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Brees on Bolts: 'I can't promise you what happens if I'm not there'
National Football League News Wire
SAN DIEGO -- Where the San Diego Chargers see only a damaged shoulder, Drew Brees sees much more.
Which is why Brees feels the Chargers are making a big mistake in essentially shoving him out the door by letting him test the free-agent market.
"I've always believed that this can be a successful organization, and I believe that the time is now," the quarterback said Friday afternoon, hours before free agency began. "That time is only now if I'm there, I can promise you that. I can't promise you what happens if I'm not there."
Odds are pretty good that Brees, 20-11 the last two seasons, won't be back for a sixth year with the Chargers. As disappointed as Brees is with the Chargers for failing to make him an acceptable contract offer, he expects to reach a quick deal with another team.
"We've already got things lined up, and we'll be rocking and rolling the minute the clock strikes midnight," Brees said from Birmingham, Ala., where he continues to rehab his surgically repaired right shoulder.
Suitors are expected to include New Orleans and Miami, among others.
If Brees leaves, the Chargers would lose a Pro Bowler who led them to their only playoff appearance in the last decade, in 2004. Taking his place would be Philip Rivers, the fourth pick overall in the 2004 draft who has thrown only 30 passes the last two seasons.
With the Chargers already out of playoff contention due to a late-season collapse, Brees tore the labrum and damaged the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder while trying to recover a fumble in the meaningless finale. He had surgery on Jan. 5. The day before, general manager A.J. Smith called Brees in an attempt to put his mind at ease, telling him the team would try to get a long-term deal done.
Talks went nowhere and the Chargers, who've said they have plenty of room under the salary cap, declined to designate Brees as its franchise or transition player. That would have guaranteed Brees nearly $10 million in salary next season.
Smith recently said the team has "medical concerns," declining to elaborate.
Brees said his rehab is ahead of schedule, and Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery, expects a full recovery.
"Of course they made their offer and they called it their attempt at a long-term deal, one year with a five-year option," Brees said. "I understand everyone has their concerns, but I invite anybody to come here and look me in the eye and tell me I'm not going to come back from this."
Brees, who's meshed well with star running back LaDainian Tomlinson and helped turn tight end Antonio Gates into a two-time All-Pro, said the worse-case scenario would be that he wouldn't take a snap this year.
"But there's plenty of upside, and that's that I'm going to come back and be better than ever," he said.
Brees said that even if he wasn't able to play right away in the fall, he'd still be able to work with the younger quarterbacks and provide leadership. Brees was the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year in 2004, when he led the Chargers to the AFC West title at 12-4.
"If I leave and go somewhere else and be very successful like I plan on doing, they have a lot to lose," Brees added. "I guess in a way, I've laid my butt on the line for them a lot in the last five years. There have been ups and downs, and I laid my butt on line. I wish there was somebody there who would lay their butt on the line for me, besides the head coach and the players."
Smith's name was conspicuously missing.
"Did A.J. draft me? No," Brees said. "Did A.J. draft Philip? Enough said."
Brees was drafted with the first pick of the second round in 2001 by John Butler, who died of cancer in April 2003. Smith was promoted to replace Butler 11 days later. After Brees' dismal 2003 season, Smith took Eli Manning with the first pick in the 2004 draft, then traded him to the New York Giants for Rivers and a handful of picks. But Rivers held out, allowing Brees to keep his job.
Smith didn't return a phone call on Friday.
Smith's decision to let Brees walk added to the friction he's had with coach Marty Schottenheimer. Schottenheimer was unhappy when Smith traded third-string quarterback Cleo Lemon to Miami for A.J. Feeley and a draft pick during last season. And Smith was believed to be upset that Schottenheimer didn't start Rivers over Brees in the meaningless season finale. Rivers looked shaky when he replaced the injured Brees.
"I know they've got issues that are beyond me," Brees said.
Smith's decision to become a free agent seemingly goes against two of his core beliefs: quarterback depth, which is why he wouldn't trade Brees or Rivers, and taking care of the team's own players first
While wishing the best for the players and coaches he'd leave behind, Brees sagely noted: "They've got to get another quarterback, anyway."
San Diego's other quarterback, Feeley, didn't play after his midseason acquisition from Miami, where he was a bust.