Let us begin with one seemingly simple, yet frequently argued truth: the Chargers made the right decision when they let Drew Brees get away.
Those with 20/20 hindsight see how great Brees became and know that he won a ring with New Orleans. They look at his accomplishments after leaving San Diego and compare them to the success, or lack thereof, of the Chargers under Rivers, and envy the fans of the Saints.
That being said, be honest with yourself, Drew Brees was seriously injured in his last game in San Diego and, quite frankly, his performance with the Chargers was average at best.
Please allow me to refresh your memory.
During the Brees’ tenure in San Diego, he was very hit-or-miss. In his first season, he sat the bench and learned behind fan-favorite Doug Flutie. In his sophomore year, 2002, he won the starting role, but was only able to throw for a little over 3200 yards with 17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, adding two fumbles. Not bad for a first-year starter, but he lead the team to a middling 8-8 record.
Brees came back as the starter in 2003 and only amassed 2100 yards with 11 touchdowns, 15 picks, and four fumbles. He was benched by then head coach Marty Schottenheimer and replaced by Flutie. Despite the efforts of Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the team ended up just 4-12 that season. With Brees seemingly heading in the wrong direction, the Chargers’ brain trust decided that it was time to draft a quarterback.
Enter Philip Rivers.
In 2004, Brees could see the writing on the wall. The Chargers traded for Philip Rivers on draft day and he was the heir apparent to the starting QB job.
Brees’ days were numbered indeed.
Fortunately for Drew, Philip decided to hold out for more money and missed most of training camp. Coach Schottenheimer decided that he could not afford to start their new $40 MIL rookie and put Brees back in his familiar role.
Well, one thing we all know about Drew Brees in current times is that when his back is against the wall, he will come out fighting. He went on to throw for over 3100 yards with 27 touchdowns, against just 7 interceptions and four fumbles. This was by far his most productive season, as he lead his team to an amazing 12-4 record.
What do you do with a quarterback who just lead your team from worst to first in a single year? You start him the next year!
The 2005 campaign rolls around and Rivers is sent to the bench once more. That holdout is proving very costly to the sophomore QB. This was the last season on Brees’ contract. Something had to be decided by the end of the year. Two quarterbacks’ futures were on the line as the season wore on. Brees was quite inconsistent in 2005. He amassed just under 3600 yards and 24 touchdowns, but his interceptions ballooned back up to 15 and his fumbles up to eight!
The decision was going to be tough.
With the team going 9-7 and Brees showing signs of greatness along with signs of ineptitude, no one was sure whom the Chargers would keep.
Word was leaked out that general manager AJ Smith wanted to keep Rivers. Head coach Marty Schottenheimer liked Brees.
Who would win the job?
As it turned out, that difficult decision was made quite easy. Despite many who thought Brees should not play the meaningless final game of the season, Schottenheimer decided he should. Many speculated that Brees got the start because Schottenheimer did not want to showcase what Rivers could do and keep AJ Smith from offering Brees a contract extension.
Whatever the reason was, it backfired in a big way.
While attempting to recover a fumble, Brees suffered a severely torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. This injury is not considered an automatic career-ender, but many do not return with the same arm strength. Brees was not considered a strong-armed QB to begin with, so the thought of him coming back weaker was not attractive. Also, the thought of letting go of their $40 MIL bonus baby was eating away at AJ Smith.
Smith made the call. With Brees’ numbers declining and it being impossible to determine if and when he would recover from his injury, it was time to part ways; thus opening the door for Philip Rivers, who lead the Chargers to a 14-2 record the following season.
With Rivers and Tomlinson playing at an extremely high level, it was obvious that Smith made the right call. Hell, even the Dolphins, who brought Brees in for a workout, refused to sign him. They opted instead for aging veteran Daunte Culpepper. That proved to be an extremely poor decision.
Yet again, when you tell the undersized Drew Brees that he can’t do something, he gets determined to prove you wrong. Brees rehabbed his shoulder and came back stronger than ever before. The New Orleans Saints decided to take a shot and signed him as their new starting QB. Just four years later, Drew Brees was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy high in the air and celebrating his Super Bowl victory with the Saints. He was the king of New Orleans and the top passer in the NFL.
Sunday, October 2, 2016, Drew Brees returns to his roots. He will once again grace the field at Qualcomm stadium in front of thousands of adoring fans who think about what could have been.
You see, Drew Brees didn’t leave San Diego in an ugly fashion. There may have been no love lost between Brees and the Chargers’ front office, but with the community, all was well. In fact, Brees still lives in San Diego in the offseason and is a pillar of the community.
There is no question that the success that Brees has seen in his brilliant career in New Orleans has helped revisionist historians question the decision to let him go. That being said, what choice did the Chargers have? Keep an ailing, undersized, average quarterback? Or, give the young stud who they had invested so heavily his opportunity to shine?
In reality, the decision worked out for both teams. Brees found the perfect situation, team, city and coach to allow his skills to flourish. Rivers stepped in and quickly made fans believers. In fact, they are both considered to be future Hall of Fame QBs by many experts.
My question is, if Brees did not get injured, would he ever have had the chip on his shoulder that allowed him to build up his strength and become a far stronger and more deadly quarterback than he was in his first five years?
We will never know the answer to that question, so the debate goes on.
Thanks for reading. Please leave your comments below and I’ll be sure to get back to you.
Go Bolts! #VoteYesOnC