Taysom Hill can become a special NFL quarterback, as he's shown flashes with his arm and legs in and out of the pocket. But despite leading the New Orleans Saints to a 3-1 record as a starter, he hasn't quite solidified a future with the franchise because of holes in his game and competition behind him.
Hill has only started four games as the primary signal-caller, so yes, he needs time to develop and clean up some areas. Yet his audition window has reportedly closed, as the Saints plan to start Drew Brees Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Brees suffered a punctured lung and broke several ribs, and he's now missed at least four contests in consecutive campaigns. After the 2019 season, the 41-year-old took an extended period of time before making a decision to play another season. With those factors in mind, the Saints must think about their long-term plan at quarterback, which shines a bright light on Hill.
Following Week 14, head coach Sean Payton didn't seem ready to turn the offense over to Hill long term just yet.
During a discussion with NFL Network's Jim Trotter for his Huddle and Flow podcast, Payton shed some light on the quarterback situation:
Not only does Payton expect Brees to retire in the offseason, but he also left the door open for competition between Hill and Jameis Winston, which raises some eyebrows because of the team's offseason moves.
In April, the Saints signed Winston to a one-year, $1.1 million contract and gave Hill $16 million in guarantees on an extension to keep him on the books through the 2021 campaign. Even though the former took over for Brees in the second half of a Week 10 contest with the San Francisco 49ers, the latter ascended to the starting role.
Clearly, the Saints wanted to provide Hill with an opportunity to show he's the long-term answer post-Brees. Yet based on Payton's comments to Trotter, Hill hasn't cemented his name atop future depth charts. In fact, New Orleans will consider re-signing Winston for a potential training camp battle.
Last week, Payton reiterated that the team has an in-house heir to Brees, per Katherine Terrell of The Athletic.
"I've said this already a few times, we feel like Drew's replacement is in the building," Payton said.
His assessment may pan out, but he didn't attach a name to his projection.
The Saints should look at the future of the position in a fluid manner, because although Hill was good enough to lead his squad to victory in three games against sub-.500 opponents, his play leaves much to be desired. Coming off a 24-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Payton provided fair praise and criticism of the quarterback play on Trotter's podcast:
"…his pocket passing I think has improved, and it's good to see his velocity, some of his decisions," Payton said. "I think it still needs to happen quicker. I still think he has to process it quicker. And because of that, you're seeing a little bit more in the sack and hurry quarterback totals, even though he can run."
In four starts, Hill has taken 13 sacks and lost three of his six fumbles. To an extent, Payton placed that on his inability to make snap decisions in the pocket.
Payton also voiced concern about Hill's instincts in the pocket, per ESPN's Mike Triplett: "I mean, there's a clock in your head relative to the down and distance. And typically on your normal early downs, you get a feel pretty soon of when your time's up and you're going or when you're staying with the read."
Hill called the balance between his inclination to run and taking a shot downfield "a work in progress."
No one expects him to step in for Brees and look like a refined passer in a handful of games, but his shortcomings could lead him to the bench. Because of those areas of weakness, the offensive linemen must hold their blocks a little longer, passing windows close downfield and the Saints leave yards and points on the field.
Hill didn't throw a touchdown pass in his first two starts but scored four rushing touchdowns, though he's thrown for a pair of scores in each of the last two games.
The Saints list in the bottom half of the league for projected 2021 cap space, per Spotrac, so they'd likely look toward the draft rather than free agency for outside competition. On the back end of the first round, Florida's Kyle Trask or Alabama's Mac Jones could become options to join Hill and Winston in a full-blown battle.
Regardless, Payton isn't completely sold on Hill. As a 30-year-old who's going to make mistakes because of inexperience, he's probably not going to shore up a prospective starting position in a handful of games anyway.
Winston, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 class, has the draft pedigree and five years of starting experience to intrigue the Saints' front office. Furthermore, he's four years younger than Hill.
While Hill has been a solid backup, Winston lurks as a potential wild-card challenger for the first-string role. Once the season ends, Payton and the front office will probably have critical quarterback questions to answer for 2021 and beyond.