New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton labelled himself a "big dummy" after sparking talk Drew Brees was retiring after next season.

Brees, 41, reportedly agreed to a two-year contract with the Saints last month, with the 2020 season to be his 20th in the NFL.

There was fresh talk over Brees' future when Payton told ESPN on Tuesday that Brees was returning for a "final season".

But the Saints coach said he misspoke, insisting the veteran quarterback was going year by year.

"I'm a big dummy. Yesterday we got chatting on ESPN and I think the way I worded it was that he's coming back for his last year," Payton told a conference call on Wednesday.

"I think, I honestly do not know if it is his last year. I think the thing he's done and we've all done is taken it year by year and man that thing blew up on me."

Brees and the Saints reached the playoffs last season before losing in the Wild Card game.

Payton said he respected Brees for taking his time in deciding whether he wanted to return for another season.

"This year he spent some time, he spent a lot of time really making sure he was ready to come back, not only physically, but mentally," he said.

"Obviously that was my fault and it's not like a big secret that I let out of the bag, but it was more or less first, he's back again for another year and probably in my mind really, started with the idea that this year was unique in that he spent some time thinking about, 'Hey, am I ready to come back for another season?'

"Before we deal with the year after this season, I know the focal point for us will be this season."

Drew Brees might not have to dodge defensive linemen and free blitzers any time soon, but Sean Payton would rather he steered clear of rattlesnakes too.

Veteran quarterback Brees recently agreed a new two-year deal to return to the New Orleans Saints, who have suffered playoff heartache in three successive seasons under Payton.

However, the quarterback-and-head-coach duo appear primed for another run at a Super Bowl next season having delivered the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy a decade ago.

Yet given the importance of Brees - the NFL's all-time leader for passing yardage, pass completions and touchdowns thrown, Saints fans would rather he avoided any potential dangers this offseason.

The 41-year-old uploaded a picture of a rattlesnake onto his Instagram account alongside the caption: "The baby rattlesnakes were out today... Saw them on the late afternoon walk with the dogs."

At a time when people the world over are being encouraged to remain at home and limit their social interactions, the thought of Brees having a close shave with a snake prompted his head coach Payton to offer some advice.

In a reply to Brees on Twitter, Payton wrote: "Let's find a different route. Ok?" 

Payton was the first person in the NFL known to have tested positive for coronavirus when it was revealed he had COVID-19 on March 19.

Less than a week later he said he had been "cleared" of the illness and was "doing well".

New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis says the team are thankful to Drew Brees for taking a hometown discount in his latest contract extension.

Quarterback Brees agreed a new two-year, $50million pact with the Saints, much less than he could have received on the open market.

The 41-year-old knew the Saints were tight against the salary cap and had already announced he would return on social media before they had struck an agreement.

Loomis was grateful to Brees for his commitment, which allowed them to add a key receiving piece in veteran Emmanuel Sanders, as well as safety Malcolm Jenkins, while retaining Taysom Hill, Andrus Peat and David Onyemata.

"We needed to know what Drew was going to count on our cap this year, what resources are we using, because then that gives us the ability to do some other things," Loomis said to the team's podcast, per NFL.com.

"To Drew's credit, his number one goal was to make sure we had an opportunity to improve our roster, keep our roster together and be as competitive as we can be. 

"I'm certainly appreciative of how he's handled that contract the last couple times because, again, the most important thing to him is we have a competitive team."


Earlier this week, Brees and his wife Brittany announced they will be making a huge $5m donation to help the state of Louisiana amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Brees will work in conjunction with a number of local organisations to provide aid during the ongoing crisis.

Saints head coach Sean Payton had tested positive for COVID-19 before being cleared on Wednesday.

Drew Brees and his wife Brittany have announced they will be donating $5million to help the state of Louisiana.

The New Orleans Saints quarterback will work in conjunction with a number of local organisations to provide aid during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Brees has been in New Orleans since 2006 and recently signed a new two-year contract to extend his stay with the Saints, whose head coach Sean Payton tested positive for COVID-19 before being cleared on Wednesday.

There have been over 75,000 confirmed cases in the United States so far, with the virus claiming more than 22,000 lives around the world.

"After considerable research and conversations with local organisations, we will be mobilising our partnerships with Second Harvest Food Bank, Ochsner Health Systems, Walk-Ons, Jimmy Johns, Smalls Sliders and Waitr to prepare and deliver over 10,000 meals per day throughout Louisiana for as long as it takes to children on meal programs, seniors, and families in need," Brees wrote in a post on Instagram.

