Veteran Quarterbacks Facing Crucial Self-Evaluation Time

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Saints Need To Get Brees Heir Successor In Place

By John Ventola

Father Time keeps ticking and the elite, veteran quarterbacks of the NFL find themselves in various stages of examining what age, on field contact, repetitive throws, and surgeries have had on their moneymaking arms. Peyton Manning, Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, and Drew Brees are each at, or nearing the end of their professional football careers, and their teams should be preparing a successor to play sooner than later.

Drew Brees Image

  •     Mr. Breezzzzzzz

Today’s athletes have the latest equipment and exercise/rehabilitation programs to ward off the aging process as long as humanly possible, but the telltale signs show up gradually. Passes start arriving a split second late, long passes tend to hang in the air longer, the spirals no longer have enough “juice” on them, or inaccuracy starts to occur more times than not. It happens to all quarterbacks, some can fight it off longer than others.

Manning, Brady, and Brees are each true competitors, with ten Super Bowl appearances and six world championships to their credit. Manning and Brees have overcome surgeries that should have ended, or shortened, their careers. Not one of the three will let their legacy be tarnished by becoming a hanger-on.

Brees, the youngest of the trio at 36, was drafted by San Diego with the first pick of the 2001 draft’s second round (No. 32 overall). He was the second quarterback taken in that draft (after Michael Vick), and led the Chargers to moderate success after replacing Doug Flutie and holding off newly drafted Phillip Rivers. He suffered a torn labrum in the last game of 2005, and after surgery and rehabilitation, was signed by the New Orleans Saints to join new coach Sean Payton in their return to the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.

In his fourth year in New Orleans, Brees and his offensive mates posted outstanding numbers as the Saints won their first Super Bowl over Manning and Indianapolis. Brees has gone on to pass for a touchdown in 54 consecutive games, breaking the record of 47 held by All-Time Great Johnny Unitas for fifty-two years. He has thrown for 5,000 yards in a record four seasons, and set a league record for completions with 468 in 2011.

Brees, who has been nicknamed “Breesus” by the Saints faithful, and “Cool Brees” by many for his composure under pressure, is, quite frankly, Mr. Brees!

Drew Brees Passing

In his nine years in New Orleans, he has shown uncanny consistency while using his accuracy to hit a bevy of receivers. When one looks at his seasonal statistics, few drop-offs can be spotted as far as completions and yardage. What does show, and it has been very evident for at least a couple of years, is that his long passes lack length and receivers have to slow up and adjust to the ball. This inability to lengthen the field for opposing defenses has led to more importance being placed on the short passing game. Brees is the master at overcoming his height disadvantage by using his own movement in the pocket to create passing lanes for his throws.

It may be considered blasphemous to even bring up the fact that the Saints need to get a successor in place, but the team needs to be ready. The franchise and Payton have a tendency to use backup quarterbacks (Chase Daniel, and then Luke McKown) only in pre-season games. Brees has thrown for over 4,000 yards in each of his seasons in New Orleans, and enjoyed seven straight seasons of throwing 30 or more touchdown passes.

This writer hopes Brees can put the inevitable off as long as possible. He surely guarantees he is in top condition every season, and, like Manning and Brady, is a terrific leader. I just hope I am not being sacrilegious breaching this subject, and risking the possibility of being excommunicated from the Saints brethren, but Brees’ last game could be around the corner.

Manning, who will be 39 next month, has overcome two surgeries, one being a spinal fusion in 2011, to play magnificently for the Denver Broncos the past three years. However, after leading the Broncos to the 2014 Super Bowl with a record 2013 regular season of passing for 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards, he dropped off significantly in the last nine games of 2014.

He threw 22 touchdown passes in the first seven games, but only 39 for the season. Defenses began keying on short Bronco routes, with the idea that Manning’s long ball accuracy and long sideline throws would not be productive. While most franchises would gladly take a QB with 39 TDs and 4,727 yards passing, it was more than a 16-touchdown drop-off and minus 750 yards in productivity.

The last half of the season showed possible diminishing skills. Manning, being the professional that he is and five time NFL MVP, did not make excuses, but it was revealed after the season that he was playing with a strained right quad that prevented him from pushing off on his plant leg when passing.

With new coach Gary Kubiak at the Broncos helm, Manning is working out and attempting to objectively gauge his ability level for another NFL campaign, his seventeenth in the league (not counting the 2011 season he did play because of surgeries). If the injured quad caused Manning’s late season fade, he will return for 2015. If arm woes, neck problems, or other factors were responsible, Manning, the first pick of the 1998 draft, will retire, and await his Hall of Fame enshrinement.

Brady, who joined the Patriots after being the a sixth round draft choice (No. 199 overall) in the 2000 draft, has enjoyed fourteen great years as a starter. While holding the clipboard during his first NFL season, Brady only played in one game, completed one of three passes for six yards. Since then he has thrown the Patriots to six Super Bowls and four world titles. He will be 38 when the 2015 season starts, and off of his Super Bowl dismantling of the highly regarded Seattle defense (he threw for four touchdowns for 328 yards), Brady appears to have enough in the tank for another couple of years.

Brady and Coach Bill Belichick’s fourth Super Bowl victory put to rest early season speculation that Brady was finished. The Miami Dolphins defeated the Patriots in the 2014 season opener 33-20, and Brady was targeted by Boston media as the reason. Wonder what they are speculating about these days?

Hall of Famer Dan Marino put in seventeen great years with Miami, but he knew when his abilities had faded and he could no longer lead a team to victory consistently. Brett Favre, meanwhile, toiled twenty years in the NFL, one clipboard holding year in Atlanta, sixteen with Green Bay, one mediocre season with the Jets, and two final years with Minnesota when he hardheadedly refused to acknowledge that his better football days were behind him.

Skill evaluation is not exact, but the actual individual generally knows his skills are diminishing before anyone else. Age takes its toll—-on all of us!

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