The New Orleans Saints have had one of the most enviable quarterback situations in the league over the past twelve seasons with Drew Brees at the helm. Brees is a first ballot Hall of Famer, and one of the best to ever play the position. New Orleans has had unprecedented success since Brees became a Saint in 2006, winning 4 division titles, going to the playoffs six times, and winning a Super Bowl championship. He has won 112 games as starting quarterback for the Saints, and gone to ten Pro Bowls while presiding over perhaps the most prolific passing attack in NFL history. Brees thrown for over 5,000 yards an incredible FIVE times, an achievement only accomplished nine times in league history, with none other than Brees doing it more than once. He needs just 1,495 yards and 52 touchdowns to pass Peyton Manning as the all-time NFL leader in those categories, and 79 completions to pass Brett Favre as the all-time completions leader. Number 9 enters his thirteenth training camp with the Saints, but this year perhaps more than any other there are major questions as to who his backup may be. With New Orleans set to open their training camp on July 26th, we open our training camp positional previews with the most important position in today's NFL.
Key Losses: Chase Daniel (free agent, Bears)
Key Additions: Tom Savage (free agent, Texans)
Head coach Sean Payton has almost always gone with a reliable veteran backup behind Brees. Jamie Martin (2006-07), Mark Brunell (2008-'09), Luke McCown ('13-'16), and Chase Daniel ('10-'12, '17) have served as a trusted extra pair of eyes from the sideline for Brees. All but Daniel in his first stint with the Saints had starting experience elsewhere prior to their time with New Orleans. The Saints signed Tom Savage in free agency in hopes that he could capably fill that same role. Savage, a 4th round draft pick by the Houston Texans in 2014, started nine games for them over the previous two seasons. He went just 2-7 as a starter, completing only 57.5% of his passes with 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Savage has very good arm strength, a quick release, and had played in a pro-style offense even dating back to college. He is highly inaccurate at times however, and oftentimes is slow through his reads and progressions, giving opposing defenders good opportunity to break on his release when he stares down his target.
Taysom Hill became a fan favorite in 2017, but not for his play at quarterback for the Saints. The extremely athletic Hill was used on special teams by the team's coaching staff, making numerous big plays down the stretch of last season after coming over following his release from Green Bay. He will now be given a chance to overtake Savage as the number two quarterback this summer. Hill surprised many observers with his quarterback play for the Packers last summer, nearly winning a spot on the team after being signed as an undrafted rookie from B.Y.U. He shows good field awareness and good pocket presence, while keeping composed under pressure. He has the strength and athleticism to escape from pressure and make plays with his legs. Hill is unpolished as a quarterback, running mostly out of a pistol formation in college. He struggles with his mechanics at times, and doesn't have the arm strength to maintain accuracy when he releases off balance. Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael will also need to work with Hill to progress through his reads, rather than take off and run when his first option isn't there.
J.T. Barrett was given a 3-yr. contact by the Saints after going undrafted this past spring. Barrett was an experienced team leader at Ohio State, with a penchant for playing his best in the biggest moments. Thought of more as a running quarterback than a traditional pocket passer, Barrett actually had a higher career completion percentage (63.5%) than first round picks Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen, with comparable yardage output. Barrett left Ohio State with the Big 10 career record in total yardage (12,697) and touchdown passes (104), breaking a 17-yr. old mark held by some guy named Brees (he was pretty good). Barrett does have good mobility, but willing to stand up to pressure within the pocket to let a play develop and deliver the throw. He does a nice job of looking safeties off on sideline routes, and has solid coverage recognition. He is a good touch passer, but needs to improve ball placement so his receivers can better make plays after the catch. Barrett has below average arm strength, and doesn't seem to trust his ability to make certain throws. He tends to hesitate on deep routes or sideline patterns, contributing to poor accuracy, and often chooses a safer check down throw.
New Orleans will eventually have to deal with replacing their legendary quarterback when Brees does finally step away from the game. For now though, number 9 is still playing at a Pro Bowl level, and doing so for a team whose chances of victory are no longer solely on his shoulders alone. The Saints have one of the most balanced rosters in the NFL, and are one of the favorites to compete for a championship this season. The chances that Barrett, Hill, or Savage emerge as a long-term heir apparent for Brees seem about as likely as a Louisiana snowstorm in July. Preseason competition for the backup quarterback job will still be worth keeping an eye on for a variety of reasons. Brees has often relied on Brunell, McCown, and Daniel to help he, Carmichael, and Payton make in-game adjustments along the sidelines. The reality still of course is that if Brees were to be out of the lineup for any length of time that New Orleans' chase for a title is likely finished. But the Saints coaches need to have a backup that they can trust to step in and play capably if Brees does get nicked up for a short period of time. Despite all the talent now on the team, the Saints best chance to add another Super Bowl trophy remains with their Hall of Fame quarterback behind center.
Who will win the Saints back up quarterback job in 2018?
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