 "Let's all do our part, maintain hope, and get through this together."

Brees, 41, has thrown for 77,416 yards and 547 touchdowns in an NFL career that started with the San Diego Chargers.

Drew Brees and Nick Saban have each enjoyed careers that will ensure their place at the forefront of the rich history of American sports.

However, it is fascinating to ponder how the landscape of the NFL and college football might have been different had they worked together.

They came close to doing so in 2006, when Saban was head coach of the Miami Dolphins and Brees a free agent after contract negotiations with the then-San Diego Chargers broke down.

Brees had torn his labrum in the final game of the 2005 season and with Miami's doctors unsure whether his shoulder was fully healed from that injury, Saban and the Dolphins decided to trade for Daunte Culpepper instead.

It would prove to be one of the great missteps in Dolphins history, but what if Miami had instead decided to bet on the powers of recovery of a now 13-time Pro Bowler who has written his name all over the NFL record books?

The Saints go marching out

Brees instead signed a six-year deal with a Saints team coming off a 2005 season that saw them unable to play in the Superdome due to the damage it sustained during Hurricane Katrina.

It had been rumoured Saints owner Tom Benson was planning to void his lease agreement with the Superdome and declare it unusable, with San Antonio - where he had business interests - a potential destination.

The Superdome was repaired and renovated, however, and Brees led New Orleans to the playoffs in his first season with the team. The Saints uplifted the city as it recovered from Katrina and won their first Super Bowl title at the end of the 2009 season, with Brees named MVP of their win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Without Brees to turn them from perennial also-rans to Super Bowl contenders, Benson perhaps eventually decides to press ahead with plans for a move to Texas and New Orleans loses a team that became a beacon of hope for the city in the wake of its darkest hour.

Saban stays in the pros

At the time of the Dolphins' pursuit of Brees, they were coming off an encouraging 9-7 season in Saban's first year at the helm.

Miami won six successive games to end the campaign, finishing one game behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East.

They were unable to build on that promise, however, as the trade of a second-round pick for Culpepper proved an error. He played only four games and ended the season on injured reserve after knee surgery.

A 6-10 season was marked by continuous speculation connecting Saban to the vacant head coach position at the University of Alabama, before he accepted an offer from the Crimson Tide in January 2007.

Saban has since won five National Championships and six SEC titles at Alabama. Had he and Miami gone for Brees over Culpepper, the Dolphins may well have become consistent contenders in the AFC under Saban, with one of the most dominant dynasties in college football history never coming to pass.

Patriots lose superpower status

Saban's last win as an NFL head coach was in the Dolphins' 21-0 defeat of the New England Patriots in December 2006, handing former colleague Bill Belichick a shutout loss.

A defensive coordinator for Belichick's Cleveland Browns in the 1990s, Saban is one of few Belichick disciples to have excelled as a head coach, even if his glories have come away from the NFL.

With the team building and coaching acumen Saban has displayed since his departure, it is reasonable to believe the Dolphins would have been well-positioned to regularly challenge the Patriots' supremacy in the AFC East.

The New York Jets rose to prominence under Rex Ryan in 2009. Had Saban stuck around, the Patriots could have had two rivals capable of preventing their well-documented dominance of the division from stretching into a second decade.

Drew Brees has reportedly agreed to a two-year, $50million deal with the New Orleans Saints.

Brees, 41, has been with the Saints since 2006 and next season is set to be his 20th in the NFL.

NFL Network reported on Tuesday that Brees had agreed to a two-year contract with the Saints worth roughly $50m.

Brees led the Saints to the playoffs last season before they fell to the Minnesota Vikings in an NFC wildcard clash.

The quarterback threw for 2,979 yards and 27 touchdowns in 11 games, having been sidelined with a thumb injury.

Drew Brees has confirmed he will return for the 2020 NFL season. 

The quarterback is poised to enter free agency but looks set to sign fresh terms with the New Orleans Saints after the 41-year-old revealed he will eschew retirement and play on for a 20th season in the league. 

He posted on Instagram: "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!"

Last season Brees helped the Saints to a 13-3 record despite missing five games with a thumb injury.

