Jul 25, 2012 10:54 PM by AP
Drew Brees was nearly two weeks removed from becoming the highest paid player in NFL history when he showed up at training camp wearing shorts, a T-shirt and flip flops, looking a lot like the same guy he's been since growing up in the heart of Texas.
Sure, he now has a five-year contract paying an average of $20 million a year to go with all of his record-breaking statistics, but he insists that won't change his approach to his pro football career or his personal life.
"It's not pressure, it's a sense of responsibility," Brees said of his new contract, which he received after he missed all voluntary offseason practices and mandatory minicamp. "I'm careful not to put that extra pressure on myself.
"The fact is that I just need to be me. I know the things I need to improve upon," Brees continued. "I know the type of leader I need to be. I know the type of example I need to be. I also know that it's a process and that it doesn't happen overnight. To me, it's business as usual."
During the past six seasons, business as usual for Brees has been more akin to the spectacular. During that stint, he not only led the Saints to their only Super Bowl title, but has completed more passes (2,488) for more yards (28,394) and more touchdowns (201) than any other quarterback in the NFL. His 67.8 percent completion rate spanning the past six seasons also tops the league.
In 2011, Brees set NFL single-season records with 468 completions, 5,476 yards passing and a completion percentage of 71.2. His prolific passing numbers helped the Saints set an NFL high for total offensive yards in a season with 7,474. Brees' yards passing record shattered a mark of 5,084 set by Dan Marino back in 1984.
All the while, Brees has become arguably the most popular athlete New Orleans has ever had by maintaining an engaging, down-to-earth relationship with the fans he signs autographs for after training camp practices, or runs into while playing with sons Baylen and Bowen in Audubon Park near his home in the city's uptown neighborhood.
His everyman persona was only strengthened by his recollection of how he reacted to confirmation of his massive new contract two Fridays ago.
"The minute I got off the phone, I changed Bowen's poopy diaper. I then went downstairs and did a little whites in the washer. And then I went upstairs and put Baylen's lunch in the refrigerator," Brees recalled. "That was pretty much standard operation every day during the offseason, so nothing changed. Didn't jump up and down. Didn't do anything."
Brees said he also won't tie the value of his contract to statistical goals.
"I've been down that road and I don't do that," Brees said. "I do make this goal every camp, every season: I want to be a little bit better this year than I was the year before. You can't always measure that with statistics. It will be hard to ever match last year's statistics. There's a lot of things that have to come together in order to do that. Statistics don't always equal success in wins and losses and playoffs and championships."
Saints safety Roman Harper said he was certain Brees would have his new contract and report for training camp on time Tuesday, even as fans grew nervous the longer the star QB's holdout lasted.
"I was never shocked or worried about Drew not signing a contract," Harper said. "It's just better for this team, for this whole city. It was going to happen. But all it means, now that I see Drew, is that we're about to start work. ... It means it's time to kick it up another level. We can put all this other stuff behind us and move on, and get ready to try and win us a championship."
Brees' return offered a needed dose of positive news for a club carrying around the weight of the bounty scandal that resulted in season-long suspensions of head coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, among other sanctions.
Assistant head coach Joe Vitt said the Saints never doubted that Brees would be fully prepared for training camp, despite his absence. They just missed having him around.
"He is certainly the greatest player that I've ever been around and I'm going on 34 years (in coaching)," Vitt said. "This is a player whose character and integrity outweigh his playmaking ability. And I'll say this, we would certainly miss a guy like Drew Brees in (offseason practices), his ability getting the team in and out of huddle and stressing the defense with his throws, but just more than anything else, we missed the person."
Vitt also dismissed the notion that Brees' new contract would change him.
"Drew is Drew. And again, one of the earmarks of a great player and a great leader is that he is steady," Vitt said. "What we've seen in the past is what we will see in the future. He doesn't have highs and lows. His preparation has always been a premium for him. His leadership has always been great. I can't foresee him changing one bit. That is the way he is."