The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will kick off the new NFL season against the Dallas Cowboys on September 9, while Sam Darnold is to be quickly reunited with the New York Jets.

Ahead of the full schedule release later on Wednesday, the Week 1 slate was confirmed with Tom Brady's Bucs the highlight.

After winning the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs last season, seven-time champion Brady is in the Thursday night game against the Cowboys in Tampa.

The Bucs have brought back the entirety of their title-winning team and face a Dallas outfit aiming to improve on an awful 2020 after signing Dak Prescott to a long-term contract.

Elsewhere, quarterback Darnold will make his Carolina Panthers debut against the Jets team he left this offseason.

In three miserable years in New York, Darnold threw for 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions across 38 games with a 59.8 completion percentage – the third-worst rate in the league over this period.

The former third overall pick was traded to the Panthers last month for a sixth-round pick this year and a second and fourth-rounders in 2022, with the Jets then using the second selection in 2021 to take Zach Wilson.

Among Wilson's fellow first-round QBs, Mac Jones could potentially make his bow against the man he succeeded at Alabama.

Jones, who is competing for the starting spot on the New England Patriots with Cam Newton, will hope to face Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins in a big AFC East matchup.

Trevor Lawrence is likely to go straight into the Jacksonville Jaguars team against the Houston Texans, while Trey Lance will hope to get his chance under center for the San Francisco 49ers at the Detroit Lions and Justin Fields for the Chicago Bears at the Los Angeles Rams in the late Sunday game.

The NFL also confirmed Wilson and Lawrence would be in line for appearances in the London games in October, with the Jets facing the Atlanta Falcons and the Jaguars taking on the Dolphins on consecutive weekends.

Another of the more intriguing Week 1 games sees the Green Bay Packers travel to the New Orleans Saints.

As the Saints begin the post-Drew Brees era, the Packers will hope wantaway MVP Aaron Rodgers is still on the team and able to improve his 3-2 career record as a starter against New Orleans.

The Seattle Seahawks, who have kept hold of Russell Wilson, face the Indianapolis Colts, and Patrick Mahomes' latest title tilt sees the Kansas City Chiefs host the Cleveland Browns.

Mahomes went down with a toe injury and then a concussion in an epic Chiefs win over the Browns in the 2020 postseason, with 35-year-old backup Chad Henne making his playoff debut and having a pick and a sack but completing six of eight passes to complete the job.

In the first Monday Night Football of the season, Lamar Jackson's Baltimore Ravens will go to the Las Vegas Raiders.


Week 1 schedule in full:

Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Sep 9, 8:20pm ET
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
New York Jets at Carolina Panthers – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Denver Broncos at New York Giants – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams – Sep 12, 8:20pm ET
Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders – Sep 13, 8:15pm ET

Drew Brees said he could have kept playing in the NFL, but "it was time" to retire after ending his illustrious career last week.

After 20 seasons and numerous passing records, New Orleans Saints quarterback Brees announced his retirement on Sunday.

The 42-year-old was crowned Super Bowl MVP after leading the Saints to glory in Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.

Brees reflected on his decision to retire on Wednesday, the 13-time Pro Bowler telling reporters: "I felt that it was time.

"Could I keep playing? Yeah, I'm sure I could. But I'm also looking at my kids, my family, the age of my kids.

"And just gauging all of those things, there's a balance there. And I also just felt like I would just feel it -- I would feel when it was time."

Brees sits as the all-time leader with 80,358 passing yards, while he bowed out of the game after 10,551 passing attempts (of which he completed 67.7 per cent), 571 touchdowns throws and 172 wins.

He had five seasons with over 5,000 passing yards, a feat no other quarterback has accomplished more than once. Not Tom Brady, not Peyton Manning, not Patrick Mahomes.

His total of 5,476 yards in 2011 saw him break Dan Marino's longstanding NFL record for a single campaign, though Manning squeezed above him by one solitary yard to take top spot on the all-time list two years later. 

Brees has the record for most seasons with at least 30 touchdown passes per year (10). There were once seven in a single game in 2015, against the New York Giants, a feat only eight players have ever achieved in the league's history. 

No quarterback has had more career games with at least three scores through the air than his total of 97. Same goes for four or more (37). And five (11), too.  

Brees' 54-game stretch with at least one touchdown pass from 2009 to 2012 is also an NFL record, while there were twice nine-game streaks where he posted 300 or more passing yards in each outing. 

"That's two-thirds of my life," Brees said after being introduced as a new analyst for NBC midweek. "Of course it's a difficult decision. I understand why guys have such a hard time with the transition from football.

"You can't replicate the locker room, and you can't replicate running out of the tunnel.

"There's just moments and feelings and emotions that are really hard to replicate after you've been a professional football player."

Brees added: "I've always said as long as I could play the game at a high level, I'm having fun doing it and able to stay healthy, then this is something I'll do forever.

"Obviously, I've had some injuries the last two years that have been frustrating -- both of them kind of freak things. [But] I don't think they were injuries that were saying I was getting old.

