Drew Brees almost had his Kirk Cousins-Michael Penix Jr moment: Saints wanted Patrick Mahomes in 2017


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On April 27, 2017, Drew Brees was down in the Louisiana bayou hog hunting with some of his college roommates. 

When they were finished, Brees and his buddies went to the New Orleans Saints’ facility to grab some grub. Brees was also well aware that the 2017 NFL Draft was starting later that night.

It was at the facility where Brees got a text from his head coach, Sean Payton, who wanted him to come down to the draft room – many refer to it as the “War Room” – to get an inside look at what the team was planning to do in Round 1. 

“It’s the only time I’ve ever been in the draft room,” Brees told Fox News Digital, smiling as he recalled witnessing one of the biggest what-if moments in NFL Draft history. 

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Drew Brees speaks to the Saints crowd

Former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees speaks to the fans during halftime of the game between the Buffalo Bills and the New Orleans Saints at Caesars Superdome on Nov. 25, 2021 in New Orleans. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Brees strolls down to the war room with a future Hall of Fame resume already in place if he were to retire on the spot ahead of his 12th season with the franchise. The 2009 Super Bowl, along with the MVP for the game, was in the bag. He was coming off his third straight season leading the NFL in passing yards, tallying 5,208 with 37 touchdowns in 2016. Pro Bowls galore, 2006 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, 2006 All-Pro — you get the gist. 

Brees is Saints royalty, and even at 38 years old, he is still in great shape to lead the franchise at quarterback. However, any franchise would need a contingency plan considering Brees’ age as he entered his 17th season overall in the league, even if he was showing no signs of decline.

So, as Brees entered the war room, he learned what his head coach wanted to do with their No. 11 overall pick: draft Texas Tech product Patrick Mahomes. 

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“Look, I know that Sean Payton wanted to draft Patrick Mahomes back in 2017,” he said while also discussing his excitement as a new investor with Sports Illustrated Tickets. “Had Mahomes been there at pick No. 11, we probably would’ve taken him.”

What happened next altered a franchise not named the New Orleans Saints.

The Kansas City Chiefs traded with the Buffalo Bills to jump one pick above the Saints at No. 10 overall to select Mahomes. The return on investment there goes without saying.

The Saints ended up drafting cornerback Marshon Lattimore, and Brees understated the pick by saying “not too shabby” because Lattimore was believed to be a definite top 10 selection, but he fell into the Saints’ laps. He was the 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year and has made it to four Pro Bowls as the team’s top secondary man. 

Brees reminiscing is relevant today because of what happened with the Saints’ NFC South foe during the 2024 NFL Draft – the Atlanta Falcons. 

Drew Brees

Former Boilermaker and current New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees watches the action during an NCAA football game between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Purdue Boilermakers on Nov. 19, 2016 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Atlanta had a killer offseason, bringing in new head coach Raheem Morris and landing the best quarterback on the free agent market, Kirk Cousins. 

Cousins is coming off an Achilles tear in his final season with the Minnesota Vikings, but he was slinging the rock with 2,331 yards and 18 touchdowns to five interceptions over eight games before going down. With over 4,200 yards passing in three straight seasons, and the Falcons desperately needing a change at the quarterback position, they struck a deal with Cousins for four years at $180 million with $100 million guaranteed. 

The Falcons got their franchise quarterback, so many expected them to go into the 2024 Draft looking to upgrade elsewhere on the roster in the first round with a solid pick at No. 8 overall. 

KIRK COUSINS HAS ‘NO BEEF’ WITH FALCONS DESPITE TEAM’S SURPRISING DECISION TO DRAFT MICHAEL PENIX

What they decided to do instead shocked the football universe, as they drafted Michael Penix Jr. out of Washington, a quarterback, despite already signing a veteran for a large amount of money, at No. 8. 

Cousins has said he has “no beef” with the Falcons for picking Penix, but when the pick went down, reports surfaced saying Cousins was not in the know like Brees had been with the Mahomes situation back in 2017. Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, told ESPN at the time of the draft that there was confusion and frustration in his client’s camp because he did not even strap on a Falcons helmet before a successor was drafted. 

Again, a different situation than Brees, but the result could have been the same had the Saints drafted Mahomes. So, Brees can understand what Cousins is going through because he thought about it right in that war room seven years ago. 

In the end, Brees would have accepted going with Mahomes at No. 11. 

Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins laugh at Pro Bowl

Kirk Cousins, #8 of the Minnesota Vikings, Drew Brees, #9 of the New Orleans Saints, and Russell Wilson, #3 of the Seattle Seahawks, visit with Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll before the NFC team photo on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020 in Kissimmee, Florida. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

“I wouldn’t have taken offense to it,” Brees said. “The organization has to do what it has to do. They have to prepare for the future.

“If I were in that situation, I would’ve been like, ‘Hey Coach, you have to do what you have to do. You have to prepare for the future. Man, it would’ve been nice to get a receiver, or DB, or get a lineman or D-lineman to help the team.’ Because I still see myself as the guy. 

“Certainly, Cousins is in the position where he’s thinking to himself, ‘Hey, I’m the starter here for three, four years. Then, I’ll help develop this guy, and they’re either going to have to trade him or he’s going to replace me.’”

Cousins was asked by the “Bussin’ with the Boys” podcast if he had any hard feelings for the pick, and he took the high road much like Brees would have done. 

“I don’t think there can be. I don’t think it’s helpful,” Cousins said. “…Let’s all be on the same page and try and go win a Super Bowl.”

Cousins could have been mad at the moment, which is a fair assessment after joining a new team in the offseason. However, the reality of the situation is Cousins will be 36 years old when the 2024 season begins, coming off a torn Achilles. More importantly, he will be 38 years old in 2026, the season before the Falcons have a potential opt-out of his new contract. 

Like Brees said, while franchises are always trying to win now, thinking about the future is paramount to consistent success. The Falcons believe Penix could be their guy after Cousins, and they made the move to nab him. Sure, it was earlier than many expected Penix to go, but when you believe in a player, especially at the most important position in the sport, you don’t take the risk he’ll be available later.

The only thing Cousins can do now is what Brees did in 2017, knowing his head coach was thinking about a potential successor. He led his team to an NFC South victory with an 11-5 record, 4,334 passing yards and 23 touchdown passes. Brees and the Saints were even better in 2018, as he went 13-2 as a starter while the team was 13-3 to win the division again. 

Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins at midfield

Kirk Cousins, #8 of the Minnesota Vikings, talks with Drew Brees, #9 of the New Orleans Saints, after a preseason game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Aug. 9, 2019 in New Orleans. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Brees led the NFL in completion rate each year from 2017-19, and went 41-13 as the Saints’ quarterback in his final four seasons before retiring in 2020. 

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Brees is certain Cousins will have the same mindset as he joins a Falcons team on the verge of exploding. 

“Worry about the things you can control,” Brees said. “They got a talented roster – Drake London, Bijan Robinson. I think they’re going to be explosive.”

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