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Will it be Drew Brees or Tom Brady who ends up with the NFL’s passing touchdown record?

The race to beat Peyton Manning’s record will likely come down to longevity.

Tom Brady, Drew Brees smile at each other
Drew Brees or Tom Brady will probably become the NFL’s all-time passing touchdown leader.

It’s all about the quarterback this week at SB Nation. We’re talking past, present, future at the league’s most important position. If you’d like to check out the entire series, we’ve got everything related to our NFL quarterbacks week all in one place.

Peyton Manning’s spot as the NFL’s all-time passing yards leader was short-lived. He took the record from Brett Favre in 2015, but less than three years later, Manning ceded it to Drew Brees.

Now, Manning’s about to lose his passing touchdowns record too.

In his 17-year career, Manning threw 539 touchdowns during the regular season — 31 more than Favre. Since Manning’s retirement, both Brees and Tom Brady have eclipsed Favre and are closing in on the record. The leaderboard looks like this entering the 2019 season:

  1. Peyton Manning: 539 touchdowns
  2. Drew Brees: 520 touchdowns
  3. Tom Brady: 517 touchdowns
  4. Brett Favre: 508 touchdowns
  5. Dan Marino: 420 touchdowns

Neither Brees nor Brady has had a single season with fewer than 23 touchdowns in the last decade. It’s a foregone conclusion that Manning’s record is toast.

But when the dust settles and both players are retired, will it be Brees or Brady in the No. 1 spot?

Brees will probably break the record first

Brees’ three-touchdown lead over Brady isn’t the only reason the Saints quarterback is likely to get to 540 first. He’s usually the one who throws more touchdowns per season.

Brees doesn’t often beat Brady by much, nor does it happen every year. Still, Brees has had more touchdown passes than Brady in six of the last 10 seasons and they finished dead even in 2014. That leaves three seasons in the last decade (2010, 2015, 2017) when Brady threw more touchdowns.

In 2019, Brees will still be throwing the ball to one of the best receivers in the NFL, Michael Thomas. He also added former Raiders tight end Jared Cook to his list of targets in the offseason. Brady has Julian Edelman and first-round rookie N’Keal Harry among his offensive weapons, though he lost touchdown machine Rob Gronkowski to retirement.

Barring injury, there shouldn’t be much, if any, dropoff in their touchdown stats. The DraftKings Sportsbook has the over/under for Brees at 30.5 and 29.5 for Brady.

The safe prediction is that Brees gets the 20 touchdowns he needs to set the record before Brady can get to 23 touchdowns.

It’ll come down to longevity

Brady is 42 now. Brees is 40.

Brady’s coming off his 14th Pro Bowl season; Brees just had his 12th. Brady got his sixth Super Bowl ring in 2018 while Brees set the record for completion percentage.

They’re both at the age when most other quarterbacks are retired, or at the very least, on the decline. The touchdown record will ultimately wind up with whichever quarterback can keep denying Father Time the longest.

The fact Brady is two years older makes him the easier choice to lose that battle, but his injury history could give him the edge. He tore his ACL in 2008 and dealt with a stress fracture in his foot in 2010. Other than that, he’s mostly avoided wear and tear. The most serious injury he’s had in the last five years was a cut on his hand before the AFC Championship Game in January 2018.

Brees had a serious shoulder injury in 2005 and then tore his rotator cuff again in 2015. He also dealt with a torn plantar fascia in 2015. Despite that, he only missed one game due to those injuries.

Both players have been remarkably durable. But if there’s an injury worth worrying about, it’s Brees’ shoulder.

Nobody’s going to touch the record for a long, long time

There are five active quarterbacks from Nos. 6-12 on the all-time touchdown list: Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan. None of them are even within 150 touchdowns of Peyton Manning’s record.

The youngest of those five is Ryan, who turned 34 in May.

Even if one of those players started averaging 40 touchdowns per year, he’d still need to play into his 40s to claim the record. Considering Rodgers is the only one of the group to ever hit that number in a season, 40 touchdowns per year won’t happen.

While it’s fair to assume those five quarterbacks won’t catch Manning, Brady, or Brees, what about a younger candidate?

Finding someone who even has a shot is tough.

Russell Wilson has 196 touchdowns, but he entered the league at age 23 and will turn 31 before the 2019 season ends. He’d need to keep his current rate of 28 touchdowns per season for another 13 years to top Manning.

The best combination of youth and productivity right now is Patrick Mahomes, who totaled 50 touchdowns last year and turns 24 in September. We probably shouldn’t expect that many touchdowns every year, but even if his pace slows to 35 per year (still a ridiculous amount), he could be in record contention by age 38 or so.

Either way, it’ll probably be Brady and Brees atop the passing touchdowns leaderboard until at least 2030. The final year(s) of their Hall of Fame careers will be a fun duel to see which player finishes at No. 1.