Even if Sean Payton, Jonathan Vilma and the rest of the franchise weren't embroiled in Bountygate and things were hunky dory, Brees is still the straw that stirs the drink. The offense works because of him and he works because of the offense.
Now, with Payton and all the others disciplined because of the bounty scandal, Brees' importance is significantly greater. He is needed more than ever. There is no better leader or more respected teammate -- though Ray Lewis is comparable -- in the NFL. Saints players gravitate to Brees. New Orleans players and coaches know that as long as he plays, they have a chance.
To expand even further, Brees is the most popular person -- not just athlete -- in the Gulf region. He is a god to people in the area, particularly Saints fans. To not have him on the field for whatever reason would devastate that passionate fan base.
Peyton Manning is the most indispensable player in the NFL heading into next season. Even though he has yet to take a snap for the Denver Broncos, his absence would cripple the team's postseason hopes. John Fox and Mike McCoy have rebuilt the offense around Manning's skill set and preferences, and the team lacks a competent backup quarterback to run the system in his absence.
Not trying to downplay McCoy's ability to get another quarterback ready to play, but I can't imagine the Broncos thriving without Manning under center.
This choice is easy: The answer is clearly Drew Brees. He joined the Saints in 2006 and has led them to four postseason appearances and a Super Bowl title. If you want to know his worth, look at the condition this franchise was in before his arrival. From 1993 to 2005, the Saints made the playoffs a whopping one time!
Last year, the answer was easy and almost indisputable: Peyton Manning. Prior to last season, the Colts were the dominant team in the AFC South and an annual Super Bowl contender on the AFC side. But Peyton's absence from the 2011 campaign sent the Colts into a downward spiral that saw them finish as the worst team in the NFL.
As the 2012 season beckons, the answer is not as clear. Many NFL cities could make the case that their face of the franchise is the most indispensable. Denver now has Peyton Manning. Eli Manning has stepped up, and assumed that role for the Giants. Aaron Rodgers has supplanted Brett Favre as that guy in Green Bay to the point that it's no longer debatable. And since my theme expresses a belief that QBs are overwhelmingly the most indispensable players on NFL rosters, my winner for 2012 is Drew Brees.
The Saints have taken more hits in the offseason than any franchise in my memory. They've lost their head coach, general manager and assistant head coach for periods of time ranging from six games to the entire season. A former defensive coordinator is gone but unable to be forgotten, try as the team -- and city -- may. Captain (and soul of the defense) Jonathan Vilma is currently appealing a season-long suspension. But the true face, the driving force of the Saints, is their QB.
Brees went all-in when he moved his family to New Orleans -- as a player, as a teammate and as a member of the community. Alienate and lose him? The Saints win maybe four games next year. Placate him and have him lead the "US against THEM" campaign that's sure to be the Saints' rally cry in 2012, and they still are among the favorites in the NFC South. Drew "Indispensable" Brees gets the nod from me.
I will go with Drew Brees. The loss of Sean Payton certainly will add to his importance this year, but in any year Brees is one of those players who elevates the performance of the whole team. The Saints' offense doesn't feature a receiver you have to double. They don't have a true No. 1 RB who can take over a game running the ball. Their offensive tackles -- a huge key in pass protection -- are average. RB Darren Sproles and TE Jimmy Graham are legit threats in the passing game, though. But the key to New Orleans' success on offense is Brees' ability to spread the ball around and keep the defense off balance.
- Jason Smith NFL.com
Bears' collapse last season put Cutler's importance on full display
There are a lot of players who immediately make you say, "Well, he's the most indispensable, because if you take him away, that team would be awful." But you would've said that about Tom Brady, yet Matt Cassel came in and won 11 games when Brady went down for the 2008 season. Chris Johnson once fell in that category, but he had a down season last year and the Titans still won nine games, almost squeaking into the playoffs. So I think to really answer this question fairly you have to look at what's happened when an elite player has missed time -- how his team responded -- because the rest is just speculation. I'll give you three guys in that category, and my most indispensable is going to be a bit of a surprise.
