“There’s an excitement level every time you turn a page and start a new season.” - Sean Payton
Sorry to crash the party here, but I would punch the brakes towards that statement by the rarely ever shy Payton. Gone is Drew Brees, the herculean, savior figure of New Orleans who turned a 15-year career in the Superdome into a legendary tenure that will soon culminate in No. 9 staged in the rafters for as long as the Saints’ franchise is afoot. So, no, Payton, it’s not an exciting time for the Saints, their fans, and a youth-infused roster now on the cusp of seeing their Super Bowl window closed shut on their fingers as Brees drifts into the sunset.
It’s a completely new era in Saints football, and it would be juvenile to ignore just how different New Orleans’ path to success will look this season, especially if Payton continues to drag on his process of naming a starting quarterback. But, as it is with all things, time waits for no person, and New Orleans could be the victim of its ever-oppressive ticking clock as it eyes a return to NFL glory or an inherent face-plant post-Brees.
Enter the oft-criticized Jameis Winston and do-it-all utility man Taysom Hill.
While neither will be asked to occupy the glistening shoes that Brees filled for nearly two decades, each offers a unique skill set and veteran experience to the table when microscoping the potential of a team that seems focused on retaining its four-year consecutive reign as NFC South champions.
The Case For Jameis Winston
Winston, at just 27 years old with six NFL campaigns already under his belt, is an entirely new signal-caller after recently undergoing “life-changing” LASIK eye surgery in an attempt to drastically improve his vision after throwing 30 interceptions in 2019, the most in one season since Brett Favre threw 29 in 2005.
Following five seasons in Tampa Bay, including a Pro Bowl selection to conclude his rookie campaign in 2015, Winston was granted the ability to search for greener pastures by Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians before ultimately joining the Saints in 2020. And despite his turnover-prone game, Winston can flat out sling the rock, throwing for over 5,100 yards and 33 touchdowns in his final season in Tampa Bay before packing his bags.
While the turnover numbers must come down if Winston eyes the starting nod—if his vision has been improved, which all signs point towards it has so far through offseason workouts—it’s far-fetched to envision a scenario where a talented quarterback with 18,765 more passing yards, 1,476 completions, and 117 more touchdown passes than Hill finds himself holding a clipboard.
The Case For Taysom Hill
I’m kidding. Wait, am I? No, I’m not.
That, however, is the issue folks. The fact remains that Payton has proven an undeniable bias toward the fifth-year man, to where now Hill’s role under center and heir to Brees’ throne could be more of a case of inevitability rather than undergoing a true camp battle against Winston to prove who belongs atop the QB depth chart.
Hill, a specialist, if you will, has made his name for his unique ability to compete and produce at multiple positions for the Saints. While New Orleans has proven to be better when Hill is on the field working in roles throughout the offense as a ball-carrier, pass-catcher, or additional blocker, it’s tremendously difficult to project Hill as a quarterback-first talent within a loaded offense where his responsibilities are to primarily distribute, rather than creating on the fly in designed concepts in space. He lacks many of the ideal traits that fit the mold of a 17-game (or more) starter; and internally, I don’t envision the news would be taken well within a veteran locker room with many of its leaders set to hit the open market following the conclusion of the season.
Winston should have been named the starter weeks ago is what it ultimately comes down to. Although the Saints aren’t the only team that finds itself at crosshairs when identifying their starter this fall, if I were Payton, I would stop dragging my feet.