Since Taysom Hill joined the New Orleans Saints in 2017, no one has had more faith in his potential as an NFL quarterback than head coach Sean Payton. Or so it seemed... until it came time to have Hill actually take over as the Saints’ starting quarterback.
New Orleans signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter Jameis Winston to a one-year contract in 2020 with the idea that he’d compete with Hill for the backup quarterback position behind Drew Brees. For all of last season, it was Hill who looked like the true backup, starting in games Brees missed with a rib injury.
Though for all of this season, as within all his time with the Saints, Payton has often used him in roles outside those of a normal backup quarterback. He’d occasionally line up as a fullback, out wide, and even as a tight end. When he was in a position other than quarterback, it wasn’t on trick plays where he ended up throwing the ball, he really would just catch and run.
When Brees announced his retirement after last year, Hill signed a four-year extension with the Saints, but it was more a move to free up cap space (with several voidable years) than a show of confidence. To underscore that point, he still had to compete with Winston for the starting job in New Orleans. Winston eventually won the right to succeed the future Hall of Famer after an impressive preseason showing, and Hill began this season as his backup.
Where it gets complicated is in the concussion Hill suffered while lining up as a wide receiver against Washington in Week 5, then Winston’s ACL tear three weeks later. The latter injury presented another chance for Hill to further prove his worth as an NFL starter, but he was still sidelined with his recovery from the head injury. Instead, former Denver Broncos starter Trevor Siemian, QB3 on the Saints’ initial depth chart, stepped in.
Siemian has now played in five games and started four of them. The Saints have lost all of his four starts, and he hasn’t inspired any confidence in his ability to be a starting quarterback. Yet as New Orleans has slipped from 5-2 to under .500, Hill has yet to make his season debut as the starting quarterback. He had injured his foot in Week 10 after returning from his concussion the week before, and that—according to Payton—is what has kept him out of recent games, even though he was a full participant in practice earlier this week.
Hill’s future with the Saints has only gotten murkier as this year has progressed. Despite all of the faith that Payton has outwardly expressed in his ability to be a starting-caliber quarterback, Hill hasn’t ever stayed in that role as anything more than a short-term fill-in. Even with a brand-new contract—another four-year extension with $22.5 million guaranteed—he isn’t a lock to be the Saints’ future franchise quarterback.
The details of the new extension suggest that New Orleans’ front office isn’t sold on Hill. His base salary in the agreement is worth $40 million, but there’s a slew of incentives that (for all intents and purposes) only kick in if he becomes and remains the Saints’ starter for several years. The way things stand now, that doesn’t seem like a likely scenario.
Hill couldn’t win the starting job before this season, and even when he had returned from his concussion, Payton didn’t hand him the keys to the offense. Instead, New Orleans has continued to trot out Siemian—who has not won a start since 2017—while Hill continues full participation in practice, staying on the active roster without seeing any in-game action.
The Saints are slipping out of contention the longer they keep trotting out Siemian. Their blowout at the hands of the Buffalo Bills on Thursday made it clear that they must make a change at quarterback. They have a solution in Hill. Payton clearly doesn’t want to rush him back from whatever is going on with his foot, but the clock is ticking. If we don’t see Hill starting soon, it will only raise more questions about his and the Saints’ future at the quarterback position. It might also mean the Saints are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in at the end of the season.