He threw for 2,979 yards and 27 touchdowns with just four interceptions in 11 regular-season games. However, the Saints suffered a shock 26-20 overtime defeat to the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

The former Chargers quarterback joined the Saints in 2006 as a free agent after five seasons with the then San Diego franchise. Brees led the Saints to their only Lombardi Trophy with victory in Super Bowl XLIV at the end of the 2009 season.

He owns the NFL records for career passing yards, completions, touchdown passes and highest career completion percentage.

Brees' performance against the Vikings was overshadowed by that of backup Taysom Hill, who completed the game's longest pass, ran for 50 yards and caught a touchdown pass in just 23 offensive snaps.

Hill, who will be a restricted free agent when the new league year starts in March, has expressed a desire to earn a starting quarterback job. 

Teddy Bridgewater went 5-0 in his time as starter in Brees' injury-enforced absence and is expected to draw significant interest when he enters the market as an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

The New Orleans Saints want Drew Brees to return for a 20th NFL season but the veteran quarterback insisted he would not rush the decision.

Brees recently celebrated his 41st birthday and is set to become an unrestricted free agent.

The former Super Bowl champion became the NFL's all-time leader in touchdown passes in December and threw for 208 yards in the NFC wild-card loss to the Minnesota Vikings earlier this month.

However, he plans to consult with his family before deciding on whether to continue his illustrious career.

"I wanted to give it at least a few weeks, months, postseason, just to take a deep breath and decompress a little bit and get some time with the family and then just reassess," Brees told ESPN.

"The most important thing is time with my family, to be with them, talk to them about it. It will be a shared decision. I know my boys wish Dad could play forever."

New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis promised there would be space for Brees if he chose to return for the 2020 season.

"Yeah. I don't think it's any different than it's been for the last few years," Loomis said.

"It's easy to take him for granted, yet I don't take him for granted.

"I don't view it any different than I did a year ago or the year before that or the year before that, regardless of whether he has a contract or not.

"He's a good player. He's been a good player. He continues to be a good player."

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton believes star quarterback Drew Brees will be back on the field in 2020.

Brees is coming out of contract after the Saints suffered a surprise wild-card loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL playoffs earlier in January.

Set to celebrate his 41st birthday on Wednesday, Brees has refused to be drawn on his future amid reports of offers to become a television analyst.

Payton, though, expects the Super Bowl champion and MVP to play in New Orleans next season.

"I see him on our field this upcoming season," Payton told ESPN on Sunday.

"I do think he is one of those guys that, whatever he touches - business, obviously football, and whatever his future holds when he is done playing - he is going to be successful at.

"But I still think and based on what we just finished watching and grading, which was the body of work of all season, he was outstanding and he's got more football left in him."

Brees, who suffered a thumb injury during the season, completed 281 passes for 2,979 yards and 27 touchdowns in 11 games.

The Saints veteran also broke the NFL record for most career touchdown passes this season.

Brees moved up in the record books yet again, surpassing Peyton Manning with his 540th TD pass against the Indianapolis Colts in December.

Drew Brees refused to be drawn on his future after the New Orleans Saints' NFL playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Brees' Saints fell to a surprise 26-20 overtime defeat to the Vikings in the NFC wild-card clash.

The 40-year-old quarterback is coming out of contract and will reportedly stay with the Saints, but Brees was unwilling to confirm his future after the defeat.

"I'm not making any comments on that other than I've told you guys this for the last couple of years, I've always just taken it one year at a time and kind of re-evaluate each offseason," he told a news conference.

"Then, find the things I want to get better at and move on."

Kirk Cousins and Kyle Rudolph connected for the game-winning touchdown for the Vikings against the Saints, who had come from 20-10 down in the fourth quarter.

Brees, who went 26 of 33 for 208 yards with a TD and an interception, said Minnesota executed better than the Saints.

"It was a hard-fought football game. We played a really good team and obviously they came ready to play and at the end of the day they just made more plays than we did," he said.

"I love the way that we fought in the fourth quarter, we really didn't play our best football up until that point, but put together some good drives during that period of time and put ourselves in a position to win.

"But unfortunately they just made a few more plays than we did."

Tuesday marked the end of an incredible decade for the NFL, which will crown the champion of its 100th season in February at the end of a campaign that has seen the man who dominated the past 10 years show signs of fallibility.

The 2010s largely belonged to a sixth-round pick from the University of Michigan who turned the New England Patriots into the greatest NFL dynasty.

