Is Drew Brees an Immediate Sell in Dynasty Leagues?

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There comes a point in every player’s career where their production hits a cliff and they are no longer the same player. This can happen for a variety of reasons like age, injuries, teammates, etc. As dynasty players, we try to stay ahead of the curve by selling high on such players before they reach their cliff to get a maximum return on value. This is hard to say, and may be hard to digest for some, but Drew Brees is one of those players.

This might sound obvious given his age and the upcoming youth influx at the quarterback position. But to others, this is THE Drew Brees, the most consistent fantasy quarterback on a yearly basis in the past decade. Since joining the Saints in 2006, Brees has never finished outside the top-six among QBs. Additionally, he has finished inside the top-three in seven of his eleven years in New Orleans.

Brees has not only been consistent, but has been one of only several ELITE fantasy quarterbacks over the past ten years. However, despite being an elite option at his position, I am now calling Brees a sell-high in every dynasty league. In essence, I have four reasons why I believe Brees is a sell-high in dynasty: his age and current production, the rise of the running back in New Orleans, his impending free agency, and his current trade value in 1QB leagues.

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Age and Current Production

Perhaps the most obvious reasons Brees is a sell-high is due to his age. He is currently 38 years old and turns 39 in January. Despite the career longevity at the position, 38-39 is pretty old even for a quarterback. We do have instances of QBs playing beyond 39 (Favre and Brady), but those are extreme circumstances and as we saw with Peyton Manning, when the age cliff hits, it comes out of nowhere and hits hard. Additionally, Brees has not looked the same to me on film. Now, I have only watched two Saints games this season, but in both games Brees has looked a step slower than in past years. His ball velocity has dropped slightly and it looks like he is working harder to throw the ball downfield. He is solid everywhere else and is still a great quarterback, but he doesn’t look like the Drew Brees we know.

As far as his 2017 production, Brees has been a solid fantasy quarterback, but far from elite. He is currently the QB9 (4 point/TD) in fantasy and is averaging 17.34 points per game. To put that in perspective, Josh McCown is currently the QB10, followed by Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff to round out the top-12. What is concerning about Brees’ fantasy production to date has been the lack of explosive games. Through nine weeks, Brees’ highest point total is 22.2 points in Week 2 and then 20.8 points in Week 3. Outside of those two weeks, Brees has not surpassed the 20-point mark and has two games below 12 points. That is not the production owners are looking for in an elite fantasy quarterback and may be the start of a new normal for Brees’ fantasy production.

Looking at his numbers for 2017, Brees has thrown for 2214 yards and 13 touchdowns on 275 pass attempts. Halfway through the season, those are solid numbers for a quarterback, but not Drew Brees. He is currently on pace for 4428 yards and 26 on 550 attempts, his second worst totals since joining the Saints in 2006. Looking at just his pass attempts, Brees has seen a significant drop-off in 2017 compared to previous seasons.

As you can see in the graph above, Brees is on pace to throw almost 100 less passes in 2017 compared to nearly every season since 2010. On a per-game basis, that is six less passes per game over a 16-game season.

 

Rise of the Running Back(s) in New Orleans

Perhaps one of the reasons for Brees’ low season totals and decrease in passing attempts is the Saints rushing attack. Mark Ingram is on pace for the best season of his career and rookie Alvin Kamara has been a dynamic threat in both the run and passing game. With the rise of one of the best backfields in the league, the Saints are now 6-2 and firmly atop the NFC South. At this rate, they do not need Brees to throw the ball 40+ times a game in order to win or even compete. The Saints now have an actual rushing attack and they are using it.

In fact, the Saints offense has looked completely different this season than past seasons in terms of their pass/run distribution.