"Ever since the 2017 season, I have truly approached each season like it could be my last. ... What I started to do was start enjoying the little things maybe more. Smell the roses, so to speak, and stay in the moment.

"So if something happened like an injury and I never played again, I'd know I poured everything into it. I think that served me well. I think I played some of my best football over that time."

Drew Brees deserves more recognition for his NFL career accomplishments, says his former New Orleans Saints team-mate Jermon Bushrod.

The 42-year-old quarterback has announced his retirement after 20 seasons in the pro game, 15 of which were with the Saints.

Brees made the Saints perennial contenders and also had a huge impact off the field, credited with helping the city to recover after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Two-time Pro Bowler Bushrod won a Super Bowl with Brees at the end of the 2009 season as part of an initial six-year run on the Saints offensive line.

He also spent the last season of his NFL career protecting Brees in 2018, when the Saints went 13-3 before ultimately falling to a controversial NFC Championship Game defeat to the Rams.

Bushrod believes Brees deserves to be remembered among the very best, despite having frustratingly ended his career with just one Super Bowl title.

"It is frustrating that he doesn't get the recognition that he deserves," Bushrod said to Stats Perform News.

"You know a lot of people tend to leave him out of their top 10 or top five list and to me [he should be in].

"Maybe I'm a little biased because I had the best of him. I put myself on the line for him and I would do it again if the situation ever came up.

"He is a Super Bowl MVP, he got us to win the Super Bowl, he has broken so many records.

"Those memories last, he is going to be a Hall of Famer and the career he has had is kind of going to be forever etched in stone."

Brees extended his career chasing a second Lombardi Trophy that ultimately did not arrive and his final Super Bowl tally of one remains a regret to those associated with the Saints.

Bushrod, who also played with the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears, added: "It is frustrating, I'll be honest, because I was a part of the one Super Bowl with him but we should have had [more]. 

"We had two more opportunities while I was on the team [in my first run]. We had opportunities in the 2011 and 2012 season.

"And we had opportunity in the no call game [against the Rams in 2018], and they [the Saints] had an opportunity in the year or so before that.

"But Drew Brees was a huge part of the reason that we [won the Super Bowl] because when you have a guy like that who can march the ball up and down the field, everybody else just has to do their part. 

"Just do your part and don't make this game any harder than it really should be because we had this gunslinger back here who is extremely accurate and could get the ball all over the field. 

"It took pressure off of our defense. Our defense could take more chances, our special teams were great too because they put us in position.

"When you have Drew and you had that type of play caller in Sean Payton, if you give us a short field or you give us an extra possession we would light the scoreboard up and that was really cool to see."

While the Saints still went 9-3 in regular season games he played, Brees struggled to match his previous heights in 2020 and missed four games due to injury, so his retirement was widely expected.

Bushrod added: "Everyone kind of figured it was coming, based on his last year and the injuries that he was going through, to deal with something like that throughout the whole season.

"Being a guy who's 42 years old, who really pours a lot into this game, everybody kind of expected it.

"But I was sitting in my car when I got the alert on my phone and it took me back for a second that, 'Man, this guy is really done, but he had such an impact, not just on myself but on that city as well'.

"I just think of professionalism at its highest level [with Brees]. The amount of focus, the amount of detail, the amount of passion. His competitive spirit would pour out every day.

"You need to get the job done at a higher level because you see what this individual is doing, he knows what every single player on the offense is doing and it is pretty special to see.

"To be hand in hand, locked on with him and inside that huddle for seven out of my 12 years was truly a tremendous experience.

"He's done so much by investing millions of dollars from his philanthropic efforts but he's also created jobs in the city of New Orleans, he's leant a helping hand, in helping building homes and playgrounds. 

"What he did on the field was truly tremendous, but what he's done off the field is truly legendary. God gives you these platforms and you've got to be able to help and inspire the next person - he's done that."

Drew Brees is a "legend" who will be sorely missed after announcing his retirement, fellow New Orleans favourite Zion Williamson said. 

Brees called time on his glittering 20-year NFL career on Sunday, with glowing tributes pouring in for the quarterback. 

And Pelicans star Williamson, fresh from a 135-115 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, praised someone whose welcoming words have stuck with him. 

Williamson was the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and received a special message from Brees, who has had a lasting impact on the 20-year-old.

"He's a legend in the game, I think everybody knows that he's a legend," said Williamson, who is 22 years Brees' junior. 

"He gave his heart and soul to the game. I know a lot of people are sad to see him go. 

"Drew told me I think the truest thing anybody has ever told me, my first game in New Orleans – you love your city, they'll love you right back. 

"Whenever new people come and visit, that's the same thing I tell them. That's the kind of influence he's had on me." 

Brees is a 13-time Pro Bowler and was MVP in the Saints' Super Bowl win over the Indianapolis Colts in February 2010. 

The 42-year-old retires as the all-time leader in passing completions (7,142) and passing yards (80,358).

Tom Brady led the tributes to Drew Brees after the New Orleans Saints quarterback announced his retirement from the NFL.

