When the New Orleans Saints finally report to Training Camp during the last weekend of July in a couple of months from now, one of the most interesting aspects of their return to action will be determining which one of their veteran players behind starter (and future NFL Hall of Famer) Drew Brees, will become the team’s back-up #2 QB for the upcoming 2020 NFL Season — and very likely the new starter after Brees retires.
Ultimately their choice will come down between a phenomenal 30-year old athlete who can play multiple roles but who’s also never started a regular season game at QB and has only completed 6 passes in his entire NFL career; versus a recently-signed 26-year old ex-starter from a division rival (Tampa Bay) who despite being immensely talented, last season actually threw for the most interceptions (30) in the League in the past 40 years.
Not surprisingly, many of the team’s passionately-devoted Who Dat fans are now figuratively “caught in the crossfire”, as they sort through their personal feelings about Brees’ expected departure while also trying to figure out which player — either Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston — they want to see become the team’s next presumed ‘franchise’ QB and starter at the sport of Pro Football’s most important position.
Jameis Winston is the future. Taysom hill is getting paid to be a athlete watch his BYU tape to see what I’m talking about pic.twitter.com/P5txxyAha6
— AD (@ADWRLD504) April 29, 2020
Last week, the team signed both players to brand-new deals, as they gave Hill a lucrative 2-year contract extension for a reported $21 million with $16 million guaranteed through the end of next season (2021); while signing Winston to a 1-year contract that will earn him a base salary of only $1.1 million, but with the opportunity to earn up to a maximum of $3.4 million with incentives.
If you take into consideration the length of the two different contracts, then you could easily make the presumption that the Saints are considering Hill, who’s been with the team for the past 3 seasons; to become their next designated starter.
But Winston — who willingly took less money than he could have gotten so that he could attend “quarterback school” this season under the guidance of Brees and head coach Sean Payton — is expected to be given the chance to prove to everyone that he can improve his skills and perhaps become a starting QB once again someday, and if not in NOLA then elsewhere with another NFL team.
Now the question becomes: which one will prove himself worthy of earning the #2 back-up role this season and likely gain the “inside track” at becoming the permanent starter in 2021?
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the whole situation at the moment, is looking at just which one of the two players that Saints fans themselves want to see become the next starter down the line eventually; and based upon the wide variety of interactions among Who Dats in recent days throughout Social Media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, they are completely split right down the middle.
Hill, who was a starting QB in college at BYU (Brigham Young University), has become one of the team’s most popular players of all-time, thanks to his elite-caliber athleticism that has allowed him to fill multiple roles within the team’s high-powered offensive attack including wide receiver and tight end. Additionally, he’s also considered one of the very best special teams performers in the entire NFL, specifically in punt and kickoff coverage.
Nevertheless, there have been many questions regarding Hill’s ability to become a full-time starter at the QB position; and many of his biggest critics have noted that he soon will have a lot to prove in the upcoming months ahead, as to whether or not he is deserving of that critically-important role. Payton in a recent interview expressed his belief that Hill is capable of doing so; but that was before the team then eventually signed Winston after the completion of the 2020 NFL Draft over a week ago.
#Saints gave backup QB Taysom Hill the expensive 1st round tender during free-agency. The thought was he’ll be the direct backup to Drew Brees, but because his role is expanded to other positions such as RB/WR/TE/etc, the #Saints are signing former #Bucs rival QB Jameis Winston. pic.twitter.com/0W9iIbpLOd
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) April 26, 2020
Although it’s been re-hashed time and time again specifically in the past few months, the likelihood of Hill taking over the starting QB position after Brees retires honestly doesn’t seem very realistic to some well-respected NFL observers and analysts, to effectively become a full-time starting NFL QB in the classical sense, particularly as a pure “pocket passer” that drops back 20-plus times a game and can efficiently make throws downfield.
While Hill undoubtedly has the arm strength to throw the ball 50-plus yards to a deep receiving target, it’s his dynamic running ability that makes him the dangerous “weapon” in the Saints offense that he has become; but yet it’s because of that very same trait, that a few analysts have mentioned previously that it would require Payton to dramatically alter or “reshape” the team’s offensive scheme.
Keeping the scheme “as is” in the very same manner that it is currently under Brees, would mean that Taysom would somehow magically need to show that he’s been able to improve his skills strictly as a prototypical pocket passer since being guided by Payton and Brees for the past 3 years, most notably his perceived struggles with accuracy. If he can illustrate that he really and truly has improved that critical passing skill besides only just in practices and Preseason games, it could go a long way in changing the unflattering narrative or negative views regarding him becoming a future starting QB.
But now with Winston in the fold, there are questions as to whether Payton just wanted a veteran back-up on the roster who could come in and fill the back-up role once held by Teddy Bridgewater (now the starter with Carolina); or if he actually has a much bigger vision for Winston (as in becoming the Saints’ next “franchise” QB) — if he’s able to show him how to keep his on-field mistakes limited to a minimum.
