How Drew Brees Almost Replaced Brett Favre
When quarterback Drew Brees retires, he will finish his Hall of Fame career with a Super Bowl ring and a collection of some of the most impressive NFL records for a quarterback.
Before his career began in earnest with the New Orleans Saints in 2006, the Packers were interested in Brees as a veteran counterpart to Aaron Rodgers.
Brees represented an entirely different course for the Packers. If Favre were to retire, having Brees mentor Rodgers could improve the young quarterback’s chances of making it in the league. In his last two years with the Chargers, Brees won 20 games and threw 51 touchdowns alongside a 96.1 passer rating.
The 2005 Packers lost 12 games for the first time since 1991, and head coach Mike Sherman swiftly departed after the season ended. Ted Thompson hired an unknown commodity in San Francisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy.
Brett Favre’s retirement decision in 2006
Because of how Brett Favre’s time with the Packers ended in the 2008, it’s easy to forget just how uneasy Favre was about returning for the 2006 campaign.
There were two factors that would decide whether Favre would return in 2006. First, Favre saw the 4-12 record as an indication the Packers would be in for a long-term rebuilding process. He wasn’t sure if he had the motivation to keep playing for a team that didn’t have their sights set on winning a Super Bowl.
Second, Favre understood his $7 million salary and $3 million roster bonus represented about 10 percent of the team’s $102 million salary cap in 2006. If Green Bay wasn’t going all in, it didn’t make sense to Favre for the team to spend millions on a 36-year-old quarterback.
Over the 114 days between the end of the 2005 season and when Favre told the Packers he would return for 2006, Thompson began making contingency plans.
Green Bay's interest in Brees
According to a February 2006 report by Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Packers were interested in acquiring Brees when he was with the Chargers after Brees torn cartilage in his shoulder that caused him to miss the final nine games of 2003.
Silverstein indicated that the team still showed similar interest in the quarterback as a veteran counterpart to the second-year Rodgers, if Favre retired.
Complicating matters was Brees' shoulder. He suffered the same injury as the 2003 season in the Chargers' final game in 2005. It was a massive blow for the rising star, who was in an unenviable position of being an injury-prone quarterback looking for a long-term deal.
If Favre were to have retired, Thompson would have had the league’s most salary cap room if Favre retired. Brees desired $10 million annually, which coincidentally was almost exactly what Brett Favre was scheduled to make in 2006.
Why show interest in Drew Brees?
Thompson made his first draft pick with the Packers the riskiest pick of his career when he selected California quarterback Aaron Rodgers in 2005.
At Rodgers’ first minicamp in June 2005, quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell told the Journal Sentinel the rookie “performed erratically” and was “overwhelmed by an onslaught of new information.” The rookie regularly under threw receivers, struggled against the blitz and abandoned deep passes in his first preseason.
By November, it was clear the Packers’ season was lost. Would Green Bay turn to their rookie quarter to see what they had in the young Rodgers?
"Favre still gives the team and Mike Sherman, his coach, the best chance to win,” reported ESPN’s Chris Mortensen on November 7, 2006. “Rodgers has not exactly inspired confidence from his teammates or his coaching staff, based on pre-season and practice."
A month later, Monday Night Football analyst Joe Theismann said in an interview on November 29 with a Milwaukee radio station that “after another ball game or so, you get the young guy ready to go out and take some snaps under center.”
“To me, it would be a disaster if Brett decided to retire and next year all of a sudden you start with a guy who has never taken a snap," Theismann said.
The season ended with a 4-12 record, and Rodgers stayed firmly on the bench as Favre finished with a career-high 29 interceptions.
It didn’t help that the next head coach, Mike McCarthy, had the option of selecting Rodgers in the 2005 NFL Draft with the quarterback hungry 49ers and chose Utah’s Alex Smith instead. McCarthy, according to Bob McGinn in April 2006, spent months studying both Smith and Rodgers and made the recommendation to draft Smith.