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Sean Payton hints Saints ‘big interest’ in re-signing Jameis Winston

Sean Payton braces New Orleans Saints fans for an upcoming announcement on Drew Brees, and the team’s plans for Jameis Winston.

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

With the expectation that Drew Brees played his final season for the New Orleans Saints, head coach Sean Payton has already began hinting at his potential successor. Payton spoke with several media outlets on Wednesday on life after Brees; he told Will Brinson on CBS Sports’ Pick Six Podcast that he anticipates Brees will make an announcement “in the next week or two.”

Payton also appeared on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” show, where he offered some telling commentary. When asked by Kay Adams about the plan at quarterback for the Saints going forward, Payton’s immediate retort was essentially a glowing endorsement of Jameis Winston.

“We had a great exposure for one year with Jameis Winston,” Payton responded. “We didn’t have a normal offseason, but we had enough time to see what we had with him as a player, as a leader, as an athlete. I really like what we had a chance to see. He was a tremendous leader for this team, and that’s hard to do when you come in new in free agency your first year as a backup quarterback. So that’ll be an important checkmark for us.

“A lot of times, you want to hold your cards closer to the vest, and he is a free agent. But him, along with Taysom Hill who’s in the building, we’ve said it all along — we’re going to develop and coach those guys. Jameis is one of those guys that we have a big interest in.”

It’s not the first time Payton has spoken highly about Winston, specifically in the context of the heir apparent to Brees. Payton appeared on NFL’s Huddle & Flow Podcast in December where he told hosts Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter Winston will have the opportunity to become the starter once Brees retires.

“One of the attractions for Jameis, and I understand it, was there aren’t many places in free agency where you can go to a team and have a pretty good bet that that quarterback like Drew is going to be playing in his last year,” Payton said. “That doesn’t exist. You go to a team, and you’re going to look for that opportunity to some time be a starter. He’s going to have that opportunity the minute Drew leaves, and both he and Taysom know that.”

He furthered that he was proud of how the quarterback room, Winston in particular, handled the midseason loss of Brees. Payton noted he had given Hill his word that he’d be the next man up if Brees went down; he reiterated it had nothing to do with Winston’s performance, or lack thereof.

“He’s a competitor and he wants that opportunity, and listen, I feel like our next quarterback is in the building.”

As reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Saints didn’t even make a push for Matthew Stafford whatsoever. Sean Payton rarely tells us things in such a straight-up manner. He’s been telling us that Winston is the intended successor now for months, and it’s time to take that seriously.

Now, that all depends on whether Winston decides to sign with New Orleans in 2021. He’s slated to be a free agent after signing a one-year, $1.1M contract with the Saints last season. Cost is an obvious factor with any issues retaining Winston.

Payton noted that Brees may make a retirement announcement this week, but if not declared an official transaction until after June 1st, this could save the Saints $25M. Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.Football has artfully broken down the team’s cap situation and how they can navigate accordingly, but it will take quite a bit of maneuvering. It’s highly possible that New Orleans convinces Winston to re-sign with a preemptive hometown discount.

“Being a quarterback, you have to be a student of the game,” Winston noted in his introductory conference call with the Saints last offseason. “So now I actually get a chance to dive into that more and I actually have a Hall of Fame quarterback that I’m learning from, as opposed to trying to learn by myself, or use Google.”

Winston has emphasized that Brees has been a longtime idol of his, first meeting him at 12 years old in 2006. “I just love the person that he is and the guy that he is and I’m so excited to learn from him and help serve him in any way.”

The Heisman Trophy Winner and former No. 1 overall pick showed immediate flashes of promise when joining the league in 2015. Unfortunately, Winston is now most remembered for his 2019 campaign, and final season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he became the first player to throw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same season. The next opportunity Winston gets as a starter will be one of redemption. What better opportunity than to be the potential successor to a quarterback you’ve looked up to your entire career?

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