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Instant Debate

Drew Brees vs. Tom Brady: Who'll become king of career passing yards?

Heading into the 2017 campaign, two active players rank among the top five in career passing yards:

1) Peyton Manning (1998-2015): 71,940
2) Brett Favre (1991-2010): 71,838
3) Drew Brees (2001-present): 66,111
4) Tom Brady (2000-present): 61,582
5) Dan Marino (1983-1999): 61,361

As you can see, Brees and Brady are trending toward eventually holding the top two slots on this list. At 38, Brees is more than a year younger than Brady and holds a 4,529-yard advantage. Brady has repeatedly stated a desire to play into his mid-40s -- *at least*. And Brees recently said on SiriusXM NFL Radio, "Taking it one year at a time, but I feel like I can play until I'm 45. It's a huge investment, though." All of this begs the question ...

Who's more likely to end up as the NFL's king of passing yards: Brees or Brady?

Tom Brady is far less likely to suffer an injury that will keep him from performing at the 4,000- to 4,500-yard level he's been at. Drew Brees has a gunslinger mentality and depends on athleticism to play at a high level. Despite 5,000-plus yards being the standard for him, Brees is exposed to more hits that we don't see Brady take. To end Brady's career, you're going to have to end him physically, but it's so hard to get to him because he manipulates a four-by-four pocket better than anyone I've ever seen.

Because of their different styles, Brees might have two or three years left, while Brady might have four to six. I'm going with Brady on this one. If they both play the same amount of years going forward, barring injury, Brees will finish with the most yards. The Saints play from behind more than the Patriots, which allows Brees to rack up passing yards. The Patriots have more balance and change their game plan often, rather than routinely relying on Brady's arm to carry them. I am going with Tom Brady. He is one good season behind Drew Brees. Going forward, he will be with a better team in a weaker division. Now, no one knows how long either guy will play -- or how health could factor in. But here's the simple truth: I never pick against Tom Brady. It's gonna be Brees. The 4,500-yard lead isn't insurmountable for Brady -- he'd just have to play a year or two longer than Brees -- but the way the two offenses have historically functioned will make it tough for Brady to catch up. The Patriots have been so adept at prevailing in different ways. That's great for New England's prospects of winning; not so much for Brady necessarily always racking up yards. On the flip side, the Saints have always lived and died on Brees' arm. As long as that continues, Brees has the inside track to the record. While I find it's the best practice to never bet against Tom Brady, I have to give the advantage to Brees here. The Saints quarterback has led the league in passing yards in five of the past six years, and even if his offense shifts to a slightly more run-heavy approach with Adrian Peterson in town (I have my doubts), he has a 4,529-yard lead entering this year. That's a figure Brady has crossed just four times in his illustrious career, while Brees has failed to reach that plateau just once in the last nine years (2009).

Brees has long been a statistical machine in New Orleans, and given his advantage at this point, I find it hard to believe that Brady will surpass him unless he lasts a few more seasons longer than Brees. I think Drew Brees will break Peyton Manning's record -- not this year, but in the eighth game of the 2018 season. I'm not concerned about him retiring early, as long as he's healthy, because I believe he just wants to play and secure his long-term legacy.

Tom Brady has a chance to top Brees -- in fact, I think Brady 
*will* top Manning's mark, just after Brees -- but he ultimately won't be able to catch up, simply because he doesn't get as many opportunities to rack up the air yards in New England as Brees does in New Orleans. 

Brees has the advantage for one simple reason: He has to throw more for his team to win. The Saints have been saddled with a lousy defense for years, which means they always ask more of their offense than most teams in the league. Brees also leads Brady by more than 4,500 career yards already and he has averaged 5,141 passing yards over the last six seasons. As brilliant as Brady is, he can't keep pace with that.

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