Jameis Winston

Taysom Hill Favorite To Open Season As Saints’ Starting QB?

Mike Triplett of ESPN.com wrote several weeks ago that Jameis Winston may have the edge over Taysom Hill in this summer’s battle to be the Saints’ starting quarterback. Triplett pointed to Winston’s first-round pedigree, experience, and upside, though he noted that the former Buccaneer would need to clean up the turnover and accuracy issues that led to his exit from Tampa Bay.

However, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe hears that Hill, not Winston, could have the upper hand. Citing league sources, Volin says that Hill’s abilities as a dual-threat talent might compel head coach Sean Payton to open the year with Hill under center. If Hill should falter, it would be easy enough to insert Winston and install a more traditional offense.

Unlike Triplett, Volin is not a Saints beat, but both writers make valid points. In 2020, Winston’s first in New Orleans, it was Hill who got the nod during Drew Brees’ injury-related absence, and he acquitted himself nicely. He went 3-1 as a starter and, over that four-game stretch, he threw for four touchdowns against two interceptions while completing 72% of his passes. He also rushed for four TDs and maintained a YPC average of about 5.4.

On the other hand, Winston, 27, is over three years younger, and he has started 70 games in his career as opposed to Hill’s four starts. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 draft has also shown plenty of flashes of elite ability, but again, he could never quite shake the turnover bug. In his last season with the Bucs in 2019, he threw an incredible 30 interceptions.

Both Winston and Hill are signed through 2021. In a little more than a week, they will begin their battle for the Saints’ starting job this season, and, perhaps, for a lucrative multi-year contract starting in 2022.

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Saints Notes: Winston, Sherman, Baun

The biggest question facing the Saints this offseason is whether Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill will be the team’s starting QB come Week 1. Mike Triplett of ESPN.com believes Winston may be the frontrunner given that he is younger and has more upside, but the turnover and accuracy problems he had as a member of the Buccaneers are still major issues that he will need to clean up.

Of course, the club has been publicly complimentary of both players, and it was Hill — who also offers dynamic ability as a runner — who got the nod during Drew Brees‘ injury-related absence last year. Hill and Winston will be eligible for free agency following the 2021 campaign, so in addition to the starting gig, there is a lot of money riding on the outcome of this battle.

New Orleans selected former Notre Dame passer Ian Book in the fourth round of this year’s draft, and Book will learn behind Winston and Hill before perhaps getting a chance to throw his hat in the ring in 2022.

Now for more from the Big Easy:

  • The Saints’ record-setting extension for RT Ryan Ramczyk cleared about $5.5MM off their books, leaving them with $10-11MM of cap space. That number could increase if the club extends franchise-tagged safety Marcus Williams, a proposition that we recently discussed. Triplett believes New Orleans will put that money to use by signing a veteran or two, and he suggests that a big name like corner Richard Sherman — who has been connected to the team this offseason — remains a possibility.
  • GM Mickey Loomis is often credited as the man behind the Saints’ aggressive manipulation of the salary cap, and while Loomis has final say over the club’s transactions, Triplett also shines a light on a less recognizable member of the New Orleans front office. In examining the team’s use of backloaded contracts, restructures, and void years, Triplett describes vice president of football administration Khai Harley as one of the most innovative pioneers of those types of cap machinations, and he suggests that Harley could become a GM candidate in the future.
  • Linebacker Zack Baun, who generated some first-round buzz in the 2020 draft before ultimately falling to the third round, played in just 82 defensive snaps in his rookie season. But a hamstring injury suffered in training camp and the lack of a true offseason program hindered his development, and he will have the opportunity to make a bigger impact in 2021. As Sam Shannon of the team’s official website writes, Baun is transitioning from strongside linebacker to the weakside, which will require him to perform well in coverage. His projected ability to thrive in space is what led the Saints to draft him in the first place, and he will compete with second-round rookie Pete Werner for snaps alongside middle linebacker Demario Davis.

NFC Notes: Bears, Fields, Winston, Sherman

The Bears made the biggest splash of the draft by trading up for Justin Fields. When they did so, it couldn’t have been welcome news to Andy Dalton. Dalton signed with Chicago this offseason hoping to be their starter in 2021, and obviously the Fields pick put that plan in jeopardy. But Bears head coach Matt Nagy talked to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network shortly after the pick and told Rapoport he “wants the Kansas City model” that the Chiefs did with Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes (Twitter video link).Smith, of course, played the entire 2017 season before Mahomes took over in 2018.

