After Further Review: Five takes on potential replacements for Drew Brees

Saints head coach Sean Payton talks with quarterback Taysom Hill during a game.
Saints head coach Sean Payton talks with quarterback Taysom Hill during a game.(Picasa | Michael Nance, Pool Photo)
Updated: Jan. 23, 2021 at 8:52 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Take One: Already in the building, Taysom Hill

Sean Payton has said multiple times that Drew Brees’ successor is already in the building. With that being said, let’s start with the one that’s under contract, Taysom Hill. Hill has literally done it all in his four years with the Saints, but in 2020 we got our biggest look yet at Hill the quarterback. Hill started strong against Atlanta, played a weird game in Denver, then shined again against Atlanta. He finished his four-game run with his worst performance against Philadelphia.

The tape revealed a few things about Hill. One, he was more accurate than many thought he would be. He completed 72% of his passes. But two, he wasn’t quick enough going from read-to-read, which led to some missed big throws. This is the biggest area he must improve. The question is, can that be improved with more repetition at the position, or is that just a fatal flaw in his game? Plus, he has to get a hold on his fumbling issue.

Another legitimate question with Hill, is Payton’s West Coast offense the best fit for Hill’s skillset? Or is the stretch-boot system that’s become more popular in the NFL, more advantageous for his skill set, and the way the roster is currently constructed? Is it possible to blend the two together?

All are legitimate questions and concerns with Hill. But overall, there’s still a real chance he becomes the starter in 2021.

Take Two: Already in the building, Jameis Winston

What a fascinating case study Jameis Winston is. There are so many layers to his game. He has one of the highest ceilings in football, but his floor is way too low for a player with his gifts.

Just think of the snapshot he showed us in the minimal time he was on the field this season. He threw a beautiful touchdown pass on a trick play during the playoffs. He was nearly picked off when he came in for an injured Brees against San Francisco, and was flagged for an unsportsmanlike personal foul penalty when he came in to close the game out against Carolina.

Combine that with his energy, magnetic personality, and life with Winston is always entertaining.

The question is with Payton, can he maximize Winston’s positives while minimizing the negatives and win consistently? Other offensive gurus have tried, but none of those guys is Payton.

Winston is not under contract for 2021. Meaning there’s always a chance another team could entice him to sign there. However, his best chance to be a starting quarterback again is likely right where he is, in New Orleans. In any competition, he would hold his own and possibly win.

Take Three: Stafford fascination

Watching this Matt Stafford to the Saints narrative unfold is really interesting. Is there a real desire from the Saints to land him, or more of a creation/obsession from Saints fans and media?

I don’t know the answer to that. Nonetheless, that buzz is building. Thus, let’s talk about it. Stafford will be 33 years old coming off his 12th NFL season. He’s played for three different head coaches, made the playoffs three times, losing all three games.

He possesses a big arm, won some big games, but has played for an organization that’s been a consistent loser. How much a of a role did he play in that? Is it simply a situation where he found a more stable organization with an offensive mind, he would become one of the game’s best? Possibly.

He’s a seasoned veteran, with a ton of experience. Stafford probably has a few good years left in him where he’s at the top of his game. His skill-set feels like it could be a good match for Payton’s offense.

Of course, there’s something else, he isn’t available yet. He has a high cap number, and the new Detroit regime has given no clues as to whether or not he is in their future plans. Maybe a trade could be worked out for reasonable compensation. But, if he becomes available as a free agent, he would likely have other potential suitors, and could command a large contract. The Saints have never let cap restrictions stop them before, but they have been true to their price points when it comes to free agents.

The Stafford situation is something to watch going forward.

Take Four: Drafting a replacement

Not enough people are talking about the draft as a legitimate option for the Saints. Regardless of who ends up the starter, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a young guy in-house. Just because someone wins the job doesn’t mean they’ll keep the job.

The 2021 class is a good group.

We know Trevor Lawrence is out of the question. Given where the Saints will pick in the first round, it’s highly unlikely Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Justin Fields will be available barring a crazy slide on draft night, or a massive trade up from the Saints.

That leaves Alabama’s Mac Jones and Florida’s Kyle Trask as realistic possibilities both in the late first round, and possibly the second round too, depending on how the board falls. Jones has great field vision, and played on a loaded roster that won a national title. Trask is an accurate, rhythm passer, that was at one point the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.

I’m not saying either of these guys are franchise material. But if you’re the Saints, giving yourself as many options at quarterback would only enhance their chances at landing the right player at the game’s most important position.

The Saints would be foolish to not at least consider this route.

Take Five: Other Observations

- Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is the hottest name on the trading block right now. Given Payton’s aggressive nature, and his tendency to fall in love with stars, it can’t be completely ruled out. However, making a deal for Watson feels like a long shot. The compensation would be massive and likely involve multiple first-round picks, or even a Ricky Williams-style haul. Given the Saints current cap situation, that may not be the best way to build their roster back up.

- Should Sam Darnold or Jimmy Garappolo be available, I could see Payton having interest.

- There’s an interesting vibe surrounding the end of the Brees era, and the start of another. Should he retire (which he hasn’t yet officially done), everyone is eager to see what comes next. There’s also a sense of security given the Saints went 8-1 without him over the last two seasons. I would caution though, that not having Brees for a small window of time is not remotely the same as not having him at all. In both cases with Hill and Teddy Bridgewater, they had success, but there were moments of concern. There was even rumblings that both players were very close to getting pulled, but Brees returned before it ever became a real issue. Bottom line, Payton has never had to deal with instability at the quarterback position as a head coach. There’s a chance it’s a seamless transition to the next guy, but there’s also a chance that it isn’t.

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