Over the weekend, Jameis Winston’s commentary about realizing that his passion “wasn’t football” but “playing football” seemed to echo with Drew Brees. It was also more interesting than anything he’s ever said in the public sphere. Brees is going through a pseudo-mid-life crisis exacerbated by career changes best described as somewhere between Ric Flair’s dusty ass deciding to make a wrestling comeback and Michael Keaton playing a washed-up actor clinging to fame in birdman† You can be sure that Brees has also thought of purchasing a convertible and hair extensions.
When Brees retired, the networks didn’t chase him for his voice during their broadcasts. Outside of New Orleans, he has never been a prominent pitchman, and a starting NFL quarterback was the heart and soul of who he is.
For nearly two decades, he was crammed between the hulking figures of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. For two decades, he was a sweet-natured quarterback with the unseasoned tuna salad personality. He lacked Manning’s social character and Teflon Tom’s aura of infallibility. Brees barely had time to hold the passing yardage and passing touchdown record before Brady stole his thunder.
Even when he retires, Brady and Manning torment his broadcasting career. Last week, Fox announced they were about to dump a large fortune of $300 million for Brady to provide “aw shucks” analysis and vanilla commentary for a decade after he retired. The job of the No. 1 color analyst has become a lucrative quarterback afterlife.
On Sunday, Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported that Brees and NBC’s Football night in America said goodbye. Reportedly, the network took notice of Brees after one season and lost confidence in him as a potential successor to Cris Collinsworth after he flatlined in the booth during a mesmerizing Bengals-Raiders playoff game. The outcry over his rookie year as an analyst was so overwhelmingly negative that NBC wasn’t even confident he would get any better.
Brees is no stranger to failure. He was called short on the NFL combination. He was ejected from San Diego to make way for Phillip Rivers. The Dolphins team doctors determined that he was too damaged to take a gamble. But he’s 43 now. This must be a particularly devastating ego blow, considering how the ManningCast is thriving at ESPN. NBC doesn’t have a number 2 job because they only air one game a week, so if he doesn’t catch on on another network, he’ll spend his Sundays watching his main rivals chop it up in primetime.
Faced with that prospect, Brees has done what most athletes facing a murky future do after the broadcast failed. No, not podcasting. At some point, athletes miss the crowd of fans and the raucous, crowded atmosphere. Broadcasts and the pressure to perform live provide a drop of that familiar adrenaline and dopamine rush. Brees teased the idea of returning to the field and made a passive-aggressive inquiry to rejoin the Saints.
We’ve seen this movie before. Jason Witten desperately returned to the Cowboys after his color commentary was panned and Rob Gronkowski left the Fox studio after a brief stint to return and play with Brady in Tampa Bay. The Saints reportedly inquired about Brees temporarily starting Week 15, when the only remaining quarterbacks on their roster tested positive for COVID ahead of a Monday Night Football game.
Unfortunately for Brees, Sean Payton has left the building and his arm strength failed him years before that anyway. Saints’ current head coach Dennis Allen told media he took Brees’s contemplation as a joke. However, if Brees is trolling about joining a pickleball tour, he has yet to find something to make with his time in the coming decades.
He could go the conservative news route. Conservative crowds like athletes with strong opinions on culture war topics like the national anthem, but Brees didn’t even have the backbone to stand up for his bootlicking† There is no shame in a Hall of Fame QB. starting in a smaller, local media market where he can hone his craft. There must be a high school nearby that is looking for an offensive coordinator. He could stay in professional football by taking an entry-level position in a front office or spending more time expanding his investment portfolio. If he just wants to play football, the Fan Controlled Football League has become a haunted place for washed ex-NFL stars like TO and Johnny Manziel.