He already has thrown for 7,000 more yards than Terry Bradshaw, completed one fewer touchdown pass than George Blanda and won one more Super Bowl championship than Jim Kelly and Fran Tarkenton combined.
So they already should be carving Drew Brees from the shoulders up in Canton, Ohio, right? The quarterback of the New Orleans Saints could retire tomorrow and waltz straight to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in five years, correct?
Well, it’s not quite that easy. At least not yet.
Brees has 35,266 career passing yards. He should soar past Kelly in the first game of this season and should end the year somewhere pretty close to Johnny Unitas, who ranks No. 12 all-time with 40,238 passing yards.
If Brees throws 33 touchdown passes this season, the same number he threw last season, he’ll have 268 for his career. That number would put him in the top 10, just behind Joe Montana at 273.
If you’re putting up numbers like Unitas and Montana, shouldn’t you be an automatic Hall of Famer? Yes, if Brees had played in the same era as Unitas or Montana.
But times have changed, and if you don’t believe me, let me throw out three names: Vinny Testaverde, Drew Bledsoe and Kerry Collins. All three rank well ahead of Brees in career passing yards, and Collins might not be done yet. Bledsoe and Testaverde also rank ahead of Brees in career touchdown passes.
Bledsoe, Testaverde and Collins are pretty good quarterbacks, and their stats were helped by longevity. That’s not a bad attribute, but nobody is ever going to argue that Testaverde, Bledsoe or Collins belongs in the Hall of Fame.
What they represent is the middle ground of the last generation. Brees has to cross that -- and then some -- to assure himself a spot in Canton.
Testaverde had 46,233 career passing yards, which ranks seventh. Bledsoe is one spot behind him at 44,611 yards. Collins is No. 11 at 40,441 yards. Testaverde is No. 8 in career touchdowns with 275, and Bledsoe is No. 14 with 251.
As a member of this generation of quarterbacks, Brees has to go beyond the numbers of guys like that. The bar has been raised, and it’s still rising.
Assuming Brett Favre stays retired this time, he finished his career leading in passing yards (71,838) and touchdown passes (508). Then, you’ve got guys like Peyton Manning, who is 34, still going strong with 54,828 passing yards and 399 touchdowns and Tom Brady, who is 33, with 34,744 yards, 251 touchdowns and a handful of Super Bowl rings.
Manning and Brady are going to continue to increase their numbers, and Brees has to stay on a similar pace. I’ve had the honor to vote for the Hall of Fame twice, and I can assure you voters pay very close attention to a player's contemporaries. Brees isn’t going to get in simply by putting up numbers close to Testaverde, Collins and Bledsoe.
He’s got to stay somewhere close to Manning and Brady. It would help if Brees could avoid seasons like last year when he threw a career-high 22 interceptions and the Saints got bounced by Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.
I’m not trying to cast gloom on Brees’ Hall of Fame chances. I seriously think he’ll get there, but I’m just saying there’s some work left to be done.
Brees had some knee problems last season but still threw for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns. Those numbers are pretty comparable to an average of the two seasons before that.
Let’s assume the knee is healthy and say Brees goes out and plays four more seasons with numbers like that. It’s fairly realistic, as long as Sean Payton’s calling the plays, Marques Colston is catching the passes and Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks are blocking up front.
That would put Brees at 53,746 passing yards and 367 touchdown passes. That would put him fourth on the all-time passing yards list and fourth on the list of all-time touchdown passes, as they now stand.
That would be an automatic pass into Canton. Brees doesn’t even need to reach those numbers to get there. He just needs to move ahead of the middle-of-the-pack guys, and a few more playoff wins wouldn’t hurt. Brees is approaching the doors to Canton. He just needs to keep going straight up a few more steps.