Brady and Brees have spent the past two decades at the summit of American football, but the latter has now called time on his career.

Seven-time Super Bowl champion Brady sits second in the list of all-time passing yards (79,204), trailing only Brees (80,358).

Brady, who this week extended his contract with champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will almost certainly pass that mark in 2021, but Brees' extraordinary achievements over a 20-year career will not be forgotten.

Although his time in the NFL ended with defeat to Brady's Bucs in the 2020 playoffs, the Saints icon's great rival was keen to hail his outstanding achievements.

"Congrats my friend on an incredible career," Brady wrote on Twitter.

"Thank you for the inspiration and dedication on and off the field! Look forward to seeing what's next @drewbrees."

Congratulations followed from around the NFL, including from NFC South rivals Tampa Bay, who accompanied a picture of Brees and Brady with the message: "Congratulations on an incredible career, @drewbrees."

The Atlanta Falcons, another NFC South opponent, were glad to see the back of a great, posting: "We thank you, @drewbrees. But we won't miss you."

Tributes from within the Saints organisation were as heartfelt as anticipated, with Brees having complemented his on-field success – a single Super Bowl ring – with off-field contributions, playing a huge role in the relief effort following Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans head coach Sean Payton said: "When I was hired by the Saints as head coach in 2006, the very first goal was to establish a functional and winning culture.

"In doing so, it was vital to know what we were looking for in a player; talent, work ethic, make-up, intelligence and leadership are all qualities we found in Drew Brees.

"We also found a player with a burning desire to win. Within a year, he helped lead our team to the club's first NFC Championship appearance.

"Throughout his career, his consistency and dedication to excellence were unparalleled.

"In a very short period of time, he would help lead a region to recovery and a team to a Super Bowl Championship.

"He was a magnificent leader both on and off the field. His attention to detail and competitive spirit were infectious.

"For all of us that have had the chance to coach him, it has been our privilege, we are better for it.

"I am forever grateful for what he has done for our team, our community and for me personally."

Owner Gayle Benson said Brees was "much more valuable than all the records, awards and accolades". Saints president Dennis Lauscha described him as "remarkable in all facets of his career".

"He has developed a lasting legacy not only as a player, but more importantly as a person," said general manager Mickey Loomis.

As expected, Drew Brees has announced his retirement, a decision that puts the full stop on a 20-year story that has seen the quarterback set numerous NFL passing records. 

Pick number 32 in the 2001 draft, Brees started out with the San Diego Chargers but will be best remembered for his time with the New Orleans Saints. 

He sits as the all-time leader with 80,358 passing yards, though should not get too comfortable on top of the pile, considering Tom Brady sits right behind him on the list.  

While Brady is to keep on playing after winning the Super Bowl in his first year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his fellow forty-something has decided the time is right to move on to a new chapter. 

After 10,551 passing attempts (of which he completed 67.7 per cent), 571 touchdowns throws and 172 wins - plus one Super Bowl ring, of course - Brees bows out an undoubted great of the game. 
 

SAINTS GO MARCHING ON

It could have all been so different, though. Brees suffered a painful end to the 2005 season, injuring his shoulder in Week 17. When it became clear his future would lie away from the Chargers, who had a young Philip Rivers waiting in the wings, there were two possible destinations: Miami or New Orleans.  

The Dolphins, however, had concerns over Brees' recovery. They traded for Daunte Culpepper instead, the first of 15 different quarterbacks they have started since 2006.  

Meanwhile, the one they let get off the hook formed an alliance with head coach Sean Payton, one that turned the Saints from perennial strugglers to persistent winners. 

A franchise that had only made the playoffs five times previously has enjoyed nine postseason trips since 2006, including an unforgettable run in the 2009 season that culminated in winning Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, of all places.  

In the stadium he could well have called home, Brees completed 32 of his 39 attempts for 288 yards and two scores. Those numbers were good enough to see him named MVP as the Saints were crowned champions for the first time in franchise history.


SEVEN IN ONE AND THE HOT STREAKS

Brees' play has been central to the prolonged success for the Saints. He had five seasons with over 5,000 passing yards, a feat no other quarterback has accomplished more than once. Not Brady, not Peyton Manning, not Patrick Mahomes (yet).  

His total of 5,476 yards in 2011 saw him break Dan Marino's longstanding NFL record for a single campaign, though Manning squeezed above him by one solitary yard to take top spot on the all-time list two years later.  

The former Purdue Boilermaker has the record for most seasons with at least 30 touchdown passes per year (10). There were once seven in a single game in 2015, against the New York Giants, a feat only eight players have ever achieved in the league's history. 

However, no signal-caller has had more career games with at least three scores through the air than his total of 97. Same goes for four or more (37). And five (11), too.  

Brees' 54-game stretch with at least one touchdown pass from 2009 to 2012 is also an NFL record, while there were twice nine-game streaks where he posted 300 or more passing yards in each outing.


THE TWILIGHT YEARS, COMING CLOSE TO PERFECTION

From 2006 to 2017, Brees threw for over 4,000 yards in each and every season. While there was a downturn in his output in that category in the closing chapters of his NFL tale, he also became more careful with the ball. 

