Drew Brees talks NFL Draft, head injuries and Will Smith's legacy

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Just ahead of this year's NFL Draft, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees took the time to chat with AOL Sports about a number of different topics.

With speculation that the Saints may be looking to select his eventual replacement, Brees offered his opinion on the shotcallers of this year's draft, and also detailed the challenges he faced coming up as a young player.

And, with the passing of Saints player Will Smith earlier this month, Brees spoke about the kind of teammate Smith was, and how he's trying to turn the situation into a positive for greater society.

You can find the interview with Brees below.


Congrats on the new ad spot with TempurPedic today. What was it like shooting that, and how did the opportunity come about?

It came about in a really authentic way. I've actually been a TempurPedic user for over a decade now, so when the opportunity came to help launch the new Tempur-Breeze line of mattresses, I jumped at the opportunity because any chance I get to work with companies that I really believe in and products that I use, that just makes it very authentic. And the chance to do things with my teammate Max Unger, our center, it's always fun to put together a unique creative and the videos that you can then post through social media and YouTube channels. It really gets fans engaged -- those are a lot of fun to do. That's how it all came together, but at the end of the day it was because I'm a loyal TempurPedic customer.

What's the worst night of sleep you've ever gotten before the night of a game? Any bad hotel bed stories?

Yeah, there's plenty of bad hotel beds. But it's interesting -- I think the week of preparation for a game is so intense. You're running through so many scenarios in your mind as to what's gonna happen in the game, so by the end of the week, I'm almost so exhausted just that week of preparation that I look forward to that night's sleep before the game, because I feel like I've done everything I possibly can to prepare myself for this game, so now I can relax, sleep, wake up and then get ready to go and play my absolute best.

But the challenge is when you're going to sleep in a hotel bed the night before a game versus sleeping in your TempurPedic at home, which obviously makes a huge difference.


The Saints have the 12th pick in the draft, what can you see the team doing with it?

If you follow the mock drafts, I've seen a couple different scenarios. I'll be honest with you, there always seems to be surprises, where all of a sudden maybe that guy is there that you didn't think was gonna be there, and so the decision that needs to be made is, are you drafting based upon need, or are you drafting because you feel like this is the best player available -- and maybe this isn't a position you need right now but this is a game-changing type player. So I don't really want to speculate as to what position we would draft, because I know there's a lot of possibilities. But there seems to be a lot of great players in this draft at a lot of positions that certainly could help us. We'll see how it shakes out.

Being a quarterback, that's where your expertise lies. Do you know much about the quarterbacks at the top of this year's draft or have any thoughts as to how they'll fare in the NFL?

I really don't know a whole lot about them, other than, obviously there's been two blockbuster-type trades for teams to get into those one and two slots, and it appears they got into those slots to draft those two guys. So, obviously, there's some teams that feel pretty strongly about them and their ability to come in and play.

I'd say, in this day and age more so than in the past, quarterbacks have the ability to step right in and play. And I think it's because of the crossover between coaches going from college to the NFL, back and forth, so they're exposed to systems offensively and defensively that they would see at the next level. Obviously it's a big uptick in talent, speed of the game and all those things. And yet you see a lot of rookie quarterbacks that come in and have success based upon their college system or their college experience. I think guys are more prepared now coming into the league than they ever have before.

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make coming out of college adjusting to the NFL?

We ran the spread offense at Purdue, so I was in the shotgun a lot, we were empty backfield, so five wide receivers, and we were just throwing the ball, so I'd say a lot was thrown on my plate as a college quarterback. I felt like I had the ability to read defenses and check to different plays, and do that kind of thing that you're required to do at the next level. But just the style of offense that I went to when I first went to San Diego my rookie season -- it was more of a pro-style offense, I was under center a lot more, doing a lot of play action, seven-step drops. Those are things that I hadn't really done a whole lot of. So there was a little bit of an adjustment there. So I think I probably had my growing pains a little bit. But I'd say depending on the system you run in college, there are certain guys who are just more of a fit for certain offenses than others.

