The New Orleans Saints had a deal in the 2020 offseason that very few expected. The 2019 NFL passing leader (and interception leader) signed a $1 million dollar contract to be the backup to Drew Brees. That quarterback, of course, was Jameis Winston. Winston, the former first-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft spent the first five seasons of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one of the Saints’ NFC South division rivals. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner started off his career with promise, starting every game in his first two seasons while passing for over 4,000 yards in each of those two seasons, but inconsistency followed throughout his next two years in Tampa.
The inconstancies were not just in Winston’s play but within his organization, as he played under 3 head coaches and 3 offensive coordinators in his 5 seasons in Tampa. The bulk of that time came under also-ran former head coach Dirk Koetter and out-of-the-league offensive coordinator Todd Monken. His biggest career season came in his final year in Tampa, throwing for over 5,100 yards with career highs in touchdowns with 33 and unfortunately, interceptions with 30. With that stat line, Jameis Winston became the first quarterback in league history to throw for 30 TDs and INTs in a single season.
It came as little surprise that Winston would be left available to free agency with the hard sell being applied to future Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady, who was free from New England. Despite the numbers, seasons of inconstancies and turnovers coupled with the pursuit of Brady sealed Winston’s fate in Tampa. But who would take a chance on Jameis’ raw talent and potential? Who had the coaching and consistency to possibly get the most out of him? Enter New Orleans.
Despite being listed as Drew Brees’ primary backup in 2020, Winston saw very little action on the field. He had cleanup duty in the closing moments of the Saints’ blowout win over his former team in Week 9, going 1 for 1 resulting in a 12-yard completion. It wouldn't be until the very next week that Winston would see the vast majority of his on-field time, as he came in for an injured Drew Brees in the Saints’ Week 10 matchup against San Francisco. In that game, Winston went 6 for 10 with 63-yards passing. It wouldn't be until the Divisional Playoff that he threw his first touchdown pass as a Saint. Once again, against his former team, on a trick play, Winston threw a perfect 56-yard touchdown pass on his lone attempt of the game.
Most were stunned Jameis was not immediately placed at starter in Week 11 once it was determined Brees would miss significant time due to severe chest injuries. Instead, Sean Payton gave the subsequent starts to third-stringer and jack-of-all-trades quarterback Taysom Hill. It would be later reported that Payton “made a promise” to Taysom that if Drew missed time due to injury, like he did the previous season, that Hill would be given the opportunity to start in his place. Payton made good on his word, allowing the experimental quarterback to start in place of a former top-overall pick and 5-year NFL starter. It was a head-scratcher then, but makes slightly more sense if Payton wanted to be a “man of his word” to Taysom, despite having a proven commodity at his disposal in Winston.
Some hypothesized that Payton was attempting to “hide Jameis” from the rest of the league as he was convinced that Winston would be the quarterback for the future for the Saints after seeing him in practice and in the building for the better part of the year. Whether that idea is true remains to be seen, but Payton has been very complimentary towards re-signing Winston in recent offseason interviews. If any coach can pull the most from Jameis Winston’s potential as a top-tier NFL quarterback, its Sean Payton. If any NFL roster can also get the most out of Jameis, it is this Saints roster. On the other hand, many have made Tampa’s championship success in the aftermath of the Winston-era as an indictment on Jameis Winston as a quarterback. That is unfair to him though.
Understandably, much has been made and will continue to be made of Tampa winning the Super Bowl the year after Jameis left, but remember, he was replaced by arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, in Tom Brady, who reportedly may have been the man to replace Brees had Drew retired in 2020. Brady also brought with him Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette, and Ryan Succop to Tampa. None of those players were on the team when Winston was there, and they were all of the players that scored in Super Bowl LV. That speaks for itself.
Many have taken Jameis Winston’s return to New Orleans for granted, failing to remember he is an unrestricted free agent at this moment in time, and with many teams in the NFL starved for a quarterback this offseason, the Saints among them, it is certainly not a given that Winston can be penciled in as the Saints starter in 2021. The time to decide is soon, regardless. Drew Brees must decide if he will retire and move on to his television job with NBC. The Saints must decide if Winston is their quarterback for the foreseeable future or if they want to hold out hope for the extremely unlikely scenario that Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson can be traded for outrageous prices. Ultimately, Jameis Winston must decide if New Orleans is the place he wants to continue to call home. In the closing moments of the Saints’ crushing playoff loss to Tampa, Drew Brees looked to be telling Jameis Winston that the Saints are “his team now”, we will see if that is the case in 2021.
Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, follow us on Instagram at @SaintsCSC and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel.