New Orleans Saints' Jameis Winston Gamble Presents Big Potential Payoff

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystApril 28, 2020

TAMPA, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 09: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints shakes hands with Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the Saints defeated the Bucs 28-14 at Raymond James Stadium on December 09, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Will Vragovic/Getty Images)
Will Vragovic/Getty Images

Something witty like "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" seems appropriate since former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston signed with the New Orleans Saints, but that's too cliche considering the Saints are taking the smart approach in addressing a glaring need behind 41-year-old Drew Brees.

Winston signed a one-year deal with the former rival worth $1.1 million in base salary with $3.4 million in available incentives, according to ESPN's Field Yates.

The signing brings last season's passing yardage leader into the fold and creates the league's most competitive backup quarterback situation.

The Saints took the same approach with Teddy Bridgewater. They traded for him in 2018 and then signed him to a one-year deal in 2019 to serve as Brees' backup.

The move proved fortuitous when their franchise signal-caller suffered a thumb injury last season and required Bridgewater to start five games. The Saints won each of those contests, and Bridgewater showed he's more than a game-manager capable of keeping the offense afloat for a short period.

Both the organization and the backup benefited from the setup. Bridgewater used his starting stretch as a showcase for a starter-level free-agent deal with the Carolina Panthers.

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Winston enters a slightly different setup, but the potential reward remains the same.

Bridgewater might have been hoping to be New Orleans' franchise quarterback in 2020, but Brees didn't retire. The upcoming season is more likely to be the future Hall of Famer's last than not.

With that said, the Saints coaching staff won't just hand the reins to Winston. He'll have to earn that right. Sources told Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson that New Orleans brass "won't guarantee him the backup job."

The organization strongly believes in Taysom Hill to the point where he might be favored to replace Brees.

"We feel like that heir apparent potentially is in the building," head coach Sean Payton said about his two backup options before Bridgewater signed with the Panthers, per ESPN's Mike Triplett.

New Orleans showed its belief in Hill by agreeing to a new contract with the multipurpose quarterback. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Hill signed a two-year, $21 million deal Sunday with $16 million fully guaranteed.

"Wouldn't come as a total shock to see Sean Payton move forward with Taysom Hill as the starting QB," one NFC executive told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler in January. "Sean always has been intrigued by athletic quarterbacks and how to utilize them. Taysom is a talented guy."

At the same time, the Saints acknowledge the inherent risk in the investment. Hill is a fantastic football player, but he's far from a developed quarterback ready to take the reins. Yes, his involvement in the offense tends to be quite exciting, but gadget plays don't exactly portend consistent quarterback performance.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 29: Taysom Hill #7 of the New Orleans Saints scores a touchdown during the third quarter during their game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Ph
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

As such, the Saints expect to carry a third quarterback on the active roster because of the "uniqueness of Hill's role," per The Athletic's Larry Holder.

General manager Mickey Loomis also drafted Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens with this year's 240th overall pick, but the 6'5", 235-pound athlete is more likely to take over Hill's role as a versatile offensive weapon if/when the veteran becomes a full-time starter than actually contributing to the quarterback room.

So, the Saints are undertaking an intelligent ploy by bringing in a talented traditional quarterback with plenty of experience and some remaining upside to legitimately compete with Hill for the chance to become New Orleans' next franchise quarterback.

Realistically, Hill should be in no way considered the favorite to serve as Brees' successor. Yes, he injects a certain level of panache, but he turns 30 before the 2020 campaign begins and has attempted only 13 career passes in three seasons.

This isn't Aaron Rodgers, who was a first-round pick, sitting behind Brett Favre for three years before taking over as the Green Bay Packers starter. The 6'2", 221-pound Hill has always been a dynamic athlete, but he's never been a precision passer. In his five seasons with the BYU Cougars, Hill completed 58.2 percent of his passes. He's not going to magically become an efficient pocket passer. The Saints would have to adjust the offense to fit his skill set.

For all of Winston's faults, he's a proven commodity.

Too many will look at last year's first 30-30 season and entirely blame him for the interceptions. No one can deny Winston's inability to safeguard the football. He forces passes, misses zone droppers and tends to cough up the ball when sacked.

However, last year's disappointing turnover rate requires context. "No risk it, no biscuit" is Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians' most well-known saying. The approach serves as the crux of how he wants his quarterbacks to play. He coaches them to push the ball downfield for big plays, and it results in a significant number of turnover-worthy throws, as Pro Football Focus noted:

Prior to Arians' arrival, Winston averaged a 61.6 completion percentage, 3,657 yards, 22.0 touchdowns and 14.5 interceptions per season through his first four campaigns.

The 2015 No. 1 overall pick would likely have been the Buccaneers' starting quarterback this fall if an opportunity to sign Tom Brady didn't arise.

"We have a lot of respect for Jameis," Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said, per ESPN's Jenna Laine. "Jameis was still part of our plan if things went a different route. We've got a lot of respect for him. I thought he did a lot of great things, and anybody in our office or building would say the same thing."

Winston is three-and-a-half years younger than Hill yet already has five years as a starting quarterback under his belt. The 2015 Pro Bowler still displays tantalizing traits. Will he still make mistakes and turn the ball over? Sure. But he's about to enter one of the league's most stable situations and best offensive schemes where he can learn from Payton and Brees. That's quite a change of pace after already playing for three different head coaches and offensive coordinators.

Like Bridgewater, Winston can wait for an opportunity and prove himself again.

The Saints are doing the right thing by investing in Hill and signing Winston. But it's obvious which of the two should be deemed Brees' heir apparent, and it's not the one who recently received a bigger financial commitment.

     

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.