"After 20 years as a player in the NFL and 15 years as a Saint, it is time I retire from the game of football," Brees wrote on Instagram. "Each day, I poured my heart & soul into being your Quarterback. Til the very end, I exhausted myself to give everything I had to the Saints organization, my team, and the great city of New Orleans."
The Saints took to social media to thank their longtime star:
New Orleans Saints @Saints
You came to us at our lowest point. You led us to our highest. You represented our state, city, and team with incredible professionalism, class, and toughness. We are forever grateful for the immeasurable impact you and your family had on this city. #ThankYouDrew https://t.co/HljWp4NG2K
The Chargers also congratulated Brees on his retirement:
The announcement was expected in the wake of Brees agreeing to rework his contract for 2021. He lowered his base salary to the league minimum of $1 million in February, clearing $24 million in cap space for the team.
Brees had been scheduled to earn $25 million in base salary before that.
The 2020 season marked the second straight year in which Brees had missed time because of injuries. He suffered a collapsed lung and fractured 11 ribs during the Saints' 27-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10. He missed four games as a result before returning in Week 15.
New Orleans' hopes for a Super Bowl were dashed in the NFC Divisional Round with a 30-20 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In that game, which turned out to be the last of his storied career, Brees finished 19-of-34 for 134 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
After winning 13 games during the 2019 regular season, New Orleans' championship quest came to an early end with an upset loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Wild Card Game.
Even though Brees took some time to decide whether he wanted to play a 20th NFL season, he ended the suspense with an Instagram message on Feb. 18: "My feelings about the 2020 season! I look forward to the grind and the journey, for the reward at the end will be worth it!!! Love you #WhoDatNation. Let's make another run at it!"
The Saints eventually signed Brees to a two-year contract extension through the 2021 season. He also set up his post-playing career as a broadcaster, with Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reporting in April 2020 that the future Hall of Famer signed with NBC to serve as an analyst for Sunday Night Football whenever he decided to hang up the cleats.
Marchand noted Brees would "be groomed" as Cris Collinsworth's potential replacement for the Sunday night games.
The 13-time Pro Bowler is going out on a high note, setting the NFL record for completion percentage in 2017 and breaking his own mark the following year (74.4). He is the only quarterback in NFL history with more than one season completing at least 70 percent of his attempts, accomplishing the feat seven times.
Brees also set NFL records for career completions (6,586) and passing yards (74,437) during the 2018 season.
The 2019 season was another successful one for Brees despite him missing five games early in the year with a torn thumb ligament. He led the league in completion percentage (74.3) and had the highest touchdown percentage (7.1) of his career.
Brees helped the Saints win their fourth straight NFC South title in 2020. He completed 70.5 percent of his passes for 2,942 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions in 12 games.
Despite all of those things still working in his favor, he is walking away from the NFL pretty close to the top of his game.
Brees will not be forgotten in retirement. He was a key figure on and off the field in New Orleans, joining the franchise one year after the horrific tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.
He told Robin Roberts on Good Morning America (h/t Julie Boudwin of NOLA.com) in August 2015 what it meant to be part of the Saints' Super Bowl team in 2009:
"There were so many emotional moments along the way, just because we knew this was about an overall recovery; an overall resurrection of this city, of this community, of a spirit. I needed somebody to believe in me just as much as New Orleans needed someone to believe in them. In so many ways, New Orleans not only saved my football career, but for me as a person."
The Saints took a big risk on Brees when he first signed with the team in March 2006. He tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder during the season finale with the San Diego Chargers in 2005, which led to Miami Dolphins team doctors suggesting they not sign him because of uncertainty about his recovery.
While the Dolphins will always look back on what might have been, the Saints became one of the NFL's best franchises over the past 15 years thanks in large part to having Brees at quarterback.
This may be the end of Brees' NFL career, but he's not going to be out of the spotlight forever. He will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the second his name goes on the ballot.