Drew Brees is coming off a Super Bowl victory and is easily one of the most popular QBs in the NFL. There is no question that he has deserved every dollar he has gotten from the New Orleans Saints over the past 4 seasons. Drew Brees is a top 3 QB in the NFL today and unfortunately the San Diego Chargers did not believe he was capable of this and let him leave San Diego in the 2006 off season. This article is not written to disrespect current Chargers QB Phillip Rivers for he has been a great QB and has become a top 10 QB in the NFL himself. But this article is meant to look back and see what could have been had A.J. Smith and the Chargers kept Brees back in 2006.
It is understandable why the Chargers drafted Phillip Rivers back in 2004: The Chargers were tied for the worst record in the 2003 NFL season, they had a special running back in Ladainian Tomlinson, and Drew Brees struggled and was replaced by Doug Flutie during the middle of the season. But Rivers’ holdout during the 2004 training camp allowed Brees to retain his starting position during the 2004 season. Drew Brees went on to get his first Pro Bowl selection as well as the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. Brees had a 104.8 QB rating and threw a career high 27 TDs. The Chargers finished the season 12-4 only to lose to the New York Jets in overtime of the divisional playoff game after Nate Kaeding missed a field goal at the end of regulation.
While the Chargers record dropped to 9-7 in the 2005 season Brees continued to impress people around the league as he threw for over 3,500 yards and 24 TDs. While the Chargers missed the playoffs, the biggest blow was the injury to Brees’ throwing shoulder in week 17 against the Denver Broncos. Brees required surgery after the season and this may have contributed to why the Chargers did not bring Brees back for the 2006 season.
The Chargers did offer a contract, but it was incentive based and had very little guaranteed money. Brees took this as an insult that the Chargers did not believe in him and his health. Brees left to New Orleans for a 6 year, $60 million contract that had $10 million guaranteed for the first season. The confidence the Saints showed in Brees was enough for him and he signed his new contract, leaving San Diego behind.
In the first year of the Rivers era, the Chargers finished with a 14-2 record but had an early playoff exit. In New Orleans, Brees led the Saints to NFC Championship game. Brees went to his 2nd Pro Bowl and threw for over 4000 yds and 26 TDs during the regular season. While the Chargers have been to the post season every year since Drew Brees left, they have yet to reach the Super Bowl. Phillip Rivers has put up good numbers, but for one reason or another the Chargers can’t seem to beat Belichick’s New England Patriots in the playoffs (I understand Rivers tore his ACL in 2008 and continued to play on it in the 2nd half of the Patriots game). The Saints on the other hand missed the playoffs in 2007 and 2008 (despite Brees being the second QB to throw for over 5,000 yards in NFL history in 2008) but seemed unstoppable in 2009. Brees had a career high 109.6 QB rating led the Saints to a Super Bowl victory over Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts earlier this year.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Drew Brees remained a Charger in 2006, the San Diego Chargers would have won the Super Bowl during LaDainian Tomlinson’s prime. While Rivers was a very efficient passer, the Chargers leaned on Tomlinson to carry the load and the defenses stacked the box against him and he was worn out by playoff time. Given Rivers’ weapons in the passing game, the team should have beaten the Patriots and at least advanced to the Super Bowl. In the 4 years since the QB switch, the Chargers have surrounded Rivers with many weapons. Rivers has a solid defense since Shawne Merriman was drafted, Rivers has been the beneficiary of one of the league’s best ground games led by Tomlinson, and Rivers has also had a talented receiving corps with Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. Over in New Orleans, the Saints defense gave the opposition points at will, Brees has yet to have a competent running game, and Brees has made due with a receiver corps that has players like Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, an old Jeremy Shockey, and Marques Colston (who is relevant mainly because of Drew Brees himself). The supporting cast of the Chargers is undoubtedly more talented than the Saints supporting cast. And it can be argued that Drew Brees has accomplished much more with far less talent than Rivers up to this point.
As far as I’m concerned, the Chargers owe their fans an apology. By picking an unproven QB who was only 2 years younger than their All-Pro QB, the Chargers wasted the career of one of the top 10 running backs in NFL history. With a Brees-Tomlinson-Gates attack (all in their respective primes) would have been too much to handle by any defense in the NFL. GM A.J. Smith’s personnel moves have forced to the Chargers to be in flux and always on the brink of contending for a Super Bowl, yet always falling short due to their inadequacies. The 2010 Chargers now have an unproven backfield, an aging Antonio Gates, and a defense with plenty of holes. The Chargers may have missed their chance at a Super Bowl ring, we’ll just have to wait and see how far Rivers can carry this team. Drew Brees on the other hand is probably thankful for the Chargers’ lack of confidence in him. Brees has become a one of the best QBs in the game and will be looking to add to his legacy in years to come.