- but Payton's absence through the 2012 season will certainly affect game-planning and offensive installations. Brees and offensive assistant Pete Carmichael got a taste of that last year, when Payton missed time after injuring his knee in a sideline collision. But then, Payton was at least able to do what he does in a playbook sense. Now, it is on Brees more than ever before.
"You see how he was able to influence others," Brees said of Payton. "A lot of times they say that about a CEO. When he leaves the company, how does the company do? If they continue to succeed, in a lot of cases you can say it was because he helped mold and develop and mentor those that would take over after him, and I believe that's what Sean Payton has done for all of us here."
If Drew Brees is the NFL's Executive of the Year -- and he'll have to be if the Saints are to succeed -- few will be surprised.
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