The 2020 NFL Draft wasn't the only avenue in which teams were able to pick up players over the past week. As the draft came to a close, clubs took a second look at the current NFL players available in free agency to see if they could fill in any last-minute roster holes.
The biggest signing from the veteran pool was the Saints agreeing to terms with former Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston.
Winston led the league in passing yards (5,109) last season while also throwing the most interceptions (30); his choices were minimal. The deal will allow Winston to learn from the best in incumbent quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton and potentially get a taste of revenge on an NFC South rival team.
The one-year contract has a base value of $1.1 million, according to ESPN’s Field Yates, who cited unidentified league sources. Winston received a $148,000 signing bonus, has a base salary of $952,000 and $3.4 million is available in incentives.
Even with Winston’s turnovers, a player with his resume signing for that little of money is hard to believe. Winston was the 11th highest-paid quarterback on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal last year. This upcoming season, with his new contract, his base salary is 44th among QBs.
And I can take it even further.
There are 21 kickers, 18 punters and six long snappers — yes, long snappers — who are scheduled to make more in total cash in 2020, before incentives, than Winston. There are quarterbacks who haven't thrown touchdowns passes in years who are making much more than Winston. Taysom Hill, now Winston's teammates, is making eight times the amount Winston is in bonuses and guarantees in 2020; Hill, who is used for anything other than passing in New Orleans, has thrown six completions in two years. Winston's former backup in Tampa Bay, Ryan Griffin, has played a total of 10 offensive snaps in his seven-year career and has a higher base salary ($1.45 million) than Winston for 2020.
Winston reportedly turned down more lucrative deals to sign with the Saints because he liked the situation. If that's true, signing for just over one million is shocking, to say the least. If those reported deals were more than the one he signed, he's leaving a lot of money on the table to take a risk on under Brees and Payton. It could be a big payout in the end; in a conference call with NFL media after the announcement, Winston said he had successful Lasik surgery which alleviated blurriness and improved depth perception. Winston’s plans in New Orleans aren’t what’s shocking; Brees is nearing the end of his career while still performing at a high rate, any young passer would want to learn him. What is shocking is Winston couldn't get more while executing this plan.
It is ultimately Winston's choice, and he's never been afraid to bet on himself when it comes to football. Perhaps this is the most recent way. But for him to sign for the amount he did after the year he had is truly unprecedented.
It's not just Winston who is affected. Unfortunately for others, Winston's deal now sets a precedent for veteran quarterbacks looking to get paid. The big name left on the market is Cam Newton. While Winston signed on the cheap, Newton is still looking for work and unfortunately for him, Winston just set the market in the worst way.
The good thing for Newton is that he didn't throw 30 interceptions last season. Newton not being with a team could be as simple as clubs’ facilities closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No organization is going to trust Newton's shoulder recovery without consulting team doctors. When Winston is finally able to secure a deal, Winston's might push his lower than previously targeted.
There aren't many teams looking for starting passers outside of, maybe, New England, and there aren't many who are poised to pick up an expensive backup either. In 2019, Teddy Bridgewater signed a one-year, $7.25 million deal with the Saints to be Brees' backup. Newton is arguably more talented than Bridgewater and should command more money, but the situation around the available quarterback options could cut into that.
The Chargers, who Newton was tied to in the pre-draft process, no longer needs a potential starter; Los Angeles won’t payout starter money after selecting Oregon’s Justin Herbert sixth-overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. A reunion with former coach Ron Rivera in Washington could be an ideal fit for Newton, but it's unlikely after it traded for former Carolina backup Kyle Allen over making a move for Newton a month ago. Andy Dalton in Cincinnati and Indianapolis’ Jacoby Brissett could be up for trades following the draft; they would likely go for late-round picks at best.
Newton is a talented player, more talented than all backups and even some starters. When you combine all of the factors — the lack of availability with medical staff, teams filling quarterback needs in the draft and Winston’s new deal — we may see two talented passers get screwed by bad timing and unprecedentedly bad results.
Perhaps Newton is just waiting for training camp to sign with a team dealing with unforeseen injuries. If that is the path, Newton might get a good deal in the end. But perhaps the confusing nature of Winston's offseason won’t just affect his own payout for 2020.
It could have a ripple effect around the league.
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