WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — For the first time in more than a decade, Drew Brees is looking over his shoulder.
The Saints have drafted his possible replacement and Brees’ $27 million salary cap number for 2016 looks just too onerous for a team already in financial straits and that could be in a major rebuilding mode, if it already isn’t.
Except that No. 9 doesn’t see it that way.
“Absolutely not,” he answered Wednesday to a question about seeing any comparison to the San Diego Chargers drafting Phillip Rivers in 2004 to the Saints taking Garrett Grayson this year.
He’s probably right. Brees was considered an only slightly above average quarterback back then and Rivers was the No. 4 pick in the draft.
Rivers still needed two years to supplant Brees. Nobody knows when, if ever, Grayson will be ready.
“Absolutely not,” also was Brees answer to a question suggesting he could be worried about his cap situation going into the final year of his contract plus considering the idea that his best chance to win a second Super Bowl could be with another team.
Brees is going into this season without Jimmy Graham. On Wednesday, Brees was still rhapsodizing about the connection the two had.
None of his wide receivers, including Marcus Colston, have ever made a Pro Bowl. The interior of the offensive line, vital to Brees’ protection, has two new starters.
Obviously this all has to play itself out. But going 7-9 again is a potential outcome. That would be cause for considerable soul-searching by all concerned.
As excruciating as the idea of the greatest player in the franchise history ending his career somewhere else would be to Who Dat Nation, it’s a fact of life in the NFL. Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning all did it and made the playoffs with their new teams.
And there is that day of reckoning looming for Mickey Loomis continued remortgaging of the Saints’ cap.
But for now, Brees’ sole mission is to right the ship he’s on, not just as the quarterback but as the team’s leader.
Brees’ locker back on 5800 Airline Drive is directly across the doorway from the one formerly occupied by Junior Galette. He had to have seen and heard a lot.
“It’s about trust and accountability,” he said. “Each guy has to ask himself, ‘Am I the kind teammate I want to have?’
“If not, you have to make some changes for yourself. And if you’re not willing to make those changes, you don’t belong.”
And maybe in the process Brees can restore his status, even if he long ago punched his ticket for Canton.
No matter how much he professes to ignore the “doubters” as he puts it, it’s hard to tie for the league lead in passing yardage one season and then see your standing as an elite quarterback being questioned the next.
“I don’t play attention to the preseason rankings, either about me as an individual or the team, Brees said.
“But about where we’re going to finish or people saying I’m washed up, I don’t care.”
Nobody’s really saying Brees is washed up. But at 36 and with 7,458 pass attempts made by his surgically repaired shoulder, No. 4 in league history, there’s a lot of tread on the tires even if the engine is still running well thanks to Brees’ dedication to training.
Even Saints coach Sean Payton, who has said he wants to ride off into the sunset with the quarterback who won him a Super Bowl, conceded Wednesday that last year’s propensity for turnovers (17 interceptions, three fumbles) is a concern.
So as is the case with a used car, the Saints might one day be looking for high trade-in value for Brees rather than staying with him until the end.
But again, Brees isn’t publicly contemplating that possibility.
It’s all about the task at hand.
“My mindset is the same as it’s been for just about every other offseason,” he said. “I pinpoint the things I need to get better at, work on them and come to camp ready to do whatever I can as the quarterback of this team to help us win.
“It’s time to start having fun again.”
Boy, is it ever.