Indeed, in his final 54 starts there were just 23 interceptions, demonstrating his efficiency as part of a Saints offense that began to lean more heavily on the run game. 

In 2018, a 74.4 per cent completion rate for the campaign raised the bar. The following year, in a 34-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts, all but one of his 30 passes found a fellow Saint. That 96.7 per cent success on his throws is the best posted in a game for a player with at least 20 attempts. 

While his impact as a passer may have dipped, his importance to the Saints remained high. The 42-year-old did not get to ride off into the sunset as a Super Bowl champion, thanks in part to fellow golden oldie Brady, but he can be absolutely certain that he is destined to end up in the NFL's Hall of Fame.

It is about far more than the numbers with Brees, too, as Saints owner Gayle Benson made clear: "Drew is so much more valuable than all the records, awards and accolades that he amassed through a 15-year career with the New Orleans Saints and 20-year NFL playing career, one of the greatest in our league's history."

Next stop: Canton, Ohio.

For the last 15 years, Drew Brees and the city of New Orleans have been synonymous. 

He helped give an emotional lift to the city following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, transformed the franchise from a pushover to a perennial contender and delivered the city its only professional championship. 

And now after being a part of New Orleans for a generation of Saints fans, the 42-year-old Brees announced on Instagram on Sunday that he is retiring from football after 20 seasons.

"After 20 years as a player in the NFL and 15 years as a Saint, it is time I retire from the game of football. Each day, I poured my heart and soul into being your quarterback. Until the very end, I exhausted myself to give everything I had to the Saints organisation, my team, and the great city of New Orleans. We shared some amazing moments together, many of which are emblazoned in our hearts and minds and will forever be a part of us. You have moulded me, strengthened me, inspired me, and given me a lifetime of memories. My goal for the last 15 years was striving to give to you everything you had given to me and more," he wrote in his post.

"I am only retiring from playing football, I am not retiring from New Orleans. This is not goodbye, rather a new beginning. Now my real life's work begins!"

The future Hall of Famer leaves the game as the NFL's all-time passing leader with 80,358 yards and ranks second only to Tom Brady in touchdown passes with 571 and second in completion percentage (67.7). 

While Brady followed in the footsteps of Boston legends like Ted Williams, Larry Bird and Bobby Orr, Ben Roethlisberger is held in similar esteem in Pittsburgh with the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Roberto Clemente and Mario Lemieux, and Aaron Rodgers shares the Green Bay spotlight with Brett Favre, Brees is New Orleans' most celebrated professional athlete. 

New Orleans was a one-sport city for the first 35 years of the Saints' existence, and while Archie Manning was the face of the franchise in the 1970s, the team never found success with him at quarterback. 

That changed when Brees came to town. 

Brees joined the Saints in 2006 after not being guaranteed a starting job with the San Diego Chargers – the team that drafted him with the 32nd overall pick of the 2001 NFL Draft – after he suffered a devastating shoulder injury in the 2005 season finale. Despite helping the Chargers capture the 2004 AFC West title while earning his first of 13 Pro Bowl selections, his future with the franchise was uncertain with a shoulder to rehab and a young Philip Rivers waiting in the wings. 

The Saints offered him a starting job, and Brees not only seized that opportunity in rebuilding a struggling franchise, he also took it upon himself to help a proud city rebuild from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. 

In one of the most intense storms in United States history, Katrina decimated New Orleans when it made landfall in August 2005. A damaged Superdome initially served as a shelter to displaced residents and was in no shape to host NFL games, forcing the Saints to play home games in San Antonio, Baton Rouge and even New York. 

Shortly after arriving in New Orleans, Brees and his wife, Brittany, created the Drew Brees Dream Foundation, raising millions of dollars for rebuilding efforts from Katrina, as well as programmes for children and adults with special needs, and child-care facilities. 

While aiding in the relief efforts of Katrina, his first season in New Orleans coincided with Sean Payton's first as coach, and the two teamed up to create one of the league's most dangerous offenses and galvanize a city that had been battered. 

After the Saints went 3-13 during their nomadic 2005 season, Brees led them to a seven-win improvement and an NFC South Division title, while throwing for a league-leading 4,418 passing yards – his first of seven seasons to lead the NFL in passing yards. Only two other QBs have led the league in passing yards more than once in this span – Brady in 2007 and 2017 and Roethlisberger in 2014 and 2018. 

Brees and the Saints brought joy to a community that had been through so much, but their storybook season ended at the hands of the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game. 

Three seasons later, however, Brees would finally bring a championship to the title-starved city. 

Led by the NFL's number one scoring offense, the Saints were nearly unstoppable, winning their first 13 games while exciting an already excitable city. They marched all the way to the Super Bowl, rallying for a 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts on February 7, 2010.  

Brees was named the game's MVP after tying Brady's Super Bowl record with 32 completions while throwing two touchdowns without an interception.  

