New Orleans Saints Quarterback Battle Key for 2021 Success

Training camp is right around the corner and for the first time since Drew Brees came to the team in 2006, the New Orleans Saints have questions at quarterback. The battle for the starting role will be between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, with Trevor Siemian and rookie Ian Book also on the roster. Rumors abound as to who has the edge but head coach Sean Payton is surely keeping his plans close to the vest. Much will depend on training camp and the preseason to find a winner in the New Orleans Saints quarterback battle.

Options in the New Orleans Saints Quarterback Battle

Former First Overall Pick Winston

Payton is familiar with Winston from his five seasons with the division-rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2019, Winston set career highs with Tampa Bay in passing attempts (626), yards (5,109), and touchdowns (33). However, he also threw 30 interceptions, many of which were backbreaking to the Bucs.

The Bessemer, AL native was second in all-time passing yards in a player’s first five seasons, trailing only Peyton Manning. Part of that is due to the pass-heavy nature of the league now and because his team was often behind (many times thanks to Winston’s untimely interceptions). But the talent is there.

The former Florida State Seminole signed with New Orleans last year as a backup option to Brees but did not see the field much. Winston threw just 11 passes for the Saints in 2021, completing seven of them for 75 yards, without a touchdown or interception. And his off-season workouts have been…interesting.

Payton saw enough last year to bring Winston back on a one-year deal for $5.5 million. The 27-year-old will have to prove himself but he could be in line for a much heftier payday from either the Saints or another team with a strong 2021 campaign. Winston has the tools to succeed but has to clean up his propensity to turn the ball over or he will not be a part of Payton’s careful offense.

Multiple Use Player Taysom Hill

Hill is a quarterback first but has been utilized as a wide receiver, tight end, running back, and special teamer in his four seasons in the Big Easy. He went undrafted out of BYU and was eventually signed by Green Bay in 2017. New Orleans acquired him off waivers just before the 2017 season, seeing the talent that could be deployed. Hill appeared in five games that first season on special teams before becoming part of the offense in 2018.

Hill’s role in the offense and time at quarterback has increased in the past three seasons. For his career, Hill has completed 70.1% of his passes for 1,047 yards, four touchdowns, and three picks. The sample size is indeed small and a number of those passes came when he did not start out lined up under center.

When Brees missed time due to injury last season, it was Hill, not Winston, who got the starts. The Pocatello, ID native went 3-1 in his four starts in 2020 with a 72.7 completion percentage and a 98.8 quarterback rating. His ability as a rusher (and even as a receiver) makes Hill all the more interesting. For his career, Hill has run for 809 yards and 5.4 yards per attempt, including 457 of those in 2020. He has added 30 receptions for 336 yards and has amassed 18 total touchdowns rushing and receiving.

Payton envisions Hill as a do-it-all quarterback and has the creative playcalling mind to make that a reality in 2021. The Saints restructured the 30-year-old’s deal in March to count as a one-year pact with $12.159 million. Like Winston, Hill will also become an unrestricted free agent in 2022 and has an opportunity to earn himself a nice payday next off-season.

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A Combination of the Two Quarterbacks

This seems like the most likely scenario given Payton’s knack for scheming and desire to create an unpredictable offense. Having two players who are projects in one form or another seems to excite the Saints coach. Brees, who knows Payton’s thinking as well as anyone, sees both signal-callers getting reps in 2021.

“Both guys have such a love for the game . . . and you can see it in the way they play,” Brees told Mike Tirico on this week’s Football Morning in America. “Taysom has an infectious love for the game. There is not a guy who is more respected for that and for what he brings to the team. Jameis was such a joy to be around. He also loves the game and loves to work at it.”

It is far too early to know who has the upper hand for Week 1, let alone the entire 2021 season. With both quarterbacks set for free agency, one or either could be in a different uniform in 2022. The Saints also selected Ian Book out of Notre Dame in the 2021 NFL Draft. The El Dorado Hills, CA native was selected in the fourth round, 133rd overall by New Orleans.

Barring injury or a meteoric rise from Book, the New Orleans Saints quarterback battle comes down to Winston and Hill. Perhaps it is not a battle at all, but a partnership in the post-Brees era.

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