It's been nearly three months since Drew Brees announced his retirement following a brilliant 20-year run as a quarterback for the Saints and Chargers. Brees' retirement was finalized by the NFL on Friday, with about a month to go before the Saints begin their first season without Brees since 2005.
In announcing Brees' retirement being finalized, the Saints' Twitter summed up how their fan base is probably feeling. Along with a photo of Brees' retirement papers, the Saints' also included a somber Woody from the hit movie series "Toy Story." But instead of saying goodbye to his longtime human Andy who is all grown up, Woody was essentially bidding adieu to arguably the greatest player in Saints history.
Brees departs the NFL as one of the most accomplished signal-callers in league history. A second-round draft pick of the Chargers in 2001, the Purdue product hangs up his cleats as the NFL's all-time leader in career passing yards, completions and completion percentage, not to mention five All-Pro honors, two Offensive Player of the Year awards and the Super Bowl XLIV MVP.
"When I was hired by the Saints as a head coach in 2006, the very first goal was to establish a functional and winning culture," Saints coach Sean Payton said shortly after Brees announced his retirement, via Nick Underhill. "In doing so, it was vital to know what we were looking for in a player, talent, work ethic, makeup, intelligence and leadership are all qualities we found in Drew Brees. We also found a player with a burning desire to win. Within a year, he helped lead our team to the club's first NFC championship appearance.
"Throughout his career, his consistency and dedication and excellence were unparalleled. In a very short period of time, he would help lead a region to recovery and a team to a Super Bowl championship. He was a magnificent leader both on and off the field. His attention to detail and competitive spirit were infectious. For all of us that have had the chance to coach him, it has been our privilege, we are better for it.
"I am forever grateful for what has done for our team, our community and for me personally."
Brees flashed with the Chargers during the first five seasons of his career, peaking in 2004 with a 27-touchdown campaign to help lead San Diego to a 12-4 finish. He'll be remembered most, however, for redefining his legacy in New Orleans -- which signed him in 2006 following a season lost to a torn labrum -- and got 15 years of arguably the steadiest QB production of the entire NFL. From 2006 to 2018, Brees missed just two starts for the Saints, seven times leading the league in passing yards, five times eclipsing the 5,000-yard mark and 10 times throwing at least 30 touchdowns.
Injuries hampered Brees during his final two seasons with New Orleans, as the veteran missed five games in 2019 and another four in 2020, but his numbers hardly ever slipped from the time he debuted with the Saints until the time he said goodbye to the Superdome. In nine of his final 12 NFL seasons, Brees posted a passer rating above 100, logging a career-high 116.3 in 2019. He was arguably the chief reason for New Orleans' postseason consistency under Payton, helping guide the Saints to nine different playoff appearances and captaining the franchise to its first-ever Super Bowl victory in 2009, defeating Peyton Manning and the Colts.
"Each day, I poured my heart and soul into being your quarterback," Brees wrote his retirement announcement. "Till the very end, I exhausted myself to give everything I had to the Saints' organization, my team and the great city of New Orleans. We shared some mazing moments together, many of which are emblazoned in our hearts and minds and will forever be a part of us. You have molded me, strengthened me, inspired me, and given me a lifetime of memories. My goal for the last 15 years was striving to give you everything you had given to me and more.
"I am only retiring from playing football, I am not retiring from New Orleans. This is not goodbye, rather a new beginning. New my real life's work begins!"