Saints land QB Stevens, Payton trolls Panthers, NFL sends warning
After trading away all of their day three picks to move back into the third round and select Dayton’s TE Adam Trautman, the Saints focused on their UDFA class of the 2020 NFL Draft. Sean Payton said there was "NO WAY" the Saints would risk losing one of his favorite prospects, QB Tommy Stevens, to another NFC South team.
The New Orleans Saints selected Mississippi State QB Tommy Stevens with the 240th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. But, the story of how he became a Saint will be talked about for years. Saints columnist Jeff Duncan reported the story on how the Saints out-manuveured the Carolina Panthers and traded a 2021 6th round pick to move back into the draft and select the 6’5" QB. New Orleans was aware other teams inquired about Stevens to become a late draft choice or as an UDFA. One NFC South team was interested in making a deal for Stevens, the Carolina Panthers. But, Sean Payton wasn't done yet wheeling and dealing and found a way to get the coveted player via a trade.
The Panthers were ready to sign the former Nittany Lion based upon the recommendation of OC Joe Brady. It quickly became an intense battle between the NFC South foes to sign Stevens as an UDFA. New Orleans is interested in his ability to play a similar role to current Saints backup QB Taysom Hill. Stevens’ OC at Penn State and eventual HC at Mississippi State Joe Moorhead called the versatile role “The Lion” as he lined up as a RB, WR, and QB for the Nittany Lions.
New Orleans extended two offers, Stevens and his agent stopped answering the phone because they had committed to a deal with the Panthers if he went undrafted. Payton was eager to trade back into the draft. The Saints were offering their 2021 sixth-round draft pick for a late seventh-round selection. The Saints found a suitor in the Houston Texans and quickly turned-in their draft card to the NFL, and drafted Tommy Stevens.
Assistant GM Jeff Ireland shared the experience on the Saints Podcast earlier in the week.
Sean Payton told Stevens moments after he was selected, “You had given your word and I respect that. But we weren’t going to lose you. You were going to become a Saint.”
The tug of war over Stevens has the attention of the league. The NFL sent a memo to all 32 teams before the 2020 NFL Draft stating:
Although a club may inform a player or his agent that the club would be interested in the player’s services if the player is not drafted, no oral or written agreement can be made regarding a player’s future employment.”
According to NFL rules, it is not a violation to discuss interest with a prospect prior to the beginning of the UDFA period. However, it is a violation to negotiate financial matters or salary with a prospect before the end of the draft process.
The league has yet to comment on the Stevens matter . One league source predicts that the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers will face consequences for any violation according to NBC Sports’ Mike Florio. Panthers spokesman, Steve Drummond, denied the team and Stevens had a deal in place prior to being selected by the Saints. Saints' HC Sean Payton and Asst. GM Jeff Ireland’s accounts of what occurred during the last day of the draft tell a different story.
Stevens will be one of two new members in the Saints QB room in at the start of the team's 2020 Training Camp. The Saints re-signed QBs Drew Brees (2 Years, $50M) & Taysom Hill (2 Year, $21M) this offseason while also brining in former Tampa Bay Bucs QB Jameis Winston (1 Year, $1.1M).
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