By BRETT MARTEL
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees sees discussions about his arm strength and recently declining passing yardage as moot points.
Efficiency is what wins, the 40-year-old, record-setting Saints quarterback says — and that will be a driving factor in determining his longevity.
“I can’t throw the ball 70 yards like some guys can. But last time I checked, I don’t really need to throw 70 yards in order to be effective and win games. So I’m not worried about it,” Brees told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
Brees said being able to throw as deep as any NFL QB “would be a nice luxury, but I don’t need to.”
While Brees is in the last season of his contract — and said he has no plans to discuss a possible extension until after this season — he is less than a year removed from capping off possibly the most efficient campaign of his previous 18 NFL seasons.
He broke his own completion percentage rate for a single season in 2018, connecting on 74.4 percent of his passes. He also passed for 32 touchdowns while throwing just five interceptions, the second best such ratio in the league.
Meanwhile, the Saints nearly went to last season’s Super Bowl — and very well might have if not for league-acknowledged officiating mistakes near the end of regulation in the NFC title game. (Missed pass interference and helmet-to-helmet contact penalties committed by a Los Angeles Rams defender were seen as egregious enough to spark a rule change making such plays subject to video review ).
At the same time, Brees’ 3,992 yards passing, which ranked 13th in the NFL, represented his lowest single-season passing total since he joined the Saints in 2006. Brees points out that he sat out the last game of last season, with New Orleans having already clinched the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed — meaning he likely would have wound up with more than 4,200 yards, based on his per-game average of 266 yards passing.
“That’s still probably low, according to our standard,” Brees conceded, but added, “To me, the yardage is kind of inconsequential. It’s all about the efficiency of the passing game and running game and how they complement each other.”
In addition to playing football, Brees is a father of four who gets involved in his children’s activities and also has ever-growing business interests.
He owns nine Jimmy Johns sandwich shops in the New Orleans area, and spoke to AP while promoting a nationwide “Home in the Zone” contest that will provide money to help the winner acquire a home in one of the restaurant’s delivery zones.
Brees, the all-time NFL leader in completions (6,586) and yards passing (74,437) , doesn’t specify how much longer he intends to keep playing, but there is an active precedent. New England Patriots QB Tom Brady is still playing at 42 and was 41 when he won last season’s Super Bowl.
Brees’ 520 TD passes puts him one ahead of Brady and leaves him 19 short of Peyton Manning’s record of 539 — a mark Brees should break this season if he plays anywhere nearly as well as a year ago.
“I feel like I’ve got the right people in my corner … so I feel like I’m getting the best information when it comes to how to prolong my career as long as possible,” Brees said. “Most retired players that you talk to, especially quarterbacks, I think the consensus is: Play as long as you can, enjoy it as long as you can. It’s nothing earth-shattering.”
Entering this season, the departure of running back Mark Ingram during free agency and the arrival of veteran receiving tight end Jared Cook begs the question of whether there might be an uptick in passing.
Since joining the Saints, Brees has averaged nearly 303 yards passing per game and has passed for at least 5,000 yards in a season five times.
Yet three times, the Saints have missed the playoffs when Brees passed for 5,000-plus yards in a season; he had to throw more in those years (2008, ’12 and ’16) because the Saints were often behind. So while Brees still sees potential for big games through the air, he doesn’t concern himself with whether that might happen.
“From week to week, it might be a little bit higher or lower, depending on what’s needed,” Brees said. “Whether that’s a lot of running, a lot of passing, a combination of both — I think at the end of the day, you want to be balanced. That’s when you’re most effective because it keeps defenses off balance, spreads the wealth, gives them a lot to worry about, gives you a lot of ways to win from week to week.”