No one should ever question Drew Brees’ toughness.
To put it in football terms, he’s the type of guy who will tape an aspirin to an injured body part and figure out a way to play through it. That’s why, when he was battling a shoulder injury earlier this year, no one truly believed he’d miss the Week 3 date at the Carolina Panthers until Sean Payton announced he would not be playing.
The initial thoughts were the same when Brees came to the podium following Monday’s loss to the Detroit Lions in a walking boot on his right foot and said he would be undergoing an MRI on Tuesday. And they remained the same after ESPN reported the MRI revealed Brees has a torn plantar fascia in his plant foot.
No big deal. He’ll rub some dirt on it and keep going. Doesn’t matter that Peyton Manning has been out of action since November with the same injury — and that one is in his non-plant foot. Brees will be fine. He always is.
You can bet Brees will do everything he can to play through this and is already attacking his rehab. As long as he isn’t at risk of further injury, he isn’t going to take this lying down, even if the Saints are 5-9 and have absolutely nothing left to play for other than one another, pride and statistics the next two weeks against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons.
Those are all honorable things. Those things could help in the future, and all actions over the next two weeks should be about creating a better tomorrow. There’s nothing left to gain that can improve today. So the real question here is this: What can be gained by Brees taking the field, if anything at all?
First things first: No player or coach is ever going tank a game. Those are front-office concerns that do not align with the agendas of those in the trenches. Those guys want to win, they want to play well and they have far too much pride to ever lie down.
From a media perspective, it’s shocking how much of a talking point this has become over the past couple of weeks and how often the team is questioned about giving maximum effort. It even came up after the Saints fought back from a 28-3 hole against the Lions, a display that seemed to be the definition of heart and effort, but that’s a different story.
The reason this is brought up is because those same qualities are going to be what pushes Brees to try to play through this. It’s admirable, and if he can do it and the situation is only about managing pain, then it’s going to be hard to stop him from trying to get back on the field.
If that’s what this is about and Brees feels he can play at a level that won’t be a detriment to the team or himself, then there isn’t a major issue here. He’s two weeks away from having all the time he needs to rest and rehab.
But the biggest piece of that equation is that Brees isn’t a detriment to himself. Odds are that he’s going to be less than 100 percent coming off a short week. So, if he is unable to navigate the pocket without his typical mobility, or something close to it, it would be foolish to put him on the field to absorb hits and risk a more serious injury.
If that’s the case, this discussion should be over and the team needs to step in and protect Brees from himself. Shut him down now, and don’t even entertain the possibility of him coming back for a pair of games that carry no real consequences.
There’s also the other side of this argument, which is that proactively making this move could help improve the team’s draft stock. This certainly will not enter the thinking of Payton, Brees or the training staff when decisions are made about the quarterback’s availability, but it has to be mentioned since the outcome of this situation could affect the team’s ability to win the final two games.
Since that won’t factor in, it’s not really worth mentioning, but the point is there is an argument to be made that shutting Brees down and letting him get healthy wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing for this team over the next two weeks.
It could give the team an opportunity to take a look at third-round pick Garrett Grayson, who has spent the season learning behind the scenes. The only issue is that he was unable to beat out Luke McCown for the backup job and was again unable to claim it after McCown went down with an injury of his own.
Perhaps if Brees is unable to play, Matt Flynn would be handed the ball. That would be a lot less interesting to those of us watching Sunday.
Maybe the mystery surrounding Grayson is greater outside of the locker room than it is to those who coach and watch the rookie each day in practice. Or perhaps he’s making strides but the team has no intention of putting him on the field and into a situation that could rattle his confidence before he’s prepared to succeed.
A lot of the logic here says there’s little to be gained by playing Brees, but there also was little to be gained by him — or any other established player — playing as soon as the team’s hopes of making the playoffs were eliminated. That makes it a lot easier to conclude he shouldn’t be on the field.
The Saints need to be honest about this situation and make the smart decision. If that means Brees is healthy enough to play, then so be it.
If it means he isn’t, the coaching staff is going to have to force him to lie down — even if he already has an aspirin taped to his foot.