The New Orleans Saints headed into the 2020 offseason looking to add an experienced backup quarterback to Drew Brees to offset the free agent loss of QB Teddy Bridgewater. Brees had missed five games in 2019 with a thumb injury, and Bridgewater had stepped in to win all five contests. Bridgewater signed with division rival Carolina, but New Orleans set their sights on a different divisional foe to replace him. The Saints eventually signed former Tampa Bay starter Jameis Winston to a one-year contract at around $1 million dollars
Winston was the 1st overall selection by the Buccaneers in the 2015 draft after winning the Heisman Trophy and a national championship at Florida State. He started every game of his rookie season, throwing for over 4,000 yards with 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Winston was even better his second year, throwing for 28 touchdowns with 18 interceptions while again eclipsing 4,000 yards and leading Tampa Bay to a 9-7 record, their first winning season in six years.
Despite a promising start to his career, there were concerns about Winston's turnovers decision-making on the field, and character concerns off the field. He was suspended and benched twice over the next two years. Winston led the NFL with 5,109 yards passing in 2019, the eighth highest total in league history. He also threw for 33 touchdowns and led the league with 30 interceptions, the first player in NFL history to throw for 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.
Winston showed flashes of the talent that made him the top overall pick, but his inconsistencies and 88 interceptions in five seasons led the Buccaneers to part ways with him in favor of six-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady. He now had the opportunity to learn from a legend in Drew Brees with the Saints amid rumors he could be his eventual replacement.
Winston is the subject of this Year-in-Review spotlight.
Winston would have to learn a new offense without the benefit of offseason team workouts or preseason games because of COVID-19 health concerns. He’d see his first action of the year in mop-up duty of Brees in a Week 9 rout of the Buccaneers, completing one pass for 12 yards in ten snaps.
Brees would leave a Week 10 victory over San Francisco with a serious rib injury that would sideline him for the next four games. Winston entered the contest in the second half against the 49ers, getting his first extensive action with New Orleans.
Winston led the Saints on an impressive 59-Yd drive early that ended in a field goal, completing 4 of 5 passes for 49 yards on the march. He was otherwise unimpressive in the 27-13 New Orleans win, completing 6 of 10 passes for 63 yards and getting sacked twice, but avoided any turnovers.
In a move that shocked several, head coach Sean Payton announced that Taysom Hill would be the starting quarterback while Brees was out instead of Winston. Hill played reasonably well, helping the Saints to a 3-1 record until Brees returned against Kansas City in Week 15. He wouldn't see game action again until the season finale, mopping up for Brees in a 33-7 win at Carolina.
Hill would miss the team's Divisional Playoff loss against the Buccaneers with a knee injury, limiting the Saints ability to run gadget plays. In the second quarter, Payton inserted Winston into the game. On a flea-flicker, Winston fired a 56-Yd touchdown strike to Tre'Quan Smith. It was the longest pass play of the year for New Orleans, with Winston showcasing the arm strength and deep accuracy that Brees no longer possessed.
Brees is expected to retire this offseason, and Jameis Winston is an unrestricted free again this spring. Several teams, including New Orleans, are reportedly interested in him as a starter. While fans and media didn't get a chance to see if Winston's decision-making has improved or if he can put the turnovers that has plagued his career behind him, teammates and coaches raved about his practice habits all season.
It remains to be seen if Winston will be the anointed starter to kick off the post-Brees era of New Orleans football. No matter who's behind center for the Saints next year, this will be the main storyline surrounding the franchise well into the 2021 season.