SAN FRANCISCO — Drew Brees almost always makes an appearance during Super Bowl week, popping up throughout the week as one of the brightest luminaries in the long line of NFL stars making their way through Radio Row, fan events and promotional opportunities.
But the Saints’ franchise quarterback would rather be in Peyton Manning’s position this week, and said he thinks New Orleans is putting together the kind of team that can help him get there.
Brees said the Saints will have a chance to be back in this game soon.
“I feel like our window of opportunity is coming,” Brees said. “It’s very close.”
Brees, who spoke to The Advocate on Wednesday night after throwing passes to a pair of fans who won a Verizon contest, can see the pieces of the puzzle coming together, even though the Saints are coming off of two straight 7-9 seasons.
In Brees’ eyes, New Orleans has the kind of young, promising talent that will continue to get better.
“We’ve been young and inexperienced in areas over the last couple of years,” Brees said. “No excuse, I feel like we’ve been close, and yet it just hasn’t been enough. But we’ve continued to get better and continued to press forward, and I’m excited about the young talent we have, and more than that, I’m excited about the type of guys we have.”
Brees now has a dangerous tandem at receiver in Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead despite only three years of combined experience, Terron Armstead and Andrus Peat look like potential building blocks on the offensive line and the Saints’ much-maligned defense got promising flashes from several young additions last season. Add those players to players entering the primes of their careers like running back Mark Ingram, defensive end Cam Jordan and safety Kenny Vaccaro, and the Saints appear to have a promising young foundation.
Beyond the field, though, Brees is even more excited about the team’s culture change, a pointed effort the Saints made after the 2014 season was derailed by locker-room issues.
Brees said thinks the Saints have the right combination of players, with the right goals in mind, a quality he sees in the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos.
Carolina looms as the first target, a fact Sean Payton pointed out in his postseason press conference. Despite one of the older rosters in the NFL, Carolina has a young core of talent led by quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly, and the three-time NFC South champs offer a tough litmus test within the division, even though the Saints played Carolina better than most this season.
Brees knows Carolina sets up as a rival, but he’s more interested to see how his own team will continue to develop this offseason.
“They’ve got a bunch of young, talented players, too, so they’re going to be around for a while,” Brees said. “So are we. Of course, you’ve got to get past your division first, but bottom line is, at this point, we’re worried about what we can do as a team to get better, what additions we can make through the draft and free agency, potentially, and also, continue to develop the skill set of the guys that we have.”
Brees’ optimism, an optimism that echoes what Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have said this offseason, runs counter to national speculation that this Saints era is close to its end, speculation that hit a fever pitch at the end of the season before Payton announced he was staying and hoped to finish his career in New Orleans.
Brees isn’t going anywhere, either -- there’s nothing new to report on a potential contract extension to lower his cap hit yet — and he’s confident in the team the Saints are putting around him.
“I don’t worry about what other people say,” Brees said. “Really, nobody knows what they’re talking about except for the people who are in the building, and I feel like we’re approaching our opportunity to make a run.”