An inside look at Jameis Winston’s options in free agency

Jameis Winston was ready to visit the Colts.

Things were in motion. Talks had progressed and the quarterback was set to meet with Indianapolis and decide on his future. Everything was in motion. The Colts sent Winston his itinerary on Sunday night for his visit on Monday. Often, when these go well, the visit ends with a deal.

The team was scheduled to send its jet to Atlantic Aviation West at 7 a.m. to pick Winston up in Birmingham, where the quarterback is rehabbing from a knee injury. Once in Indianapolis, Winston would then get a physical before arriving at the facility to meet with the team staff.

The Colts were a good option, and sources around Winston thought they could be an option earlier this offseason. They’re a team on the rise with a great running game. The coaching staff is solid. But all along, even as the Saints pursued Deshaun Watson, Winston still viewed New Orleans as his preferred destination, even with teams like the Colts and Seahawks trying to bring him in for visits.

So, on Sunday, Winston had a decision to make. He could visit the Colts and see what they had to offer, or focus on the Saints, close the deal and return to the place where he is most comfortable and best positioned for immediate success.

Winston decided to stick with the Saints.

He had his representatives call the Colts and cancel the  jet. With the target in full focus, negotiations picked up heading into Monday, and by the afternoon New Orleans and Winston had agreed to a new two-year pact with a base value of $28 million. Indianapolis quickly made a trade for Matt Ryan, though it’s certainly possible the Colts could have changed course toward Ryan independent the Winston decision.

The deal makes the most sense for both sides. The Saints don’t have to start over with a new quarterback and build from the ground up. For Winston, it’s a chance to finish what he’s started here, and now he doesn’t have to try to learn a new system while rehabilitating from his torn ACL. He will be sidelined for the offseason program, which would have put him behind in a different location. There is hope, though, that he will be ready for the start of training camp.

With the quarterback in place, the Saints can move forward with their offseason plan and continue building an offense that is better suited to support Winston.

Maye Day: Marcus Maye couldn’t stop smiling.

Dressed in a Saints sweatshirt he purchased earlier that day, the safety met with the media for the first time since signing with the team on Monday and started to describe how he plays the game. As he detailed the various roles he played with the Jets and how he likes to approach the game, it became clear why New Orleans moved so quickly to sign him after Marcus Williams hooked on with the Ravens.

“You can’t be one-dimensional. You got to be able to do multiple things,” Maye said. “It allows you to be on the field at different times and different places. So if that’s covering man-to-man, blitzing off the edge, playing deep free safety, playing in the box, rolling down, I can do it all. I take extreme pride in that.”

The Saints are likely sacrificing some deep range by letting Williams leave. There aren’t many people who are his equal in that area, and there will likely be an overall drop at the position after losing him. But there is a possibility that the Saints, at times, have a more dynamic player at safety. Maye’s ability to do multiple things, especially blitzing, could allow Dennis Allen to get more creative with his safeties. Seeing how that plays out will be interesting.

The big questions for Maye are his health and availability. The safety is recovering from a torn Achilles, and there is hope that he will be ready for training camp, but even if not, Maye will likely be suspended for a couple of games to start the season due to a DUI arrest.

Checking needs: The Saints still have a pretty significant hole to fill at wide receiver. New Orleans has done well retaining some players, like Deonte Harty (Harris), and will soon re-sign Lil’Jordan Humphrey, but upgrades are needed.

A handful of very talented players remain on the open market, like Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Will Fuller, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Emmanuel Sanders. Any one of those guys would change the outlook of the position if lined up next to Michael Thomas, so it’s not like things are dire. Options remain.

The Saints should also look to address this position in the draft, whether or not they sign someone in free agency. Getting some young players with high upside in the pipeline is incredibly important.

One other move that could be smart to make: Keeping Tre’Quan Smith. He would provide solid depth and is a great blocker. New Orleans needs to find someone to fill the role of blocking receiver one way or another.

Cap space: The Saints probably wouldn’t have opened up $26 million in cap space if it wasn’t for the pursuit of Watson. But just because that money is there, it doesn’t mean the team intends to spend it all. Some expectations need to get set.

The thing to remember is that space can get rolled over to next year. So, even if the team doesn’t spend it all, it will still be there, and it can get used to help cover some of the deferred costs associated with pushing that money forward. Nothing is really lost by taking this approach.

As we pointed out the day it happened, Malcolm Jenkins’ “restructured” contract was the most interesting move because it wasn’t a restructure. For one reason or another, the veteran safety dropped his base salaries for the next two seasons down to the league minimum. Drew Brees did the same thing as a precursor to retirement because it allowed the team to clear his money from the books and split the remaining money on the cap over two years as a post-June 1 retirement.

Jenkins could just be looking to help the team, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

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