Drew Brees has finally officially retired and the New Orleans Saints are looking for a new starting quarterback for the first time in 15 years. An unfamiliar feeling for the franchise and head coach Sean Payton, to be sure. Brees' consistency will be missed, but now it's time to find a new signal-caller to take snaps for the 2021 season and potentially beyond.
Payton has long been the loudest supporter of Taysom Hill, perhaps in preparation of this very day. He inked Hill to a sizable contract extension before the 2020 season, a move derided because, well, Hill was nearing 30 years old and to that point had been nothing more than a gadget player for the Saints. He proved to be important when Payton pegged him as starter when Brees got hurt this past season and, to his credit, Hill managed to keep the team afloat during an important midseason stretch. Payton rewarded him by signing Hill to an absurd four-year extension last weekend worth $140 million on paper, but really was just for cap purposes and Hill received a small pay bump that will make his salary slightly greater than $9 million this coming season.
Hill will not be given the keys to the offense outright, though. After spending a season under Brees and Payton's tutelage, Jameis Winston is back in the black and gold in the Big Easy. He signed a one-year deal worth $12 million around the same time Hill received his most recent extension. Winston spent four years as a starter in Tampa Bay, putting up absurd stats but failing to win many games thanks to his severe interception problems. Many figured he would be the most likely successor to Brees, given that Winston, unlike Hill, has actually started a full season for an NFL team, even if those seasons were not the most successful.
Payton went on the Dan Patrick Show today to say that it's open season. The two will enter into a quarterback competition come training camp, and the victor will start Week 1. It is, however, very much worth wondering if the Saints are in a no-win situation here.
By virtue of the definition of a competition, there has to be a winner. On one side, you have Hill, he of 1,047 yards total passing in his four-year career, who has started exactly four games at quarterback and is more known for playing fullback and special teams than lining up under center. On the other, you have Winston, who surpassed Hill's career total passing yards in the first four games of the 2019 season, but has thrown an astounding 88 interceptions in four seasons as starter and owns a 28-42 career record.
And Payton might not even be done! Jane Slater brought up Mitchell Trubisky as a potential option for New Orleans to bring in for camp on Tuesday. I don't need to tell you Trubisky's strengths and weaknesses, given they've been a central topic of conversation ever since he was drafted ahead of both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. It is difficult to say whether the Saints would be better or worse off with Trubisky under center, which speaks to the larger point here.
The Saints will struggle to be winners regardless of who bests the other in the QB competition. In fact, the only winner to come out of that particular duel will be all the Saints' opponents come 2021. Brees' arm strength was completely gone in 2020 and he wasn't the dangerous quarterback of old, but he still had his pinpoint accuracy and deeply engrained command of the offense. Hill, to his credit, led the Saints to a 3-1 record when Brees went down last year. He also faced the bottom-feeding Atlanta Falcons (twice), the rapidly-collapsing Philadelphia Eagles, and the Denver Broncos. Three teams picking in the top-10 of this year's draft. Not exactly a gauntlet of doom, wouldn't you agree?
In summary, the Saints are holding a quarterback competition between a guy who somehow had 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in one season and another who earned his place in the league by unexpectedly running and catching the ball despite being designated as a quarterback on the roster.
Payton is a great coach. He'll have his biggest challenge yet in 2021, whether it's Winston or Hill leading the charge.