Reassessing the Saints’ 2021 QB options

Who is going to replace Drew Brees?

By JACOB KRASNOW

The Matthew Stafford-to-the-Saints fantasies were fun while they lasted.

Detroit traded their 33-year-old former Pro Bowl quarterback to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for two first-round picks, a third-round choice, QB Jared Goff and Goff’s bad contract.

Reviews of the deal are mixed – the Lions get a draft haul and a player who can start day one and potentially be the bridge to their next franchise QB.  The Rams got rid of Goff’s massive contract and replaced him with Stafford, who could do scary things with a better support system than he ever had in Detroit.  But alas, it came at the cost of the Rams’ future, as they now could potentially go seven years without a first-round draft choice.

Assuming Drew Brees announces his retirement in the coming days, where does this leave the Saints?  The Lions’ initial reported asking price of a first-round pick for Stafford seemed like an affordable and exciting option for replacing the greatest player in Saints’ history, but the king’s ransom Stafford commanded would certainly have been a bridge too far.

With Stafford no longer an option, the smart money would be on the Saints signing Jameis Winston to a short-term, incentive-laden deal and having him compete with Taysom Hill for the starting role.  Keeping the competition in-house would likely be the cheapest option and could allow the Mickey Loomis-Jeff Ireland brain trust the most flexibility when constructing the rest of the roster.

In a Wednesday appearance on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football, head coach Sean Payton indicated this is the direction the team is likely going in:

“And a lot of times, you want to hold your cards closer to the vest and he [Jameis Winston] is a free agent. But him, along with Taysom Hill who’s in the building, we’ve said it all along — we’re going to develop and coach those guys. And Jameis is one of those guys that we have a big interest in.”

We’ve seen what a Taysom-led offense looks like.  In 2020, he went 3-1 and flashed some legitimate playmaking ability.  But he was also hesitant in the pocket and developed a fumbling problem.  He looked particularly shaky in a bad road loss to the floundering Philadelphia Eagles. 

On the other hand, Jameis Winston offers a “grass is greener” option.  Winston is the great unknown; a well of untapped potential.  As a former Heisman Trophy winner, national champion and first overall pick, there is little doubt that Winston has a better pedigree than Taysom.  But can Payton fix the reckless approach that led to Winston throwing 30 interceptions in 2019?

To his credit, Winston has said all the right things. In a recent interview with retired NFL QB Michael Vick on Fox Sports, Winston elaborated on what he was able to pick up from Brees in just one season. 

“It was his routine off the field. He was doing the same thing every single day. Despite all the injuries, he was doing the same thing every single day. That’s where consistency starts. I think as a younger me, I was so infatuated with the big play…having sparks, having flashes, but it’s about play, after play, after play, after play, after play, [for Drew] it’s not about special plays, it’s about the right play,” Winston said.

There is also the possibility that the Saints retain Winston and Taysom in addition to drafting a QB.  The Saints met with former Alabama signal caller Mac Jones at the Senior Bowl, who could be an intriguing option when the Saints pick at 28 in the first round.

Jones possesses prototypical size and was stellar in 2020, throwing for 4,500 yards, 41 TDs and only 4 INTs on his way to winning the College Football Playoff, as well as the Davey O’Brien Award, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the Manning Award. 

Jones had an incredible supporting cast in Heisman Trophy-winning WR DeVonta Smith and Doak Walker Award-winning RB Najee Harris, arguably the two best players at their respective positions in the country.  Of course, we in southern Louisiana are unbiased and all know former LSU Tiger Ja’Marr Chase would have been the best receiver in the country had he not opted out.

In New Orleans, Jones would inherit Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, who are arguably the best players at their positions in the league.  Having him sit for a year or two behind Winston/Taysom would be ideal.

Having a third QB on the roster would also give the Saints some flexibility on offense with Taysom Hill.  With Taysom set to become a free agent in 2022, the Saints could use him almost worry-free as a full-time TE/WR to take some attention away from Adam Trautman, who could be primed for a breakout sophomore season.

Having said all of that, it would be unwise to count the Saints out of the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes.  The reported asking price for the disgruntled Texans star is extremely high, but it could be worth it.  Houston beat writer John McClain reports the team wants at least two first-round picks, two second-round picks and two defensive starters.

It’s rare that a quarterback of Watson’s caliber becomes available and it would be shocking if it ever came to light that the Saints didn’t even consider making a run at him.  Having Watson would be like having the skillset of Brees in his prime.  It would instantly make the Saints NFC favorites once again, even if they had to give up a ton of draft capital and a defensive starter or two.

And the Saints would have to give up a lot, considering the multiple top picks possessed by teams like the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.  A potential nightmare scenario would see Watson dealt to the Panthers or (gulp) Falcons, who could both be in the market for a new QB.

The most realistic and hopeful outcome for Saints fans might be for Watson to land somewhere in the AFC on a team the Saints are not likely to face often.  Though it should be noted that the Saints are scheduled to play both the Jets and Dolphins in 2021.   

Buckle up.  The 2021 quarterback carousel has only just begun.

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