Drew Brees Is Not the Greatest of All Time

There’s no question that Drew Brees is a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Before all is said and done, he’ll have emphatically checked off all of the requirements. Passing yards? More than anyone else in NFL history. Passing touchdowns? He’s chasing Peyton Manning right now. Historical impact? He represents a football team that gave a city hope after a catastrophe. Championships? More than Dan Marino. He’s cemented his place among the greats… but I have a hard time calling him the greatest, and here’s why.

Drew Brees Is Not the Greatest of All Time

San Diego

Much like Brett Favre‘s time as an Atlanta Falcon, nobody really talks about Drew Brees’ time as a San Diego Charger. Before being usurped by Philip Rivers, Brees was the man in San Diego for four seasons. After the Chargers gave up on Ryan Leaf, they turned to Brees, and, as you’d expect, he did a good job.

But that’s just it. It was only a good job, not a great one. He didn’t look like the NFL’s all time leader in passing yards in the early 2,000’s. In the four years that he spent as San Diego’s starting quarterback, he only threw for 12,127 yards, 79 touchdowns, and 53 interceptions. That’s an average of 3,032 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.

You could say that the NFL was different back then, and that Brees had good numbers for everyone, but that’s just not true. Because Brees wasn’t the only quarterback that came out of nowhere in the early 2,000’s. Over that same span, Tom Brady was making a name for himself as well, and between 2002 and 2005, Brady threw for 15,186 yards, 105 touchdowns, and 54 interceptions. That’s an average of 3,797 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions a season.

Oh, and that other guy? The man that Brees just passed? Peyton Manning? It’s not even close. He was averaging over 4,100 yards, 33 touchdowns, and only 12 interceptions a season. And while Brady was forcing passes to Troy Brown and Peyton Manning was losing playoff games? Brees played with LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, two of the very best of all time at their position.

It wasn’t really until Drew Brees went to New Orleans, played in a dome, and studied under Sean Payton that he became an elite quarterback. Obviously that shouldn’t be held against him, because Payton was obviously able to get something out of him that Marty Schottenheimer couldn’t.

On The Road

I think this is where my issues with Drew Brees really started. He’s a completely different quarterback at home than he is on the road, and his statistics, as well as win/loss record, reflect that. Let me explain.

Home Cookin’

At home, Drew Brees is a monster. In his career, he’s 79-48 at home, and that includes the 16-15 record he brought from San Diego. That means that since he joined the New Orleans Saints in 2006, he’s only lost in the Super Bowl 32 times in 12 years. He only averages 3 home losses a year, which is incredible.

At home, Brees has thrown 37,039 yards, 287 touchdowns, and 111 interceptions in 127 games. That means at home? He averages 292 yards, two touchdowns, and less than a interception per game. And 28 of those interceptions? Came early in his career as a Charger. He’s a monster in the Super Dome… but away from home? That’s a different story.

Road Trippin’

On the road, Brees is 66-61. It’s not a losing record, but there’s nothing elite about a hair over .500. For some perspective? Tom Brady is 89-40 on the road, and Peyton Manning was 85-48 on the road. Now I’m sure I know what you’re thinking. Football is a team game, and Brees hasn’t always had a ton of help, right? Well, kinda, but his stats are drastically different on the road too.

In 127 road games, Brees has thrown 34,701 yards, 209 touchdowns, and 117 interceptions. In the exact same number of games, Brees has thrown for nearly 2,400 fewer yards, 78 fewer touchdowns, and six more interceptions. And in case you were curious, Tom Brady has actually thrown more touchdowns on the road than at home. And the difference for Peyton is only 15.

Safe or Efficient?

Per PlayerProfiler.com, Drew Brees has one of the shortest yards per pass attempt in the NFL over the last two years. In 2017, Brees was 25th with only 6.5 y/ppa. And if you don’t believe me? Just try subtracting the yards after catch throughout his career. In 2011, Brees had his best statistical season, passing for 5,476 yards, 46 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. Of those 5,476 yards? 2,444 came after the catch. That’s right, nearly half of his yardage.

People love to bury Tom Brady for being Captain Checkdown, but Brees has literally made a career out of it. Now, it can be argued that everyone exploits YAC, after all, that’s what the West Coast, which inspired nearly all modern passing philosophies, was predicated on. But Brees hasn’t exactly had to overcome adversity, and Alex Smith threw the ball downfield more than Brees did last season. Do you really want to call a quarterback that is more conservative than Alex Smith the greatest of all time?

Most Valuable?

He’s got the stats, and he’s got a ring, but conspicuous by it’s absence on the “Greatest of All Time” checklist is a MVP award. Since Drew Brees entered the league, six quarterbacks have won the MVP award. Peyton Manning has won it a record four times, Tom Brady is just behind him with three, Aaron Rodgers has two, and then Brees’ NFC South rivals, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan, both have one. But Brees? Has zero.

How can that be? The man has five 5,000 yard seasons, is a four-time all-pro, and won a Super Bowl. How could it be that he’s never won the highest individual honor in the NFL? Probably because he wasn’t the most valuable player that season. Let’s look at it year by year.

So we don’t talk about every year since 2006, we’re going to highlight seasons where Brees either…

  • A. Led the NFL in passing yards
  • B. Threw for 5,000 yards (A and B are not always both true)
  • or C. Won a Super Bowl

First thing’s first, we have to define why someone wins the MVP. Because if we’re being honest, the most valuable player is rarely the one who wins the award. Typically, it’s someone who has incredibly statistical success or leads his team to the playoffs in a dominant fashion. Only Johnny Unitas (1967) and O.J. Simpson (1973) have won the award without their team making the playoffs, and nobody has ever won the award with a losing record in NFL history. With that in mind, let’s get started.

