"We like our starter." Those were the words of New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton after the team had just selected quarterback Garrett Grayson out of Colorado State with the 75th overall pick in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft. You can believe Payton, the Saints do like Drew Brees as their starter. The question now becomes: for how long?
In the Payton-era in New Orleans which began in 2006, the Saints have selected only one quarterback in the draft: Sean Canfield, who was picked in the 7th round of the 2010 draft (239th overall). During his two years with the Saints Canfield never came close to becoming anything more than a camp body and a perennial practice squad player. Sure there have been some free agent quarterback signings: Tyler Palko, Chase Daniel (via Washington) and Ryan Griffin, but obviously none of them were destined to anything more than holding a helmet near their ear on the sidelines or being a field goal and extra points place holder.
What we have now however, for the first time in Payton's head coaching career is an admission: Drew Brees' days as an NFL quarterback with the Saints are numbered. A quarterback taken with a top 80 pick in the draft reiterates the very fact that Payton knows a changing of the guard in New Orleans isn't just a faraway mirage anymore.
Why Garrett Grayson?
Let's see: Grayson (6'2" 213 lbs.) started every game the past two years during his junior and senior seasons at Colorado State. In 2013 as a junior, he completed 297 of 478 passes (62.1%) for 3696 yards. Grayson had a very good 7.7 yards/attempt, with 23 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.
As a senior in 2014, Grayson showed something coaches like to see: improvement in pretty much every category: he completed 270 of 420 passes (64.3%) for 4006 yards, with a 9.5 yards per attempt average, 32 touchdowns against only seven interceptions.
Adding to Garrett Grayson's strengths is the fact that he played in a hybrid system a Colorado State, taking snaps in the pistol and the shotgun, but also under center in pro-style fashion. Versatility, durability and leadership have all been brought up when talking about the former Ram.
Not everything is perfect about Grayson of course: the main criticism has been of his average arm strength, and like most young quarterbacks, a deficiency in reading coverage past his primary target. Another issue about accurately rating Grayson's abilities is the rather weak schedule he played at Colorado State. For instance, in 2014 the Rams went 10-3, but all three losses came against good teams, including a brutal 10-45 loss to Utah in the season finale.
Despite some of these flaws, the Saints seemed to have zeroed in on the former CSU quarterback. Sean Payton was quoted as saying "he was the only quarterback we would have picked in this draft." That is quite the endorsement.
What is going to happen now? Brees (36) is an unrestricted free agent in 2017. He carries a dead cap figure of $33,550,000 in 2015 and a much friendlier $7,400,000 figure in 2016. What this means is that "Number 9" is undoubtedly going to be the starting quarterback in New Orleans for the next two years. However, should Garrett Grayson (23) live up to the promises the Saints saw in him when they drafted him and steadily improve over the next two seasons, I wouldn't be shocked if in the opening game of the 2017 NFL season, a 26 year old Garrett Grayson is the starting quarterback of your New Orleans Saints.
And guess what? You better hope that things happen that way and Grayson becomes who Payton hopes he could. Remember what happened with Peyton Manning and the Colts, or with Joe Montana and the 49ers, Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles and so on? Sooner or later the aging superstar quarterback hits the "Father Time Brick Wall." At that time, New Orleans is certainly hoping that it wouldn't have to resort to go the journeyman veteran quarterback route. What the Saints are doing by selecting a quarterback this high for the first time in the Payton era is trying to ensure that they're ready when the time comes to say goodbye to Drew Brees.
Are you ready to say goodbye to Brees? I am not, but realistically we all know that it'll happen sooner or later. Here's to hoping that when it does, Garrett Grayson will be ready,