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John DeShazier: Signing Drew Brees has had lasting impact on Saints

It was one of the most significant free agent signings in league history

Free agent saviors are supposed to ride into town on a white horse, saddlebags swollen with championship aspirations and expectations, dusters marked by levels of accomplishment that quietly, but confidently, insist that their new teammates "follow me, I know the way."

Drew Brees brought very little of that with him to New Orleans as the franchise's marquee free agent signee 10 years ago today.

On March 16, 2006, Brees' injured right shoulder guaranteed that he was one cowboy who wouldn't be riding any horses – unless someone was going to be helping him mount and dismount, because he wasn't going to be doing a single strenuous thing with that treasured, surgically repaired shoulder on his throwing arm.

He brought with him aspirations and expectations, sure. But in fairness, they were modest – in 59 games over the previous five seasons with San Diego, he'd thrown for 12,348 yards and 80 touchdowns, with 53 interceptions, and had made one playoff appearance; nothing suggestive of a wearer of the white hat.

If memory serves correctly, the city of New Orleans actually didn't even consider Brees its incoming football savior a decade ago. That title was stamped on running back Reggie Bush, the No. 2 overall draft pick who was electrifying on the field, Madison Avenue off it and landed in New Orleans with his cape flapping in the wind behind him.

But what Brees brought with him was a work ethic, self-belief, competiveness and optimism that bordered on maniacal and perhaps have been unmatched in franchise history, along with a significantly higher level of athleticism than anyone believed was packaged in his 6-foot, 209-pound frame.

And what Brees became was the best free agent signing in franchise history, and remains among the best and most significant in league history.

The most productive decade in Saints history coincides with Brees signing his initial six-year, $60 million contract and proceeding to become the most prolific passer the franchise ever has had, and one of the most decorated quarterbacks in NFL history.

Before Brees was signed, between 1967 and 2005: Seven winning seasons, five double-digit winning years, six playoff games for the Saints.

Since Brees was signed: Five winning seasons, five double-digit winning years, 10 playoff games.

The four-time All-Pro, nine-time Pro Bowler, two-time Offensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP has skyrocketed up the league's all-time charts: 60,903 passing yards (fourth-most in league history, first among active players); 428 touchdown passes (third and first, respectively); 5,365 completions (third and first); and 66.4 percent completions (first and first).

Whatever was the vision that Coach Sean Payton had for his offense when he made Brees the Saints' headline free agent signee in '06, it likely has been eclipsed a few times over. During that time the Saints have led the league in total offense five times – the only five times in franchise history that has happened – and twice have led the league in scoring.

Perhaps another quarterback would have as effectively implemented Payton's offensive vision. Maybe another could have accumulated the yards and touchdowns at an equal pace, one that assures Brees will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, likely in his first year of eligibility. Possibly, another could've matched his popularity and marketability, traits that, along with his outstanding play, have made the Saints ratings gold for nationally televised games, especially in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

All that's known for sure is that Brees did it, and became one of the few free agents to do it this big.

On that scale, few others have made as significant an impact.

Green Bay won a Super Bowl with defensive end Reggie White. Denver won a Super Bowl with quarterback Peyton Manning and defensive end DeMarcus Ware, and appeared in another with Manning.

But few, if any, free agents have had the lasting impact on a franchise that Brees has had on the Saints. Few are more identifiable with a franchise than he has become with New Orleans. Few have been as adoptive of a community, or more warmly embraced, than the civic-minded quarterback who continually donates his time and money to charitable causes.

It wasn't the way that Brees rode into town that made March 16, 2006 one of the best days in franchise history. It's the ride that he has helped take the Saints on – and their fans along with the team – that has made the day almost as memorable as any other.

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