Brian Allee-Walsh

BRIAN ALLEE-WALSH: Will Drew Brees return in 2016?

BRIAN BLANCO/ASSOCIATED PRESSTampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Howard Jones (95) tries to get New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9). The Saints host Detroit tonight at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
BRIAN BLANCO/ASSOCIATED PRESSTampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Howard Jones (95) tries to get New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9). The Saints host Detroit tonight at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. AP

Not knowing what the future will bring, I'd rather be safe than sorry, so I'm going to say goodbye and send along my sincere thanks now to Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Jahri Evans and Zach Strief.

They are the four remaining members of coach Sean Payton's first team in 2006, the heart, the soul and the glue of the New Orleans Saints for the past 10 seasons.

Sunday's late matinee game against the Jacksonville Jaguars closes out the home portion of the Saints 2015 schedule, and perhaps will mark the last time we see No. 9 (Brees), No. 12 (Colston), No. 64 (Strief) and No. 73 (Evans) in uniform for the Black and Gold in the friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Coincidentally, Brees (foot), Colston (chest) and Strief (elbow) are listed as questionable for the game because of injuries.

One or all may be back in 2016, or perhaps none. Time will tell. Ultimately, each will be judged by how he fits in the team's evolving business model and against the backdrop of next year's projected $153 million salary cap.

The NFL is big business, dictated largely by dollars and sense. I can make a strong case for each player's return next season, especially in Brees' case. I also could argue the opposite, especially in Brees' case.

But this is not the time in Week 16 to debate the pros and cons.

I have come to praise Brees the quarterback, Colston the wide receiver, Evans the right guard and Strief the right tackle on this day, not bury them.

The Fab Four have etched their names forever in Saints lore, each contributing mightily to the most successful 10-year stretch of football in franchise history, beginning with the historic Super Bowl XLIV season of 2009.

Without ever playing another down, Brees, Colston and Evans have established themselves as the best at their position in club history. Strief, too, has left his mark, always the consummate pro.

When the time is right, Brees will take his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a first-ballot selection. No doubt, he will reflect warmly in his acceptance speech on induction day in Canton, Ohio, of those years when he shared a huddle with Colston, Evans and Strief, when all were a part of so many wonderful memories.

No doubt, Brees will recall those early days of their association when they helped an organization restore faith and hope to a storm-ravaged city and region that was brought to its knees by Hurricane Katrina.

Now here we are 10 seasons later.

How the time has flown.

At some point, Drew, Marques, Jahri and Zach all will be gone but they will never be forgotten.

So just in case they don't pass this way again, I say thank you.

Thanks for the memories. We will cherish them forever.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at Sports@sunherald.com.

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