For the first time in 15 years, the New Orleans Saints are in the market for a new quarterback. No announcement has been made, but most expect that future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees will retire this offseason after 20 NFL seasons, 15 with the Saints. As many as 14 NFL teams, including New Orleans, could make a major move at the quarterback position this offseason.
The NFL quarterback carousel is expected to be busier than ever this offseason, with the first major move this weekend when the Los Angeles Rams dealt QB Jared Goff and three draft picks to the Detroit Lions for QB Matthew Stafford.
Plenty of other movements among signal-callers will follow, with as many as six quarterbacks also expected to be chosen in the 1st round of the draft.
Stafford's trade takes one talent off the market, but the Saints will be in the middle of every quarterback rumor over the next three months. Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans is the most talented available, but the asking price for Watson is probably too high for the Saints. Drafting a quarterback or making a move to get one of the other players who will be available is certainly possible, but the successor to Brees may already be in a New Orleans uniform.
The Saints signed former 1st overall draft choice and Tampa Bay starter Jameis Winston last season to back up Brees. Winston saw little action in 2020, throwing just 12 passes for 131 yards.
He was passed over as the starter in favor of Taysom Hill when Brees missed four games with a serious rib injury, but coach Sean Payton praised Winston's maturity, practice performances, and ability to pick up the offense. Winston will be an unrestricted free agent in March and has already reportedly received interest from the Colts and Bears if he hits the market.
Here are four reasons to believe that Jameis Winston will be the next starting quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.
Winston's one-year contract counted for only $2.86 million towards the New Orleans salary cap in 2020. His next deal will be worth a great deal more. I’d expect Winston's new contract to average between $19-$21 million per year for three seasons, with several performance bonuses written into the deal.
That’s similar to what Teddy Bridgewater received when he left the Saints for the Carolina Panthers last year and slightly more than the $16.2 million that Taysom Hill will cost against the cap in 2021. It’s also almost half of what Deshaun Watson's current deal will escalate to in 2022, and significantly less than what Jimmy Garoppolo, who could also be available, will earn with the 49ers this season.
More than just salary concerns for the cap-strapped Saints, there’s also the issue of what assets it will cost to get a new quarterback. Detroit got two 1st round draft picks and a 3rd rounder in addition to Goff for the 33-Yr old Stafford. Securing the 25-Yr old Watson, one of the best players in the league, will come at a much higher cost.
The New York Jets are reportedly looking to deal former 3rd overall pick, Sam Darnold. Garoppolo is also reported to be on the trading block, and the Panthers already appear ready to move on from Bridgewater. While none of those players will come at the cost of Watson, re-signing the 27-Yr old Winston will not cost New Orleans either players or draft choices.
Because he played so little last season, it’s easy to forget the eye-popping numbers that Winston has put up in his career. Winston has one of just 12 5,000-Yd passing seasons in NFL history, throwing for a league-high 5,109 yards in 2019. He also threw for 33 touchdowns that same year and has thrown for over 4,000 yards all three times he has played a full season. He averaged over 270 yards per game through his first five years before joining the Saints and completed over 61% of his throws in a downfield attack with 121 career touchdowns.
Deshaun Watson is the most talented proven quarterback available this offseason, but Jameis Winston has often flashed the potential that made him the top pick in the 2015 draft. He has the arm talent to make all the throws, has outstanding deep accuracy, and the mobility to escape the pass rush. Yes, Winston's decision-making and ball security are a major concern. He’s thrown 88 career interceptions, fumbled 50 times, and been sacked 171 times.
Payton and teammates have often pointed to Winston's improved decision-making in practices, and he displayed better accuracy in brief game appearances this season. Other than Watson, Winston is simply a more talented option than other available veterans like Darnold, Garoppolo, Mitchell Trubisky (Bears), Cam Newton (Patriots), Gardner Minshew (Jaguars), or even Teddy Bridgewater.
3. OFFENSIVE CONTINUITY
It was surprising to most when Payton tabbed Taysom Hill to start over Winston in the four games Brees missed last year. Part of that was to see what Hill could do behind center. He also had the luxury of being in the offense for three seasons, while Winston was in his first year with the team. Now, with a full year in the New Orleans offense, Winston has an advantage over a draft choice or even an incoming veteran (except for Hill or Bridgewater) because of his experience in the system.
The Saints have one of the league's most complex offenses. One of the many ways that New Orleans fans were spoiled with Brees, who had a great deal of input in the game plans, was his unique ability to process the complicated system and decipher defenses so quickly with it. Even receivers have admitted to taking a while to adjust to the complexities of the offense.
Payton will not only go into 2021 with a new quarterback but also without longtime offensive assistants Joe Lombardi and Dan Campbell. Having a quarterback already familiar with the system will keep superstars like RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas maintain a comfort level that should allow for a quicker transition to someone other than the incomparable Brees behind center.
Someone with the arm talent of Winston should even allow expanding the existing playbook, opening up the field for plays Brees was unable to consistently make in recent years.
4. BECAUSE SEAN PAYTON TOLD US SO
Several times this season when asked about the team's future at the position, Payton said that the next quarterback was ‘‘already in the building’’. If a coach is to be taken at his word, then perhaps we should ignore all the quarterback rumors his team will be linked to this offseason.
There’s a possibility that Payton could have been referring to Taysom Hill, who has one year left on his contract and played reasonably well with a limited playbook this year. Most speculate that Payton was referring to Winston, who also developed a great relationship with his teammates.
If that’s true, then the Saints would be wise to re-sign Winston to a new deal before the onset of free agency in March. That would eliminate a potential bidding war and put to rest any further questions surrounding the quarterback spot for at least one year. A position this franchise hasn't had to worry about since before the 2006 season.