By Griffin Rucker
The 21st century is poised to go down as the golden age of NFL quarterbacks. With unearthly passing numbers, shattered records, and numerous MVP awards, there’s never been a better time to be a fan of offense. But lost in the midst of Tom Brady’s five Super Bowl rings, Peyton Manning’s property rights to the NFL’s record book, and Aaron Rodgers’ current status as the league’s best player, sits future Hall of Famer, Drew Brees.
Heading into the 2018 season, there doesn’t seem to be much buzz surrounding Brees’ chase for the NFL’s all-time passing yards record. Currently third on the list, Brees only needs 1,496 yards to overtake Peyton Manning for first place.
Barring an injury, he should have the record by mid-October. Despite being 39-years-old, Brees likely has another two years to add to his record and further separate himself on the list from any challengers to his throne. The passing yards leader is quite possibly the league’s most coveted record, but him owning it almost seems like an afterthought for those of us not living in New Orleans.
I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Brees has seemingly always been overlooked since falling to the second round of the 2001 NFL draft for concerns over his short stature. Despite putting up godly numbers since signing with the Saints in 2006, he still always follows names like Manning and Brady on every QB rankings list. Even having a Super Bowl ring ahead of guys like Jim Kelly and Dan Marino hasn’t been enough. There’s doubt he’s appreciated by fans, but it’s a real tragedy that people don’t seem to marvel at him like they do other players.
When you look at Brees’passing stats, he’s almost in a category of his own. There are currently only five quarterbacks in NFL history who have thrown for over 5,000 yards in a single season. Marino, Brady, Manning, and Matthew Stafford have each accomplished the feat once, while Brees has done it a whopping five times. Three of which came in consecutive seasons (2011-13.)
He also holds records for consecutive seasons of throwing for over 4,000 yards with twelve, most completions in a single season with 471, and quite possibly his most impressive mark came in 2012 when he broke Johnny Unitas’ 52 year-old-record of consecutive games of throwing a touchdown pass with 48. I could go on with numbers, but I think you get the idea. He’s in historic company. What’s even more astounding is that up until Michael Thomas’ election last season, he’s done all this without playing with a wide receiver to be voted to the Pro Bowl in his tenure (Jimmy Graham claiming to be wide receiver for a higher salary doesn’t count). Not to say Brees hasn’t had good receivers (Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, etc,) it’s just unique and special for a great quarterback to wait sixteen seasons to bring a wide receiver to the Pro Bowl with him.
The only real slant on Brees’ career is that he hasn’t won the league’s MVP award. It’s notable compared to Manning’s five, Brady’s three, and Rodgers’ two, but it’s easy to understand why he hasn’t received the honor when he’s competing against some of the most iconic players in league history every year. The closest he came was in 2009 when he finished second in voting behind Manning (Brees would have the last laugh though by going on to beat Manning’s Colts in Super Bowl XLIV).
What’s unfortunate for Brees is that there’s never been a period where he was the best quarterback in the league. It’s no fault of his own, he’s had many worthy seasons. It’s just that his peers have been so unbelievably great. If he had played in the ‘80s or ‘90s he’d most likely have an MVP and possibly another Super Bowl or two. He’s been extraordinary in an era where you have to be legendary.
On the bright side for Brees, his legacy isn’t solidified yet. He’s still playing some of the best football of his career and he’s leading a Saints team that was one play away from going to the NFC Championship last season. Super Bowls are the be-all end-all in this league and winning a second could be the small push he needs to reach the iconic status he’s deserved for a long time. As far as we know this season could be Brees’ last. So if you find yourself watching a Saints game, I’d recommend taking a couple minutes to truly appreciate his place in NFL history. There will always be great quarterbacks, but there will never be another Drew Brees.