Nagy was the offensive coordinator in Kansas City for that ’17 season before getting hired by the Bears. Rapoport says “their goal is to have Andy Dalton play the entire year, have Fields develop under the radar, and then pass the torch the following year.” Despite Nagy’s contentions, that’s almost certainly unrealistic. Nagy is coaching for his job this season, and both he and GM Ryan Pace are on the hottest of seats. They need to win in 2021, and they know it. It’s far from guaranteed Dalton even makes it to Week 1 as the starter, and assuming he does he’ll be on a very short leash. For what it’s worth, Rapsheet notes the Bears did call and talk to Dalton about moving up for a quarterback prior to making the trade. As he points out, that’s more than Aaron Rodgers got from the Packers with Jordan Love.

Here’s more from around the NFC on a quiet Sunday night:

  • The Saints just drafted Notre Dame passer Ian Book in the fourth-round, but he’s not likely to be involved in the competition between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill to become Drew Brees‘ successor. We heard when Winston re-upped with the Saints on a one-year deal with $5.5MM guaranteed worth “up to” $12MM that he had significant incentives, and now we have the details on those incentives. They come courtesy of Nick Underhill from NewOrleans.Football (Twitter link). There are too many to list here, but Winston will get $62.5K for every game where he plays more than 50 percent of the snaps up to $1MM. He’ll get $500K if he throws 20 touchdown passes ($1MM if he hits 25). He’s got an incentive for pretty much everything, including another $500K if the Saints make the playoffs and he plays 70 percent of the snaps.
  • We heard earlier this weekend that Richard Sherman was talking with a handful of teams, including the Seahawks about a potential reunion. The 49ers, Saints, and Raiders are apparently also in the mix, but it sounds more and more like a return to Seattle is a distinct possibility. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told the media on Saturday that he had talked to Sherman “quite a few times” this offseason about coming back to where he started his career, via Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com. Sherman, now 33, only played in five games last season but was a second-team All-Pro in 2019. He was with Seattle from 2011-17, making four Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams as part of their legendary ‘Legion of Boom’ defenses. Sherman has said previously he’d sign after the draft, so something could materialize here soon.

Saints To Re-Sign QB Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston will be back in New Orleans next season. The quarterback is re-signing with the Saints, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter). It’s a one-year deal worth up to $12MM. NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero reports (via Twitter) that the deal includes $5.5MM guaranteed.

Following the retirement of Drew Brees, the Saints have some question marks at the position for the first time since 2005. Barring an unexpected move, Winston will compete with teammate Taysom Hill for the starting gig in 2021. Similar to Winston, Hill will also be playing the 2021 campaign on a one-year, $12MM deal (despite the funky restructuring by the organization yesterday).

Winston, the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft, joined the Saints last offseason following five underwhelming years in Tampa Bay. Winston got into four games during his first season in New Orleans, completing seven of his 11 pass attempts for 75 yards. He also came up key during the Saints’ postseason loss to the Buccaneers, completing his lone pass attempt for 56 yards and a score.

Hill actually got eight starts and 16 appearances for the Saints this past season, leading some to wonder whether he has the upper hand on the QB competition heading into the offseason. However, the team’s been nothing but complimentary of Winston since his arrival, noting his performance in practice and on the sideline, and it sounds like the former first-rounder will have an equal chance at the starting gig in 2021.

We had a great exposure for one year with Jameis Winston,” coach Sean Payton said last month. “We didn’t have a normal offseason, but we had enough time to see what we had with him as a player, as a leader, and as an athlete. I really like what we had a chance to see. He was a tremendous leader for this team. That’s hard to do when you come in new in free agency your first year as a backup quarterback. So that’ll be an important checkmark for us.

And, a lot of times, you want to hold your cards closer to the vest and he is a free agent. But him, along with Taysom Hill who’s in the building, we’ve said it all along: We’re going to develop and coach those guys. And Jameis is one of those guys that we have a big interest in.”

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Saints’ Sean Payton: “Big Interest” In Re-Signing Jameis Winston

The Saints like what they’ve seen from Jameis Winston. On Wednesday, Saints head coach Sean Payton said there’s “big interest” in bringing the quarterback back for 2021. 

