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The next chapter of QB play for the Saints could be a blast… or a mess

Are we really about to go from old man Brees to Flameis Winston at quarterback, or am I hallucinating?

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

Well, it happened. Drew Brees has retired.

I could type all day long about Drew’s legacy, what he meant to the city of New Orleans and how he’s maybe the most underappreciated elite quarterback in NFL history.

But I won’t be doing that with this piece. On the contrary, we’re going to jump to the next chapter of quarterbacking for the New Orleans Saints, and how exciting and/or disastrous the process could potentially be.

Now, there are obviously some disqualifiers here. If Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson somehow gets traded to the Saints in the next month or so, things change.

But strictly assuming the Saints’ primary options to be the starting quarterback next year are either Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill or a draft pick, things could get very interesting.

A day after the retirement announcement from Brees, Adam Schefter reported that Jameis Winston signed a one-year, $12 million deal with the Saints.

ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported Monday morning that if a deal gets done with Winston, he will have to compete for the starting job.

The latter seems more likely to me. And if this is true, get ready for a roller coaster season of QB play.

Clearly, you couldn’t transition to more of an opposite of old man Brees than Flameis, if he wins the job.

Here’s how they compare in average depth of target (ADOT) in yards since Winston came into the league, according to PFF (among QBs with a minimum of 300 dropbacks per season):

Brees — 2020: 6.6 (32/32) — 2019: 6.9 (28/30) — 2018: 7.6 (28/31) — 2017: 6.9 (29/29) — 2016: 7.7 (28/30) — 2015: 8.2 (21/32)

Winston — 2020: N/A — 2019: 10.9 (2/30) — 2018: 11.3 (2/31) — 2017: 11.0 (1/29) — 2016: 10.8 (2/30) — 2015: 10.4 (5/32)

Simply put: Jameis is a wild boy. He led the league in picks from 2015-2019, and he’s ranked in the top-five of qualifying quarterbacks in turnover-worthy play % (throws that either were picked or easily could’ve been picked) every year except 2016, when he ranked 10th.

He’s also near the bottom in percentage of throws short of the sticks in that time span, as well as yards after the catch. And as you can imagine, Brees is pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum in every one of those categories since 2017.

I’ve discussed ad nauseum whether or not his style of throwing caution (and the football) to the wind will change in NOLA, where they have a good defense and a more consistent running game. And maybe he does, as Brees did a tick when he finally was surrounded by a good defense in 2017.

But at the same time, I don’t think you’re going to coach all of the aggressiveness out of Jameis Winston, no matter where he is. And nor should head coach Sean Payton for that matter.

The question is if he can balance his aggression to the point where he can just limit those disastrous plays enough to where there aren’t diminishing returns on his big time throws down the field.

It will be fascinating to see what types of concepts Payton puts together to utilize that big-play ability, as well as how the short-to-intermediate specialists in the passing game — Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas — are deployed, given Jameis starts some games next year.

On the other hand, we’ve got Taysom. I don’t need to remind anyone how shaky his starting tenure was in 2020.

In Weeks 11-14, he led the league with SIX (!!) fumbles, which according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), was more than triple any player at any position on rushing attempts.

As far as throwing the ball, he was pretty mediocre. His passing grade was tied for 19th among qualifying QBs (69.2), and he was pretty conservative with the ball.

His ADOT of 7.4 in that span was tied for 25th out of 35. And his time to throw of 2.94 seconds per drop-back was 7th-highest, while taking 13 sacks (T-5th highest).

So, he was holding the ball too long as he slowly progressed through reads, and he wasn’t even really airing it out as much as we all expected. Plus when he did launch the deep ball, they were often overthrown.

The silver lining with his passing performance in these four games is that he was surprisingly accurate. His adjusted completion percentage of 82.4 was third out of 35. However, that could somewhat be attributed to the low ADOT.

As a runner, he was pretty effective when he wasn’t fumbling. His 209 yards in Weeks 11-14 were second among all QBs, and so were his six eluded tackles.

I could go on about Taysom, but at the end of the day, he has the qualities of a raw, rookie quarterback — only he’s about to be 31 years old next season. His slow processing, along with his inability to decipher when he should escape pressure and use his legs to get yardage consistently, make him somewhat of a project.

Add that with his baby hands, and you’ve either got a disaster or a ginormous play waiting to happen on any given down.

The Saints also could draft a quarterback, which would be TBD until we see them in camp/preseason. They’ve been rumored to be interested in a guy like Alabama’s Mac Jones, who was deadly accurate in a potent offense last year.

The only concern would be he was throwing to wide open receivers in a clean pocket most of the time, and he’s not mobile at all. He’s also coming from the same situation that Tua Tagovailoa came from after his 2019 collegiate season, where he looked overwhelmed by the pace of an NFL game when he got his first starts. But they’re two different players, and there’s a chance Jones’s accuracy and poise could translate well.

All of these options the Saints have at quarterback for next season present intriguing possibilities, as well as destructive ones.

A guy like Jameis, Taysom or even a rookie could come in and do some fun stuff and get the Saints’ stacked roster to the playoffs. Or they could have their weakness highlighted and waste all the talent this front office has worked so hard to retain with a mediocre season.

The latter is what I would consider a ‘mess,’ due to the fact that this team is built to win right now. And whichever quarterback takes the field come September will have a lot of pressure not to screw things up.

My hope is that good or bad, next season is at the very least a fun and memorable one, with entertaining quarterback play.

What do you think the Saints should do at QB next year? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewBell_98.