But if you look around the league and look at quarterbacks -- if you're going with a quarterback because you love his character, his toughness, his ability, and all those things about him, you're gonna customize the offense around him. So you see in this day and age, whoever your quarterback is, you're building the offense around him. If he's your guy, you're totally customizing it to utilize his strengths, and plugging pieces around him to give him the best chance to succeed. So that's really what this game has turned into at the quarterback position -- building the offenses around the strengths of the quarterback.


Throughout your career, you've always been regarded as a high-character guy. One of the biggest stories sweeping the league this offseason is the fall of Johnny Manziel. Following that story from afar, what are your feelings about his situation?

It's hard to comment on it because I don't know Johnny Manziel at all. I've just met him one time and it was after we'd played Cleveland two years ago. He's never reached out to me and I've never really crossed paths with him in any other place. I really don't know what's going on in his world, I think it's really unfortunate, because I certainly think he's a great talent, and would have a great opportunity in this league. But it's hard to comment because I don't know him and I don't know his situation.

Last season the league implemented a new concussion protocol. One year into the new system, what are your thoughts on it?

Whatever we do -- and when I say 'we' I'm talking about the league, the NFLPA, usually that's in collaboration -- is designed to make the game safer for our players. Now, do we play a tough, physical, violent game? Yes, we do. And is there always a risk of injury? Yes there is. But I think by recognizing that and by recognizing the effects of concussions and neck injuries and that kind of thing, I think the biggest different between now and, say, 10 or 20 years ago, is that we understand the long-term effects of concussions and the treatments and return-to-play protocols that should be in place. So, in the past where you get "dinged" -- you don't know where you are, you're seeing stars, whatever it is -- in the past, you would just stay in the game. You'd say "I'm not leaving this field, I'm staying in the game." I think everybody just had that mentality -- call it a toughness or a stubborn mentality, or a "I don't want to let anybody down so I'm staying in" kind of mentality, regardless, that's the way guys approached it.

Well, now we understand the effects. There's the trainers, the referees, the coaches, the independent neurological consultants that are on the sideline. Everybody is responsible for identifying when a player has been "dinged" like that and making sure they come off the field immediately for evaluation. And if they are deemed not ready to go back into the game again, then they sit until they are as close to 100 percent as possible. And sometimes that means sitting out for a week, two weeks, three weeks, six weeks. I've seen that few times from guys.


A high-profile example of that this season was Luke Kuechly. He was one of the best players in the league, takes a hit in the first game of the season and ends up sitting for three weeks because they're gonna make sure that guy is 100 percent fully recovered before he steps onto the field. I think our knowledge of what the long-term effects of those are have come a long way, and therefore it's completely dictating those types of situations in the future, and I think it will only get better as we continue to learn more about the affects of it, and how to handle it.

Over the past few offseasons, we've seen a number of players retire earlier than usual in their careers -- guys that are 30 or sometimes even younger. In the locker room, or around the team, is this sort of the elephant in the room? Is it talked about or acknowledged at all?

A little bit. I think we all understand the type of sport we're playing. Again, I think there's so much more than we know now that we didn't know 20 or 30 years ago. I mean, the hard part is to see the greats of this game that played in the '50s, '60s, 70s, '80s and even the '90s having some of the health issues that they're having now -- not only with just their bodies and joints, but if they sustained multiple concussions and some of the issues they're having there. That's hard to see, and you want to take care of those guys. And you feel like, as a current player, you're benefitting from the things that they had to go through.

So, I think we need to continue as a player's association and as a league to reach back and help those guys who have come on hard times based upon the effects of playing this game. And I think we need to continue to push the envelope with making this game as safe as it possibly can. Now, listen, football is football. Again, it's a tough, hard, violent sport. It's part of what people love so much about it. But at the same time, as we think about the long-term health and wellness of our players, we definitely need to keep that at the forefront of rule changes, medical protocols and those kinds of things moving forward.


Just one more question, and there's no easy way to ask it: Can you speak about the kind of teammate and man Will Smith was, and what went through your mind as soon as you heard the news?

It's a really tough deal. Will was a great teammate. He impacted the lives of a lot of people. He played for a long time in New Orleans, so he crossed over a lot of teammates. And so going back to his funeral two weeks back and being around all those guys, it made me realize what a special group of guys we had, and how many guys he impacted. My heart goes out to his wife and his kids. He was a young man -- 34 years old. You look at retired NFL players and sometimes the perspective you have is that if they had a 10-plus-year career, then they're kind of an old man. Well at 34 years old, he had his whole life ahead of him. He was living in New Orleans, he was gonna start coaching, he was gonna continue to make such a positive impact in the community. So I feel like we lost a great person in the community -- somebody who was going to be a great influence on so many people, and in such a senseless way.

