The Saints had a backup plan, just in case.
If Drew Brees decided he didn’t want to sign with New Orleans after the 2005 season, the Saints planned on drafting a quarterback and signing a veteran to mentor him. Having gone 3-13 the year before, the Saints would rebuild the old-fashioned way.
It probably would have happened that way, too, had the Dolphins been comfortable with Brees’ surgically repaired right shoulder. Instead, they traded for the Vikings’ Daunte Culpepper, and the free-agent Brees signed with the Saints.
“We were fortunate to get Drew,” new Bears GM Ryan Pace, who worked for the Saints for 14 years, said Friday.
It was, without a doubt, one of the most fortunate turns in NFL history.
Since signing with the Saints, Brees has been the AP Offensive Player of the Year twice, the Walter Payton Man of the Year and Super Bowl MVP. In games started, the Saints were 31 games over .500.
“I witnessed things with Drew Brees that I have in my mind —that I know why he was successful —and those are ingrained in me,” Pace said.
Which brings us — and Pace — to Jay Cutler.
Bears management agreed to give control of Cutler’s future to Pace and whomever he hires as head coach. They could trade Cutler, release him or let him stay for at least another season, after which his contract would be more palatable.
Comparing Cutler —and most quarterbacks —to Brees is a losing proposition.
But Pace has seen the way a star quarterback becomes the face of the team, shapes its work ethic and turns around a once-moribund franchise.
Can Cutler do that?
Pace wouldn’t tip his hand Friday, even though he’s undoubtedly familiar with Cutler. The Saints have played the Bears in three of the last four seasons.
“I want to get to know Jay,” he said. “I want to get to know him further before I come to these conclusions.”
Unlike finalist Chris Ballard, a former Halas Hall acolyte, Pace has no ties to Cutler.
Pace said he’d meet with Cutler soon, but not before his coaching search ends. The implication, too, is that Cutler won’t have an influence on the coaching hire.
“I’ll have time to talk to Jay,” he said. “But I don’t have a set date.”
There’s more to a quarterback than his film, Pace said, though, as an evaluator, it’s hard to imagine he discounts it.
“There are a lot of other things that go into the position,” he said. “And for me to fully answer that question I need to get to know him as a person.”
And while no one would detail Pace’s job interview evaluation of Cutler, chairman George McCaskey said he gave a “good, cogent, succinct assessment” of the Bears.
“The quarterback obviously is a critical, critical position to achieve sustained success,” Pace said. “But it’s not the only position. For us to have a lot of success, all 53 guys are going to be accounted for.”
One, though, will be circled.
“I think a lot of people would say that obviously the intangibles of the quarterback position is critical, right?” Pace said. “There are things that might carry more weight for me on a quarterback than maybe another evaluator.
“Drew’s left an impression on me regarding that. But, no, you evaluate every position the same way. There are certain traits and qualities you look for at each position.
“But overall, the discipline, toughness, instincts, intelligence. We want reliable players that you know what you’re getting from them on game day.”