No NFL team a better fit for Brees than Saints
NEW ORLEANS – Drive these narrow and pockmarked roads from the big, gold Superdome through the broken neighborhoods and the communities still rising – across the streetcar tracks and past the grand Victorians off St. Charles Avenue – and see the city Drew Brees came to embrace when few others wanted to touch it. Look at the home he bought in the city limits, the high school fields he repaired, the playgrounds he built, the corner where he held the Super Bowl trophy aloft and realize that few quarterbacks have ever belonged to a place.
As contract negotiations have broken off with the New Orleans Saints, leaving his future in doubt as he completes what might be the greatest season a quarterback has ever had, can you imagine him in another city?
Monday night is supposed to be a coronation of sorts. The Saints’ great rival, the Atlanta Falcons, will be in the Superdome, the country will be watching on Monday Night Football and if he accumulates a 305th passing yard, Brees will break Dan Marino’s single-season NFL record (5,084). It’s a record Brees almost set in 2008 (5,069), the current high mark during a stretch that’s seen him throw for more than 4,300 yards every year he’s been in New Orleans.
This is how dominant he has been in an offense that plays to his strengths, is coached by perhaps the game’s best offensive play-caller (Sean Payton) and for a team that has adopted his “ignored and overlooked desperate to prove everyone wrong” attitude.
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Now the thought has settled in New Orleans that he could possibly leave. This seems impossible, of course. Brees has done too much here, made these streets his own. But the city is still processing the fact that Hornets guard Chris Paul – who once vowed to do all he could to save the city – pushed for a trade out of town. And up the Mississippi River, St. Louis is trying to comprehend how Cardinals star Albert Pujols could abandon it for Anaheim.
Brees has not left yet. His decision to cut off negotiations appears less about tactics and more about convenience. He says he wants to eliminate distractions as the playoffs draw near. And given the way he has chosen to do few interviews and public events in hopes of remaining focused, these words seem sincere. He will pick up when the season is over.
But in the meantime a city must panic, knowing Brees and the Saints are not close and that it’s been reported that he won’t sign a franchise tag offer. It must wonder if maybe this is the last it sees of Drew Brees.
That would be unfortunate.
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His legacy is everywhere. When the Saints came back to New Orleans in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina, the team was supposed to be about Reggie Bush. His drop in the ’06 NFL draft set off the ringing of church bells and the proclamation that the team had drafted “Jesus in Cleats.” But it was Brees who came to be the Saints’ salvation. Bush had moments and briefly ignited Payton’s new offense. Yet the day that truly saved the franchise was the one when Brees and his wife toured the city with Payton on his free-agent visit and then took off for Miami on Wayne Huizenga’s giant private jet loaded with Miami Dolphins coaches and executives, still wondering about the team and the city that needed him.
It was Brees who took the Saints to the NFC championship game that first improbable season back in New Orleans. It was Brees who drove the Saints to the Super Bowl in the 2009 season. And it was Brees who held the team together during this summer’s lockout, organizing regular workouts, holding the Saints’ players to a schedule far more demanding than any other club. Some teams barely worked together at all. Inside the team’s offices, the belief is the workouts kept the New Orleans players better conditioned and is why the Saints have had few injuries this season and appear to be rising just as the playoffs approach.
“You get a good feel for guys you are working with,” Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said this week about the workouts. “You find out about their character. I think that is what’s carrying us over now. We could have had some hard times and [the workouts] helped keep us together.”
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The Saints talk about how Brees prepares for games, joking that it seems he all but lives at the team facility. Receiver Lance Moore, who arrived with Brees in ’06, said the quarterback has done so much in recent seasons that even as he put up tremendous passing numbers, he was still improving, learning new things about himself and being a better quarterback.
“He’s definitely getting better,” Moore said.
There is nowhere else Brees could go where he would have the impact he’s had in New Orleans. Undoubtedly, Mike Shanahan could find a use for him in Washington, or perhaps the Dolphins or Seahawks or Cardinals would make an offer too good to pass up if things got out of control in negotiations and Brees hit the open market. But what then? He wouldn’t have Payton’s offense or the receivers who dutifully stay with him after every practice, catching pass after pass when the other players have retreated to the locker room. He wouldn’t have the Superdome or the city that owes him its gratitude for helping to rebuild when all seemed lost. He would just be another journeyman quarterback chasing the deal.
He will get good money whatever happens. Great money. Incomprehensible money for a player who was always considered too short to be a great NFL quarterback. But there is only one place where Drew Brees gets to be Drew Brees. And that’s why it’s impossible to imagine him not firing passes across the Superdome floor for many years to come.
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