For years now, the debate of who is the greatest quarterback have fans bashing each other trying to convince one another that their favorite quarterback is the best. The debate has usually been a two-horse race between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, with the main arguments for both being “stats vs rings.” Other quarterbacks are thrown in the argument as well, such as Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, and Joe Montana, each elite and deserving of the title.
However, there’s one name has never really been thrown into the conversation: Drew Brees.
Brees has been one of the most consistent quarterbacks in our lifetime and has put together some of the greatest passing seasons ever, yet still never comes up in the G.O.A.T. conversation. What does the guy have to do to get the attention he deserves? Well for starters, he can put the world on notice with a record-setting performance against the Washington Redskins on prime time football this past Monday. Brees passed Manning for the most passing yards of all time, and if that doesn’t garner him some attention, I don’t know what will.
PSA: message from Peyton Manning pic.twitter.com/DcZ8eTfXw8
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) October 9, 2018
As if he hasn’t done it his whole career, it took Brees one game to have people searching his name online in career stats and realizing that he is all over the record books. After Monday’s performance, he now leads the NFL in career passing yards, completions, and completion percentage among qualified passers. Right now, he sits at 499 passing touchdowns, which currently sits fourth, where Manning tops the list at 539 (note Brady is right ahead of him right now sitting at 500). So looking at all of these career stats, why is he so highly neglected as the greatest quarterback?
For starters, it’s the hardware, or lack thereof, that Brees has obtained. He has one Super Bowl ring to his name, which is the same as Rodgers, one less than Manning, and four less than Brady’s five rings. Brees has also never won an MVP, where Rodgers has two, Brady has three, and Manning has four. Brees will retire here soon, so it’s hard to see him passing or even matching Brady or Manning’s MVP and Super Bowl ring count, though a Super Bowl title this year (which isn’t looking so farfetched) would match Manning’s two and really assist his case.
Brees may lack the big trophy case, but he also lacked another dynamic throughout his career: help from his teammates. First, let’s address Super Bowl rings. Brady has five rings, but in his career in New England, his defense has produced 11 top-10 scoring defenses, and in 2003 and 2016, his defense lead the league in scoring defense (Patriots won a Super Bowl each of those two years). Manning had five top-10 scoring defenses in Indianapolis between 2002 and 2009 (Colts won a Super Bowl in 2007), and during his four-year tenure in Denver, the Broncos had three top-10 scoring defenses, while also leading the league in scoring defense in 2015 (Denver won the Super Bowl that year). Rodger’s had a defense finish second in 2010 in scoring defense (Packers won the Super Bowl that year). Montana had nine top-10 scoring defenses in his career at San Francisco, with them leading the league in scoring defense in 1984 (49ers won the Super Bowl that year).
Defensively, most would know that Brees has not had a lot of support in New Orleans. Since 2006 when Brees arrived in New Orleans, his team has produced just three top-10 scoring defenses, with their best finish being fourth in 2013. He’s also had nine defenses rank 20th or worse while in New Orleans, while finishing second to last and last in 2012 and 2016, respectively (in 2003, the Chargers finished second to last with Brees at quarterback). The year Brees won his lone Super Bowl ring, his defense ranked 20th in scoring defense. So you hear the arguments between the Manning and Brady fans, with the “go-to” argument in Brady’s favor being his five Super Bowl rings. If Manning defenders can use the argument of it being a team sport and Super Bowls are won as a team, not by an individual, then I feel Brees is entitled to that same argument, more deservingly so than Manning.
Disclaimer time. Yes, one could argue that Brees’ production and lack of defensive support are directly correlated, and I would agree with that. The Saints and had to rely on the pass game more with their defense giving up more points, so Brees was given more chances to throw. However, with him leading the NFL in career completion percentage, volume isn’t necessarily what should be looked at here. While he has thrown a lot, he’s also done so efficiently and effectively. It’s not his fault he was relied on more than the other great quarterbacks. However, it’s also not his fault that they haven’t been able to have great team success to win more than one Super Bowl.
Now, let’s go to the other side of the ball. Brees has never had the caliber of elite weapons guys like Brady, Manning, or Montana have had. Montana has had Jerry Rice, who’s the greatest wide receiver of all time. Manning has had Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, two Hall of Famers (Wayne is not yet, but should be soon). Brady has had Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski, with Moss being one of the greatest wide receivers of all time as well, and Gronk being one of the greatest tight ends of all time. Brees on the other hand has never had a receiver make it to the Pro Bowl ever until last year when Michael Thomas made his first Pro Bowl appearance in his young career (Jimmy Graham went to Pro Bowl three times while playing with Brees as a tight end).
The fact that Brees has been able to conduct so many historic seasons without any real notable receivers is remarkable. How remarkable exactly? Let’s take a look at some of his seasonal accomplishments. In the history of the NFL, there have been nine 5,000-yard passing seasons. Brees owns over half of those seasons with five of his own. Five 5,000-yard passing seasons. Without the elite talent the other great quarterbacks have had the privilege to throw to. That’s how remarkable he is.
We’ve talked about his lack of Super Bowls and countered that argument, but let’s address the fact that he doesn’t have an MVP award. To me, this is the biggest knock against his case as the G.O.A.T. However, it’s also a bit ridiculous to me that he hasn’t been awarded an MVP either. Let’s take a deeper look at some of his seasons compared to the likes of Brady, Manning, and Rodgers. Brees has led the league in at least one major statistical category for quarterbacks (passing yards, passing touchdowns, completion percentage, or QB rating) in 12 of the 13 seasons he has played with the Saints. Brady has had 10 seasons in which he didn’t lead the league in at least one of those stats. Manning has had nine seasons in which he didn’t lead in one of those stats. Rodgers has had eight seasons without leading one of those stats. So for the argument of MVP, it’s unfair to hold that against Brees. He’s easily been more consistent, steady, and reliable than those other three. He doesn’t need an MVP trophy to showcase that.
Brees has had everything go against him, and yet he still finds a way to perform at such a high level. He’s 6’0”, coming in quite short at the quarterback position. He won a state championship in high school, yet was highly disregarded while being recruited and ended up at Purdue. While throwing for 11,000 yards and 90 touchdowns in college, he still fell to the second round in the NFL draft. He’s done nothing but carry his team and put up historic numbers, and even then he still doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. He has been one of the most steady and consistently great quarterbacks of our generation, and could even be partially attributed to as the reason the NFL is leaning towards a heavier pass play style. Is he the G.O.A.T? That’s up for the hardcore debaters to decide. But when it’s all said and done, Brees has at the very least inserted himself into the conversation as a serious candidate for that title.