Sources: Drew Brees told New Orleans Saints he planned to retire last NFL offseason, changed mind

When Drew Brees opens his 20th NFL season Sunday afternoon against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there's every chance that this will be the New Orleans Saints quarterback's last season.

For a while, the Saints thought the 2019 season was Brees' last -- especially when Brees told them after the Pro Bowl this past February that he was planning to retire, sources told ESPN.

Brees left Orlando, Florida, the site of the Pro Bowl, and met with television networks, operating as if his playing days were over, according to sources.

But ultimately, sometime shortly before or during the coronavirus pandemic, Brees changed his mind and decided to play, although New Orleans wasn't certain that would be the case until the second week in March, according to sources.

Knowing that Brees, 41, nearly walked away from playing quarterback after last season, it's hardly a stretch to think he will do the same after this season. Brees already has agreed to join NBC Sports as a football analyst when his playing days are over. Brees has operated on a year-to-year basis with New Orleans.

Saints coach Sean Payton suggested on ESPN's Get Up during the offseason that this would be Brees' "final season," before later calling himself a "big dummy" for his word choice, saying he doesn't know when Brees plans to retire.

Brees acknowledged this past week that he is on "borrowed time," saying he is "turning it loose and letting the chips fall where they may" this season.

Brees is the NFL career leader in passing yards (77,416) and touchdown passes (547). He repeatedly has said that he believes he could play at a high level through age 45 -- but only if he wants to keep playing that long. He has been taking that decision "year by year" for the past several years.

ESPN's Mike Triplett contributed to this report.