Drew Brees says he can't throw a football anymore, otherwise he'd 'absolutely' still be playing

Drew Brees says he can't throw a football anymore, otherwise he'd 'absolutely' still be playing

Drew Brees retired after the 2020 season, something of a surprise to anyone who thought he’d play until the wheels fell off.

But the Saints legend revealed this week on ESPN Radio that, in a manner of speaking, that’s exactly what’s happened in terms of his throwing shoulder.

“I don’t throw with my right arm anymore,” Brees said. “My right arm does not work. So when I throw in the backyard right now, I throw left-handed.”

Brees was answering a question about the last time he’d gotten a call to potentially return, which he said came in the 2021 season. The Saints notably called up Brees ahead of a Monday Night Football game against the Dolphins in which they had nearly two-dozen players out due to COVID. Brees said at the time that he considered it, but ultimately decided against it. The Saints went with rookie Ian Book and struggled mightily in a loss at the Caesars Superdome.

But there was more to that decision than simply the desire to keep playing. Brees said it goes back to the 2005 injury he suffered in his final game for the Chargers, which even he thought might be the end of his football career. Brees, of course, came back to lead a record-breaking career with the Saints, but the injury put him “on the fast track to a degenerative shoulder” and “arthritic changes.” He’s since gotten into pickleball, even starting an annual event in New Orleans, a sport he can play because the action is largely below the waist.

“I don’t throw with my right arm anymore,” Brees continued. “So if I could, I would absolutely still be playing.”

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It’s a fascinating look into the final few years of Brees’ career, which were marked by high level play but also a much lower frequency of downfield passing. While limiting, it didn’t cost the Saints much in terms of regular season results, with the Saints putting together a combined record of 49-15 over Brees’ final four seasons, two trips to the divisional round of the playoffs and one to the NFC Championship.

Each offseason post-2017 had the Saints waiting for a Brees decision on whether to keep going, and it does beg the question of why there wasn’t more draft investment in a post-Brees plan. The Saints did notably intend to draft Pat Mahomes in 2017, but they were leapfrogged by the Chiefs. The Saints also brought in veterans Teddy Bridgewater and Jameis Winston to learn behind Brees. Bridgewater ultimately left in the 2020 offseason for a lucrative deal with the Panthers, while Winston won a QB competition with Taysom Hill in 2021 and got his team out to a 5-2 start before a significant knee injury ended that season. In 2022 they started out with Winston before more injuries, with Andy Dalton starting the final 14 games, and this past offseason they took a big swing to bring in Derek Carr, which to this point has returned middling results.

Dating back to 2016 the Saints have spent just two draft picks on the quarterback position, both 4th rounders in Ian Book (2021) and Jake Haener (2023).