If winning a title was not enough for a fervent fanbase, Brees further endeared himself to the people of New Orleans when he popped up in a bar packed with Saints fans after the team's Super Bowl parade and taught them the words to the cheer he would lead his teammates through before every game of their championship season. Video of the call-and-response chant between the quarterback and the fans went viral as he worked the crowd into a frenzy with Brees exchanging high-fives and handshakes. 

Less than 10 months after winning the Super Bowl, Brees was honoured as Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, a culmination of sorts for his play on the field as well as his charitable work off it. 

In the magazine's Sportsman of the Year article, Saints tackle Jon Stinchcomb was quoted as saying, "People come up to Drew and don't say, 'Congratulations.' They say, 'Thank you. Thank you for coming here.'" 

While Brees was never able to lead the Saints back to a championship, the franchise has consistently been one of the NFL's best. 

Since 2006, only three teams have more regular-season wins than the Saints' 150 – the Patriots (181), the Packers (153) and the Steelers (153) – and New Orleans' 49 victories since 2017 are the most in the NFL. 

Despite being a quadragenarian for the past few seasons, there had been little statistical drop-off in Brees' production. He led the league in completion percentage in 2017, 2018 and 2019 before finishing second this past season, and finished in the top two in passer rating in 2017, 2018 and 2019 before a sixth-placed finish in 2020. 

This past season, however, was one of the most trying for Brees. Although he got off to a stellar start to his 20th professional season, he suffered multiple rib fractures and a collapsed right lung in Week 10, putting his future in the NFL into question. Although he missed only four games and played well at times during the final three weeks of the regular season, he had one of the worst performances of his postseason career in New Orleans' 30-20 loss to Brady the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Divisional Round game on January 17. 

Hours after throwing three interceptions and a playoff career-low 134 yards, Brees was back on the Superdome turf in street clothes with his wife and four children soaking in what would be the end of a long and emotional ride with the Saints.   

Brees achieved sainthood in New Orleans through his inspirational work in the community in helping a city rebuild, along with transforming the city's beloved football team into a winner. 

An iconic image from the Saints' celebration on the field following their Super Bowl win was Brees lifting his one-year-old son Baylen – who was wearing giant noise-cancelling headphones and a Saints jersey with his dad's name and number on the back – high over his head as confetti fell on them.  

Nearly 11 years later, Brees and Baylen shared another poignant father-son moment. 

Following the playoff loss to the Buccaneers, the quarterback dad played catch with his kids on the Superdome turf - a lasting images of Brees before he exited the Superdome leaving behind an unparalleled legacy.

Drew Brees has called time on his remarkable NFL career, announcing his retirement after 20 seasons.

The New Orleans Saints great posted on Instagram on Sunday: "After 20 years as a player in the NFL and 15 years as a Saint, it is time I retire from the game of football.

"Each day, I poured my heart and soul into being your quarterback. Until the very end, I exhausted myself to give everything I had to the Saints organisation, my team, and the great city of New Orleans.

"We shared some amazing moments together, many of which are emblazoned in our hearts and minds and will forever be a part of us.

"You have moulded me, strengthened me, inspired me, and given me a lifetime of memories.

"My goal for the last 15 years was striving to give to you everything you had given to me and more.

"I am only retiring from playing football, I am not retiring from New Orleans. This is not goodbye, rather a new beginning. Now my real life's work begins!"

Brees' retirement comes on the back of a 2020 season that ended with the Saints' Divisional Round playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

His 134-yard performance in that loss marked a meek conclusion for a quarterback who is a certainty to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame after a record-breaking two decades in the league.

Brees threw a touchdown and three interceptions at the Superdome as the Bucs prevailed 30-20, again falling short of a second Super Bowl title.

But Brees will forever be remembered as the quarterback who helped turn the Saints franchise around in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, leading them to glory in Super Bowl XLIV at the end of the 2009 season.

His was also a career in which he defied those who doubted his ability to perform at the highest level following a torn labrum suffered in 2005.

That injury led to his exit from the team that drafted him, the then-San Diego Chargers, while the Miami Dolphins opted against signing Brees over fears his shoulder had not fully healed.

Instead, it was the Saints that pounced, with Brees going on to lead the league in passing yards in seven of his seasons with New Orleans. He led the league in passing touchdowns four times and set the high watermark in passer rating twice and completion percentage six times.

A 13-time Pro Bowler, Brees was MVP in the Saints' Super Bowl triumph over the Indianapolis Colts. He also won Offensive Player of the Year twice in his career.

The 42-year-old retires as the all-time leader in passing completions (7,142) and passing yards (80,142), though Tom Brady will likely surpass him in the latter category next season.

Though he has a host of records in his possession, the drop-off in Brees' play has been obvious in recent seasons, with his display against the Bucs indicative of a player who now lacks the arm strength to elevate those around him.

His exit leaves the Saints with a massive decision to make this offseason, with Taysom Hill the only senior quarterback under contract for next season.

