Jameis Winston's moment of glory during the 2020 NFL season did not come after Drew Brees broke double-digit ribs and the New Orleans Saints needed a starter for a few weeks. No, it came on a reverse lateral during the team's divisional-round playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Winston lined up as a receiver, caught the toss from Emmanuel Sanders, then heaved a deep bomb to Tre'Quan Smith, who was more open than any receiver in any playoff game in a long time.
New Orleans lost the game, but Winston made the one throw required of him, and it will be the lasting image of his Saints tenure. Because while Drew Brees is probably riding off into the sunset for the less-physical pastures of the NBC booth and retirement, Winston is a free agent. And thanks to the second straight year of anticipated QB musical chairs that will go on in free agency, Winston has a chance to make himself some money.
Unless Winston wants to spend another year under Sean Payton's tutelage, he won't be returning to New Orleans. Payton has long championed Taysom Hill as the successor to Brees. Most of us are doubtful about that, but the extension Hill signed last offseason ties him to the Saints for 2021 no matter what happens.
Hill will have a dead cap hit of $11 million if he isn't on the team next year, which the Saints cannot swallow due to their dire cap situation. Hill will either play out 2021 on his current contract or sign an extension before the new league year begins on March 17. It is impossible for New Orleans to take any other path. Winston could take another one-year deal for no money to stay with the team, but given the other options he will have, it seems far more likely Winston will try to dip his toes into the starting QB waters once more.
Many teams will be in need. The Indianapolis Colts have to start their search for a Philip Rivers replacement today after he retired this morning. The New England Patriots probably aren't going to bring back Cam Newton and don't hold a high enough draft pick to land one of the top signal-caller prospects in this year's event. Alex Smith is still under contract in Washington but it wouldn't be a shock to see him hang up the cleats. Even if he doesn't, Ron Rivera might look for an upgrade considering his team was a playoff unit despite well below-average play from their quarterbacks all season. And who knows what will happen in Chicago with Mitch Trubisky, or if the Broncos aren't totally sold on Drew Lock, or if Ben Roethlisberger follows his 2004 draftmate Rivers and steps away from the game in Pittsburgh?
Winston is only 27-years-old. He is far from the end of his NFL career, if only because his physical talent will be enough to keep him around as a backup regardless of how good his decision-making will ever be.
This is his chance to cash in and get another shot at a starting job after a year spent studying under Brees and Payton. A one-year prove-it deal like the Colts did with Rivers isn't out of the question, and any of the teams above would sign up for that. There's also a chance someone talks themselves into Winston and he gets a Teddy Bridgewater-type deal worth around $60 million over three years.
The opportunity will be there for Winston. He may even have several suitors from which to choose. The talent of someone who can throw for 5,000 yards in a season is enticing. Nobody will know if a year in the Big Easy helped with Winston's interception problem until he steps on the field again next fall. But someone will take the leap of faith that it helped, and will probably pay Winston a healthy sum in the process.