Let’s imagine that it is 2006. A year of rebuild and changes in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city and they are in the process of making the city formidable again. While the city is trying to grow and rebuild, so is the city’s football team. Sean Payton is hired as the new head coach, and with him comes a new quarterback in New Orleans: Drew Brees. Standing at a generous six feet tall and coming off of a career threatening shoulder injury, not many saw Drew Brees being the hero that New Orleans needed at the time of his signing. Fast forward to 2020, and all Drew Brees was able to do for the city was bring home a Lombardi Trophy while setting the record for most passing yards, completions, and the best completion percentage in NFL history. The career of Drew Brees is a prime example of a Cinderella story, but the way it ended was far from perfect. The Saints had compiled the best regular season record in NFL history over a four season span during the final four years of Brees’ career. They had no ring to show for it. Just four heartbreaking playoff losses. The Minneapolis Miracle knocked them out first, it was followed by the notorious “No Call” that caused the Saints to lose to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship game, one game shy of the Super Bowl. This officiating blunder is among the worst in sports history, and it cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl in 2018. Disappointing losses followed in 2019 and 2020 to knock the Saints out of the playoffs again. It was after being defeated by the Tom Brady led Buccaneers in 2020 that Drew Brees would decide to retire from the NFL after 19 seasons. Brees had suffered injuries in both 2019 and 2020 that cost him a total of 9 missed games. His injuries included a torn ligament in his throwing hand, a dozen broken ribs, and a collapsed lung. The all time passing yards leader was finally falling victim to Father Time, as his body began betraying him. The Saints front office would now have their hands full replacing one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL after enjoying his career for the last 14 seasons. Who would the New Orleans Saints turn to in the wake of Brees’ retirement?
While the latter stages of the NFL free agency period and the entire NFL draft still lie ahead, it seems as though the battle for the starting quarterback position will be a two man race during the 2021 season in New Orleans. After signing Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill to contracts alresdy this off-season, the clearly support a quote announced by head coach Sean Payton during last year’s regular season. Payton said “we feel as though the next quarterback is already in the building”, and he was referring to Winston and Hill. Taysom Hill earned the start for 4 games in 2020 in the absence of Drew Brees. Hill led the Saints to a 3-1 record, but was relatively lackluster in multiple performances. His versatility may also hurt him in the race for the starting quarterback spot, as the Saints value his ability to play other positions throughout the offense. Jameis Winston did not draw any starts last year, but was responsible for the biggest source of offense in their playoff loss against the Buccaneers after tossing a long touchdown pass on a trick play during the game. Many analysts believe that a full off-season of work will help Winston secure the starting gig, though head coach Sean Payton insists that it is an open competition between Winston and Hill. The Saints have made the playoffs for two straight years with nothing more than “game manager” football from an aging Drew Brees and his backup quarterbacks. In fact, the Saints went 8-1 in games that Brees didn’t make the start in over the last two seasons. 5-0 with Teddy Bridgewater, and 3-1 with Taysom Hill. That may be a product of great coaching and game plans for the offense by Sean Payton in his starting QB’s absence, or it may be the improving defense that has joined the list tier of NFL defenses over the last few seasons. Perhaps had Brees had defenses like the current Saints unit during his prime, they would’ve won several Lombardi trophies. Though we’ll never know what prime Drew Brees would’ve done with great defenses, we do know that the 2021 starter for the Saints will be stepping into a great situation with elite playmakers on the offense and a stout defense on the other side. The next Saints quarterback will most likely just need to play “game manager” football and hope regression doesn’t plague their elite roster. Overall, Sean Payton will have an interesting decision to make ahead of next season, and the future of the franchise will be greatly affected by the repercussions of his quarterback choice.
The future of the quarterback position past 2021 is rather uncertain for New Orleans. Jameis Winston is on a one year contract, and Taysom Hill’s contract can be voided at the end of every season for the remainder of his deal. That means that there will be a more concrete answer for this question at the end of the 2021 season for the Saints. They may go with Winston in 2021 and be blown away by him, prompting them to sign him to a large multi-year deal during next year’s offseason. After all, he did lead the league in touchdowns and yards in his last season as a starter, though he also led the league in interceptions. After learning from Brees and Payton all year, he may be poised for a career rebirth in New Orleans. However, they may instead elect to go with Taysom Hill and find his running and passing combination to be a thorn in the side of NFL defenses after a full off-season of adjustments and game planning. They would then just keep chugging along with his contract each season rather than voiding it if they like him as a long term starter. They may find that they want to keep both quarterbacks on the roster past 2021, the most likely way this would happen would be for Winston to start at QB, and Hill to continue to be the “Swiss army knife” that made him a household name. That would give the Saints plenty of weapons for their new starter and give Winston and Hill paths to significant roles and playing time in a New Orleans offense that is run by a mastermind in Sean Payton. Maybe though, they decide they don’t want either quarterback past this season. This would most likely require a complete collapse of the offense in 2021 and would result in a relatively high draft pick. The Saints would then either have to sign a quarterback in free agency or draft a quarterback in the 2022 NFL draft. Given the Saints projected cap space limitations, they’ll most likely have to pick a quarterback in the 2022 draft if they wish to move on from both Winston and Hill. The 2022 draft class looks stacked a quarterback already, though that could change over the course of a college football season. Sam Howell, Desmond Ridder, Kedon Slovis, Bo Nix, Spencer Rattler, Brock Purdy, Tanner Morgan, and JT Daniels may all be in play for the Saints come draft night in 2022. They would benefit from a QB on a rookie contract as they bolster their roster and climb out of cap trouble. It would be a quick reload instead of a draining rebuild in New Orleans. All of the options mentioned above are very much on the table for the Saints ahead of the 2021 season, and it will be very exciting and interesting to watch it all play out after seeing the quarterback position being locked down by Drew Brees for over a decade in the Big Easy.
After looking over and contemplating all the paths that the Saints could choose to embark on, I’ve come up with my personal prediction for this quarterback debacle. I believe that Jameis Winston will win the starting job in training camp and Taysom Hill will see his role become more of the multi-positional phenom that kickstarted his NFL career. The Saints will probably elect to bring in a rookie QB in the later rounds of the 2021 draft or as an undrafted free agent for extra depth at the position as well. With Winston at the helm and a strong roster with a few holes to fill, this Saints team won’t be as strong as the ones we’ve seen during the last few seasons. Nevertheless, I think they’ll make the playoffs as a wildcard team in the expanded format while going 11-6 next season. I also think the likelihood of Winston keeping the starting job past 2021 is strong. There’s no denying his talent, and spending time learning from Drew Brees and Sean Payton should maximize his play. Jameis Winston, in my opinion, will be the starting quarterback of the New Orleans Saints for the foreseeable future. Winston will have some large shoes to fill in New Orleans, replacing one of the greatest players in league history, and the Saints are surely hoping that he can have the kind of success that Drew Brees made an expected occurrence in the Big Easy. Only time will tell if Winston is truly the answer at quarterback, but he should get the opportunity to prove it for a New Orleans Saints team that is in need of a hero in the post-Drew Brees era.