[RELATED: Drew Brees To Retire]

We had a great exposure for one year with Jameis Winston,” Payton told NFL Network (Twitter link). “We didn’t have a normal offseason, but we had enough time to see what we had with him as a player, as a leader, and as an athlete. I really like what we had a chance to see. He was a tremendous leader for this team. That’s hard to do when you come in new in free agency your first year as a backup quarterback. So that’ll be an important checkmark for us.

And, a lot of times, you want to hold your cards closer to the vest and he is a free agent. But him, along with Taysom Hill who’s in the building, we’ve said it all along: We’re going to develop and coach those guys. And Jameis is one of those guys that we have a big interest in.”

In 2019, Winston set career-highs in passing yards (5,109) and touchdowns (33) in 2019, while also setting a league-wide watermark with 30 interceptions. After that, Winston joined the Saints on a modest one-year, $1MM pact last year in an effort to rebuild his value. He’s done that, to some extent, by impressing his coaches in practice.

Payton had “great” exposure to Winston, even though the volume wasn’t tremendous. Winston served as the Saints’ QB3, slotted behind both Drew Brees and Taysom Hill. The former No.1 overall pick made four appearances this season, completing seven of his eleven pass attempts for 75 yards. The highlight of his year came in the playoffs, when he threw for a touchdown against his pals.

Now, with Brees set to retire, the Saints could have more reps available for the 27-year-old signal caller.

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Latest On Drew Brees’ Future

While Drew Brees has been quiet about his future, those close to him believe he’ll hang up his cleats following the season. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport relays that “everybody believes that [Brees] will retire at the end of this season” (Twitter link). The 42-year-old is “hoping for one last run through the playoffs…hoping to end his career on the podium holding a big trophy.”

While we’ve yet to hear anything definitive about the future Hall of Fame’s status going forward, the writing has been on the wall for a while. Brees inked a deal with NBC Sports last April, signaling his post-playing career. The organization also agreed to an extension with Taysom Hill this offseason, keeping their backup QB under club control through 2021. Predictably, GM Mickey Loomis recently said that Brees would be welcomed back if he wanted to continue playing beyond this season, but the executive also revealed that no final decision has been made.

The Saints got a glimpse of what a post-Brees team could look like in 2020. The veteran missed four games, with Hill going 3-1 in his stead. While Hill is better known for his versatile skill set (he finished the season with 555 yards from scrimmage and nine rushing and receiving touchdowns), he showed that he’s capable under center. The 30-year-old finished the season having completed 72.7-percent of his passes for 928 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions.

It sounds like the Saints are also interested in retaining the third quarterback on their roster. Rapoport reports that the organization would like to re-sign Jameis Winston, noting that the Saints “love what they’ve seen in practice.” While the team has touted Winston’s arm strength and work ethic, they’re still (predictably) wary of his tendency of interception. The former first-overall pick got into four games this season, completing seven of his 11 pass attempts for 75 yards.

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Saints Place Jameis Winston On Reserve/COVID-19 List

The Saints will have quarterback Drew Brees back in action this afternoon, but they will be without their expected backup. The team announced that it has placed Jameis Winston on the reserve/COVID-19 list, thereby ruling him out for New Orleans’ much-anticipated battle with the Chiefs. As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets, Winston did not test positive for the coronavirus, but he is a close contact of someone who did.

The plan was to have Winston serve as Brees’ QB2 so that Taysom Hill, who went 3-1 as as Brees’ replacement under center over the past four games, could resume his jack-of-all-trades role. However, Winston’s placement on the reserve/COVID-19 list means that Hill will be the backup signal-caller, and the Saints may be more reluctant to deploy him as a runner/receiver as a result.

Just this morning, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports wrote that Winston could have a future with the Saints beyond the 2020 campaign. Though Hill signed an extension in April and is expected to become the team’s starting QB in 2021 — assuming Brees retires — New Orleans has reportedly been impressed with Winston’s work ethic and ability.

The former No. 1 overall pick of the Buccaneers signed a modest one-year, $1MM pact with the Saints this year in an effort to rebuild his value, and there may be opportunities for him elsewhere in the coming offseason. But given Hill’s lack of experience, the Saints might still represent his best chance to win a starting job.

After a wild roller coaster ride in 2019 that saw him lead the league in passing yards (5,109) while throwing for 33 TDs against a stunning 30 interceptions, Winston has attempted just 10 passes this season.

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Latest on Taysom Hill, Drew Brees

Today could be the dawn of a new era for the Saints, as Taysom Hill will get the nod at quarterback in place of the injured Drew Brees. Although some were surprised that New Orleans would turn to Hill instead of the considerably more experienced Jameis Winston, the Saints and head coach Sean Payton have made it clear that they see Hill as a long-term starter.

