New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees announces retirement after 20 NFL seasons

Nate Davis

After a record-setting career that could have hardly been expected, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees did what had been anticipated for months Sunday: retire.

In a video post to his Instagram account – with an assist from his four children – Brees wrote: "After 20 years as a player in the NFL and 15 years as a Saint, it is time I retire from the game of football. Each day, I poured my heart & soul into being your Quarterback. Til the very end, I exhausted myself to give everything I had to the Saints organization, my team, and the great city of New Orleans.

"We shared some amazing moments together, many of which are emblazoned in our hearts and minds and will forever be a part of us. You have molded me, strengthened me, inspired me, and given me a lifetime of memories. My goal for the last 15 years was striving to give to you everything you had given to me and more.

Drew Brees threw for 80,358 yards in his career.

"I am only retiring from playing football, I am not retiring from New Orleans. This is not goodbye, rather a new beginning. Now my real life‘s work begins!"

Brees, 42, leaves the league as its all-time leading passer, the only man in professional football history to surpass 80,000 yards (80,358). His 571 touchdown passes are second only to Tom Brady, who overtook Brees during an injury-interrupted 2020 season. 

Brees passed for 5,000 yards in a season five times. No one else has done it twice.

Perhaps the most accurate passer in league history, Brees' 67.7% career rate trails only Deshaun Watson, who's played 16 fewer seasons. Brees owns six of the top nine best single-season accuracy marks – including the top three – his 74.4% mark in 2018 the all-time standard.

His 7,142 career completions are also a record.

But Brees' legacy will be remembered for far more than sublime numbers. 

A second-round pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2001, he came to the Saints in 2006 – seeking professional revival personally after tearing up his throwing shoulder in the 2005 regular-season finale at the same time New Orleans was rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The Saints posted this message on their Twitter account: "You came to us at our lowest point. You led us to our highest. You represented our state, city, and team with incredible professionalism, class, and toughness. We are forever grateful for the immeasurable impact you and your family had on this city."

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Brees and newly hired coach Sean Payton led the franchise to its first NFC championship game in that 2006 season. Three years later, buoyed by one of the league's most explosive offenses and an opportunistic defense, the Saints won their only championship, beating New Orleans native Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl 44. Brees was the game's MVP, passing for 288 yards and two TDs.

The Saints, a woebegone franchise prior to the arrival of Brees and Payton, have reached the playoffs in nine of the 15 seasons since their arrival, winning the NFC South the past four years. They've experienced horrible playoff luck in that stretch, most notably a non-call on an obvious pass interference in the 2018 NFC championship game against the Los Angeles Rams at the Superdome – a turn that almost certainly cost them a berth in Super Bowl 53.

But it won't tarnish Brees' laundry lists of accomplishments. Expect him to be a first-ballot inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2026.

As for the Saints, their next major question is to determine their starting quarterback for 2021 and beyond. Payton told NFL Media late last season, "I feel like our next quarterback is in the building."

That means either Taysom Hill, who just signed a four-year, $140 million extension (with voidable years, per ESPN) and went 3-1 in 2020 while Brees was nursing injured ribs and various other injuries, or free agent (for now) Jameis Winston will most likely get the nod going into the upcoming season.


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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