2006

Actual MVP: LaDainian Tomlinson
Brees’ Statline: 4,418 yards, 26 touchdowns, 11 interceptions.
Saints Record: 10-6
Should He Have Won: No

In 2006, LaDainian Tomlinson had one of the best seasons for a tailback in NFL history. LT rushed for 1,815 yards and a NFL record 28 touchdowns. On top of that? He added 508 receiving yards and three touchdown grabs. Throw in two passing touchdowns and he scored more than Brees did, leading the Chargers to a 14-2 record. Brees and the Saints were the Cinderella story of 2006, but a good-not-great passing season pales in comparison to Tomlinson’s legendary campaign.

2008

Actual MVP: Peyton Manning
Brees’ Statline: 5,069 yards, 34 touchdowns, 17 interceptions.
Saints Record: 8-8
Should He Have Won: No

Brees had a better statistical season than Manning (Peyton threw for 4,002 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions), but he went 8-8. He had a great year, but his team missed the playoffs and they finished dead last in the NFC South. How can you justify giving someone the MVP when they were on the NFC South’s worst team?

2009

Actual MVP: Peyton Manning
Brees’ Statline: 4,388 yards, 34 touchdowns, 11 interceptions.
Saints Record: 13-3
Should He Have Won: No

As great as this season was, it was a real tossup. Manning threw for 4,500 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. Statistically, they were pretty even. Manning threw for more yards, but Brees threw for more touchdowns and fewer interceptions. The difference? The Colts were basically elite that year. Manning took the last two games off because they had the season all wrapped up. Brees? He threw the ball 37 times in week 15.

However… who got the last laugh, Saints fans?

2011

Actual MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Brees’ Statline: 5,476 yards, 46 touchdowns, 14 interceptions.
Saints Record: 13-3
Should He Have Won: No

If you’re a Saints fan, you’re probably throwing your arms up at this point, because Rodgers didn’t have the same season that Brees did, but he still won the award. Rodgers threw for 833 fewer yards, one fewer touchdown, and admittedly eight fewer interceptions. But do you know what else he did? Win 15 regular season games.

I’m sorry Saints fans, but between the TD/INT ratio and the 15 regular season wins? Rodgers gets the nod.

2012

Actual MVP: Adrian Peterson
Brees’ Statline: 5,177 yards, 43 touchdowns, 19 interceptions.
Saints Record: 7-9
Should He Have Won: No

Again, the Saints had a losing record, so 5,000 yard season or no, you don’t give a loser the most prestigious singles award in football. Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson was nine yards short of breaking the record for rushing yards in a season while dragging Christian Ponder to the playoffs. C’mon. Christian Ponder.

2013

Actual MVP: Peyton Manning
Brees’ Statline: 5,162 yards, 39 touchdowns, 12 interceptions.
Saints Record: 11-5
Should He Have Won: No

Peyton Manning threw for 5,447 yards and 55 touchdowns, both of which are the most in a single season. Next.

2014

Actual MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Brees’ Statline: 4,952, 33 touchdowns, 17 interceptions.
Saints Record: 7-9
Should He Have Won: No

Again, it’s a losing season. Rodgers threw for 4,381 yards, 38 touchdowns, and five interceptions as the team went 12-4. Honestly, J.J. Watt probably should’ve been the MVP this season, but he didn’t and neither did Brees.

2015

Actual MVP: Cam Newton
Brees’ Statline: 4,870 yards, 32 touchdowns, 11 interceptions.
Saints Record: 7-9
Should He Have Won: No

Pete Repeat- the Saints had a losing record, so Brees is automatically disqualified. But just for entertainment’s sake, in 2015, Newton was responsible for 4,473 total yards and 45 total touchdowns as his Panthers won the NFC South, as well as the NFC as a conference. So even if the Saints had made the playoffs, it’s probably a no-go.

2016

Actual MVP: Matt Ryan
Brees’ Statline: 5,208 yards, 37 touchdowns, 15 interceptions.
Saints Record: 7-9
Should He Have Won: No

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, you can’t win MVP if you don’t make the playoffs, let alone have a winning record. But for argument’s sake, Ryan threw for more touchdowns, fewer interceptions, and won the first 50 minutes of the Super Bowl.

So there were two seasons where he could’ve won it, but other teams had comparable quarterback performances and the teams won more games. It’s an individual award, but there’s no doubt that the best players carry their teams to perform better as a unit, and on several occasions, Brees’ statistical performances have been silver linings for mediocre teams.

2018?

This might sound funny after an article pointing out the minuscule imperfections of a hall of fame career, but I think Brees should and probably will win the MVP this season. As of this writing, his Saints are #1 in the NFC South with a 4-1 record (They were my NFC Champions coming into the season), and he’s on pace for 5,306 yards, 35 touchdowns, and zero interceptions. He’s completing a career-best 77.9% of his passes and is averaging a career-best 8.7 yards per attempt. If the Saints keep this up, Patrick Mahomes is Brees’ only real competition for the award that has evaded him his entire career.

Wrapping It All Up

This article is probably going to upset a fair number of Saints fans, and that’s understandable. He’s the best player in the history of their franchise, and though they’re blinded by love, they truly believe he’s the greatest quarterback of all time. As he continues to rewrite the record-books, it becomes even harder to prove them wrong.

But if we’re being honest, he plays in a league that caters to quarterbacks, he plays in a safe, gimmicky offense, and he’s just not the same guy on the road. He’s amazing. He’s one of the very best of all time. He’s better than any quarterback that has ever suited up for the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers (other than himself, obviously), Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints (duh), Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, or Detriot Lions. That’s pretty damn impressive.

He’s just not better than Tom Brady.

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