However, there were plenty of others who helped define a fascinating period and a plethora of exciting talents queueing up to try to ensure it is they who stand out when the world looks back on the 2020s.

Here we reflect on 10 players who made the most lasting impact on the 2010s, and assess the players most likely to have the same influence on the 2020s.


2010s

Tom Brady

Five seasons into his NFL career, Brady had already secured a remarkable legacy, as a sixth-rounder who rose from Drew Bledsoe's injury replacement to a quarterback who guided the Patriots to their first three Super Bowl titles.

He led what many consider to be best offense ever in 2007 when the Patriots went 16-0, however, when the story of the greatest quarterback in NFL history is told, his and New England's second act will be the most compelling chapter.

The 2010s proved a decade in which Brady consistently and spectacularly defied Father Time. After a heart-breaking Super Bowl XLVI defeat to the New York Giants at the end of the 2011 season, a 37-year-old Brady authored a Super Bowl MVP performance three seasons later as the Patriots won their fourth title by defeating the Seattle Seahawks. 

His stunning response to a four-game 2016 suspension for his role in the Deflategate saga was a dominant 15-game stretch in which the Patriots lost only once and completed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in a 34-28 defeat of the Atlanta Falcons.

Brady followed that with an MVP campaign in 2017 that may unfairly be forgotten by many due to New England's 41-33 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles in which he threw for 505 passing yards, breaking his record from the previous year.

Super Bowl LIII was won largely on the back of the Patriots defense and the 2019 season has provided further evidence the 42-year-old is finally declining. No player can outrun Father Time, but Brady has redefined what is possible for ageing quarterbacks.
 

Peyton Manning

Manning's career appeared to be nearing its end at the start of the decade. A playoff defeat to the New York Jets marked his final appearance for the Indianapolis Colts as neck surgery ruled him out of the 2011 season and he was released in March 2012.

However, Manning landed in the perfect environment to prove he was still among the elite. His Denver Broncos spell was historic as he helmed an explosive offense that reached its apex in 2013, Manning delivering arguably the greatest season ever for a quarterback.

He set single-season records for passing yardage (5,477) and touchdowns (55) that have yet to be broken. However, after a 43-8 Super Bowl thrashing at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, Manning would have to wait until the 2015 campaign – during which he suffered the ignominy of being benched for Brock Osweiler – to win his second ring.

Manning regained the starting job and, despite his clearly declining abilities, won Super Bowl 50 with significant help from the Denver defense. It may not have been in the fashion many expected but, four years after his career was threatened by injury, Manning was able to go out on his own terms.

Rob Gronkowski

The Patriots' second spell of superiority owed much to their decision to draft a tight end out of Arizona with durability concerns in the second round of the 2010 draft.

New England's addition of Gronkowski paid instant dividends. He caught 10 touchdowns in his rookie season and developed into the league's ultimate red-zone weapon.

With four 1,000-yard seasons and five years with double-digit touchdowns – including a 17-score campaign in 2011 – Gronk's blend of athleticism, brute force and blocking ability saw him become the best tight end of his generation and the focal point of the New England offense.

Colin Kaepernick

Even with the dominance enjoyed by the likes of Brady, Manning and Gronkowski, no player from the past decade has transcended the sport more than Kaepernick.

A supremely athletic, gangly, long-striding dual-threat dynamo, Kaepernick exploded onto the scene in 2012, setting the record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a playoff game with 181 against the Green Bay Packers as he led the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII, coming within a few yards of victory in an agonising 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

But, for all he did on the big stage, it was his actions during a preseason game that had the greatest impact on the sport, Kaepernick's life, and wider society.

His decision first to sit and then to kneel during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial injustice sparked both admiration and condemnation and led to a plethora of players replicating him. Though he gained plenty of supporters and attention for his cause, the movement he started cost Kaepernick his NFL career.

He has not been signed since parting with the Niners in 2017 and filed a since-settled grievance against the league, accusing the 32 franchises of colluding to keep him out of a job.

An NFL-organised workout last month fell apart at the last minute but the large crowd that attended a hastily arranged session on a high-school field the same day was indicative of his massive societal influence. That he is still unemployed remains the greatest stain on the reputation of a league obsessed with image.

Aaron Donald

In years gone by, a dominant edge rusher was often seen as the final piece of the puzzle. Now, teams are just as committed to unearthing the next Donald as they are to finding difference-making outside pass rushers.

