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Sean Payton’s retirement puts Saints in tough spot with Taysom Hill

The ingenuity of Payton kept Hill effective. Now he’ll be on his own.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

And we thought last summer had a lot of question marks for the Saints. After Sean Payton’s abrupt retirement on Tuesday, the New Orleans Saints currently don’t have a head coach or clear quarterback No. 1 for 2022. Which means that this offseason will have a lot of handwringing and speculation as the Saints try to sort out two of the most important slots for a successful team.

Taysom Hill, however, is very much still on the Saints roster. In fact, he’s there to stay long-term. Hill is under contract until 2026, and while his record as a starting quarterback is excellent — Hill is 7-2 as a starter in his past two seasons — a lot of that success can be and has been ascribed to the impeccable game-planning process of Payton.

So, what does a new coach mean for Hill? It could be a myriad of things. Hill is often referred to as a “Swiss Army Knife,” a guy you can plug and play into any position. But to make that work, you need a coach who understands his players’ strengths. See Deebo Samuel in San Francisco. The skillset is completely different, but the idea is the same. Kyle Shanahan moves him around the formation in ways that utilize his speed.

Whoever coaches the Saints next needs to use Hills in ways that utilize his bullishness. That means tight end sets and formations with him at fullback, if he isn’t playing quarterback. If Hill is at QB, the Saints will have to find ways to keep him on the ground in a safe manner. Payton had Hill at 11 or 12 carries in every game he started last year (minus the Falcons, which he left with a Lisfranc injury), which is about his sweet spot. The problem is, that wear and tear clearly adds up.

If anyone is wondering about Hill’s trade value, it’s highly dependent on what teams are looking for. His contract is simply too steep for his current role for him to be much but a salary dump, which the Saints clearly have no intention of doing with him. They’ve had chances to move on from Hill in the past, but they clearly like what they have in him.

Hill might play quarterback for the Saints next year, however that feels unlikely. Payton’s game-plan felt like a deciding factor that made the Saints run under Hill, and without that it’s hard to imagine it being as effective.

All things told, the Saints can’t go safe for whoever is their next coach. Pete Carmichael Jr. undoubtedly learned a lot from Payton, so he can perform damage control on the offensive side of the ball. But it takes a very good coach — a necessity in today’s NFL — to use players like Hill in the versatile way their skillset demands.

Who else can play quarterback for the Saints next year remains a mystery? Most of the free agents on the market don’t feel like there’s any kind of fit with the Saints, but Jameis Winston being re-signed is a possibility. Tyrod Taylor is also on the market, but he may not want to take the familiar role of stopgap, which would almost certainly be the case in New Orleans. A Teddy Bridgewater reunion also feels unlikely, for similar reasons.

The extension for Hill was signed with the hope that Payton would continue coaching him, but Payton leaving at some point or another was always an eventuality. Now, the onus is on Hill to prove that he’s worth it without Payton as his fallback.

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