|In an age of spry older QBs, Drew Brees, at 31, still has a lot to look forward too. (Bill Haber/Associated Press)|
Prime time for Saints’ Brees
METAIRIE, La. - Shortly before Drew Brees turned 30, he had a talk with retired San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young that made him feel a bit better about entering the fourth decade of his life.
“He said, ‘Man, your prime as a QB is 30 to 35,’ ’’ Brees recalled. “Now I would say Kurt Warner and Brett Favre are breaking that mold by going toward 40 and playing at such a high level. But that makes you feel good because it shows that your skills can still be very high at that age.’’
Brees turns 31 today (the same day his only child, son Baylen, turns 1) and is the youngest of four quarterbacks in the over-30 club whose teams are still playing.
At 40, Favre is the oldest, followed by Warner, 38, and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, 33. Should Favre’s Vikings beat the Cowboys Sunday and Warner’s Cardinals beat the Saints tomorrow, the average QB age in the NFC Championship game will be 39 - a veritable Graybeard Bowl.
“It’s not like 30 is a very old player; a lot of guys are just getting into it,’’ said Warner, who did not play in an NFL game until he was 27. “But I definitely think the experience helps, especially at this time of year, and I think it takes time to build things. Very seldom do you have a quarterback that comes in in their first year and the team around them’s good.’’
Of course, that does happen. Many of the best quarterbacks in the game made their mark earlier in their careers. Tom Brady was 24, in his first season as a starter because of an injury to Drew Bledsoe, when he won his first of three Super Bowls in a four-year period.
The two youngest quarterbacks still playing this season are Jets rookie Mark Sanchez, 23, and the Ravens’ Joe Flacco, 24. They play on teams built in large part around defense and the running game and they threw for the fewest yards and touchdowns of any of the eight QBs suiting up this weekend.
Brees, who had a serious throwing-shoulder injury when he was 27, joined the Saints shortly after as a free agent and with uncertain career prospects. He’s thrown for more than 4,000 yards per season in the four years since.
Brees’s yardage total fell this season from last, when he became only the second player to throw for more than 5,000 yards (5,069) - the Dolphins’ Dan Marino had 5,084 in 1984. Still, he would argue that the first season of his 30s was his best yet.
He threw for 4,388 yards and 34 TDs compared to 11 interceptions. His 70.6 completion percentage set an NFL record and his 109.6 quarterback rating led the NFL and also set a franchise record. In the process, he led the Saints to a franchise-record 13 wins and the first No. 1 playoff seeding in franchise history. He finished second in MVP voting behind Manning.
Among positions in football, quarterback is one that lends itself to longevity because teams are usually trying to limit the amount of contact their quarterbacks endure. Rule changes in recent years also have been designed to limit hits on quarterbacks. Meanwhile, advancements in medicine are helping athletes heal more fully when they do get hurt.
Brees also noted that the quarterback position puts a premium on preparation and experience. It takes time to learn how to read defenses, to recognize blitzes and coverages, and to understand when it’s worth making riskier throws into tight coverage, and when it’s not.
“Your skills slowly diminish as you get older, right? You’re not as athletic, whatever, but your knowledge and experience level goes up,’’ Brees said. “There’s that window where they cross and you consider that your prime. I hope, barring injury, knock on wood, I want to play this game as long as I can.’’
If his luck with health turns out to be anything like Favre’s, this postseason could be one of many more in which Brees plays between now and 2019.