Donald has transformed the value of interior defensive lineman by rapidly blossoming into arguably the NFL's best player. His quickness, power, intelligent hand usage and versatility have made him near-impossible to block. He can play every position on the defensive line and is devastatingly effective from each spot.

A two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donald had 20.5 sacks in 2018 and still managed 12.5 sacks in 2019, a season viewed as a disappointment. Donald is already close to a certainty for the Hall of Fame and may well go down as the finest defensive player of his generation.

J.J. Watt

Five first-team All-Pro selections, five double-digit sack seasons and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, the most incredible aspect of Watt's career is that injuries may have prevented the NFL from witnessing his true ceiling.

Watt has been robbed of much of his prime years, only completing a full regular season once since 2015, yet his CV, which includes two 20.5-sack campaigns, is likely already good enough for the Hall of Fame. 

Firmly in the MVP discussion in 2014, Watt was the face of defensive football for much of the decade but, as the 2010s end, there is danger he will come to be partly defined by an inability to stay on the field at a time when the Texans have been most competitive. Thankfully, at 30, he still has the time and the talent to make sure that is not the case.

Adrian Peterson

Only one non-quarterback won the MVP award in the decade, and that came in 2012 when Peterson produced one of the best running back seasons in history.

Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging an astonishing 131.1 yards per game on the ground. Off-field controversy interrupted his career and, though he enjoyed a renaissance in 2015 with a 1,485-yard campaign, he has never recaptured his unbelievable best. 

He has, however, succeeded in remaining effective enough to stretch his career well into this thirties and achieved his long-held ambition of passing Walter Payton on the all-time touchdowns list with his 111th score.

Drew Brees

While Manning and Brady took the majority of the acclaim and, in the latter's case, the titles in the 2010s, Brees has enjoyed consistency unmatched by most quarterbacks and racked up a plethora of records.

Brees led the league in passing yards five times in the decade and broke Brett Favre's all-time pass completions and passing yardage records in a 2018 season where his New Orleans Saints were a controversial non-called pass interference penalty away from the Super Bowl.

Week 15 of the 2019 season saw him break Manning's record for career passing touchdowns with his 540th. His arm strength may have declined but, Brees is still poised to enter his third decade in the league upholding the remarkable standard he has met since arriving in New Orleans.

Odell Beckham Jr.

The man who produced perhaps the defining play of the decade, Beckham has not quite hit the heights he once promised.

However, his scarcely believable one-handed catch against the Dallas Cowboys on November 23, 2014, is one of the NFL's indelible images. Falling backwards as Brandon Carr attempted to drag him down, Beckham arched his back and plucked the ball out of the air with his fingertips before tumbling into the endzone.

Whether through remarkable catches, arguments with coaches or an on-off relationship with a kicking net, Beckham has made the headlines throughout the decade and will surely continue to do so in the 2020s.

Antonio Brown

Brown's status as one of the players of the decade was already secured prior to his tumultuous 2019.

He made the unlikely journey from Pittsburgh Steelers sixth-round pick to a premier NFL receiver. Boasting incredible speed, agility and ability to make spectacular contested catches in spite of his smaller stature, Brown racked up four seasons of at least 1,400 receiving yards, including a 1,698-yard year in 2014. 

Yet for all his on-field exploits, Brown may well end up being most remembered for a 2019 offseason in which he forced an exit from the Steelers, left the Oakland Raiders without playing a snap after a series of controversies and was then cut by the New England Patriots after allegations of sexual assault. Despite an outstanding on-field career, Brown ends the 2010s with an asterisk against his name. 

2020s

Patrick Mahomes

No quarterback has taken the league by storm in their first season as a starter in the manner that Mahomes did in 2018.

Mahomes threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns as the Kansas City Chiefs just missed out on the Super Bowl, defying belief with his ability to make plays on the move from a variety of arm angles.

After returning from a knee injury, Mahomes looks back to his best in 2019 and, with one of the best offensive minds in the league as his head coach in Andy Reid, he is primed to secure his place as the NFL's pre-eminent gunslinger in the 2020s.

Lamar Jackson

While Mahomes may be the most spectacular thrower to grace the NFL, Jackson is well on his way to cementing a reputation as the best running quarterback of all time.

Jackson and the Ravens have dominated the NFL in 2019 with a near-unstoppable offense. Defenses have found it almost impossible to decipher whether he is going to throw or run, with defenders frequently embarrassed by his elusiveness when he does the latter.