This offseason, the Saints and Hill agreed to a two-year, $21MM extension that keeps the 30-year-old under club control through the 2021 season. $16MM of that money was guaranteed at signing, and though the contract represents a big commitment for a backup QB/Swiss Army knife, it’s a modest payout for a starting signal-caller. And soon after the deal was signed, reports surfaced indicating that the club plans to give the job to Hill if Brees retires at the end of the 2020 campaign as expected.

So, one reason New Orleans is inserting Hill into the starting lineup is simply because it believes in him and thinks he provides the best chance to win in Brees’ absence. The other, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, is that the Saints need to know what they have in Hill.

A source familiar with Payton’s thinking said, “Sean just wants to know,” when asked why the head coach is forging ahead with Hill. After all, Hill has thrown just 18 passes in his pro career, and Brees’ injury gives the Saints a perfect opportunity to see if their faith in the BYU product is justified. If Hill struggles, the club could pivot to Winston, and it could also save $5MM against the 2021 cap by cutting Hill after the season.

Some within the organization do not agree with Payton’s choice, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. Winston apparently has plenty of support among the team’s staffers, and Payton himself struggled with the decision. Depending on how things play out over the coming weeks, Winston remains an option for 2021.

As for Brees himself, his injury is even more extensive than previously thought. According to Ed Werder of ESPN.com, Brees has 11 rib fractures — eight on his left side and three on his right (Twitter link). However, doctors have been encouraged by Brees’ progress, including improvement in his lung function, and the 41-year-old passer believes he will be able to come off IR as soon as he is eligible in Week 14 (Twitter links via Werder).

Even if it takes until Week 15 for Brees to return to the field, it sounds like the Saints will have the future Hall of Famer back in time for at least one more playoff run.

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Saints Place Drew Brees On IR

Drew Brees is now guaranteed to miss at least three games. The Saints placed the future Hall of Fame quarterback on IR on Friday, shelving him until Week 14.

Sean Payton declined to confirm reports Taysom Hill will replace Brees in New Orleans’ starting lineup instead of Jameis Winston. But that appears to be the plan, with ESPN.com’s Dianna Russini indicating the team is not planning to use Winston in any packages Sunday (Twitter link).

This is quite the bold strategy for the Saints, considering Hill has thrown 18 career passes. Winston may well see time during Brees’ absence, as he did when Brees went down in Week 10, but the former Buccaneers QB is currently set to be Hill’s backup. This certainly represents a step back for the five-year Bucs starter, who stands to be a free agent again in 2021.

As for Brees, he has sought additional opinions regarding his punctured lung and cracked ribs this week. The 41-year-old passer is believed to have fractured at least five ribs and punctured a lung. He was already confirmed to miss at least two games; the IR distinction will provide the Saints a roster spot.

Given the steep dropoff between Brees and his backups, this certainly could reshape the NFC playoff picture. Only one team receives a bye this year, thanks to the new CBA’s expanded playoff bracket, and no team has made a Super Bowl appearance without a bye since 2012. The Saints did win five games with Teddy Bridgewater starting last year, however. Over the next three weeks, the Saints have two games against the Falcons — in Weeks 11 and 13 — and one against the Broncos.

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Saints To Start Taysom Hill Over Jameis Winston

With Drew Brees sidelined, it looked as though the stage was set for Jameis Winston to reassert himself as an NFL starter. Instead, the Saints go with Taysom Hill on Sunday, leaving Winston to hold the clipboard against the Falcons (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter). 

While Winston set career-highs in passing yards (5,109) and touchdowns (33) in 2019, he also set a career-high (and led the NFL) with 30 interceptions. He later agreed to a one-year, $1.1MM deal with the Saints, giving him an opportunity to learn from Brees and, perhaps, take over for him if given the opportunity.

Winston got the call when Brees’ rib injury forced him out against the Niners, and he went on to complete six of ten passes for 63 yards. Apparently, that didn’t guarantee Winston’s status as the fill-in starter ahead of Hill. Regardless of who takes the first snap, the Saints could use Winston and Hill interchangeably.

After notching their sixth-straight win, the Saints are 7-2 and marching their way towards another playoff run. Meanwhile, both of their backup QBs will be making their case to take over for Brees in 2021, if the future Hall of Famer calls it a career.

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