With Drew Brees now the NFL’s all time passing yardage leader, the story of his career has been well documented, especially in the last week or so. However, the 2005 offseason journey that led Brees to New Orleans proved to be a pivotal moment in football history that shaped the sport at multiple levels for the next decade plus.
Brees spent four good, but not great years with the Chargers to start his NFL career. The chain of events that brought the former Purdue Boilermaker to New Orleans was set in motion in the final week of the 2005 regular season. Brees tore his rotator cuff while being sacked by Broncos safety John Lynch. The Chargers were not a playoff team that year.
Even if Brees had stayed healthy, the then San Diego based franchise acquired the rights to Philip Rivers in the first round of the 2004 draft for a reason. It is safe to say that switch would have happened no matter what.
The offseason quarterback derby of 2005 was headlined by two teams and two names. The Saints and Dolphins were the teams Brees and Daunte Culpepper were the names. In addition to the shoulder of Brees, Culpepper’s knees were also a concern.
The Dolphins did extensive work on both quarterbacks. Culpepper’s knees got the okay from Miami’s doctors, the shoulder of Brees did not. The Dolphins got Culpepper, the Saints got Brees. On the surface, the rest is fairly simple. Brees along with Sean Payton helped save a franchise and rejuvenate a city while Culpepper started just 20 games for the rest of his career after the 2005 season due to poor play and injuries, only four of the 20 were for the Dolphins. If you dig deeper though, the following question becomes fascinating.
What if the doctors in Miami had cleared Brees?
It is tough to be overly specific when dealing with sports hypotheticals, but this much is obvious. Brees had some all-time great quarterback play left in him while Culpepper barely had any play at all left.
If you put Brees in Miami, it is important to remember that the organization had Dan Marino for 15 years and couldn’t figure out how to win a Super Bowl. Thus, it is tough to say with certainty, they would have won the ultimate prize with Brees. However, it is more than fair to say that had Miami wound up with Bress, they would have been a perennial playoff contender at the very least. Also, the franchise’s last playoff win would be a heck of a lot more recent than December of 2000.
The Dolphins also share a division with the Patriots. As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick ended up in New England, that franchise’s run of excellence would have happened no matter what. Even so, playing Brees twice a year probably means New England’s current run of 11 division crowns in 12 years is a little less dominant. That also means the Patriots would have had to go on the road in the playoffs more often, which may have wound up costing them a Super Bowl ring or two.
As for the Saints, they were 3-13 in 2005. They played home games in New York, San Antonio and Baton Rouge that year due to Hurricane Katrina. If not Brees, Sean Payton would have been stuck with Culpepper or some other quarterback for at least the first few years of his head coaching career. There was even some chatter about the Saints leaving New Orleans permanently after Katrina. Who knows? If Brees never becomes a Saint, maybe that becomes more than just chatter. Without Brees, Sean Payton may have only lasted a few years with the franchise before getting fired. Lastly, without Brees, the Saints would almost certainly still be looking for their first Super Bowl title today.
The Saban angle:
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this what-if scenario is the fact that current Alabama head coach Nick Saban was the head coach of the Dolphins during their flirtation with the new all-time passing yardage leader.
If Saban gets Brees, he may or may not still be on the sidelines in Miami, but it is more about what does not happen. If Brees gets cleared in Miami, Saban’s 2006 Dolphins post a much better record than 6-10. Also, with Brees, Saban doesn’t look around following that season, realize he has no quarterback, and resign to become the head coach at Alabama.
It is almost impossible to imagine college football without the ongoing Alabama dynasty, but a 138-20 record with five national titles and working on a sixth does not happen with anyone other than Saban.
Going back and reassigning five national titles is an exercise that is too tedious and mind-bending of an exercise to even consider. However, it is the final piece of a puzzle that makes one man’s journey from San Diego to New Orleans one of the most important and impactful events in football history.