In the long run, Drew Brees’ thumb injury might cost him more than a handful of games – it could also help Tom Brady overtake him in career QB categories.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees tore a ligament in his thumb on Sunday, sidelining him for an estimated six weeks at least. It’s a big setback for him and for New Orleans’ season, but there are more far-reaching stakes to this injury than may initially meet the eye.
As quarterbacks from the 2004 draft such as Eli Manning (benched indefinitely) and Ben Roethlisberger (injured reserve) begin to sputter, it’s the two oldest NFL QBs that still stand tall over the rest of the signal-calling elite. Drew Brees and Tom Brady are two of the only players left from the early 2000s, and they’ve kept up some of the best and most consistent statistics the league has ever seen.
While Brady is the popular choice for Greatest QB of All-Time (hereafter GOAT), other quarterbacks still hover around the conversation. Joe Montana was often considered the GOAT until Brady blew past his Super Bowl record. One could also make a strong case for Peyton Manning until last year, as he held the records for most career passing yards and touchdowns.
However, the man who eclipsed Manning’s yardage record might have a better claim to the GOAT conversation. In Week 5 of the 2018 season, Drew Brees broke Manning’s yardage record of 71,940 yards in an emotional Monday Night Football victory over the Redskins.
It’s not the only leaderboard that Brees currently sits atop. He also has the highest career completion percentage in NFL history (67.3%), the most completions, the most 300 and 400-yard games, and by far the most 5,000-yard seasons with five.
Here’s the thing about Brees’ career: you can blame his lack of playoff success on his bad teams (especially defenses), but his statistics speak for themselves. He’s arguably the most skilled quarterback to ever play the game, and that’s why some NFL fans claim him to be the GOAT over Tom Brady.
Unfortunately for Brees, this new thumb injury could change all of that.
In a surprisingly under-reported story, at this moment, Brees and Brady are tied at 522 career passing touchdowns. Peyton Manning’s all-time record sits at 539, which means the two QBs are in an intense race to be the first one to crack it.
Much like Barry Bonds’ home run record chase in 2007, this could have been one of the stories of the season. The first QB to pass 539 touchdowns receives the glory… or better yet, the two players could have even broken it on the same exact day (can you imagine?).
Brees’ six-week thumb injury dashes all hope of such a race, and virtually guarantees the future record for Brady… barring an injury to the Patriots QB himself.
As an NFL fan, I think it’s tragic that we’re not going to be able to see the competition play out. Brady could very well beat the record while Brees is sidelined, which just wouldn’t feel as earned.
That being said, what’s one more record against the elite resume both QBs have, especially since they have a chance to catch one another down the road? It’s a bit of an intangible, but compare realities where Brees or Brady each take the record.
If Brees does, it cements his status as the ruler of career stats, whereas Brady is the ruler of wins and accolades. If Brees ends his career with the most TDs/yards and the best completion percentage ever, debates will always rage over who the better QB really was.
Now if Brady takes the record and keeps it, even though it’s only one record, it makes a huge statement. Sports networks the morning after will discuss Brady’s dominance and legacy instead of Brees’, and a lot of people will finally declare Brady unequivocally to be the GOAT.
Tom Brady taking one of the most important QB records in the NFL cracks Brees’ hold on the top several statistical spots. As unlucky as it is, this thumb injury might pan out to cost Brees a place in the discussion of top two or three quarterbacks in league history, depending on just how long he’s out and how effective he is when he finally returns.
I do believe that, considering the mediocrity of a lot of his Saints squads over the years, Brees is probably the second-best QB to ever play the game. He’s just unlucky; he’s had bad defenses, unfortunate chokes, an NFC South division that often produced strong rivals, and he was robbed of another Super Bowl appearance last year in the NFC Championship Game. A Brady/Brees bowl would have been a huge moment for his legacy, but we’ll probably never see it.
These record speculations are largely dependent on the two QBs retiring at about the same time.
Now that Brees will be playing from behind in the career touchdown race – and could be threatened for the all-time yardage record as well (Brady is currently about 3700 yards behind) – it’s up to Brees himself to last long enough to keep the records… if it’s a priority for him, that is.
If Brady takes and holds the all-time touchdown record by the time both quarterbacks retire, there’s not much left to argue: he’s the GOAT.