The New Orleans Saints had yet another year end in disappointment in 2020, losing in the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs. Drew Brees' arm strength had deteriorated to the point that it was detrimental to the offense and it now feels inevitable the future Hall of Famer will finally hang up the cleats this offseason.
Of course, it felt that way last year, too. It was a bit of a surprise that Brees decided to return in 2020 after he missed five games in 2019 and the Saints faltered in the playoffs again, losing on Wild Card Weekend. But return he did, and despite coming back from breaking double-digit ribs halfway through the season was unable to get over the hump one last time and failed to reach the Super Bowl. Instead, Brees watched as NFC newcomer Tom Brady took New Orleans' divisional rivals to championship heights, beating Brees in his own building in the process.
There is a universe in which that did not happen, though. A universe in which things could have been much, much different for the city of New Orleans. Adam Schefter, appearing on the Rich Eisen Show yesterday, said that if Brees had indeed retired before the 2020 season as many expected, there's a chance Brady would have played for the Saints instead of the Bucs.
Now there's a fascinating alternate reality. If not for the presence of Brees, New Orleans was probably a more attractive destination than Tampa this time last year because their roster was more proven from top to bottom. The Bucs have the edge for receivers, but it's not like the Saints are slouches in that regard. Sean Payton has a championship pedigree. The defense ranked among the best in the league over the last few years. They had been to the playoffs three straight seasons. The Bucs were coming off a 7-9 season with what appeared to be an average defense and an offensive playstyle that didn't seem to match Brady's strengths.
None of those potential flaws mattered in Tampa Bay, of course. The defense came together to play excellent football down the stretch, and it turns out we were all wrong about Brady's ability and willingness to buy into Arians' no-risk-it, no-biscuit mindset.
Still, what could have been if Brady dressed in black and gold down in the Big Easy. How is Brees' legacy affected if Brady came in and won a Super Bowl with this roster immediately, doing what Brees couldn't in three years? Does Jameis Winston have another 30-TD, 30-INT season in Tampa with no Brady to replace him? Does Brady get drunk after a Super Bowl parade in New Orleans rather than on his boat in Tampa? The timelines are endlessly fun.
Unfortunately for New Orleans, Brees is almost definitely going to retire now and replacing him with another Hall of Fame quarterback does not appear to be an option. Such is life.