Saints are going to survive without Drew Brees

New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints have a steep climb over the next several weeks without Drew Brees but this could have a silver lining for the long term.

It wasn’t a bone-crushing tackle that ruined Drew Brees. It wasn’t even a sack or takedown of any kind. In fact, it took the football-watching public several seconds, multiple angles and some squinting eyes to locate exactly what went wrong for the New Orleans Saints quarterback on Sunday.

Brees reportedly suffered a torn thumb ligament in Sunday’s loss to the L.A. Rams when his throwing hand collided with Aaron Donald’s outstretched arms as he completed his throwing motion. The momentum of one hit the length and counter-momentum of the other and suddenly Brees was standing on the sideline, his thumb wrapped and secured, as backup Teddy Bridgewater took over the offense.

Just like that, the Saints were forced to consider L.A.B. (Life After Brees) even as they hope to get him back healthy and ready for the second half of the season. Let’s be clear: a torn ligament will not keep Brees and the Saints out of the playoffs. It also will not sideline their Super Bowl aspirations, given Brees’ timeline is six weeks out.

In the interim, however, it does make the climb toward any postseason advantage a steep one and it also forces the franchise to consider the reality of playing without their future Hall of Fame quarterback. He is, after all, 40 years old.

This could be a good thing.

Getting a glimpse of the future

The timing was uncanny. Brees’ injury occurred on the same Sunday that news broke of head coach Sean Payton’s new five-year extension to remain in the Big Easy. It’s almost as if the powers-that-be forced Payton to really consider the future so shortly after committing to it.

With Brees out, the New Orleans offense looked anemic—not that the contest was living up to the hype before the injury. Teddy Bridgewater finished with a pedestrian 72.2 passer rating, as he completed only 17 of 30 passes for 165 yards. He didn’t have a single touchdown, throwing or rushing; was sacked twice; and fumbled once.

It is unfair to comment too much on Bridgewater coming in cold from the sidelines to face the Rams in the wake of Brees’ injury. He now will have starter’s reps in practice and will be instrumental in the game plan from here on out. Bridgewater will be better. The question is: how much better?

The loss of Brees for even a third of a season should be enough to accelerate the franchise’s plan to bring along a potential replacement if Payton is unable to win with Bridgewater at the helm. Brees is old, yes, but he’s also timeless—or at least he seems that way. In today’s NFL, Brees is hardly the only pioneer pushing the envelope on quarterback success past the typical models for age and career length. Tom Brady is older than Brees, while Philip Rivers is doing just fine approaching 40 himself.

With Brees out, any semi-fog surrounding the Saints’ decision-makers should dissipate and the franchise should now be all-in, if it was not already, on finding a new QB1. If Brees is around to mentor that player, that’s fine. But Payton would do well to mimic his colleague in New England. Bill Belichick has always been keenly aware of the fragile nature of certainty in the NFL and he’s invested multiple early-to-mid-round picks over the years to keep the cupboards brimming with potential at quarterback.

The Saints are in the midst of the toughest part of their schedule, which means the dose of reality without Brees could be particularly painful. The Seattle Seahawks await the Saints this Sunday, and the Dallas Cowboys come for a visit to close the month. Things get easier in October, but the team still faces the Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals before their bye in Week 9.

In short, Sean Payton and his staff should have a good idea of just how competitive this roster is without Brees under center. That could aid the decision-making process this next offseason with added clarity and perspective.

Fine for now

As for the present, the Saints are still loaded with talent as a team that should have made the Super Bowl one year ago. That level of talent won’t fall too easily against teams like the Cardinals or Bucs without Brees and a decent bet for the Saints could be to end up with a .500 record at the bye.

If that’s the case, the Saints will be 4-4 heading into the second half of the season with their starting quarterback returning for the stretch run. The months of November and December basically feature a zig-zag through the NFC South for the Saints with games against the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans sprinkled in the mix. While those aren’t exactly pushovers, they’re also not stacked with the sort of talent, top to bottom, that the Saints have put together.

Basically any team that could conceivably measure up to the talent on the Saints will already be in the rearview mirror by the time Brees comes back. If they can minimize the losses on this side of things, some significant postseason goals are still in play for Brees and company—including home field advantage for at least a round or two.

While it’s a tough loss for the Saints to lose Brees for a month and a half, the reality is that the injury shouldn’t alter any of this season’s major goals. It could also give them a vision of their ability to compete long-term if and when Brees decides to call it quits.

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