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New Orleans Saints training camp preview: Drew Brees

2020 season will be 20th of Saints quarterback's career

No official proclamation has been made, no edict has been handed down, no date of expiration has been stamped.

No matter.

The 2020 NFL season, the 20th of Drew Brees' record-setting career, has a "last dance" feel to it for the league's all-time leader in passing yards (77,416), passing touchdowns (547), completion percentage (67.6) and a handful of other marks.

Granted – and this point must be emphasized – there hasn't been an issuance of a creed that says Brees won't dance for another two, three or four seasons. Few players in NFL history, or in the history of sports for that matter, have beat back the ravages of time as effectively as has Brees, who has completed 73.5 percent of his passes, for 82 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, over his last three seasons, when he played at the ages of 38, 39 and 40.

But, like every other offseason the past few years, he seriously contemplated if he wanted to extend his career.

And he committed to a future career – he'll join NBC's "Sunday Night Football" broadcasting crew after he retires.

And the Saints signed backup quarterback Taysom Hill – whom Coach Sean Payton repeatedly has said he believes can and will be an NFL starter – to a two-year contract, with the second year providing him his best opportunity to start for the Saints if Brees, indeed, does retire.

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And New Orleans also signed quarterback Jameis Winston to a one-year deal as an unrestricted free agent, after the former No. 1 overall pick spent his first five seasons starting for Tampa Bay. He conceivably could be re-signed next year and could compete for the starting job in 2021.

Those factors, and perhaps more – whether Brees wants to continue his maniacal preparation process, whether he simply wants to spend more time at home – point to the possibility that the symmetry of 20-20-20 will be a fitting conclusion.

But before any, or all, of that can transpire, there's this season that remains to be played. And the Saints, with Brees, are high among Super Bowl contenders entering the year. New Orleans has won the NFC South the last three years, has advanced to the NFC Championship Game (in 2018), has won 37 regular-season games during that time and possesses one of the league's most talent-laden rosters.

If he had to pick a team, and a season, on which to place his final (and perhaps best) bet to becoming a two-time Super Bowl champion, this team, and this season, quite possibly would be the one. New Orleans returns six All-Pros (receiver Michael Thomas, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, defensive end Cam Jordan, linebacker Demario Davis, returner Deonte Harris and special teamer J.T. Gray) from 2019. Three others previously have been All-Pros (Brees, left tackle Terron Armstead and running back Alvin Kamara). And three others have been to the Pro Bowl (cornerback Marshon Lattimore, left guard Andrus Peat and tight end Jared Cook).

It's as decorated a roster as any in the league.

But Brees has been, and remains, the face of the franchise. Since he joined the franchise as an unrestricted free agent in 2006, he has set the pace.

"He's special," said former Saints right tackle Jon Stinchcomb (2003-10). "You talk about work ethic and approach to the game and understanding that there's more to it for him than just playing his position. We recognized it every day you came to practice, every day you went on the field with him, that he's just different.

"His approach to the game, his approach to life, what he puts into it, his focus – honestly, by 2010, for a lot of us, it was a struggle to take notes on plays that we'd been running for five years. And you look over and you see Drew's folder, and he's on page 52 of notes and it's stuff that you know he knows backward and forward and can teach and knows every detail. But his focus level and his ability to stay engaged at 110 mph consistently, he's different.

"Who knew that it would still be in 2020, but the way the game is set up now and the amount of resources that are available that guys tap into on a 365-day basis, you can see some of the careers of these quarterbacks extend well into their 40s. And having watched him play these past few years, I don't see a lot of drop-off. We're not to the twilight years that we've come to expect from these quarterbacks that stick around for a year or two too long and they're just holding on to the rope. Drew wasn't anywhere close to that last year and I don't expect him to be this year, either."

The only question is if this year will be his last year.

The best photos of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees during the 2019 season.

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