When New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees retired this offseason, it ended one of the most stable quarterback situations in the NFL.
Brees had been the New Orleans signal caller for 15 years, by far the longest tenure in franchise history. He ended his career as the NFL's all-time leader in passing yardage, completions, total offense, and a slew of other league records.
The combination of Brees and head coach Sean Payton turned the team into a perennial contender. In 14 seasons together (the league suspended Payton in 2012), they won nearly 64% of their games.
New Orleans qualified for the playoffs nine times under Payton and Brees. They won the NFC South 7 times and won Super Bowl XLIV after the 2009 season.
With Brees gone, Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill will battle for the starting job behind center. Both players have talent but vastly different styles and major questions about ball security and decision-making.
The start of training camps for all 32 NFL teams is just days away. All national eyes will be on the Saints quarterback situation. Rightly so. It is the most important position battle in franchise history.
Saints QB Depth Chart:
- Jameis Winston
- Taysom Hill
- Ian Book
- Trevor Siemian
Winston is the far more polished passer of the group. The 2015 first-overall pick has flashed his potential as a franchise quarterback with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Winston has averaged over 260 yards passing per game in his career and threw for 5,109 yards in 2019. It was the eighth-highest total in NFL history.
The 27-year-old Winston has thrown for 121 touchdowns but also 88 interceptions.
Turnovers and poor decisions in clutch moments has him at a crossroads to his career.
Winston has had over a year to digest Payton's offensive system in New Orleans.
Possessing a powerful arm and making any throw, Winston's physical attributes have never been in question.
Winston played for three different head coaches and offensive coordinators over his first five seasons in Tampa Bay. In New Orleans, he finally has the stability and talent on both sides of the ball in place for him to succeed.
Hill, who turns 31 in August, has been a New Orleans fan favorite since his arrival to the team in 2017.
A ‘‘jack-of-all-trades’’ player not seen in modern NFL history, Hill has excelled on special teams as a runner, receiver, and wildcat quarterback.
He got his first chance as a traditional quarterback in 2020, when Brees missed four games with a rib injury.
Hill went 3-1 as a starter, completing 72% of his passes with three games of over 230 yards passing and 4 touchdowns with 2 interceptions.
Hill showed surprising pocket presence during his quarterback audition and brought elite athleticism to the position. He rushed for 209 yards and scored 4 touchdowns in his four games behind center.
Hill is a bruising runner with an explosive burst into the open field. His versatility and athleticism force defenses to account for him wherever he lines up along the offensive formation.
Hill must prove that he can consistently read defenses, patiently go through his progressions to get the ball to his playmakers, and show passing accuracy.
THE BACKUP BATTLE - BOOK VS. SIEMIAN
The Saints used a fourth-round pick on QB Ian Book from Notre Dame. Book is a cerebral quarterback with very good athleticism.
He is considered on the smaller side for an NFL passer (6-feet, 211-pounds) with above-average arm strength. That might sound a bit familiar, Saints fans.
Book was a three-year starter who led the Fighting Irish to a 30-5 record.
He doesn't figure into the Saints' 2021 plans. But Book could conceivably battle for the starting job in 2022 if Winston nor Hill performs up to expectations.
Book will have to impress during training camp with the limited preseason reps he will receive to put himself in a conversation for the future starter.
He’ll also have to show that he can quickly grasp the system to hold on to the Number 3 job over veteran journeyman Trevor Siemian.
New Orleans signed Siemian last year as veteran insurance when Brees went down. He’s completed 59% of his passes with 30 touchdowns and 24 interceptions, going 13-12 as a starter over his five-year career.
Book's pedigree makes him a significant roster favorite over Siemian. However, if the rookie plays poorly, New Orleans may try to stash Siemian for veteran insurance.
SOONER RATHER THAN LATER
Only three teams in the Super Bowl era, the 1971 Dallas Cowboys, 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers, and 1987 Washington Redskins, have won a championship with a quarterback controversy that extended into the season.
Despite offseason personnel losses, the Saints still have elite talent at every position on both sides of the ball. The team is set for another playoff run barring a rash of injuries or poor quarterback play,
The contrasting styles of these competing quarterbacks will significantly benefit the offense if either Winston or Hill can distinguish themselves over the other quickly. The fate of the 2021 New Orleans Saints depends on it.
Follow Bob Rose on Facebook or on Twitter @bobbyr2613.