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NFL Draft

What Are The Saints Doing At Quarterback?

  • The Draft Network
  • April 30, 2020
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On Sunday, the Saints extended quarterback/Swiss Army knife/utility player/football chameleon Taysom Hill for the next two years, putting his total contract value at a reported $21 million with $16 million guaranteed.

Two days later the Saints signed former Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston to compete for the backup job behind Drew Brees. Winston's deal came through at a reported $1.1 million in total value.

Prior to Hill’s extension, the Saints traded back up into the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft after entering Day 3 with no picks. With that selection, New Orleans grabbed quarterback Tommy Stevens out of Mississippi State.

As the post-draft reporting bore out, Stevens’ pick is fascinating on multiple levels. The Athletic's Jeff Duncan revealed just how much Stevens’ selection was a product of coach Sean Payton's grudge-holding competitive spirit; the Saints only traded up into the seventh round to get Stevens because he was committed to the Panthers in undrafted free agency, and Payton didn't want offensive coordinator Joe Brady and a division rival getting a player who could become his darling invention. It wasn't so much that Payton needed Stevens, like a brattish child, he just didn't want anyone else to have it.

Payton later told CBS Sports the Saints have a vision for Stevens.

“He's athletic enough to play in the kicking game. He's certainly someone we feel catches the ball exceptionally well and he's someone I think is in a developmental role more as a quarterback, but we saw him do a number of things,” Payton said. “We feel like he's a guy that can play some F, can help both in the passing game and the running game develops behind a guy, like Taysom Hill who's in that role currently and then once the athlete gets here, once the player gets here, we begin working with those skill sets and try to develop those as quickly as possible."

Stevens was viewed as a potential Hill knockoff long before he ended up with the Saints. Even in college, after Stevens lost the battle for Penn State’s starting job to Trace McSorley, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead (and Brady, an offensive assistant at the time) implemented two-QB packages to get Stevens onto the field because he was such an elite athlete. Stevens threw, ran and caught for the Nittany Lions before transferring to Mississippi State with Moorhead, where Stevens was unable to hold onto the starting job due to his inefficiencies as a passer.

Can the Saints really get three "quarterbacks" on the field at the same time? In that neither Hill or Stevens are truly quarterbacks, it's certainly possible. But you do have to wonder at what point the returns on New Orleans’ creativity begin diminishing. Hill and Stevens create deception and confusion, but also take good athletes and better pass-catching options off the field. It might be okay when it's just one of them; when it's two, it might be too much.

There’s also the darling of the analytics community: Winston. His deal is inarguably excellent. Winston is so much better than a $1.1 million quarterback, but the fit is bumfuzzling. When Teddy Bridgewater was their backup, the Saints seamlessly slid from risk-averse, quick-game pocket passer to risk-averse, quick-game pocket passer following Brees' thumb injury in 2019. New Orleans kept the ship steadily on course for a high seeding in the NFC playoffs after Bridgewater went 5-0 as a starter.

Winston could not be more opposite of Brees and Bridgewater. He is a risk-prone, hold-onto-the-football player. Winston is a pocket passer, so that's not different, but he is in the pocket more so in the mold of Ben Roethlisberger or Brock Osweiler. He just stands there and takes the hits even when he should bail or check down.

Winston is a more talented quarterback than Bridgewater and is certainly a more talented quarterback than either of Hill or Stevens. If there truly is a competition for the backup job, he'll win it. But his play style, in that it is the photo negative of Brees', forces a fascinating comparison between Bridgewater's success as a backup and Winston's, should he be forced to start at all in 2020.

As for Hill and Stevens, could the Saints really keep both on the team? With an expanded active gameday roster under the new collective bargaining agreement and both Stevens and Hill contributing on special teams, New Orleans certainly can keep both and likely will. 

It remains to be seen how both get on the field at the same time, or if Stevens is simply an understudy for when Hill moves on. But no matter what, I imagine Payton will protect both players on the roster for as long as he can if only to make a point to the rest of the league that he is the godfather of the utility quarterback.

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