The only quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a season, Jackson has already surpassed the achievements of Atlanta Falcons legend Michael Vick. He broke Vick's single-season quarterback rushing record by racking up 1,206 yards in 2019.

The final campaign of the 2010s could end with Jackson lifting the Lombardi Trophy. If he continues on this trajectory, the 2020s will see him become the greatest dual-threat quarterback of all time.

Trevor Lawrence

A pre-ordained NFL superstar since his high school days, the Clemson phenom has lived up to the massive hype in college and is effectively a lock to be the first overall pick in the 2021 draft.

Composed, mobile and possessing a cannon for an arm, several NFL teams in need of a quarterback will likely already be considering tanking 2020 to have a shot at landing Lawrence.

Regardless of whether he joins the league's elite or spectacularly fails, how Lawrence performs at the highest level is certain to be one of the most compelling storylines of the 2020s.

Kyler Murray 

The Arizona Cardinals took a significant risk in giving up on Josh Rosen to select a quarterback for the second successive year and pick Murray first overall.

Despite another losing season for Arizona in 2019, Murray's development as a rookie should provide great encouragement for the Cardinals, whose fans were treated to a series of dazzling displays from the former two-sport star, who was drafted ninth overall by MLB's Oakland Athletics in 2018.

Murray's decision to eschew baseball for the NFL was the most intensely debated issue of last year's draft. However, a year into his career, the dual-threat star has gone a long way to silencing the doubters and more two-sport athletes will follow his lead if he continues to excel.

Saquon Barkley

The second overall pick of the New York Giants in the 2018 draft, Barkley's career will, for many, settle the argument over the value of selecting a running back that high.

With a remarkable 2018 followed by an injury-affected 2019, it is the 2020s that will see Barkley provide the answer to whether it is worth using premier draft capital on a tailback in a league dominated by the passing game.

Those with a passion for analytics have largely already decided it is not. However, Barkley – regarded as the best running back prospect since Barry Sanders – has the talent to make a spectacular impact on the ground and in the passing game and prove them wrong.

George Kittle

Already cemented as the successor to Gronkowski as the NFL's premier tight end, Kittle is a bona-fide superstar with everything in his armoury to compile a Hall of Fame CV in the 2020s.

Kittle broke the record for single-season receiving yardage by a tight end in 2018 and in 2019 has proven himself the most valuable player for a San Francisco 49ers team two wins from Super Bowl LIV.

A freakish athlete and monstrous blocker whose sheer refusal to be tackled has seen him become the top yards-after-catch threat, Kittle produced one of the defining NFL images of the 2019 season as he carried three New Orleans Saints defenders with him on the game-clinching play of a Superdome shootout. Defenders across the league can expect to regularly receive the same treatment in the new decade.

Michael Thomas

The most astonishing aspect of Thomas breaking Marvin Harrison's record for receptions in a single-season is that the Saints star did so while still only 26.

As the focal point of arguably the NFL's most consistently potent offense, the sky is truly the limit for Thomas, who finished his record-breaking 2019 with 149 catches for 1,725 yards. 

He did so despite being subject to extremely tight coverage on seemingly every snap. Thomas rarely has the benefit of separation, but the 2020s could be the decade in which he separates himself from his contemporaries and becomes an all-time great receiver.

The Bosa brothers

There is a history of success between siblings in the NFL, and Joey and Nick Bosa are well on their way in joining Peyton and Eli Manning and J.J. Watt and T.J. Watt as two of the best brothers to play in the league.

Joey, selected third overall in 2016, has 40 sacks through four seasons for the Los Angeles Chargers, establishing himself as a dominant pass rusher, and Nick needed only one year to join him.

In his maiden season with the 49ers after being picked second overall, the younger Bosa racked up 80 quarterback pressures, the most ever by a rookie, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus.

He is among the favourites to win Defensive Player of the Year and, providing they avoid injury, the two best edge rushers in the 2020s may well be from the same family.

Jamal Adams

Though much of the focus for those of a Jets persuasion is on the growth of Sam Darnold, Adams is just as crucial to their hopes of crawling out of the doldrums.

The heart and soul of New York's defense, Adams is a ferocious, hard-hitting safety who could quickly vault to superstar status should the Jets become one of the AFC's best.

Reportedly close to being traded to the Dallas Cowboys during the 2019 season, Adams is in the perfect market to become one of the faces of the league if Gang Green can wrest AFC East superiority from Brady's Patriots.