Head coach Sean Payton and the Saints' hierarchy will have to decide whether Hill's four-game audition in 2020 was enough for him to be named the starter or if they will aim to re-sign Jameis Winston or bring in a new face to step into Brees' sizeable shoes.

Drew Brees has called time on his remarkable NFL career, announcing his retirement after 20 seasons.

Another offseason sees another scramble for quarterbacks in the NFL.

Last year, Tom Brady was among those on the move and he ended the 2020 season with his first Super Bowl title in Tampa Bay and seventh in total.

Already in 2021 there have been significant deals at the position again, including the Los Angeles Rams' big play for Matthew Stafford, deeming him a significant upgrade on the expensive, underperforming Jared Goff.

There are big names remaining on the board, though, and we take a look at the state of play.

 

DESHAUN WATSON

It is not every day a QB of Watson's quality becomes available – and the Houston Texans might still argue he is not. But the 25-year-old was bogged down by a poor team last year, finishing 4-12 despite leading the league in overall passing yards (4,823).

Watson wants out, and the Texans would be well advised to listen to any serious offers if the alternative is to let one of the league's top talents sit on a massive contract.

The asking price will surely be high. Stafford, 33, threw for 4,084 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2020 – beaten by Watson across the board – and set a precedent when he went to the Rams for Goff, two first-round picks and a third.

What does that make Watson worth? Well, his desire to depart might bring the value down slightly, but Houston would surely expect picks as well as a QB prospect.

TUA TAGOVAILOA

Tagovailoa was the fifth pick just a year ago, but the Miami Dolphins might already be interested in moving on, especially if that means a trade for Watson.

Although there were signs of Tagovailoa's promise as he won his first three NFL starts, 2020 ended with his benching in a Week 16 comeback win and then three costly picks in a Week 17 defeat that saw the Dolphins miss the playoffs.

Miami might feel a move for Watson would make them contenders, while the Texans could use a talent like Tagovailoa in their rebuild.

There is a complication, however. The draft picks Houston would receive alongside Tagovailoa in return for Watson would be the same selections they spent themselves in a deal for offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. In order to save face, an alternative package might appeal.

SAM DARNOLD

Such an offer may well materialise elsewhere in the AFC East. The New York Jets are likely to have an interest in Watson if they move on from Darnold and do not want to try again in the draft with the second pick.

That would have been the first selection had the Jets not inexplicably rallied to two wins, gifting Trevor Lawrence to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The signing of Watson would significantly soften that blow, but it would most likely mean the Texans taking on Darnold, who has played for two more years than Tagovailoa and is still to show he is really up to the task. A career tally of 45 TDs and 39 interceptions for a passer rating of 78.6 does not compare favourably.

His team even failed when apparently tanking. Houston would hope a Darnold-led rebuild would fare better.

JIMMY GAROPPOLO

This busy market might have piqued the interest of San Francisco 49ers fans looking for a more reliable option at QB, where Garoppolo has started only 30 games in four years. It could be time for him to move on.

The landing spot for the 29-year-old would seemingly be New England, a place he knows well having previously served as Brady's understudy on the Patriots.

Brady stuck around longer than expected, so Garoppolo moved to San Francisco and performed well in 2019, starting all 16 games for the only time in his career and throwing 27 TDs before making the Super Bowl.

That proved the peak, however, with defeat in the big game, although the Pats look to be interested again having failed to properly replace - yes – Brady.

CAM NEWTON

Newton was the man Bill Belichick initially turned to, agreeing a one-year deal with the former MVP that makes him a free agent again this year.

A return to New England cannot be entirely ruled out, although a team and coach used to Brady's brilliance never really adjusted to a QB who threw only eight TDs.

Newton might have other options. Washington head coach Ron Rivera knows the player well from their time together with the Carolina Panthers and could be more appreciative of his other talents, notably a running game that brought 592 yards and 12 TDs on 137 carries in 2020.

JAMEIS WINSTON

Winston, once a number one overall pick, is another man heading for free agency. He spent last season with the New Orleans Saints but found himself third choice, behind utility player Taysom Hill, and participated in only 51 plays.

It was a far cry from the previous year when Winston was Tampa Bay's starter and involved in just about everything, remarkably throwing 33 TDs and 30 interceptions.

That 2019 campaign encapsulated how chaotic the 27-year-old can be, but he would argue he deserves to at least be competing for a start somewhere. If not back to New Orleans, Winston could be headed for somewhere like Washington and a team looking to change things on the cheap.

RUSSELL WILSON

Wilson certainly would not come cheap. And it seems improbable he would come at all, regardless of the suitor.

But noises of unhappiness in Seattle, where the Seahawks failed to give their superstar quarterback the help he needed, were followed by Wilson's agent saying only moves to the Saints, Dallas Cowboys, Las Vegas Raiders or Chicago Bears would appeal.

Dak Prescott's new deal in Dallas closed that avenue, while the Saints and Bears are already set to be way over the cap. Any blockbuster move for Seattle's most prized asset could change the entire complexion of this offseason, though.

The New Orleans Saints are in limbo.