Winston by all accounts has certainly had an “up and down” career in the NFL so far, as evidenced by the fact that despite the embarrassing amount of interceptions that he threw last year, still led the NFL in passing yardage (5,109) and became the NFL’s all-time leader in career passing yards by the age of 26; and now is also 2nd behind only retired NFL Hall of Fame and former Miami Dolphins QB Dan Marino in career passing TD’s by that same age.
Jameis Winston has broken 5,000 passing yards this year.
The only other QBs to throw for 5,000 in a season are Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matthew Stafford https://t.co/3fzGK5EOGE pic.twitter.com/OwSyEcI32r
— ProFootballReference (@pfref) December 29, 2019
Jameis Winston was the second-best deep passer off of play action last season. He was accurate on 66.7% of his attempts. pic.twitter.com/z6WdBr03aN
— QB Data Mine (@QBDataMine) May 2, 2020
However, it was last season in 2019 that Winston was thought to finally be getting the “big break” that he had been waiting for, when the Buccaneers hired their own offensive “guru” with a superb-knowledge of NFL passing schemes in their now 2nd-year head coach Bruce Arians. It was hoped that with Arians’ guidance, Winston could take full advantage of his “cannon”-like strong right-passing arm, and put up huge numbers while slinging the ball far downfield to elite-caliber wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
While Winston did in fact put up some big-time stats that were mentioned above, his overall performance was still viewed as a disappointment and an outright failure by some, many of whom felt that the former Florida State University star made too many poor decisions and demonstrated a lack of knowledge for the scheme he was responsible for operating.
What if I told you…
Jameis Winston is the first player in NFL history to throw 30 passing touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same season.
His final pass of the season was a walk-off pick six by Atlanta’s Deion Jones. pic.twitter.com/yeMTMBS2Po
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 29, 2019
In all fairness to Winston, Tampa Bay’s running game last year was virtually non-existent; and that might have worked against him in the sense that he was FORCING throws into tight passing windows which very often led to critical errors at the most inopportune moments, in several of Tampa Bay’s 9 losses last year.
Now with having RB’s Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray behind him in the backfield, the hope will be that Winston could (and should) benefit from New Orleans’ much more-proficient rushing attack.
The one factor that could work in Winston’s favor is that if he is able to fully absorb all of the knowledge that he’s expected to receive from Payton and Brees, he potentially could thrive in the Saints big-play offense that also includes All-Pro WR Michael Thomas, newly-signed veteran free agent WR Emmanuel Sanders, veteran TE Jared Cook, and possibly even recently-drafted and brand-new rookie TE Adam Trautman.
If Winston can prove that he can become a much more efficient passer and significantly reduce the amount of mistakes and rectify the poor decision-making that seemingly has derailed his once-promising NFL career, it could give Payton and his offensive coaching staff comprised of offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. and QB coach Joe Lombardi, a tough choice to make.
Given his considerably-much more extensive playing experience than Taysom has as a starting NFL QB, it’s thought by many observers that if Winston can show some very notable improvement with his passing skills; it potentially could give the Black and Gold a much BETTER option in what will be one of the most vitally-important decisions that team management has ever made in the franchise’s entire 53-year history.
Now of course, the Saints still will have a 3rd and possibly even a 4th option next year; when other veteran NFL QB’s could become available in 2021 NFL Free Agency, such as current Houston Texans starting QB Deshaun Watson or Dallas Cowboys back-up #2 QB (and former Cincinnati Bengals starter) Andy Dalton.
And even though the Saints most likely won’t be in a position to select top-rated college QB’s in next year’s 2021 NFL Draft such as Clemson University QB Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State University QB Justin Fields, they potentially would still have a shot at taking other accomplished passers such as Mississippi State’s KJ Costello or Iowa State’s Brock Purdy, among others.
Brock Purdy, magician. pic.twitter.com/vek03vLNcL
— Tyler Hansen (@t3hansen) November 16, 2019
For now however, the Saints have a 41-year old QB as their starter for this year and also not just one but now TWO veteran players at the position in both Hill and Winston — each of whom will have a whole lot to prove to everyone that questions whether or not they are truly worthy and well-deserving — of becoming the next starting “franchise” QB after Brees is gone.
Meanwhile, the very proud but extremely vocal Who Dat Nation fan-base remains equally-divided among itself with regard to this blossoming situation, as the summer months draw closer. If the current COVID-19 / caronavirus social-distancing restrictions are eased and fans are actually able to attend practices in Training Camp throughout the month of August, they’ll even be able to watch what happens with Taysom and Jameis take place, first-hand.
But even if fans are ultimately kept away from attending Training Camp and possibly even the games as well, due to for safety precautions and health concerns; make no mistake about this much:
The future of the Saints QB position and deciding which one out of these two players to cheer for to become the next starter, now has quite a few Who Dats feeling as if they’re “caught in the crossfire”…..
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius