Saints quarterback Drew Brees seems poised to have another record-setting season, if training camp performance is any indication.
The face of the franchise is a seven-time Pro-Bowler, the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year in 2004, the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2008 and 2011, as well as the MVP of Super Bowl XLIV.
Brees also holds the NFL single-season record for most passing yards in a season by a quarterback, 5,476 yards in the 2011 season. Despite the turmoil of last season's Bounty Gate drama and the absence of head coach Sean Payton, Brees set the record for most consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass - 54 - which trumped Johnny Unitas's record of 47.
Now, Brees is 34 and some critics are beginning to questions just how long #9 can keep his impressive, clutch performances going.
At the beginning of this summer's training camp, Brees said 40 is the new 30, and he plans to be playing at this same level when he reaches the big 4-0.
Payton agrees, saying he feels no extra pressure to win, no shrinking window of opportunity simply because of Brees' age.
"There is urgency every season, urgency to each year improve your roster, and so I think that subject comes up in times with a very good quarterback," Payton said. "Fortunately for us, we have one, and we have one who's healthy and someone who works extremely hard and takes care of himself. Every season that window of opportunity, for me as a coach, feels like it's immediate. We work to do everything we can to find a way to be at the top of the division. I think that each year is different and certainly there are goals and expectations. Most importantly we don't try and put limitations on what we think we can and can't do."
Meanwhile, a young man who Brees has taken under his wing personally and professionally, tight end Jimmy Graham, is willing to bet Brees will find a way to be the same player at 40 as he is now.
"Yes. We were actually talking about that last week," Graham said. "I had a press conference with him myself and asked him how long he was going to be here for, because whenever he retires, I'm going to have to retire. He's definitely got it in him to play until 40 and beyond. The way he takes care of his body, the way he prepares for the game and the kind of player he is, I think he'll be here for quite a while more and playing at the high level."
Graham says Brees shows no signs of slowing down and that the rest of his younger teammates have to consciously try to keep up. It's a big change from last spring and summer, when Brees missed significant practice time while negotiating his contract extension.
"The biggest change was just having him here, you can tell, "Graham said."When he was gone, he used to text me every couple of days asking me how the guys were doing. So, to have him here early pushing me especially and telling me all the things I'm doing wrong is only for the better. Especially having a lot of younger receivers right now, that sets up and puts us in a better situation."