<strong>July 28, 2005</strong>
Source: <a href="http://www.presstelegram.com/Stories/0,1413,204~28789~2972707,00.html">Presstelegram.com</a>
Drew Brees is the man of the moment for the San Diego Chargers.
There's just one problem with having such a title: moments have a way of coming and going rather quickly, and few people are more aware of this than Brees.
One moment, Brees was supposed to be the Chargers' future, the next, their past. Then in a turnaround befitting a made-for-TV movie, he became their present.
What no one can be certain of, however, is what lies ahead for Brees.
After throwing 15 interceptions to just 11 touchdowns in 2003 Brees could only sit and watch as the Chargers drafted North Carolina State gunslinger Philip Rivers with the fourth overall pick in that year's draft. A prolonged holdout by Rivers allowed Brees to remain the team's starter and provided the motivation for Brees to put together a season many dubbed the "NFL's feel-good story in 2004."
"At that point I was just trying to save my existence in San Diego," he said. "Just trying to get better.
"Honestly, I didn't even realize he wasn't in camp. Philip was not my concern. Mentally he was never there for me, even when he was there, he wasn't there.
"I wasn't worried about him. I was worried about myself and the team getting better."
To say Brees and the Chargers got better would be an enormous understatement. Not only did Brees raise his quarterback rating an NFL record 37.3 points in 2004, he also led a Chargers team that went 4-12 the previous season to a 12-4 record and back into the playoffs for the first time since 1995. He threw 27 touchdowns to only seven interceptions.
For his efforts Brees, 26, was named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year, went to the Pro Bowl and became the toast of the Gas Lamp District.
This offseason the Chargers rewarded Brees, a restricted free agent, with ... a one year deal?
Despite his apparent maturation as an NFL quarterback, it is possible -- likely? a certainty? -- this could be Brees' last year in a Charger uniform.
It's a situation Brees is intimately familiar with.
"They chose to franchise (tag) me and keep me for a year, I'm sure, to see what happens," Brees said. "Then either Philip or I will stay next year, and one of us will go."
While most NFL teams would take on such a predicament, what it essentially comes down to is economics. Rivers signed a six-year, $41 million contract before ever taking a snap in the NFL. After next season, Brees will be a free agent who can demand a multiyear contract. For the Chargers there are only so many dollars that can be spent on a position only one man can play.
Somebody will have to go, and if Rivers sits on the bench again next season the Chargers will be hard pressed to find many suitors willing to take on such a massive contract for what essentially amounts to a rookie quarterback with zero starts in the NFL.
It's a difficult position for Brees to be in, but he's been in worse.
"The positive I draw from this is, I get one more year to play for the Chargers and have a chance to do something special," he said. "And hopefully sign a long-term contract next year.
"I wouldn't be surprised by anything that happens, but I absolutely want to stay."
The only thing certain for Brees right now is he'll be a Charger this season, and when San Diego's veterans report to training camp next week, he will be the returning starting quarterback.
The Chargers certainly act as if Brees is their man. Their marketing department has its Brees campaign in full swing, and he's even on the cover of their schedule.
He's the one they brought to Los Angeles for a media tour Tuesday, doing radio shows in the morning, meeting with L.A. print media at lunch, making national TV stops at night.
It's a curious campaign to orchestrate for someone who has a 50-50 chance of playing somewhere other than San Diego in 2006.
It's a precarious position for Brees, who must feel like he has to audition for his job all over again, and then there are the critics who confidently proclaim there's no way Brees and the Chargers can duplicate, let alone improve upon, their 2004 success.
The Chargers have one of the toughest schedules in the league this year, opening the season at home against an improving Dallas team before heading to the high altitude of Denver. The Chargers play host to the New York Giants in Week 3 and then have the privilege of traveling to Foxboro to play the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Should they survive that early gauntlet, they then face non-division games against Pittsburgh, at Philadelphia, at the New York Jets -- which beat them in the playoffs at home last year -- Buffalo, at Washington, Miami and at Indianapolis.
Brees is aware his future in San Diego will likely be tied to how the Chargers perform this season.
"I don't know if you can say, if we don't make the playoffs I'm definitely out of here," he said. "Or if we don't make the Super Bowl, I'm out of here. We have to have a winning record or I'm out of here. I don't know if you can quantify it.
"If I worry about it too much, I'm not going to be able to function. That's why I don't think about it."
Brees had plenty to worry about entering training camp last summer. Coming off his dismal 2003 season, Brees was viewed by many as being washed up, just three years after being drafted in the second round and anointed as San Diego's quarterback of the future.
Brees has excelled at turning a bad situation into something good. Now he's in a good situation where those in San Diego will be expecting something better.
He said his young team has learned a lot since he joined it in 2002, when it started the year 8-4. Despite finishing with a four-game losing streak, many thought a corner had been turned.
"There were so many expectations going into (2003)," Brees said. "We'd had some success (in 2002). We thought we were on our way.
"Some guys thought we had arrived, and we absolutely had not. I think that was a learning experience which will prevent us from going through the same type of thing."
While many think he has arrived as an NFL quarterback, Brees is just content with living in the moment.