The Saints believe in Taysom Hill.
Many outside voices have opinions and thoughts about him as a quarterback, running back, special teams ace, as a cap percentage, or whatever else they want to comment on that day. Few of them are positive. But none of that matters to the Saints.
Sean Payton has been steadfast in his support of Hill. New Orleans paid him for a reason, and it isn’t for his ability as a tight end or personal protector on the punt team. More importantly, Payton said Hill earned the right to be the backup quarterback this offseason. Granted, that was before Jameis Winston signed with the team, but it means something.
Drew Brees is out. A backup quarterback is going to be in the game. Last week after Brees got knocked out of action, the team turned to Winston. The choice could be the same this week against Atlanta, but the level of conviction that New Orleans will look to the traditional quarterback and move past Hill might be a little high. There’s at least a chance, maybe even more than a fair one, that No. 7 steps in under center this week, and the possibility has been far too overlooked.
Your first question right as you’re reading this: Why didn’t Hill go in last week if he has a chance of starting this week?
Fair question. You would think the Saints have a package of 30 or 40 plays they could run with Hill at a moment’s notice, as well as allowing him to operate the offense as currently designed. But the fact is, after preparing for a full week with Brees under center, Winston is a more natural fit to step in and execute the existing plan.
Hill isn’t a pocket passer. He’s gotten better at it over the last couple of years and will continue to improve, but the reason New Orleans likes him so much is because of all the extras he brings to the position. He can sit back and execute the offense from the pocket at times, but for him to be at his best, the Saints need to combine the talent he possesses in both his arms and his legs to create reads, set up the defense and extend plays.
Saying that 30 or 40 plays should exist, and the team should be able to run them at a moment’s notice is easy, but that isn’t an easy thing to do on the fly. If Hill had come in last week for Brees, the plan would have limited his abilities. That would not have put him on the best path to success. Payton had a comment this week that was somewhat telling and can be applied to this situation.
“I think the one thing we’ll always do here is highlight the strengths of whoever’s playing any position,” Payton said. “Not just quarterback.”
Putting Hill into a game designed for Brees would have been unfair to the quarterback and everyone else on the field. When we finally get a chance to see Hill lead the offense, it needs to be a version of the offense designed for him.
The big question is, how does that offense look. We’ve seen a couple of pieces of the Hill offense, but you can’t dissect a couple of random passes and expect to reach a conclusion. There is no doubt that pages among pages of other ideas are yet to see the light of day. And that offense, in this situation, could shock some teams and give the Saints an advantage in an adverse situation. But more than that, at some point, New Orleans needs to figure out what that offense can accomplish in a real game.
The real question is, if not now, when will Hill get a chance? Bridgewater was ahead of Hill last year. He was paid more and had spent considerable time in the system before stepping in for Brees. Hill is the higher-paid player now, the one who is signed for next season when Brees is expected to step away, though Winston could get an opportunity to come back and compete for that job.
There is no doubt that shifting to Winston would be easier. The offense would look almost exactly the same. The only difference might be which plays make the call sheet. But isn’t it time to find out what Hill can do? Shouldn’t he at least be considered for this role?
What those outside voices say doesn’t matter. The Saints believe in Hill and essentially paid him this offseason to wait for Brees to step away. Nothing has happened between the signing of Hill’s contract until now that should change how the team feels about him, and this could be a great opportunity to find out if those feelings are valid.
Either they are, or they aren’t. Perhaps Winston gets the nod, but there’s a strong case for Hill, and it might just be time to answer all of the questions.