So much for Sean Payton’s poker face. The New Orleans Saints coach didn’t try to cloak the team’s desire to re-sign free-agent quarterback Jameis Winston if Drew Brees retires as expected.
Payton spoke glowingly about Winston to ESPN and other media outlets while doing some Super Bowl week appearances on Wednesday, saying the Saints would like to re-sign him “sooner than later.”
Payton also specifically told CBS Sports’ Pick Six Podcast that he expects Brees to make an announcement “in the next week or two.”
Payton has been saying for months that he thinks the Saints’ next quarterback is already “in the building” — a reference that includes both Winston and Taysom Hill. And he reiterated Wednesday that the Saints have a “pretty good vision” for both players.
It was notable that Payton mentioned Winston first and talked about him in greater detail when asked about the Saints’ future QB plans by ESPN’s Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin Show and by NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” show — saying it was an “easy” question.
However, Payton stressed that the reason he mentioned Winston first was that he’s a free agent and Hill is already under contract for one more year.
“Jameis Winston, we know. We had a year with him. He was fantastic as a leader. He’s got tremendous arm talent. He’s a young prospect that we like a lot,” Payton said in his ESPN appearance. “When you have a player for a season, he’s kind of giving you a chance to see what he’s about, and there’s a little bit of an audition there. But the same audition takes place for us. He’s getting a chance to see, ‘Hey, this is how they do it here. Does this fit me? Does this head coach, this position coach? Is this a place I feel comfortable playing?'”
Payton told “Good Morning Football”: “A lot of times you want to hold your cards closer to the vest [with a] free agent. But him along with Taysom Hill, we’ve said it all along, we’re gonna develop and coach those guys. And Jameis is one of those guys that we have a big interest in.”
Winston, who just turned 27 in January, signed a one-year deal with the Saints last spring for $1.1 million plus incentives because he specifically wanted to learn under Payton and Brees while trying to revive his career. He called it “a Harvard education in quarterback school.”
Winston didn’t get much on-field experience, since there was no preseason and Payton elected to start Hill while Brees was sidelined for four games by broken ribs and a punctured lung. However, Winston did make his best play of the season when he completed a 56-yard touchdown pass on a trick play in New Orleans’ playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Winston was 7-of-11 for 75 yards in the regular season with no touchdowns or turnovers.
Hill, 30, went 3-1 in those four starts, with some highs and some lows. But Payton explained that part of the reason he chose Hill over Winston was that Hill was in his fourth year in New Orleans — and Payton had made a promise to Hill that he would get such an opportunity when he re-signed last year as a restricted free agent.
It appears that this year would be more of an open competition between Winston and Hill, assuming the Saints don’t make any other big moves at the position.
Winston, of course, showed his own plethora of highs and lows during his first five seasons with the Buccaneers after being selected out of Florida State with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards in 2019 in his first year under coach Bruce Arians. But he also became the first quarterback in league history to throw at least 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season — which led Tampa Bay to move on to Tom Brady instead.
Winston went 28-42 in his five seasons as a starter with the Bucs, completing 61.3% of his passes with 19,737 yards, 121 touchdowns and 88 interceptions. Turnovers were his biggest issue, with a total of 111 in the five years.