Until Drew Brees reveals whether his playing career will continue into a 21st season, New Orleans will not be able to finalise a plan of attack for an extremely challenging offseason.

With or without Brees, the Saints need to make some significant changes, New Orleans left facing a balancing act between staying competitive and getting under a shrinking salary cap.

They are under that pressure after one of most talented rosters in the NFL again came up short in the postseason, their playoff hopes ended in the Wild Card round by their NFC South rivals and eventual Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The lessons learned from that failure will dictate how the Saints attack free agency and the draft this year.

What can be gleaned from another season in which the Saints excelled but ultimately fell short of expectations? We reflect on their 2020 using Stats Perform data.

Offense

The numbers tell a very clear story. In 2020, the Saints' passing offense was not the force it has been in previous years.

After finishing seventh in net passing yards per game (265.3) in 2019, the Saints finished 19th (234.9) in the same category in 2020.

They also had nine fewer passing plays of 25 yards or more, recording just 24 having put up 33 in 2019.

Indeed, this was a season in which the increasing limitations of Brees' arm restricted the upside of the New Orleans attack.

Brees was 14th in passing yards gained per attempt (7.54) in 2020 but his impact as a downfield thrower was minimal.

He attempted just 21 passes of 21 air yards or more in his 12 games and completed only nine of them, though five went for touchdowns.

Should Brees retire, head coach Sean Payton may be tempted to go with Taysom Hill as his replacement in 2021 after he filled in for the 42-year-old in four games in 2020.

Utility man Hill attempted nine passes of 21 air yards or more and completed five of them for 170 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 140.0, offering hope he could be an upgrade on Brees in that area.

Though there are concerns over the explosiveness of the passing game, there should be no such worries about their ground attack.

The Saints ranked eighth in the NFL in rushes of 10 yards or more (60), with 27 of those coming from Alvin Kamara.

Kamara finished fourth among running backs in scrimmage yards per game with (112.5).

With or without Brees, the Saints need to find a way to maximise the potency of their passing game so not to waste the prime years of one of the top running backs in the league and ensure they have the firepower to compete in the NFC.

Defense

One of the main reasons the Saints were able to contend despite the conservative nature of the passing offense was the strength of their defense.

The Saints were one of the premier defensive teams in football, allowing opposing offenses to move the ball at a rate of 5.01 yards per play, with only three teams bettering them in that regard.

New Orleans also had one of the most opportunistic defenses in the league, their 26 takeaways tied for third in the NFL.

The 92 points scored off those turnovers provided a substantial boost to Brees and the offense, with that resulting in the league's sixth-best tally.

The Los Angeles Rams (2) were the only team to allow fewer touchdowns of 20 yards or more than the five the Saints conceded, while New Orleans was exceptional at keeping opposing run games in check.

New Orleans forced 50 negative run plays in 2020, the negative yardage total of minus 121 fourth in the NFL behind the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.

Between their ability to limit big plays, take away the football and make offenses one dimensional through shutting down the run game, the Saints boasted an elite defense last season.

With uncertainty at the quarterback position, keeping that group together is likely to be pivotal to the Saints' hopes of staying in contention in 2021.

But for a team whose salary cap situation is the worst in the NFL, that will be easier said than done.

Offseason

Assuming the most optimistic estimate of the salary cap being $185million, the Saints are set to be $65m over it as things stand.

New Orleans look set to suffer after years of stretching the cap to its extreme, and that pain is coming in a year where they have 22 unrestricted free agents.

Brees has restructured his contract in advance of his expected retirement, helping the Saints significantly, yet their odds of keeping around defenders such as Marcus Williams, P.J. Williams and pass rusher Trey Hendrickson - who was third in the NFL with 13.5 sacks in 2020 - still look slim.

Linebacker Kwon Alexander and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who carry a combined cap hit of over $23m and can be released for a dead cap charge of just $4m, stand out as obvious potential casualties of the financial issues facing the Saints.

Should Brees indeed ride off into the sunset, New Orleans will need to decide whether to gamble on Hill or bring back Jameis Winston on an affordable deal and make him the successor.

The draft could also be an avenue by which the Saints could find Brees' heir, however, it seems more likely they will use their draft capital to reinforce a defense that could lose talent at all three levels.

Their decision-making in resolving the issue at quarterback and minimising the impact of the potential departures on defense will define whether the Saints stay at the sharp end of the NFC in 2021.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has reportedly not demanded a trade, according to his agent Mark Rodgers.

It was claimed by The Athletic that Wilson's relationship with the Seahawks coaching staff had reached breaking point.

Rodgers told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Thursday that the 32-year-old wants to play for the Seahawks, but if a trade were to be given consideration then only four teams would be in the running.

Wilson's agent named the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Las Vegas Raiders and Chicago Bears as the only viable destinations for Wilson.

At the end of last season the quarterback voiced his frustration over the number of hits he had received and spoke of wanting a greater say in team affairs.

Wilson signed a four-year, $140million extension in April 2019 which includes a no-trade clause which needs to be waive for a deal to take place.

The Seahawks finished as division champions but were stunned by Los Angeles Rams in the NFL play-offs.

