Concluding the draft, news broke that the Saints are reportedly going to sign Jameis Winston as a backup quarterback.
Naturally, social media goes off about it. Surprisingly, there was plenty of support for the move. However, I also saw plenty of disdain. I am here to set the record straight on this being the best move the Saints can make for life after Drew Brees.
I will start by addressing the elephant in the room that is Taysom Hill. I get it. You like him. What’s not to love about the guy who’s position is “football?” He is the swiss army knife who does it all. I instantly think of the clip of Boobie Miles’ uncle in Friday Night Lights telling scouts all the things he can do…
I feel that with Taysom Hill. I am happy to see he got that hefty price tag for the next two years. His $21 million contract made him the second highest paid backup QB in the league. He also does more inside the lines on Sundays than any other backup. It is a short term deal and it doesn’t put the Saints out much, especially if this is Brees’ final year.
The reality is…Hill is not the answer for QB.
For starters, Hill turns 30 this August. He’s not exactly on the right side of his prime. That doesn’t bode well for him because of all the things we love him for. He is a gritty, physical dude who’s willing to lower the shoulder and attack.
At 30, that is not something you want to invest in as a starting QB. His style of play will get him destroyed in the NFL. He would go from a minimal amount of big hits each game to running that risk every play.
History is not on his side in terms of injuries. He was a fantastic player at BYU…when he was on the field.
He played a grand total of five seasons with BYU and was pegged the starter in year two. Every season minus the second resulted in Hill suffering a season ending injury because of his style of play. His body couldn’t handle the college level. Imagine testing that in the NFL.
Let’s put to bed the idea that Taysom Hill can be a starting quarterback. Just let the guy play football and be the swiss army knife. It is how he can help the Saints win.
That still leaves the gaping hole at quarterback, which Winston could fill. He finished 2019 north of 5,100 yards and tossed 33 touchdowns. He also threw it to the other team another 30 times. It was technically 40 touchdowns if you include the seven pick sixes. Both of those are equally alarming numbers.
Let’s not forget Brett Favre threw 29 in a seasons before. Brees’ career high is 22. Peyton Manning’s career high is 28.
Jameis Winston certainly has been reckless with the ball in his 5-year career with 88 interceptions, including the 30 from last season.
Winston By The Numbers
- 2015 – 312/535, 58.3%, 4,042 yards (7.6 ypa), 22 TDs, 15 INTs, 84.2 QB Rating
- 2016 – 345/567, 60.8%, 4,090 yards (7.2 ypa), 28 TDs, 18 INTs, 86.1 QB Rating
- 2017 – 282/442, 63.8%, 3,504 yards (7.9 ypa), 19 TDs, 11 INTs, 92.2 QB Rating
- 2018 – 244/378, 64.6%, 2,992 yards (7.9 ypa), 19 TDs, 14 INTs, 90.2 QB Rating
- 2019 – 380/626, 60.7%, 5,109 yards (8.2 ypa), 33 TDs, 30 INTs, 84.3 QB Rating
There was a clear progression for Winston in years 1-4 under the same offensive direction with Dirk Koetter. Winston did miss 3 games in 2017 and even more in 2018 because of Fitzmagic aka Ryan Fitzpatrick. Koetter was coaching for his job so the quarterback carousel kept going round and round. It became a game of hot potato.
Then in 2019 under Bruce Arians, Winston had the insanely high turnovers. On the flip side, he also threw for yards in bunches and had a career high in touchdowns.
Following the season, Winston was quoted saying he was “ballin” referencing the yards and TDs. He’s right. He was also right when he said immediately after that he needed to cut the turnovers. If Winston cuts that 30 down to his normal 15 or so, a much different conversation is brewing about him.
While this doesn’t create an excuse, this is a legitimate parallel.
QB’s Under Bruce Arians in Year 1
- 2012 – Andrew Luck (18 INTs, 10 Fumbles)
- 2013 – Carson Palmer (22 INTs, 14 Fumbles)
- 2019 – Jameis Winston (30 INTs, 15 Fumbles)
No one in their right mind would say Luck or Palmer are slouches. Luck was one of the five best QBs in the league when healthy and Palmer was more often than not in the 8-12 range.
All three of them have strong arms and Arians’ system gives QBs the opportunity to use it. By design, it is a classic case of high risk/high reward football. He attacks downfield thus leading to big passing numbers, but QBs are also susceptible to turnovers in volume.
Winston generally loves to attack downfield regardless of offense, unlike Brees, especially in recent years.
Winston finished 2019 with 10.5 air yards per attempt on average, meaning he was throwing beyond the normal distance for a first down. Only one QB ranked higher and that QB didn’t even play the entire season, Matthew Stafford.
For point of reference, Drew Brees’ average air yards per attempt was 6.7, which was the fourth lowest in the league. Only Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr and fellow Saints teammate Teddy Bridgewater threw passes closer to the line of scrimmage.
