Sean Payton often draws up perfect plays, and the one for constructing his quarterback room is no different.
The depth chart was as good as it gets the last two years. So, why would the Saints try to create a new formula now? Why not try to continue to stock the roster with an aging superstar at the top, a former first-round pick trying to work his way through some issues, and one Taysom Hill? Doing anything else seems unwise.
Once Drew Brees announced he was coming back for at least one season, replacing Teddy Bridgewater with another high-caliber player became one of the offseason’s most-essential tasks. Brees is 41 and missed five games last season, and Hill is too vital in his various roles to keep behind glass. Having someone who can come in and operate the ship for a couple of games is as critical as any reserve role on the roster.
Among the realistic options for that job, one name sat atop the list. Look, a lot of things went wrong for Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay, both on and off of the field. He choked on Ls before he ever got to eat any Ws, and often ended up in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. But, man, the possibility of bringing him to New Orleans was intriguing. Despite the down moments, it is important to remember Winston is a former No. 1 pick, a guy who possesses all the physical tools. His decision-making needs to be fixed (on and off the field), and he needs to stop being so reckless with the ball and see the field better, but the 26-year-old still has untapped upside.
We’re about to find out if he can tap into those things after Winston will be agreeing to a one-year deal to become a member of the Saints. The quarterback sees what everyone else sees: New Orleans is the best possible situation for a player in his position. That’s why Winston turned down more lucrative offers to come here, according to a source. He saw how things worked for Bridgewater, who signed a deal to become the Panthers’ starter, and wants those same things for himself.
Winston needs work. There is a reason no one wanted him as a starter just five years after being the first overall pick. His 30 interceptions last year were a staggering amount, even if produced in Bruce Arians’ system, which encourages quarterbacks to push the ball and be aggressive.
But he can take those strides behind the scenes and in practice. He can sit in a meeting room and learn from Brees and Payton and quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi. Winston can try and see the field through their eyes and then through his own. If things go to plan, there will be no pressure. Winston will be able to take the whole year to learn about the game and work on himself. If things go sideways and he has to play, he might not win five games in a row, but he has the talent to do it. And if Winston has to step up, he’ll have the opportunity to show everything he’s learned to that point.
Signing Winston shouldn’t be taken as a sign that New Orleans doesn’t have faith, trust, or belief in Hill. The opposite is true. The team believes in Hill so much that it didn’t chase after a rookie quarterback despite Brees entering what very well may be his last season in the NFL. And if injury strikes Brees, there is always the possibility that Hill would get the nod instead of Winston. We won’t actually know until we know, but the length and severity of any Brees absence would likely figure into the picture. It would be easier to slot Winston in for a shorter window since the offense would not require any adjustments to maximize his talents. With Hill, a lot more customization would need to occur.
During practices, both players should get plenty of chances to lead an offense since Brees does not throw on Wednesdays. Other third-string quarterbacks, such as Garrett Grayson, were not afforded the same opportunities during practice weeks.
There isn’t much downside if Winston maintains the right mindset. The worst thing that could happen is that he comes in, spends a year here, and then moves on. Nothing lost, and if he goes somewhere on a decent contract and ends up playing, the Saints will get a draft pick in return.
And here’s Door 2: What if Winston blows everyone away throughout the season? Even if the Saints believe Hill is the heir to Brees’ throne, giving them quality options to consider will never be a bad thing.
That’s all part of the blueprint.
(Photo: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports)