METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees isn't done yet.
Brees, who turned 41 in January, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 18, but he has made it clear for the past several years that he has no interest in testing the open market. So his only choices were staying in New Orleans or retiring.
The two sides will need to work out a new contract, but that shouldn't be contentious. The last time Brees was a free agent, in 2018, he agreed to a two-year, $50 million contract that was slightly below market value -- with only one year of salary guaranteed.
The Saints will also have to decide whether they want to try to keep both of their backups: unrestricted free agent Teddy Bridgewater and restricted free agent Taysom Hill. Coach Sean Payton said in late January that he thought it would be "very difficult" and "unrealistic" to keep all three quarterbacks with the Saints slammed tight against the salary cap.
That would seemingly make Bridgewater, 27, the odd man out for financial reasons -- especially if another team is willing to pay him like a starter on the open market. Bridgewater went 5-0 as a starter while Brees was sidelined by a thumb injury in 2019, which should make him more attractive than he was as a free agent last year.
Hill, 29, will be easier to retain as a restricted free agent. The Saints can match any offer he might sign with another team. And depending on the size of New Orleans' qualifying offer to Hill, teams would have to give up either a first- or second-round draft pick if the Saints don't match the offer. A first-round tender will likely cost somewhere between $4.5 and $5 million.
"I had a pretty good inkling that he was gonna come back, [but] I just didn't know when everyone else was going to know," Hill told The Adam Schefter Podcast on Tuesday. "I'm so excited for Drew to come back. He's become such a good friend, such a great mentor to me. When we had conversations, I told him, man I sure hope he came back and played. I felt like it was better for the NFL and for him to be playing.
"Obviously there's a process going to restricted free agency and we'll go through that process and see what happens, but, man, I would love to play with Drew again."
There have also been multiple reports that Payton views the versatile QB/RB/WR/TE/special-teams monster Hill as a future franchise quarterback, despite the fact that he has attempted only 15 career passes, including the playoffs.
No matter who ultimately becomes Brees' successor, he will have to wait at least one more season.
Brees said he wanted to take time with his family after the season to decompress and mull his future -- something he has done after each of the past three seasons. But it would have been a bit surprising to see him walk away now, since he is still playing at such a high level.
He finished with the best passer rating of his career in 2019 (116.3) and helped lead the Saints to a 13-3 record, despite missing those five games early in the season with the thumb injury. He was named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Month for December, when he threw 15 touchdowns with zero turnovers and completed a NFL-record 29-of-30 passes in a Week 15 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
"I still have that same goal to have the opportunity to be that guy for a franchise," Hill told The Adam Schefter Podcast. "At the end of the day, I believe in myself. That's never changed. That's what it's always been. Obviously with Coach Payton and his creativity, the first few years of my career has gone down a different path. But the vision for myself has never changed."
Brees had a disappointing performance in the Saints' wild-card playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings (208 passing yards, one touchdown, one interception and one lost fumble), but that was all the more reason to expect him to come back and try to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since the Saints won their only championship in the 2009 season.
Apparently Brees also wasn't ready to concede his NFL records for career passing yards (77,416) and touchdown passes (547) to 42-year-old Tom Brady, who is in striking distance of both marks.
Although Brees is no longer throwing for 5,000-plus yards per season and doesn't dial up the deep ball very often anymore, he has continued to adapt his game by being even more efficient. He just posted the three best completion percentages in NFL history over the past three seasons (72.0 in 2017, 74.4 in 2018 and 74.3 in 2019) and has a total of 18 turnovers over the past three years combined.
Payton said in late January that he hasn't seen any drop-off in Brees' performance.
"I'm watching this guy perform, and again his numbers this year exceeded last year's. The job is for him to win, and he's done that," Payton said. "Look, is the ball going down the field the same way? Maybe it's not. And yet his yards per completion and all those things have been real good."
Brees said late last season that when you combine that efficiency with "all the experience and wisdom, I think that just allows you to maintain your prime for longer and longer."
"I really do feel like I should be better every week and every year," Brees said.