The Jets are a franchise starved of success since the days of 'Broadway Joe' Namath. 'Broadway Jamal' may not have the same ring, but he can expect similar levels of hero-worship if the Jets return to postseason relevance.

If the 2010s were the decade of the veteran quarterbacks, the 2020s promise to be the next generation's era.

Ten years ago Peyton Manning met Drew Brees in the Super Bowl, Matt Schaub led the league in passing yards and Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning were all in the top 10.

Seven of that top 10 remain on teams in 2019 but only two - Rivers and Brady - featured among the leaders in that category this season.

Brees, Brady et al are used to completing passes, only this time it's the baton that is changing hands.

We take a look at why the future is now when it comes to the NFL's most important position.

 

Quarterbacks aged 27 or younger combined for a record 288 starts in 2019

Forty-somethings Brady and Brees may remain somewhere near the peak of their powers, but behind them there is a youth movement taking over.

The 2019 season saw QBs aged 27 or younger combine for 288 starts - by far the most since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Those young slingers combined for 145 wins too - again, another record broken by a large margin.

In Week 3, a record 20 of the 32 starting quarterbacks were 27 or younger. Draft classes after Brady, Brees and Rivers may not have produced players able to emulate their peers' achievements but playoff-bound QBs Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson have provided plenty of early encouragement.

 

Nine rookie QBs started a game in 2019, four did so in 2009

Remember the days when coaches wanted rookies to sit, learn the system and be thrown in when they were ready? 

Whether it was injuries (Gardner Minshew, Devlin Hodges, David Blough) or just pure curiosity (Will Grier, Ryan Finley) - teams turned to first-year players in 2019 in a way they never did a decade ago.

Only four rookies started games in the 2009 season - and three of those were first-rounders (Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman). 

 

The QB with the most rushing yards in 2009 had... 323

A decade ago CJ2K became a thing as Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson went over 2,000 yards on the ground.

The leading QB in that category also came from the AFC South, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard amassing 323 rushing yards.

He was one of only four QBs - along with Rodgers, Vince Young and Jason Campbell - to pile up more than 200 on the season. Two hundred rushing yards? That's practically an eight-day span for current Baltimore QB Jackson, who broke an NFL record with a whopping 1,206 on the ground.

MVP-in-waiting Jackson was one of 13 quarterbacks to rush for over 200 yards in 2019. Six of those beat Garrard's 2009 total and all bar Russell Wilson are 24 or younger.

For years dual-threat quarterbacks were seen as a quick fad that would burn out as you had to win from the pocket. Yet mobility at the QB position has proven to be a vital weapon in today's NFL.

 

This season, 75 per cent of head coaching hires came from offensive backgrounds

Eleven new head coach vacancies were filled prior to the 2009 season. Seven of those came from defensive backgrounds.

Eight new head coach vacancies were filled prior to the 2019 season. Six of those came from offensive backgrounds.

Call it the Sean McVay effect: NFL franchises want bright young minds to teach their promising-but-green QBs how to thrive at the next level. 

 

Goodbye, golden generation?

In the list for most touchdown passes of all time - a category Brees recently put himself at the top of - six of the leading 10 players are still active.

Aside from Rodgers, who should have a few years left in Green Bay, it is conceivable that the rest of that group - Brees, Brady, Rivers, Eli Manning and Roethlisberger - may head off into the sunset over the next couple of seasons.

Throw in Peyton Manning, who retired in 2016, and it is obvious we are seeing the last days of the golden generation that spearheaded the pass-happy revolution.

Luckily, there's a host of players ready to take over and take on the mantle in the 2020s.

Michael Thomas believes New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees still has "so much more that he can do" after breaking the NFL record for most passing touchdowns on Monday.

The 40-year-old threw four touchdowns in the 34-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, with the third of those seeing Brees surpass Peyton Manning's all-time haul of 539.

Brees failed to reach 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his New Orleans career last season and, having missed five games this time around due to injury, he may not reach 3,000 in the 2019 regular season.

Yet Thomas is adamant the veteran is not winding down in the likely latter days of his career.

"That [record] is a blessing for him, but he's not done," Thomas told reporters.

"There is so much more that he can do. He's an incredible leader.

"We just follow his lead and we follow everything that he has."

Brees completed a remarkable 29 of his 30 passing attempts on Monday and 12 of those completions went to wide receiver Thomas.

