On Monday night, the NFL likely will have a new all-time leader in passing yards.
The Saints are at home against the Redskins with QB Drew Brees just 201 yards away from surpassing both Brett Favre and Peyton Manning for the most in NFL history.
When I was in high school, the record for career passing yards was 47,003, held by a guy who had been out of the league a few years in Fran Tarkenton. Brees is knocking on the door of 72,000 yards. That tells you how much this has turned into a passing league.
And yet to say it like that takes away from some of the greatness of the quarterback considered too small at 6 feet even to play with much larger blockers in front of him. Not to mention a serious shoulder injury before he left San Diego that had some GMs wondering if he’d ever play again.
How prolific has Brees been? Consider the guys chasing him.
The great QB class of 2004 produced Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer and the man who took Brees’ job in San Diego, Philip Rivers. All four have had long careers with much success, and yet Eli, Ben and Philip are all in the 51K-52K range in yardage (far below 72,000). Carson Palmer might be edging into that 50K range now if he were still playing but chose to retire earlier this year with 46,247.
So Carson is gone, Eli was benched late last year before the owner decided to gut the coaching staff instead of replace the QB. And Big Ben was pouty in the spring because the Steelers drafted a QB to groom to replace him (hey if you’re going to sound like Favre and flirt with retirement, don’t be surprised when Aaron Rodgers takes your spot).
So it doesn’t look like any of those guys is a threat to get anywhere near where Brees is now, much less wherever it is that he reaches when he finally retires.
I mean, it’s not like the guy is slipping and needs to be replaced. He is an MVP candidate this year.
Matt Ryan produces a bunch of passing yards a year with his partner in crime, Julio Jones. But he is already 33 years old. At his current rate of passing, Ryan needs 112 games to catch Brees right now, which is seven full seasons. Which means producing at a very high level until he is 40 years old.
I know Brees, Tom Brady and Favre have spoiled us with their freakishly long careers, but that isn’t the norm. Most QBs lose some zip on the ball in their 30s and some just can’t produce at a high level past 36 or 37.
Perhaps the greatest threat to catch Brees one day is Blake Bortles.
That’s right, the former “bust” has a career that is looking more and more like Brees’ own in several ways.
For starters, both quarterbacks came into the league when their teams were struggling mightily.
The Chargers went 1-15 with Ryan Leaf at quarterback, and the team was crippled by giving up too much to trade up in the 1998 draft to get him second overall. Leaf’s QB rating was 39.0, which is the same as throwing an incomplete pass.
The Chargers were just as well off throwing three straight passes into the ground, then punting as they were letting Leaf throw interceptions, take sacks and get the ball stripped from him.
The Jaguars were 4-12 with Dolphin castoff Chad Henne putting up a QB rating of only 76.5. Blaine Gabbert, the previous first-round QB pick, was even worse at 36.0.
Brees and Bortles both had times where they shined and times when they struggled. The difference was that the Chargers picked up veteran Doug Flutie and were quick to pull Brees if the coach thought Flutie could deliver a win.
Both went through multiple coaches and offensive coordinators in their first few years.
Brees didn’t have his first 3,500-yard season until his fifth year and only had one season in that first five in San Diego with a QB rating higher than 90.
Bortles already has had three seasons with more than 3,500 yards, but his best rating was 88.2. However, in his fifth season now, he is at 93.6 currently.
In his first two seasons, Bortles led the NFL in most sacks taken with 55 and 51 respectively. So sure, his third season saw him struggle — he was a little gun-shy. But last year he got the number down to 24 and is on pace for that number again this year.
In Brees’ first three years in New Orleans, the slinger was only sacked 47 times combined. With better protection, his passing numbers skyrocketed.
For the past 12 seasons, Brees has thrown for at least 4,300 yards.
Four QBs in history have reached 5,000 yards in a season just one time. Brees has done it four times himself. He’s led the league in yardage seven times, led for touchdowns four times.
And he doesn’t just do it by throwing the ball around wildly. He’s accurate, having broken the NFL record for completion percentage three times, including this past season.
To me, the biggest travesty is that one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time continues to be underappreciated and hasn’t won a single MVP award.
He broke the single-season yardage record and didn’t get an award. He has set the completion record three times without an award. Isn’t anyone paying attention to how great he is?
Better yet, who have been his targets during this prolific 13 years in New Orleans?
Marques Colston was a seventh-round pick that Brees turned into a star. Numerous other players have come and gone until now it looks like Michael Thomas might be a keeper. But much of the time it was with castoffs that looked better because of the greatness of the one throwing the ball.
So regardless of team affiliation, Monday night let’s celebrate the great career of a man who has rewritten the record books.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.