The Carolina Panthers were set to sign Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens as an undrafted free agent on Saturday, but head coach Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints had other ideas when they picked the signal-caller in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL draft.
"There's no way I was going to lose this kid," Payton told Jeff Duncan of The Athletic.
The Saints, who had no draft picks remaining when the seventh round began, were vying with the Panthers for Stevens' services as a UDFA.
By all accounts, Stevens had chosen the Panthers despite Payton raising the Saints' initial offer:
"Payton called back and upped the ante," Duncan wrote. "The Saints raised their offer to $144,000 guaranteed salary. The Stevens camp said they needed time to weigh the offers. Then they went radio silent on the Saints. [Player agent Buddy Baker] and Stevens stopped answering their calls."
But New Orleans had a trump card up its sleeve: The Saints were willing to part with a sixth-round selection in next year's draft for a seventh-rounder in 2020.
New Orleans found a trading partner in the Houston Texans at No. 240, and Stevens became a Saint.
Duncan explained the Saints' interest in Stevens, who rushed for 381 yards and four touchdowns and completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 11 scores, five interceptions and 7.2 yards per attempt last season.
"The Saints had identified the 6'5", 237-pounder as one of their top targets. They saw him as a bigger version of Taysom Hill, another Swiss Army knife for the offense. And they started making calls to Stevens and his agent, Buddy Baker, late in Round 6 to recruit him and gauge his interest."
Hill has worked as a quarterback, Wildcat back, wide receiver and special teams ace on the Saints. He scored seven touchdowns last season. Duncan also said the Saints tried to sell Baker and Stevens on the idea of becoming "Taysom 2.0" in New Orleans.
Although that pitch didn't work well enough to make Stevens commit to signing as a UDFA, he's now a Saint regardless, joining a crowded quarterback room with Drew Brees, Jameis Winston and Hill.