Sources: Jameis Winston, Saints finalizing deal

Charles RobinsonNFL columnist
Yahoo Sports

Jameis Winston, one of the biggest remaining question marks in free agency, is finalizing a one-year deal to play for the New Orleans Saints in 2020, sources tell Yahoo Sports.

The deal is expected to be completed quickly now that the NFL draft has wrapped, bringing Winston’s surprisingly long free agency trek to an end. Sources told Yahoo Sports that Winston’s 2020 salary will be very economical, fitting inside the Saints’ already tight salary cap for next season.

As for his role, the sources told Yahoo Sports that Winston’s signing won’t guarantee him the backup job behind starter Drew Brees. Instead, the best case scenario for Winston may ultimately be competing for the No. 2 quarterback spot with Taysom Hill, who the Saints retained this offseason via a first-round tender offer, suggesting he will have an opportunity to be the heir apparent to Brees as soon as 2021. New Orleans also added a quarterback in the seventh round of the draft on Saturday, selecting Mississippi State’s athletic signal-caller Tommy Stevens.

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/tampa-bay/" data-ylk="slk:Tampa Bay Buccaneers">Tampa Bay Buccaneers</a> quarterback Jameis Winston (3) walks on the field after an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. The Saints won 31-24. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) walks on the field after an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. The Saints won 31-24. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Between Hill, Winston and Stevens, it appears the Saints are loading up the QB depth chart to give themselves options in 2021, when Brees will likely retire to a lucrative analyst job with NBC Sports. That opportunity may be why Winston sees the Saints as an ideal landing spot, giving him the chance to replicate the career resurrection that Brees’ last backup, Teddy Bridgewater, engineered over the past two seasons. Bridgewater left the Saints in March, signing a three-year, $63 million deal with the Carolina Panthers in March.

What’s clear is that the 26-year-old Winston had virtually no traction for starting jobs in 2020, following a rough season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that saw him turn the ball over a staggering 35 times (30 interceptions and five lost fumbles). His opportunities weren’t helped by a glut of experienced starting quarterbacks in free agency or on the trade market this offseason, along with a draft that featured three QBs selected in the top six picks and four total in the first round.

A source close to Winston told Yahoo Sports in March that the quarterback was going to be patient and wait for the right opportunity — most likely after the NFL draft had provided the best clarity on where Winston could be paired with the right offense or coaching staff. The Saints’ liberal use of Hill all over the field (and even on special teams) has factored heavily into that, given that most NFL teams are reluctant to expose a backup to heightened injury opportunities by playing him in multiple roles.

With Winston in the fold, the Saints will be able to continue maximizing Hill’s use as an offensive weapon without worrying about what would happen if he were to be injured. In turn, that would also give Winston the chance to compete for a share of the “traditional” backup quarterback role behind Brees. Not to mention the upside of spending a season under head coach Sean Payton and the Saints’ offensive staff, giving Winston an opportunity to step back and work on the mistakes that ultimately scuttled his career in Tampa Bay.

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