First, Matthew Stafford. In his first fully healthy season, the Lions won 10 games and made the playoffs. He played in just 13 games over his first two NFL seasons and the Lions record was a combined 8-24 (and don't forget about that 0-16 back in '08). We saw how the Colts responded without Peyton Manning, going 2-14 with basically all the same weapons Manning has had at his disposal the last few years. It was embarrassing.
But you want to know which player is the most important to his team? It's Jay Cutler. Last season, the Bears were motoring toward a deep playoff run, having won five in a row after adjusting their offense. But then Cutler went down against the Chargers, and Chicago responded by losing its next five games. Had Cutler stayed healthy, I think the Bears would have at least made the NFC Championship Game -- which is where they were in 2010, Cutler's second year with the team. In fact, with a healthy Cutler this season, the Bears are my early pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Aaron Rodgers won the 2011 NFL MVP, but Brees edges out the Packers quarterback as the league's most indispensable player. The Bountygate suspensions of defensive leader Jonathan Vilma, head coach Sean Payton and others, as well as the improvement of NFC South counterparts, will already make the 2012 season an uphill battle for New Orleans. Imagining the offense in the hands of backup passer Chase Daniel -- losing not only Brees' accuracy and decision-making on the field, but also his leadership -- is not a pleasant thought for Saints fans.
First off, let's set aside any position other than QB. Guys like DeMarcus Ware, Darrelle Revis, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Haloti Ngata cover up major shortcomings elsewhere on the field, but experts tell me this is now a quarterback league. So let's look at some signal-calling candidates:
• Tom Brady can't be the answer: Matt Cassel went 11-5 with the team after Brady's Week 1 knee injury in '08.
• How 'bout the reigning MVP, Aaron Rodgers? Nope. The sample size is much smaller than the Pats minus Brady, but Green Bay's offensive machine has run so efficiently over the last couple years, it earned backup QB Matt Flynn millions of dollars in the offseason.
• Peyton Manning will get consideration from some after the collapse of the Colts last season, but that team was primed for a free fall -- with or without No. 18 -- and the offensive apocalypse was owed more to the organization's decade-long failure to get a halfway-decent backup.
• Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger are the single-most indispensable players to their respective teams, but the great Giants and Steelers defenses would be able to pick up some slack.
So, who does that leave? Why, it's Drew Brees, of course. Jimmy Graham is a revelation, Marques Colston is as steady as they come, Pierre Thomas is a dynamite grinder and Darren Sproles is an inspiration to Bieber-sized athletes everywhere. But Brees is the lynchpin. And the so-called "opportunistic" defense has gotten those opportunities largely because Brees' prolific offense puts pressure on the opposing offensive coordinator to take some gambles.
If you asked this question at any point in the last decade, the answer would be the same. Peyton Manning remains the most indispensable player in the NFL, even in a new town.
The Broncos have an average roster that was very lucky to win eight games last year. They face a brutal schedule this season. And they have absolutely no safety net or offensive structure in place to survive if Manning gets hurt again. Second-round pick Brock Osweiler and Caleb Hanie aren't ready. The rest of the Broncos offense isn't ready because Manning essentially will act as a player-coach this year. If Manning got hurt in camp, the Broncos might just be picking No. 1 overall next year. It worked out pretty well for the Colts.
The Saints predictably are approaching the 2012 season with an "us against the world" mentality. But why is the team taking an "us against the quarterback who ended decades of futility" mindset, too? That's really hard to fathom, considering no player means more to his team than Drew Brees does to the Saints.
New Orleans flourished last season because Brees held the team together during the lockout by organizing team workouts. And the Saints need that now more than ever, considering Sean Payton is out for an entire season. The Saints need Brees, and for the sake of Saints fans, I hope the organization realizes that before it's too late.