Payton must start looking at life beyond Brees

By Ed Daniels, Clarion Herald Sports

It was a moment dripping with irony: On the day that news leaked that Sean Payton had agreed to a five-year contract extension, the Saints head coach got an unexpected look at the future beyond Drew Brees.

It wasn’t pretty.

But, placing all the blame on backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t exactly fair.

Last December, Bridgewater started the final week of the season, a loss at home to Carolina. But that game was akin to a preseason contest, with both teams resting many starters.

Not so last Sunday, when the Rams smelled chum in the water and attacked Brees’ backup with ferocity.

As Payton looks at the tape, he can’t help but wonder: Is Bridgewater the answer to his sudden quarterback dilemma? Or, is it Taysom Hill, a quarterback he calls the “next Steve Young”?

Payton has never said those words publicly. However, former NFL quarterback and TV analyst Troy Aikman quoted Payton for the network broadcast. Then Aikman asked, “If (Hill) is the next Steve Young, why isn’t he starting?”

My guess is the Saints will be looking for Brees’ replacement in the draft next spring. And, you can get a great quarterback and not have to pick in the top 5 or mortgage the future of the franchise to do so.

The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Pat Mahomes with the 10th pick in the draft. The Baltimore Ravens selected Lamar Jackson with pick No. 32. The Dallas Cowboys selected Dak Prescott in the fourth round, pick No. 135.

In the meantime, it is interesting how what is considered one of the best young rosters in the NFL suddenly doesn’t look so Herculean when the franchise quarterback is on the sideline, unable to grip a football.

Those incredibly accurate throws on third down just don’t seem to happen as much. The defense is willing to gamble more, betting that Brees’ replacement can’t hurt them like he does. Those comebacks, like the one Brees fashioned against Houston on a Monday night, don’t seem so routine any more.

So, now it is up to the very well-compensated Saints head coach to figure out the future, immediate and long term.

Since 2006, the Saints have had an edge at  quarterback in just about every game. Yet, on Mondays after a Saints’ loss, a reporter was often quizzed about Brees allegedly losing his fastball or being in the midst of some sort of inevitable decline.

This after a season where Brees threw only five interceptions and completed 74.4 percent of his throws.

Watch what you ask for, seems like a very appropriate phrase to pen right here.

Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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