When Drew Brees retired from the NFL last year after 20 seasons with the New Orleans Saints, he left in his place a serious cause for concern. Who would fill the position that he dominated so well for the years to come?
The Saints had signed Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston in 2020, a year after he threw an astounding 30 interceptions. Having played just four games behind Brees and leading the Saints to a 3-2 record this season, it remains to be seen if Winston can become the future of the franchise.
Brees told Fox News in an interview on Tuesday that “only time will tell” but he certainly sees promise in Winston’s abilities as quarterback.
“I know this, I loved being with him last year. He is an extremely hard worker. He’s a guy that loves football and I think he’s a guy that has a ton of upside. He’s a tremendous talent and I can tell you this: He’s gonna work at it.”
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – JANUARY 03: Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints celebrates with teammate quarterback Jameis Winston #2 following a touchdown pass during the first quarter of their game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on January 03, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
He continued: “He came from a situation in Tampa where he plays very early on, has some growing pains. I think, shows some great moments at times but probably just lacks consistency and then comes to New Orleans, has a chance to back me up for a year, learn from Sean Payton, be in this offense and now I think it’s just entering that time where you’re taking all of that teaching and you’re taking it to the field.”
Winston was drafted by the Bucs with the No. 1 overall pick in 2015 where he instantly became the team’s starting quarterback. After a solid rookie season, with several franchise records, Winston began to see a decline but for Brees, this can be expected for young signal-callers in those types of situations.
“Honestly, in most cases, when a rookie quarterback who is highly touted goes to a team, it’s typically a team who the reason they were in a position to draft him is because they were struggling, right? So maybe they don’t have all the pieces in place around him yet to really put him in the best position to succeed.”
Speaking more generally, Brees attributed many of the struggles rookie quarterbacks are experiencing this season to the “growing pains” of acclimating to the NFL.
“Well, it’s tough first off because you’re entering into a league where everybody is the best athlete you’ve ever seen. So the things that might work for you in college are much more difficult when you come up to the NFL. So there’s that adjustment of just the level of speed and athleticism,” he explained.
TAMPA, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 09: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints shakes hands with Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the Saints defeated the Bucs 28-14 at Raymond James Stadium on December 09, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Will Vragovic/Getty Images) ( Will Vragovic/Getty Images)
“It’s kind of a common theme with rookie quarterbacks. You’re gonna see moments and flashes of greatness. Like ‘wow’ that’s the guy– that’s the type of thing that got him drafted top 10. You’re also gonna see bonehead plays where you’re like ‘oh man that was really bad’ and yet that’s just part of the process, part of the growing pains.”
Brees told Fox News that Winston is still in the process of taking what he learned last season and figuring out how to “apply what he knows he can do with his skill set,” adding that the Saints’ young receivers also present a challenge.
“I just think that it’s one of those things where it’s not going to happen overnight. But he’s got a great team around him, great coaches. He’s got a great scheme. So I’m confident that he’ll continue to improve and get better and better.”
Brees also spoke to Fox News about Winston’s replacement in Tampa, Tom Brady, and just how long he believes the veteran quarterback can continue playing in the league.
“He’s obviously still playing at an extremely high level and it sounds like he can pretty much play as long as he wants,” he said. “He’s got an incredible routine and process when it comes to taking care of his body and his overall maintenance and preparing to play each and every week and he’s got a really good team around him. So you get the feeling that he could do this quite a bit longer if he wants to.”
Nov 8, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) greet after the game at Raymond James Stadium. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
When asked if he believes there’s ever a “right time” for retirement, Brees chuckled, saying, “I think it’s different for everyone. Everybody has their own reasoning, their own factors. Mine was really to spend more time with my wife, my kids. I played for 20 years and it felt like I poured everything that I could into it and it just felt like it was time.”
Brees spoke to Fox News on behalf of the Quaker Good Call Challenge, a campaign he’s partnered with that encourages others to help fight hunger in America. As part of the campaign, Quaker is donating $125,000 to Feeding America which will help secure at least 1.25 million meals.
“There are 38 million people in America facing hunger, especially here during the holiday season and the giving season,” Brees said. “Just [seeing] how much you’re thankful for but also how many people are in need and for those of us who have the opportunity to be able to help others, to reach out and be able to do that in a positive and meaningful way is great.”