Time to put on my tin foil hat.
Why in the world would New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton want to start a 30-year-old gadget player in a playoff run over a 26-year-old, number one overall pick, who led the NFL in passing last year? What in the world could be his reason for not wanting to put Jameis Winston out there, and instead choose QB/RB/WR/TE/PR/KR Taysom Hill?
No matter your opinion on Taysom Hill, you have to admit the decision was at least a little curious at the time. Jameis Winston plays a style of quarterback more similar to the one run by future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. For Taysom to take over, the entire offensive playbook would essentially have to be re-worked.
And yet, that’s just what Sean Payton did, with Taysom Hill eventually leading the Saints to victory over the division rival Atlanta Falcons in Hill’s first career start.
Was it solely because Taysom gave the Saints the best chance to win? Or was there possibly another consideration?
And before you get started, no, I’m not saying it had anything to do with race, as has been implied by some. And no, I don’t think it’s just about the money, as has been implied by others. Well, not entirely.
Let’s go back to this past offseason. Teddy Bridgewater, the Saints back-up quarterback from 2019, signed a 3-year, $63 million dollar contract to become the starting quarterback with the Carolina Panthers. This was after he was showcased in the five games missed by Drew Brees after Brees injured his thumb against the Los Angeles Rams.
Teddy ended up not just “surviving” in the Saints offense, but thriving. He was undefeated in five games, including road victories against the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears, completing 67.9% of his passes with 9 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions.
But we actually need to go back one offseason before that.
In the 2019 offseason, Teddy Bridgewater signed a one-year deal to return to the New Orleans Saints as a back-up, for $7.25 million, a far cry less than the eventual $20 million per year Bridgewater would sign one year later.
So what was the difference? Why was Bridgewater able to sign a $60 million dollar deal in the 2020 offseason, but not even able to top $10 million the year before? The difference? Those five games.
In the 2018 season, Bridgewater started only a single game, attempting just 23 passes, throwing for a single touchdown and a single interception. That offseason, NFL teams were clearly hesitant to spend big money on Bridgewater as they weren’t given the opportunity to see what he had truly learned from his time under Sean Payton and Drew Brees. If you believe the reports, the only other team that showed any interest in Bridgewater before the 2019 season was the Miami Dolphins, who were clearly looking for just a one-year option before targeting a quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft.
That meant Bridgewater was left with only one true suitor - the team that had been watching Bridgewater in practice each week and knew what potential was actually there: the New Orleans Saints.
In last year’s offseason, while the Carolina Panthers were willing to pay Bridgewater big money to come to Carolina, there weren’t many teams clamoring to sign Jameis Winston after he was unceremoniously dumped by the Buccaneers after the acquisition of Tom Brady.
If Winston were to hit the 2021 offseason as it stands now, why would teams be willing to shell out big money now if they weren’t willing to do so the previous year? What would have changed? What would you have seen in Jameis in 2020 to make you change your opinion on everything you saw in 2019 and before?
And that’s where my conspiracy theory comes in.
What if the decision to start Taysom Hill was not necessarily because he offers the best chance to win, but that he offers a chance to win against mediocre opponents like the Falcons, Broncos, and Eagles, but the best chance to keep Jameis Winston around in 2021? Like Bridgewater in the 2019 season, if no one can see Jameis show continued success in the Saints offense, the only team that could show interest in him next offseason would be the only team that saw the improvement he’s made in practices, the New Orleans Saints.
It’s true the Saints are indeed tight up against the salary cap in 2020, and it would be difficult to pay a premium for Jameis Winston and compete with other suitors on the open market. But if the Saints think they could get by with Taysom Hill at quarterback in the meantime, maybe keeping Jameis Winston tape away from greedy NFL franchises helps keep his price tag in a range palatable by Mickey Loomis and the Saints front office.
Then again, maybe Sean Payton just needed to see what he had in Taysom Hill and firmly believed Taysom is the heir apparent to Drew Brees and gives his team the best shot in 2020.
Then again, maybe not.
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