The team additions don't stop when the NFL draft ends. The days following each draft are flooded with more undrafted free-agent additions, but those undrafted prospects aren't the only ones teams are looking at.
Teams also re-evaluate current NFL free agents to see if a veteran can fill a hole they might not have been able to fill on draft weekend.
Early Sunday a big free-agent domino fell when Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson reported quarterback Jameis Winston is signing a one-year deal with the Saints.
Winston goes to New Orleans after five years with one of its rival teams, the Buccaneers. Winston was drafted first overall by Tampa Bay in 2015 after a stellar college career where he won a national championship and Heisman Trophy. For the last five years, he had been the Buccaneers starter through good and bad.
The latter is where we pick things up to evaluate this signing.
In 2019, Winston led the NFL in passing yards (5,109) and was second in passing touchdowns (33). He was also the league leader in takeaways — by a mile. Winston's 30 interceptions marked the first time a quarterback had thrown at least 30 scores and 30 picks in a single season. The next closest to Winston in interceptions was Cleveland's Baker Mayfield (21) and Los Angeles' Philip Rivers (20). After that, Jared Goff and Kyle Allen both had 16; Winston had more than double the interceptions of the handful of players who had the sixth most in the league (14).
You can't win with that.
This led the Buccaneers to look elsewhere when Winston became a free agent in March. In doing so, they were able to land long-time Patriot Tom Brady. With Winston on the market, many wondered what kind of contract he would sign.
Days and week went by, nothing.
Of the options Winston could have had, in terms of destination and contract length, signing a one-year deal is the best-case scenario for him and the Saints.
While Winston doesn't get to sign the massive second contract he was shooting for — one that typically pays quarterbacks enough money to last a lifetime — he could put himself in position for a big payday in the future.
Winston's landing spot was always going to be tricky. Here is a quarterback that has put up incredible numbers for the last three years. The potential output isn't what worries teams; it's the volatility. Winston is as hot and cold as a quarterback can be, and coaches tend to show their motion sickness on QB roller coasters. Winston wasn’t seen as a 2020 starter by the rest of the league.
The natural thought after that is making him a preferred backup, but that is tricky too.
Winston's presence has a Ryan Fitzpatrick-syndrome to it. As a backup, Winston would likely be one of the best, if not the best, second quarterback option when it comes to passers who enter a game in relief, bring a spark and win. But just because a player is a talented backup doesn't mean they are good for the quarterback room. Sometimes, if a team has two quarterback options, it really has none.
We then look at free-agent signings, specifically at quarterback, from just a talent standpoint. Of the teams that were potential landing spots for Winston to fight for a starting job — the Patriots, Chargers, etc. — his presence could have been negated.
But, in New Orleans, that is not the case. Drew Brees is the starter, end of story. The Saints are not going to question Brees as their guy, and that's not something that existed in most hypothetical landing spots.
Winston gets to be the real backup quarterback and only a backup quarterback. For the Saints, a player of Winston's caliber as the backup is perfect.
Look at what happened last season: Brees got hurt in Week 2 and all of a sudden a team with Super Bowl aspirations may have had its dreams shot in early September. Brees wasn't lost for the season, but playing over a month without a franchise quarterback could mean taking losses that hurt a chance at getting a home-field advantage. Sometimes that can mean everything to a playoff run, especially for a fanbase as passionate as the Saints.
Teddy Bridgewater was able to fill the hole Brees left and went 5-0 to save the season as Brees recovered and re-gained the starting spot. With Bridgewater no longer there, the Saints fill that hole with a backup quarterback who can win football games.
It was important for coach Sean Payton and company to find another passer who could swoop in the way Bridgewater did.
“The uniqueness of Taysom [Hill]’s role will make it important for us to have a third quarterback,’‘ Payton said at the beginning of April. “But what we are looking for in that third quarterback is another player we want to develop, work with and improve.”
Winston now gets to be in the same quarterback room with not just one of the best passers of all time but one of the best decision-makers too. Brees has never had the strongest arm, so he's had to be an assassin of the mind over the last decade. He prepares and sees the field as good as any quarterback who has ever played; learning from a player like Brees is exactly what Winston needs.
Winston has arm talent. He has the ability to make all the throws; he just needs to know when not to make them. That's where Brees, the mentor and teacher, steps in; it’s a role he's always been willing to do.
Winston will become a free agent next year at 27 after a year in the Saints system; even if he never plays, it will likely increase his outlook among other teams.
On top of all that, New Orleans has some new intel. The Buccaneers are ramping up for a playoff run — a deep one. Tampa Bay is no longer guaranteed to be the second fiddle in the NFC South. This rivalry is heating up and these two teams could meet up to three times in 2020: twice in the regular season and possibly once in the playoffs.
Competitiveness runs deep for both of these parties. It's a match that is perfect for both sides, as they both can help each other out greatly the more they commit to one another.
That could be bad news for the rest of the teams in the NFC, but great news for both Winston and New Orleans.
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