One of the excuses surfacing regarding Winston is the offensive line in Tampa Bay being one of the catalysts for 30 Interceptions after being sacked a career high 47 times. That is more so a symptom of the offensive style rather than bad offensive line play.
The tackles left much to be desired hence the reason they drafted Tristan Wirfs with the 13th pick. However, the Bucs’ interior line graded out as the second best pass blocking interior group in the league, led by center Ryan Jensen and guard Ali Marpet. The interior anchored them into the top 10 in offensive line play for 2019 across the board.
Despite that, the Bucs finished near the bottom half of the league in rushing, both in yards and yards per attempt. However, based on the grading, that seems to be more on the shoulders of the running backs, Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones. Barber more so than Jones who finished with a sub 3.5 yards per carry.
They drafted Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the 3rd Round to address the need for a better rushing attack.
Much like the jaded view of Taysom, many Saints fans are viewing Winston with blinders. His upside is undeniable. As great as he can be, he can go the other way on that equation too. He can play like a top 10 passer some weeks and play like a low tier starter others.
That being said, give me the upside with the roster the Saints have. They are built to win now as they proved last season in Drew Brees’ absence. While I enjoy Teddy and Taysom, neither of them compare to what Winston is capable of doing at quarterback.
The question becomes…who is better than Winston?
In short, no one gives the Saints that kind of upside. The only other viable option is another former divisional rival QB by the name of Cam Newton. The downside to Newton is the wear and tear he already has. If he can’t rebound from the injury riddled year and a half or so, he is done. He looked like a shell of himself the last year and a half.
The only other option, which I would be ok with, trading for rights to draft Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence. Because the Saints will likely make the postseason again, it would take the farm, family goat and all the tractors to make that happen. That would take a Ricky Williams level trade. Seeing as how the Saints have been mortgaging their future to win now anyway, why go through the transition? Send the next two years of draft capital and then some to whoever holds the keys to Lawrence. I wouldn’t be mad. That will never happen though.
Right now, the answer is Winston.
The Parallel to Brees
Saints fans forget when talking about Winston and the turnovers is their own QB had the same issues more often than not. Any time Saints fans feel Brees gets snubbed (which is a false reality), fans like to mention the 5,000 yard seasons and gaudy passing numbers while ignoring the interceptions.
In Brees’ first five seasons as a starter in the NFL, he was intercepted on 2.8% of his throws compared to Winston’s 3.5% (includes the historically bad 30 INTs). Prior to this season, Winston was at 3.0%.
Brees continued struggling with turnovers frequently throughout the course of his career. What we have seen in the last three years is a different Brees entirely in terms of turnovers.
Interceptions by Year (Rank Among QBs)
*Note – Several QBs tie in totals some years*
- 2002 – 16 (5th)
- 2003 – 15 (10th)
- 2004 – 7 (35th)
- 2005 – 15 (6th)
- 2006 – 11 (23rd)
- 2007 – 18 (6th)
- 2008 – 17 (3rd)
- 2009 – 11 (21st)
- 2010 – 22 (2nd)
- 2011 – 14 (10th)
- 2012 – 19 (1st)
- 2013 – 12 (13th)
- 2014 – 17 (3rd)
- 2015 – 11 (15th)
- 2016 – 15 (7th)
- 2017 – 8 (22nd)
- 2018 – 5 (33rd)
- 2019 – 4 (37th)
Brees’ average interceptions per year heading in to the 2017 season was 14.7. His combined interceptions over the last three years is 17.
Make no mistake. This is not a ploy to say Winston is equal to Brees. I am simply pointing out the parallel that both QBs turn the ball over quite a bit. Brees is a top 5, first ballot Hall of Famer. Winston isn’t even close to that.
Brees’ throws touchdowns at an even higher rate with 10 seasons of 30+ touchdowns since 2006. He also holds the record for all time completion percentage, yards and touchdowns. He is arguably the most prolific passer the league has ever seen.
Despite the turnovers, the Saints were able to win many games with Brees under center because of everything else he brought to the table.
Maybe the Saints can help Winston do some of the same.
Why It Could Work with Winston
He has a big arm. Despite running a vertical offense, he was in the top half of the league in average release time. Clearly, he is not gun shy.
One of the factors that not many are talking about, Winston had Lasik surgery in the off-season to help fix his nearsightedness. Winston has never used his vision as an excuse for interceptions, but I will. Because of how quickly QBs need to read, react and fire the ball downfield, it is plausible his vision prevented him to perform at an even higher level.
One example of Lasik changing a career was former LSU receiver Dwayne Bowe. He struggled with drops at LSU early in his career. After having Lasik surgey in the off-season, he ended up bettering his game and became a first round pick as a result.
The great news for the Saints is he likely comes at a cheaper price with a more team friendly contract because of the roller coaster that has transpired over the last year and a half for him.
There is no one on the market who gives the Saints the same upside. At a young 26, there is more than enough time to change the trajectory of his career. Who better to learn under than Brees?
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