Say what you want -- there's going to be many political discussions about gun control and everything else, but let's just put that aside. I think you have to look at it as the way that human beings are treating human beings. The fact that the reaction to a car accident, or a fender bender or an argument in the street results in people pulling out guns and shooting each other nine times. I mean, that kind of thing, it brings up a lot of issues about the types of opportunities or the lack of opportunities that a lot of young people have nowadays, where they feel like the only thing they have to resort to is violence or crime or gangs or drugs or all these things. So there's a lot of issues at play here. I'm really trying to take the death of Will Smith and turn it into something positive -- make it to where we can all learn something from this, we can all be better people because of this in the way that we treat others, and maybe just recognizing some of the things that we need to improve upon as a society.

- By John Dorn

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Drew Brees talks NFL Draft, head injuries and Will Smith's legacy
CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 17: Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks looks on before the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on January 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)
✌🏿 https://t.co/wesip4IhOR
FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 24: Jerod Mayo #51 of the New England Patriots reacts after he sacked Matt Moore #8 of the Miami Dolphins in the second half at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
RETIRING A PATRIOT.
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 27, 2015: Tight end Heath Miller #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches the action from the sideline during a game against the Baltimore Ravens on December 27, 2015 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore won 20-17. (Photo by: Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
After 11 seasons and two Lombardi trophies, Heath Miller retires in Black & Gold. 📰 | https://t.co/rUr3Yf1XPd https://t.co/RWH0yFgWab
DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 25: Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions looks on from the sidelines during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field on October 25, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. The Vikings defeated the Lions 28-19. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/Detroit Lions/Getty Images)
Calvin Johnson retires from the National Football League: https://t.co/8YgcYxLjNS https://t.co/IdC1yIMX8R
CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 25: Jared Allen #69 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a sack of Sam Bradford #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles during their game at Bank of America Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Panthers won 27-16. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Riding off into the sunset https://t.co/wZXovseGKS
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 8: Corey Wootton #99 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on during the fourth quarter of the game against the Oakland Raiders on August 8, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Raiders 10-6. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Thank you all for the support! https://t.co/wHQqWkAirF
DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 07: Logan Mankins #70 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers warms up prior to the start of the game gainst the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on December 7, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions defeated the Buccaneers 34-17. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Ex-#Patriots & #Bucs G Logan Mankins was tough, nasty, played through the whistle… and is a great dude when the play ends. One of a kind.
JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 13: Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Indianapolis Colts drops back to pass during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on December 13, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Jaguars defeated the Colts 51-16. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
It has been an honor and a pleasure. https://t.co/P9dnvll0EP https://t.co/69DlIa9W1y
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 22: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) D'Brickashaw Ferguson #60 of the New York Jets greets fans after a game against the Cleveland Browns on December 22, 2013 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets defeated the Browns 24-13. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Thank you for the numerous messages of support. It has been a blessing to be apart of the NYJ. My letter to you https://t.co/hcIRk41QtM
GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 24: Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett #90 of the Arizona Cardinals watches from the sidelines during the preseason NFL game against the San Diego Chargers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on August 24, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
To the founder of the #BirdGang, @ddockett, congrats on a great career! #ThanksNineO WATCH»https://t.co/4NIBDcOr8K https://t.co/h0yNiF72UT
ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13: Percy Harvin #18 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates a touchdown reception against the Indianapolis Colts on September 13, 2015 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo defeats Indianapolis 27-14. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 18: Wide receiver Ricardo Lockette #83 of the Seattle Seahawks gestures to the crowd during the game against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field on October 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2016, file photo, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning waves to spectators following the AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, in Denver. A person with knowledge of the decision tells The Associated Press on Sunday, March 6, that Manning has informed the Denver Broncos he's going to retire. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)
Thank you, Peyton, and congratulations on your magnificent 18-year NFL career! https://t.co/YdMt19tQ2i https://t.co/jYDXpMmlUA
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