Jameis Winston is ready to be the Saints’ starting QB

It turns out Jameis Winston was as big a fan of Drew Brees as the rest of us.

“Being able to have an entire season with Drew Brees was a dream of mine. For him to put his arm around me, just give me any encouraging words after I saw the resilience, the passion, the way that he went and approached every single day. But that to even be a story, I was touched by that because he doesn’t even know how much he means to me and my family,” Winston said during his virtual media session Tuesday.  It was at this point he had to choke back tears.

This sign of maturity and humility got my blood pumping faster than it should have on a dreary Tuesday morning.

“Having a chance to play in the playoffs, after winning a playoff game, like getting the chance to throw a touchdown in the playoffs. I love football. That’s all I’ve done my entire life and someone that I look up (to), that I admire, that I could actually touch (who) was my teammate and I had a chance to serve him. I’m speechless. That really gives me (an) emotional (feeling) because I really love Drew Brees. I don’t think he understands. I know my wife does. I know my family does, but you don’t understand the impact that him and a lot of other quarterbacks had on me,” Winston went on to say.

After watching Winston speak, a picture illustrating how far he’s come over the last year started to form.  Because of one turnover-happy season, Winston has been unfairly characterized as a reckless gunslinger. 

But it’s become increasingly more apparent that Winston is not the same person he was with the Buccaneers.

I would even go so far as to say he offers far more at quarterback than Taysom Hill ever will.

Statistically, Winston provides a similar outlook to the likes of newly-minted Rams QB Matthew Stafford, who everyone (myself included) thought the Saints should pursue. When adjusted for Winston’s 2020 season, in which he was a backup and barely played, and Stafford’s 2010 season, in which he only played in three games due to injury, their career averages are nearly identical: 3,947 yards/24 TDs/17 INTs per season for Winston, and 4,052 yards/25 TDs/13 INTs per season for Stafford. Before 2019, Winston had never thrown more than 18 interceptions in a single season. His 30 picks under Bruce Arians seem to be an outlier.

And then there are the intangibles.

After being “the guy” for his entire athletic career – as a coveted recruit, as a Heisman-winning, national champion quarterback at Florida State, and then as the number one overall pick – Winston was unceremoniously dumped by Tampa Bay in favor of a QB in his 40s.  That decision may have worked out for the Bucs in the short-term, but the book hasn’t been written on Winston just yet.

Instead of being (outwardly) bitter or giving up, Winston took a year playing on a minimum salary to learn from the best.  And then after that year, he took the opportunity to compete for a job on another bargain basement deal.  He humbled himself and tried to figure out what wasn’t working, and why.

Winston is self-aware.  It’s the first step anyone needs to take on their quest for self-actualization. 

As far as potential Brees successors go, it probably won’t get better than Winston.  Sure, there’s a slim chance that Russell Wilson is still available, but a trade for a player of that magnitude would likely strip the Saints of the assets that will make them competitive post-Brees.  In the absence of high draft picks, the Seahawks want proven young talent – guys like Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, and maybe more.

If you give them up – especially some of the young offensive linemen or Lattimore – the Saints will be left with the same problems that caused the rift between Russell and the Seahawks in the first place.

As it stands, Winston (or Taysom Hill, I guess) will inherit a roster that retained its top-level talent during the Great Cap Squeeze of 2021.  And there is a lot of talent – as of this writing, the Saints have 10 players on the roster that have been named All-Pro or made the Pro Bowl.

The quality of the Saints’ QB play in 2021 will be a major factor in how far the team goes.  Though the possibility remains that Winston loses the job to Hill, I’m rooting for Jameis.  Outside of Drew Brees and Archie Manning, the Saints have never had a quarterback in the building with Winston’s pedigree. Five years ago, if you told me that Brees’ successor would be someone with enough talent to be the first overall pick, I would’ve cried tears of joy knowing that the Saints’ NFC South dynasty would live on for eons to come.

Winston has the experience and the talent to take them all the way, or at the very least, to make 2021 exciting and fun.

And, it seems, he now has the maturity.  For a prominent athlete like Winston to openly choke back tears of gratitude in a virtual press conference that will live forever on YouTube, it was both endearing and encouraging.  He’s as ready to step out of Brees’ shadow as he’ll ever be.

“I would love to carry that torch from him,” Winston added.  “I would love to be able to provide the excitement and joy and resilience that he (Brees) provided for this city.”

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