NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Drew Brees, who turns 38 in less than two weeks, doesn’t want to contemplate the future of his prolific NFL career beyond next season with the New Orleans Saints.
“That’s not a lack of commitment or anything like that,” said Brees, who has played in New Orleans since 2006, and passed for 5,000-plus yards an NFL-record five times since 2008. “I just want to focus on what’s right in front of me.”
Brees’ contract is due to expire after 2017, but don’t expect him to hold out for an extension. He figures at his age, very little is guaranteed from year-to-year, even if he did lead the NFL in yards passing this season with 5,208 and was third in touchdown passes with 37. He’s also running out of time to make one more run at a title, and doesn’t seem interested in distracting his club from addressing areas that need help.
Coming off a third-straight 7-9 season, the Saints have become a study in mediocrity on the heels of an impressive stint between 2009 and 2013 in which they made the playoffs four times and won the franchise’s only Super Bowl.
Ultimately, the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era in New Orleans will be defined more by those winning seasons than the middling ones. But that era is not over yet.
Payton this week said during an interview with the club’s flagship radio station that he’s not interested in a change of scenery and intends to honor his current contract, which runs through 2020.
The coach and quarterback both contend that the Saints improved this season, even if the record did not. The basis for their logic lies both in the coming of age of players in their prime and the promise showed by younger players. Veteran running back Mark Ingram had his first 1,000-yard season rushing, while defensive end and fellow 2011 first-round draft choice Cameron Jordan made 17 tackles for losses. Receiver Michael Thomas’ 1,137 yards and nine TDs receiving both set rookie franchise records, while rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins had four sacks in nine games.
Then there was rookie kicker Wil Lutz, whose 28 field goals, including 13 straight to end the season, offered hope that Payton won’t be looking for a 12th kicker in 12 years next season.
The Saints can also point to the fact that seven of their nine losses were by six or fewer points, including four by a field goal or less. Brees said no one is more frustrated by the Saints’ recent inability to get over the hump than he is, but he hopes the fan base, much of which resides in Gulf Coast communities that have bounced back from natural disasters and economic slumps alike, has the perspective to see what he sees in the Saints.
“I hope they recognize that we all go through some tough times and some tough stretches, and that gives us an opportunity to come about better on the other side,” Brees said. “We’ve done that as a community many times and I can relate that to football – and I think that’s what’s happening with this team.”
Some matters which will command the Saints’ attention this offseason:
SETTING THE EDGE: While Jordan had one of his best seasons, the Saints need another strong pass rusher on the opposite edge if they want more drive-stalling sacks or throwaways. Opposing QBs often had ample time to throw this season, and the Saints allowed a league-worst 273.8 yards passing per game.
THE CORNERS: Depth at cornerback was an issue for the Saints, who had to sign two players off the street after the regular season started because of injuries to starters Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams. Finding a top-flight cornerback in the draft – the Saints pick 11th overall – or free agency could make New Orleans’ defense effective enough not to squander the production of an offense that ranked first in the NFL this season.
THE BACK END: Saints free safety Jairus Byrd, who signed a six-year, $54 million free agent contract in 2014, missed most of his first season in New Orleans with a knee injury that continued to bother him in 2015. He finally started to resemble what New Orleans expected in Week 16, when he intercepted two passes against Tampa Bay. He is due $7.4 million in base salary next season, begging the question of whether the Saints will opt to release him if he isn’t willing to take a pay cut.
THE RIGHT SIDE: For the past five seasons, the right side of the offensive line has been manned by guard Jahri Evans and tackle Zach Strief. Both were Saints draft picks in 2006. Evans has been a starter since, while Strief worked his way up. Both are coming off good seasons, but neither seemed comfortable guaranteeing their returns to the club for a 12th season.