As you can see, not only are the Saints on pace for their lowest number of passing attempts since 2008, but they are also on pace for the second-highest number of rushing attempts in that timespan. The numbers at the bottom of each bar indicate their rank in the league in passing and rushing attempts. Since 2008, the Saints have consistently been one of the top-2 teams in the league in pass attempts, which has been a critical part of Brees’ elite fantasy production since joining the team in 2006. However, in 2017, they are currently the 22nd ranked team in pass attempts, while also being the 13th ranked team in rushing attempts. Finally, here is the breakdown of passing plays to running plays for the Saints since 2008:

Looking at the table, we see that the Saints are running the ball on 43.63% of plays in 2017, the highest percentage since 2009. This drastic change in offensive play-calling has not only been a factor on the Saints’ success as a team, but also Brees’ struggles for fantasy. If this new commitment to the run is a sign of a new trend in New Orleans, Brees’ fantasy value will take a significant hit due to less volume in the passing game.

 

Impending Free Agency

Brees is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Many people expect Brees to remain in New Orleans for the remainder of his career, especially given their recent success in 2017 as potential NFC South champions. According to OvertheCap.com, the Saints will have upwards of $35 million in cap space in 2018 and can certainly devote most of their funds to paying Brees, but not much else. However, there is a possibility that Brees signs elsewhere in 2018 to a potential Super Bowl contender. In 2018, the Redskins will have potentially close to $60 million in cap space and could sign Brees to make a playoff push should they lose Kirk Cousins.

Another team that could make a push for Brees is the Minnesota Vikings. They are looking at having over $50 million in cap space in 2018 and Sam Bradford will be a free agent as well. Given the offensive talent the Vikings have in Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph, and Dalvin Cook along with an elite defense, Minnesota is one of a few teams in need of a quarterback to push them over the edge. With $50 million in cap space, the Vikings could make an offer the Saints would be unable to match. For the Vikings, it is a one-year rental for a Super Bowl run while also allowing Teddy Bridgewater to sit one more year after his injury behind a first-ballot Hall of Famer in Drew Brees. In my opinion, it’s a win-win for both parties.

However, as enticing as it sounds to have Drew Brees throw to Diggs, Thielen, and Rudolph, I believe the best team for Brees for fantasy purposes is still the New Orleans Saints. The Vikings are currently the 19th ranked team in terms of pass attempts (7th in rushing attempts) in 2017 and that is without Dalvin Cook. Despite also playing in a dome, Brees would have to play outside on the road against Green Bay and Chicago while also playing at New England, at New York Jets and at Seattle in 2018 with the Vikings. With the Saints, he would remain in an offense he knows, in the south, and play easier defenses on the road in Cincinnati, Baltimore, New York Giants and Dallas. As an owner of Brees in fantasy, I am hoping he remains in New Orleans for the remainder of his career, but I can’t rule out the possibility of him signing elsewhere after this season.

 

Current Trade Value

Despite having a down season for fantasy while also turning 39 in January, Brees’ dynasty value has remained relatively stable. Brees still holds massive name value in fantasy and contending teams would be willing to pay for his services as we move into the fantasy playoffs, especially owners who lost Aaron Rodgers, Desahun Watson, or Jameis Winston. Using DLF’s trade finder, Brees is still being highly-valued in 1QB leagues and especially superflex leagues. In 1QB leagues, here are some recent trades for Drew Brees:

Brees for Winston

Brees/4th for Rivers/2nd

Brees/Crabtree for Wilson/Hilton

Brees for Hundley/1st

Brees for Rodgers/2nd

Brees for Bradford/Stafford

Multiple other trades involving 2018 firsts or 2018 seconds and a player.

As you can see, Brees still holds significant value, even in single-QB leagues. If you are able to sell Brees to a contending team for a profit, by all means do it. I would be looking for a quarterback replacement or a first-round pick for Brees. In fact, in one of my leagues I traded Brees and Demaryius Thomas for Blake Bortles, Keenan Allen, and a 2018 first (I also own Philip Rivers). Even if you are a contending team, I would look to move Brees to another contender for a similar but younger quarterback like Stafford or Cousins. Not only would you move laterally in terms of fantasy production, but you would also get younger at the position. If you can target a QB in that tier and also get a player or pick in return, you are maximizing Brees’ value before he hits his cliff completely. As dynasty players, it is simple stock exchange, and Brees is hanging on the edge of a massive value plummet.

 

More 2017 Dynasty League Strategy