New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees said he is pondering retirement after Sunday's playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while head coach Sean Payton was tight-lipped over the veteran's NFL future.

Brees and New Orleans' season came to an end following a 30-20 defeat against Tom Brady's Buccaneers in the NFC Divisional Round.

All eyes were on Brees after reports emerged pre-game claiming the 42-year-old quarterback will retire at the end of the campaign.

Brees struggled at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where the Super Bowl champion threw three interceptions – including two in the fourth quarter – while completing 19 of 34 passes for one touchdown.

"I'm gonna give myself an opportunity to think about the season, think about a lot of things, just like I did last year and make a decision," Brees told reporters when asked if he had played his final game.

Brees almost retired at the end of last season but returned for a 20th campaign in 2020, something the 13-time Pro Bowler does not regret.

"I would never regret it. Never," Brees, who was emotional as he left the field, said. "No complaints. No regrets. I've always tried to play this game with great respect and a great reverence for it, and I appreciate all that this game has given to me.

"There are obviously so many incredible memories, so many incredible relationships that have come as a result of playing in this game, and you find out so much about yourself, and you fight through so much when you play this game.

"And I would say this season, I probably had to fight through more than I've ever had to in any other season in my career, from injury to all the COVID stuff to just crazy circumstances, and it was worth every moment of it. Absolutely."

Saints boss Payton added: "I think that's probably for another press conference. And I can't speak for Drew.

"Obviously, I would take up all of my time on your question tonight. ... Obviously, he's been tremendous for this team, this city, I could go on and on. But let's wait and answer that at the right time."

Tom Brady praised the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' "incredible" defense after a playoff win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

The Buccaneers caused four turnovers, leading to 21 points, to claim a 30-20 win in the NFC Divisional Round.

Brady rushed for a late touchdown and completed 18 of 33 passes for 199 yards and two TDs as the star quarterback improved to 14-2 in the Divisional Round.

The 43-year-old hailed the Buccaneers' defense, which intercepted Saints quarterback Drew Brees three times.

"Defense was incredible all game. The turnovers were huge," he told a news conference.

"Last time we played them we lost the turnover minus-three, today was plus-four. You're not going to lose many games when you're plus-four. Just a great effort. They came up huge.

"Offensively, we made some plays when we needed to, running game was great, line protected great up front, just a great week of prep and really proud of our team and everything we put in to get to this point."

The Buccaneers will face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in their first NFC Championship Game since 2003.

Brady – a six-time Super Bowl champion – is looking forward to the matchup against the Packers, the top seed in the NFC.

"There's only four teams left, we're one of them, it's tough to get to this point," he said.

"We need a great week of practice. We've got one of the best teams in the league obviously in Green Bay, the top seed, and Aaron's playing incredible.

"They've got a great defense so it's going to be a great matchup."

Brady will start his 14th conference championship when the Buccaneers travel to Lambeau Field.

He has more conference championship wins (nine) than any other quarterback has starts, per NFL Research.

According to Stats Perform, the Buccaneers became the first team in NFL history to lose to a team by double-digit points twice during the regular season but then beat that team by double digits in the playoffs.

Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into their first NFC Championship Game since 2003 with a 30-20 win over the New Orleans Saints.

Brady, 43, and Drew Brees, 42, were below their best in the highly anticipated NFC Divisional Round clash, but the Buccaneers got the job done late at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday.

The Buccaneers scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, with Brady's rushing touchdown capping the win and setting up a clash against the Green Bay Packers.

Brady went 18 of 33 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, while Brees threw three interceptions – including two in the fourth quarter – while completing 19 of 34 passes for one TD.

The Saints' four turnovers proved costly as the Buccaneers moved into the NFC Championship Game.

Trailing 6-3, the first touchdown of the game saw Brady find Mike Evans after Sean Murphy-Bunting intercepted Brees.

The Saints' response came through Jameis Winston, who threw a 56-yard TD pass to Tre'Quan Smith, and the teams were level at 13-13 at half-time.

Brees and Brady traded TD passes in the third quarter to Smith and Leonard Fournette respectively, keeping the game level with a quarter to play.

Ryan Succop's 36-yard field goal put the Buccaneers 23-20 up and Devin White intercepted Brees to give Tampa Bay another chance, which Brady took.

 

Turning point – White steps up with well-timed interception

Brees and the Saints were looking to respond to Succop's fourth-quarter field goal, but instead gifted Tampa Bay an opportunity to extend their three-point lead as White intercepted the QB.

The Buccaneers made no mistake, and it was Brady rushing over from one yard to give his team a decisive 30-20 lead.

Brady gets it done again in Divisional Round

The Buccaneers' win saw Brady improve his record in the Divisional Round to 14-2.

The six-time Super Bowl champion may have been below his absolute best, but he still got it done, putting the Buccaneers into the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2003.

What's next?

Brady and the Buccaneers face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field on January 24.

For the Saints, meanwhile, there is plenty of talk about Brees' future amid reports the quarterback is set to retire.

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