Whether or not he returns in 2015, Drew Brees should be back in 2016

Drew Brees turns 37 next month and is set to cost a whopping $30 million against the salary cap next year. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

NEW ORLEANS -- Even when he was hobbling around on only one good foot Monday night, Drew Brees continued to prove that he is still among the top quarterbacks in the NFL.

He threw three touchdown passes in the second half of Monday's 35-27 loss to the Detroit Lions while playing with what turned out to be a torn plantar fascia.

Brees certainly doesn't need to prove anything else by continuing to play hurt over the next two weeks. And the New Orleans Saints (5-9) should probably just take the decision out of his hands and shelve him for the rest of the season, because you know Brees will do whatever it takes to tough it out.

I'm waiting on more information before I take a firm stance here. If Brees gets cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson, one of the most trusted names in the business, then I don't have a huge problem with him playing -- as long as he's mobile enough to avoid the risk of bigger hits and worse injuries.

But Brees and the Saints both need to have the good sense to recognize that 2016 is all that matters at this point.

And no matter what the Saints decide to do over these next two weeks, they absolutely must be wise enough to bring Brees back next year.

There's been some speculation this season that the Saints might consider parting ways with Brees because he turns 37 next month and is scheduled to cost a whopping $30 million against the salary cap in the final year of his contract in 2016 -- the highest cap cost for any one player since at least 2002, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

So the theory goes that the Saints could speed up the rebuilding process they started this offseason by trading Brees for a premium draft pick or two.

But you know what's worse than having salary-cap problems or an aging roster? Not having a quarterback.

That's the biggest franchise killer of all. And it can set a team back for decades (see: Browns, Cleveland, among other teams).

The Saints have now missed the playoffs with a losing record for two straight years, and they do need to continue this rebuilding process, and it won't turn around overnight. Not with all the flaws they have shown this season on both sides of the ball.

But in case you missed it, Brees has still been the best thing this team has going for it.

And he is only scheduled to make $20 million in salary and bonuses next year -- which is practically the going rate for quarterbacks in the NFL these days. Brees' average salary of $20 million, which set an NFL record in 2012, now ranks ninth among quarterback, according to ESPN Stats and Information, behind guys like Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco -- and barely ahead of Ryan Tannehill, Colin Kaepernick and Jay Cutler.

The best scenario would be a contract extension this offseason that keeps Brees locked up and alleviates some of the immediate salary-cap issues. I know fans would love to see that come with a "hometown discount" from the QB, since Tom Brady has left money on the table with the New England Patriots in his own recent extensions. But that's still pretty rare in sports. Heck, even if Brees just agreed to tack on three more years at $20 million per season, that would probably be less than he could command on the open market.

Meanwhile, the Saints would also be wise to start seriously considering future options at the quarterback position -- maybe even as early as Round 1 of this year's draft if they truly fall in love with a prospect.

That's much easier said than done, however. The Saints are currently slated to pick ninth in the draft, not No. 1 or No. 2. And regardless, there might not be any sure-thing QB prospects in this year's draft.

The Saints could also continue to develop and evaluate rookie QB Garrett Grayson, whom they drafted in the third round this year out of Colorado State. Maybe Grayson will prove himself worthy of being the QB-in-waiting over the next year or two, once he gets a better grasp of the playbook and the speed of the NFL game.

Maybe the Saints should even throw Grayson into the fire over these next two weeks if Brees can't go, giving him starts ahead of veteran backup Matt Flynn so Grayson can get some invaluable real-game experience.

It also wouldn't hurt to evaluate Flynn to help decide if he's worthy of keeping the backup role himself next year.

Either way, those guys had better just be keeping Brees' seat warm until he comes back.