The window is closing on the career of Drew Brees.
But, at age 40, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a season or two of greatness left.
Brees has played 18 NFL seasons and completed more passes for more yards than any quarterback in history. He has won two NFL passing titles, a Super Bowl and has been a league MVP. He needs 20 more touchdown passes this season to break the NFL career record held by Peyton Manning, who never played a down in his 40s.
This season Brees will become just the 18th quarterback in history to take an NFL snap in his 40s. Fourteen of the previous 17 started games in their 40s and 13 of them won games. Fifteen of them threw touchdown passes. But nine of the 16 played only one season and 13 of them passed for fewer than 2,000 yards in their 40s.
The oldest quarterback to throw a pass in the NFL was George Blanda at age 48 in 1975. The oldest quarterbacks to start games in the NFL were Steve DeBerg, Warren Moon and Vinny Testaverde, all at the age of 44. The oldest quarterbacks to go to a Pro Bowl were Moon and Tom Brady, both at the age of 41. Brady also became the oldest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl at 41, accomplishing the feat last season.
Brady, obviously, is the anomaly. Only three quarterbacks have been able to complete 16-game seasons in their 40s and Brady has done it twice. The other was Brett Favre at Minnesota in 2009. Favre also set a record for 40-year-olds with his 33 touchdown passes that season. But he played only one more season at the age of 41 and was finished.
Brady set the record for 40-year-olds with his 4,577 passing yards at 40 in 2017, helping the Patriots reach the Super Bowl. His 13 victories that season also stand as a record for this age group. His 4,355 passing yards at 41 in 2018 rank second on the list and helped New England win its record sixth Lombardi Trophy. The only other quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in a single season in his 40s was Favre, who threw for 4,202 in 2009.
Blanda played eight seasons in his 40s, primarily as a kicker. He started only one game at quarterback in his 40s, serving as a relief pitcher for Daryle Lamonica and Ken Stabler. He threw just 235 passes in those eight seasons. Testaverde and Moon both played five seasons in their 40s, Doug Flutie four and Earl Morrall three.
If Brees starts all 16 games this season, he will become only the fifth quarterback to hit double-digits in career starts in his 40s. Moon set the record with 33, followed by Brady and Testaverde with 32 apiece. Favre started 29 games, then the falloff dramatic. Matt Hasselbeck is up next with eight.
Brady already holds the career marks by 40-year-old quarterbacks for passing attempts (1,150), completions (760), yards (8,932) and touchdowns (61) – and he’ll add to those totals in 2019 as he enters his 20th season. Brees will be the only other 40-year-old quarterback in the NFL this season.
Brees passed for 3,992 yards in 2018 at 39, the fewest passing yards of his 13 years in New Orleans. You’d have to go all the way back to 2005 in his final year in San Diego to find a season Brees threw for fewer than 4,000 yards (3,576). But he did set an NFL record by completing 74.4 percent of his passes in 2018 and still threw for 32 touchdowns. His five interceptions were the fewest since his rookie season in 2001 when he didn’t start a game for the Chargers and threw only 27 passes.
Five of the previous 17 quarterbacks to play into their 40s have busts in Canton – Blanda, Favre, Moon, Len Dawson of the Kansas City Chiefs and Sonny Jurgensen of the Washington Redskins. Brady will be the sixth and Brees the seventh. But their clocks are ticking. Both Brady and Brees are special -- but special doesn't last forever. No player in NFL history has ever beaten Father Time.