That took his tally for the season to 133, just 10 short of Marvin Harrison's record for the most receptions in a single season.

While Thomas may soon become a record-breaker too, all the focus on Monday was on Brees' latest milestone, which came in front of some of the team-mates alongside whom he won Super Bowl XLIV.

"I think it's great that his peers were here," added head coach Sean Payton.

"I mean, he has a lot of peers though, right? When you play this long, we call him Benjamin Button! 

"There's been a number of other milestones and I think it's still about winning.

"It's a fluid record, though. There's still another quarterback in New England [Tom Brady]."

Brady has thrown 538 touchdowns, three fewer than Brees.

New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees said breaking Peyton Manning's record for most touchdown passes in NFL history was an "incredible moment".

Brees eclipsed Manning after posting his 541st career TD pass in the Saints' comprehensive 34-7 victory over the struggling Indianapolis Colts on Monday.

The Saints quarterback, who entered the game with 537 TD passes, also set the NFL single-game completion record with a 96.7 per cent performance at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Brees went 29 of 30 for 307 yards and four touchdowns and the 40-year-old – a Super Bowl champion and MVP – reflected on his record-breaking night.

"It was special - everything about tonight," Brees told reporters. "I don't know how they pick 'em. 'Monday Night Football', we're playing the Colts, a team that we won the Super Bowl against 10 years ago.

"The whole Super Bowl XLIV team was back for the 10th anniversary, and obviously national television. Big game and that record in the balance. It just makes you shake your head. Are you kidding me? Not sure how we got here.

"It just makes your career flash before your eyes. I never thought I would have the chance to be part of something like this. Looking at the entire journey, 19 years from five years in San Diego to 14 years here.

"All the incredible team-mates and coaches, this team right here, of course our fanbase, loved ones, my family, my kids. Just an incredible night, experience and moment."

"I wouldn't be here without [head coach] Sean [Payton]," Brees said. "The time we've had together, the experiences we've had. From the very beginning, what he's built here as far as the foundation and culture.

"[General manager] Mickey Loomis as well. Two of the most integral parts of the organisation and certainly the reason I'm here. I'll be forever indebted to those guys. I love them."

Brees made history with his five-yard pass to team-mate Josh Hill in the third quarter as the Saints improved to 11-3 for the season on Monday.

"I love the fact it was Josh Hill, oddly enough he was the honorary captain this week for the team, which means we roast him in our Saturday meeting," Brees added.

"So it was pretty fitting it was him. Here is an undrafted rookie free agent who joined in 2013, the epitome of a great team-mate, an unsung hero and a guy who has done the dirty work.

"… I have so much trust and confidence in him. The minute we walk up the ball and I see the look, I definitely thought touchdown. It played out just the way we thought as far as the play-call and him being wide open. I'm really glad it was him."

Tom Brady and Brett Favre congratulated Drew Brees after the New Orleans Saints quarterback set the NFL record for most career touchdown passes.

Brees surpassed Peyton Manning after taking his overall tally to 541 TD passes as the Saints crushed the Indianapolis Colts 34-7 on Monday.

A Super Bowl champion and MVP, 12-time Pro Bowler Brees – who made history in the third quarter – threw four scores in an almost flawless performance in New Orleans.

Brees also set the NFL single-game completion record with a 96.7 per cent performance after going 29 of 30 for 307 yards at Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

New England Patriots superstar Brady – whose 538 mark was also eclipsed by Brees – and Hall of Famer Favre led the praise for the 40-year-old via social media.

Brady tweeted: "Congrats drew!! Couldn't be more deserving. Passing Peyton in anything is an incredible achievement and your records will be tough to beat! But it's worth trying [winking emoji]."

Favre, who was the first quarterback to pass for 500 touchdowns, wrote: "Congrats @drewbrees on an amazing achievement."

Another Hall of Famer Kurt Warner – who won the Super Bowl and MVP during his career – also hailed Brees following the achievement.

"On a historic night for @drewbrees seems only fitting that he has also tied the record for completion percentage in a game at 96.7 per cent [tying Philip Rivers]... Coach Payton - how about one more screen pass to make this an even more historic night?? #WhatSayYouWhoDat?"

Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson wrote via Twitter, "LEGEND! @DrewBrees", while Washington Redskins veteran Adrian Peterson added: "First Ballot Hall of Famer. Congratulations @drewbrees!!!".

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