One of the most compelling offseasons in recent NFL history, certainly in terms of its quarterback market, got off to a great start shortly after the Super Bowl when Eli Manning announced his retirement and Philip Rivers declared himself a free agent.
Well, the hot stove burned a little brighter Tuesday when Drew Brees used his Instagram account to say he’s returning for another season with the New Orleans Saints.
“I will make another run at it,” wrote Brees, who will play in his 20th season in 2020.
Brees, 41, would have become an unrestricted free agent March 18, but at this point in his life, he decided there was no reason to go elsewhere and he wasn’t ready for retirement. Like Tom Brady, Brees has made noise in the past about wanting to play until he is 45.
Frankly, the Saints likely feel the same way, even though they had two plausible options to replace him already in the organization – Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill, both also pending free agents.
What’s left now is for the sides to agree on a contract extension. Brees just completed a two-year, $50 million deal ($27 million guaranteed) signed after the 2018 season. It seems the Saints might have to pay more now, perhaps around $30 million annually for another two seasons, but that would be more than a fair price to retain one of the greatest QBs to ever play the game.
What the Brees decision does is likely guarantee Bridgewater will sign with another team with Hill being re-signed and designated as the team’s QB of the future. There is little chance the Saints would even consider retaining both because of their precarious cap situation.
Bridgewater, 27, is nearing his prime and could be a wonderful option for a number of teams in need of a QB, such as the Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers, Carolina Panthers or Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After turning down a likely starting job with the Miami Dolphins last offseason, he returned to the Saints on a one-year, $7.25 million deal and was 5-0 as a starter in 2019 after Brees was sidelined with a thumb injury. During that run, Bridgewater averaged 241 passing yards, completing 69.7 percent with nine touchdowns, two interceptions and a 103.7 passer rating.
Hill, who will be a restricted free agent, is one of the NFL’s most versatile athletes, seriously coveted by the Saints organization because he can do so many things on the field. Hill’s versatility was on display during the Saints playoff loss to the Vikings when he completed a 50-yard pass, ran for 50 yards and caught two passes for 25 yards and a touchdown.
The Saints simply need to match any deal he’s offered by another team. Depending on the size of the qualifying offer to Hill, competing teams would have to fork over a first- or second-round draft pick if the Saints don’t match. Most estimates put a first-round tender between $4.5 million and $5 million.
“I had a pretty good inkling that he (Brees) was gonna come back, [but] I just didn’t know when everyone else was going to know,” Hill told The Adam Schefter Podcast Tuesday. “I’m so excited for Drew to come back. He’s become such a good friend, such a great mentor to me. When we had conversations, I told him, man I sure hope he came back and played. I felt like it was better for the NFL and for him to be playing.
“I still have that same goal to have the opportunity to be that guy for a franchise. At the end of the day, I believe in myself. That’s never changed. That’s what it’s always been. Obviously with Coach Payton and his creativity, the first few years of my career has gone down a different path. But the vision for myself has never changed.”
Despite his injury last season, Brees finished with the best passer rating of his career in 2019 (116.3) and the Saints with a 13-3 record. His highlight month was December when he threw 15 touchdowns with no turnovers, completing a NFL-record 29-of-30 passes in a Week 15 win over the Colts.
Brees, who completed 74.3 percent of his throws in 2019, currently holds NFL records for career passing yards (77,416) and touchdown passes (547).
“I’m watching this guy perform, and again his numbers this year exceeded last year’s. The job is for him to win, and he’s done that,” Payton told reporters in January. “Look, is the ball going down the field the same way? Maybe it’s not. And yet his yards per completion and all those things have been real good.”