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Saints Jameis Winston Has a Chance to Silence Critics for Good

New Orleans showed faith in QB Jameis Winston this offseason, evidenced by their personnel moves.  Winston has a prime chance to reward that faith and forever silence his remaining critics.
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New Orleans Saints QB Jameis Winston is entering his eighth NFL season and his third with New Orleans. The 1st Overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft out of Florida State by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Winston has been a hot topic of debate throughout his entire career.

A terrific physical talent and highly productive passer, Winston has often flashed the abilities that made him a top overall pick. He surpassed 4,000 yards passing in each of his first two years, throwing 50 touchdowns but 33 interceptions.

Winston was suspended for the first three games in 2018 for an alleged incident off the field. It capped off several incidents, dating back to college, that brought Winston's maturity and conduct into question.

In 2019, Winston became just the eighth player in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards in a season. His 33 touchdown passes were second in the league, but he also led all passers with 30 interceptions, sixth highest total in NFL history.

Winston was allowed to test free agency in 2020 when the Buccaneers signed QB Tom Brady. He finished his Tampa Bay career with 19,737 yards passing, 121 touchdowns, and 88 interceptions. Only Hall of Famer Peyton Manning threw for more yards over the first five years of his career, and Winston even missed 10 games.

Winston - Saints

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) throws a pass against the New England Patriots. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) throws a pass against the New England Patriots. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans brought the mercurial quarterback in on a one-year deal to back up Drew Brees in 2020. He’d re-sign with the team after the season to take over starting duties from the retired Brees. The team went 5-2 with Winston as a starter in 2021 before he missed the last ten contests with a knee injury.

Winston’s numbers as a passer weren't overly impressive. He threw for 1,170 yards, an average of just 195 yards per game. However, he was also playing with a depleted receiving corps that was without All-Pro WR Michael Thomas and an offensive line battered with injuries.

What was most impressive about Winston's 2021 campaign was the fact that he avoided the crippling turnovers that had plagued his career. He accounted for 15 touchdowns, but threw just 3 interceptions. His maturity and conduct should also no longer be a concern to even his most hardened critics.

Winston is among the most liked and respected players in the New Orleans locker room. Even in 2019, new Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians praised his quarterback for his work ethic and professionalism. That work ethic was on full display this offseason, when Winston worked maniacally to come back from a serious knee injury.

Despite all this, there were many who doubted that Winston would be back behind center for New Orleans in 2022.

Saints All-In on Winston

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) throws from the pocket against the Green Bay Packers. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) throws from the pocket against the Green Bay Packers. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

After a brief courtship of controversial QB Deshaun Watson this spring, New Orleans re-signed Winston to a two-year contract. It was a team-friendly deal, worth a total of $28 million with $21 million guaranteed. That left many believing that the Saints still weren't totally committed to Winston, and that they were eyeing a quarterback in last months NFL Draft.

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Instead, New Orleans gave their quarterback two major offensive pieces with both their first-round selections. Ohio State WR Chris Olave was added with the Number 11 overall choice, then Northern Iowa OT Trevor Penning was selected at Number 19 overall.

Penning should ease the free-agent loss of often-injured Pro Bowl Terron Armstead at left tackle. Olave was considered the best route runner in his class, but also a big-play threat who can take the top of defenses. In fact, New Orleans didn't draft a quarterback at all, even with projected first rounders Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, and Matt Corral slipping into later rounds.

Additionally, the Saints gave Winston another weapon by signing five-time Pro Bowl WR Jarvis Landry. Combined with the return of the dominant Michael Thomas and presence of dynamic RB Alvin Kamara, Winston will be surrounded with the most offensive talent he’s ever had. He’ll also benefit from a return to health of one of the league's best offensive lines.

Winston will also be supported by an elite defense. The Saints ranked near the top-five of almost every defensive category in 2021. They're a physical and disruptive unit that can consistently shut down the NFL's best offenses. It's also a deep squad, with All-Pro talent at every level.

Believe in Winston

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) passes against the Seattle Seahawks. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) passes against the Seattle Seahawks. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Jameis Winston still has a lot to prove. He’ll have to continue to avoid turnovers like he did last season. He must also show that he can go through his progressions more decisively and take fewer sacks. Winston was sacked an alarming 11 times in his six full games last year. Some of that can be attributed to offensive line struggles and lack of separation by his receivers.

The sudden retirement of head coach Sean Payton can also not be overlooked. Payton is one of the finest offensive minds in the game, and Winston was just appearing comfortable in his system when he went down with injury. Fortunately, much of the team’s continuity should remain in place this year.

Long-time Payton defensive coordinator Dennis Allen takes over as head coach. He’ll leave the offense in charge of offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, another longtime Payton assistant. Carmichael had a major say in the week-to-week game planning of the offense for the last 16 years.

Detractors will love to point out Winston's 33-44 record as a starter and the fact that he’s taken just one team to a winning record with no playoff appearances. While he certainly bears responsibility for his rash of turnovers and losing record, Winston was never surrounded with playoff talent prior to his arrival in New Orleans.

Tampa Bay had some receiving talent during Winston's five years there, but little else. His offensive line was often a sieve, putting him under constant duress. He also never had a consistent running game to take advantage of his play-action ability. The Buccaneers pass defense was also among the league's worst during Winston's tenure, often putting him under pressure to come from behind.

Tampa Bay also never had the coaching or front office stability that he has in New Orleans. In five years with the Buccaneers, he had three different head coaches and three different offensive coordinators.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) throws a pass against Washington. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) throws a pass against Washington. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Winston has embraced his opportunity with the Saints. He put in extra offseason work with his receivers last year to build chemistry. Expect him to do the same this summer with Thomas, Olave, and Landry.

The pressure is on Jameis Winston to finally put it all together and fulfill his vast potential and promise. If he does, the 28-year-old Winston will likely be rewarded with a lucrative long-term contract. New Orleans showed their belief in Winston with their offseason moves. He’ll have every opportunity to show whether that commitment was warranted. 

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