When he decided to return in 2020, Drew Brees knew it was his last year
In the days and weeks before Drew Brees announced his retirement in March, on the 15th anniversary of signing with the Saints, there was a vague sense that Brees was considering returning. The speculation, fueled by a video of Brees shoving a sled aggressively -- with narration from a trainer who said, “Something must be brewing.”
That something was far closer to coffee. In a recent visit to PFT PM, Brees made it clear that he was always retiring.
“I was retiring,” Brees said. “It just kind of goes to show you. All the -- you’re referring to the workout video -- I didn’t say a word, right? There’s no audio or anything of me in any of that. It’s just merely me pushing a sled. Isn’t it amazing what can be interpreted from something just so simple, right? It didn’t even involve me saying a word.”
Brees knew that the workout video would spark conversation about whether Brees planned to return for another year. He explained that it simply wasn’t a consideration, and that it was time for him to spend more time with his family.
“I actually got a big kick out of that,” Brees said. “That was actually my trainer Todd Durkin who I’ve worked with 18 years during my career. He posted that and he texted me, ‘Watch what this stirs up.’ It was pretty funny. I knew I was retiring. It was something I’ve been thinking about at this stage in your career. I think it’s -- you really don’t know what that feeling’s going to be like, right? You love the game, it’s been such a big part of your life for so long. You know you can play at a high level still and you’re obviously trying to achieve a goal which is to go win another championship. At the same time, I think you also recognize the balance of life and the fact that, listen, I’ve got four kids that are not so small anymore. My oldest son, Baylen, who was one year old when I’m holding him up at the Super Bowl is now going into 7th grade next year. You begin thinking about all these things and I think maybe your football chapter of your life just kind of flashes before your eyes and you have to really give serious consideration each year to kind of reevaluate where you are and what your priorities are.
“I felt like the time was right. Twenty years in the NFL I never in my wildest dreams thought I would’ve been able to play that long or accomplish what we were able to accomplish. At the same time, I think the opportunity to work with NBC and be involved with both the college and the NFL game still fuels that passion for the game and that love for the game and just redirected in a different way. At the same time, it gives me the time with my family that I want and desire. To be as big a part of their lives as I can, especially with sports. All my boys love to play sports just like Dad did when he was growing up. It’s probably one of my greatest joys in life is to watch my kids play ball. When you are committed to being an NFL quarterback, that consumes you. . . . . That’s the balance. At some point, that becomes the chapter in the past and you look forward to the chapter in the future which for me is so much centered around my family.”
So did he know what the 2020 season would be the last year of his career before or after the season began? Brees made it clear that he adopted a year-to-year approach in 2017, and that when the decision came to play in 2020, he also decided that it would be his last year.
“I knew,” Brees said. “I considered this probably two, three years ago. To be perfectly honest, going into the 2017 season, we had come off a couple tough years with the Saints. I started taking that personal, honestly. I was like, ‘You know what, if I can’t bring us back to the playoffs, maybe I’m not the right guy for the job. Maybe I need to get out of here.’ Now, there’s a lot of other stuff going on. A lot of other circumstances. But I went into that ’17 season saying, ‘Man, if things don’t change, then maybe it’s time for me to step away. Maybe it’s time for everybody to make a change.’ I think a lot of things fell into place that year with our draft, with free agency, with various things. We made a run at it. That was the Minneapolis Miracle. We should’ve been playing in the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles. Who knows what happens, right? We were rolling. At that moment, I told myself, ‘I’m truly going to take this one year at a time. I’m going to pour everything I can into it. I’m also going to take the extra time that maybe I haven’t in the past to just enjoy the little things. Like enjoy the locker room a little more. Maybe when I would’ve gone and done something else, I’m going to stay in the locker room and play a ping pong game with some of the guys and build a camaraderie. I’m going to enjoy the plane rides home a little bit more. I’m going to do all those things that maybe are a little bit different than what I normally would’ve done just to soak it all in. Just to enjoy it.’
“I had more fun playing football than I ever had in my career those last couple years. We had a great team. We had a great nucleus. We had great leadership. That was a huge part of that. It was that one-year approach. It really was. I would say going into even ’19 season it was like, ‘Alright this may be it.’ When I decided to come back in ’20, I knew that was it.”
The Saints had four special seasons from 2017 through 2020, winning 49 regular-season games. Unfortunately, those seasons were capped with heart-wrenching playoff exits, from the Minneapolis Miracle to the pass interference non-call debacle of 2018 to a lesser version of the same in 2019 to losing to a team they’d handled twice during the regular season, the Saints kept trying to get back to the Super Bowl, but it wasn’t to be.
None of that takes away from Brees’ career. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the best to ever throw a football.