Report: Behind scenes, Saints QB Drew Brees still unsure if he'll play vs. Panthers _lowres

Advocate file photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees

Could this be the year that the greatest football player from Louisiana and the greatest football player ever to come to Louisiana both exit the stage?

Definitely yes to the first part, and, on the local level, yes to the second as well.

Age and injuries have forced Peyton Manning to yield to Brock Osweiler. And the Denver Broncos’ two victories with Osweiler at quarterback, especially Sunday’s upset of New England, are making it look like the most prolific passer in NFL history is not getting his job back.

Osweiler’s even made this week’s regional cover of Sports Illustrated, which will be available in Louisiana. Ouch.

And although Manning reportedly has said he wants to play again next season, is there a team out there which will want a 40-year-old quarterback with neck, rib, shoulder and foot problems?

The course many people thought Manning should have taken after last season — retirement — seems inevitable.

Closer to home, Drew Brees isn’t close to being done, at least physically. In fact, despite missing a game because of injury for the first time in 10 seasons with the Saints, he’s in better shape now than he was last year.

Unfortunately, his team isn’t.

For the second straight season, the Saints are 4-7. But computers give them only a 3 percent chance of making the playoffs.

The Saints seven-point underdogs Sunday against the undefeated Carolina Panthers, the largest such spread in a home game since 1999.

For that matter, the way they’re playing, the Saints could lose every game they have left.

So if you’re Drew Brees, idolized in New Orleans as no player before you in the half-century of the franchise, do you want do be part of a massive rebuilding process which may or may not be under the direction of the coach you’ve teamed with so successfully for the past decade?

Or, at age 37 next season, would you prefer to take one or two more shots at a second Super Bowl ring with a team that is just a quarterback away from being in that position? Those Houston Texans who were all over you last Sunday fit that description.

On Wednesday, Brees gave his standard answer to such a suggestion: “I’m taking it one year at a time.”

When asked about what he considered the highs and lows of the current season, he said: “We’ve still got a lot of games to play,”

Brees has never given any public indication that he might want to be elsewhere next year. And he’s too honorable, plus too smart, to do so.

As it is, it would take some doing for that to happen.

The Saints would take a $10 million cap hit by trading or releasing him before June 1. A team trading for Brees would be taking on a $20 million contract plus whatever price the Saints could extract for him.

But both sides could decide it’s time.

Give credit to the Texans’ defense, but last Sunday, Brees did not look like the calm, confident quarterback we’ve come to take for granted over the years.

His offensive line couldn’t protect him and his receivers couldn’t do much of anything after the catch. More than that, the most accurate passer in NFL history rushed his throws and missed some open targets.

After having at least one touchdown pass in 99 of his previous 100 games, Brees failed to get the ball into the end zone.

His 218 passing yards, combined with the 192 in the previous game against Washington was Brees’ lowest two-game total since he had 362 combined yards in games against Buffalo and the New York Jets in 2009.

Of course, both of those games were Saints victories, and the team went on to win the Super Bowl.

That’s not happening this time.

Or any time in the foreseeable future.

But at least Brees is on the field.

Manning is wearing a cast on his left foot following treatment for his torn plantar fascia and there is no timetable for his return.

The snowy conditions in Denver last Sunday was a reminder that Manning has been at his worst in cold weather — precisely what the Broncos would be dealing with in January games at home or at New England.

Denver coach Gary Kubiak and general manager John Elway must decide if their Super Bowl chances are better with Manning or Osweiler.

For a proud competitor like Manning, being shunted aside would hurt more than his injuries.

Brees said he hadn’t paid a lot of attention to Manning’s situation, but he can put himself in Peyton’s shoes.

“I know for me, missing just one game this year was tough,” he said. “I’m not wired that way.

“He’s not wired that way either.”

Athletes rarely get to call it quits on their own timetables.

And quarterbacks, even Hall of Famers, seldom finish their careers on a high note.

Elway is one of the few who comes to mind.

But endings like Brett Favre’s, Joe Namath’s and Johnny Unitas’ are more common.

Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have more than earned the right to devise the end of their careers.

For Manning, it’s probably too late.

And for Brees, it’s probably on his mind.