METAIRIE, La. — Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill both spoke highly of one another Tuesday, insisting that they are supporting each other as they battle to become Drew Brees’ successor with the New Orleans Saints.
Both quarterbacks are fully intent on making the most of this opportunity.
“One year not playing has just made me even hungrier to get back at the (helm) and lead a team,” said the 27-year-old Winston, who backed up both Brees and Hill last year after spending his first five years as a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “My about-to-be seven years in this league has been a blessing, because I worked my whole life to have the opportunity to be a starting quarterback in this league.”
Hill, meanwhile, said he has focused fully this offseason on playing quarterback after the 30-year-old played multiple roles on both offense and special teams over the past four years.
“I’ve really been able to tailor all my workouts and everything to just being a quarterback … just knowing and feeling like I won’t have to take on as much as I did last year. So that’s been the emphasis. But the mindset of getting better every day and improving on what you’ve done in the past, that hasn’t changed,” said Hill, who said he has focused heavily on his footwork and decision-making process after the experience he gained from his four starts while Brees was injured in 2020.
Hill said Winston was “super supportive” during that time when he filled in for Brees, and said the two of them “had a lot of conversations through that process.”
“I think there’s obviously a lot of conversation here about this competition and everything else — but I’m super supportive of him, and I’ve felt nothing but support from him as well,” Hill said.
Winston, for his part, said he and Hill “have the same mentality” — that being to win and “be our best selves.”
“That is what I respect about Taysom, because he’s a man who can do so many great things for this team, and he has done so many great things for this organization since he’s been here,” Winston continued. “So just trying to find ways to serve him and work with him is going to make both of us better in terms of leading our teammates and working with them as well.”
The QB competition is not yet fully underway in New Orleans, since the Saints haven’t been conducting traditional practice sessions during OTAs or minicamp this spring.
Coach Sean Payton said he is prepared to adapt his offense around either quarterback’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We’ll build it a little bit around that player accordingly. That’s something that we did when Drew first arrived here and that we would do with either of these two players,” Payton said Tuesday after the first day of the Saints’ mandatory minicamp, which he said included 100% attendance from players.
Obviously an offense centered around Hill would feature his rushing ability, since he ran for 457 yards last year while starting four games at QB and appearing in most others in read-option packages. An offense centered around Winston would certainly feature his downfield arm strength. And a big priority for both would include cutting down on turnovers.
When asked how their unique styles will affect their competition in training camp — whether each QB will run different plays during their reps, etc. — Payton suggested that the differences won’t be substantial.
“There’s certain things that you might do just specific to one or the other. And yet there’s still an overall philosophical approach that these guys will have learned to play offense,” Payton said. “It’s not a whole different game plan for each one of them.”
Both Winston and Hill are scheduled to be free agents after this season, which further raises the stakes in their competition.
Winston is trying to revive his reputation as a former No. 1 overall draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner. The Buccaneers let him go in 2020 and moved on to Tom Brady after Winston infamously became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season, while also leading the league with 5,109 passing yards.
Winston signed a one-year deal with the Saints in 2020 worth $1.1 million plus incentives to learn under Payton and Brees. He then re-upped with the Saints as a free agent this offseason, signing another one-year deal worth between $5.5 million and $12.5 million, based on incentives.
Hill began his career as an undrafted free agent with the Green Bay Packers in 2017 before being claimed by the Saints off waivers that year and ultimately developed into a versatile QB/TE/WR/RB/special teams ace. He signed a two-year, $21 million contract as a restricted free agent in 2020.
Also Tuesday, the Saints announced the signing of their entire 2021 rookie class after they created some much-needed salary-cap space by restructuring the contract of cornerback Marshon Lattimore, as first reported by NFL Network.
Lattimore is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and declined to comment Tuesday on the state of any possible long-term extension talks. But a source confirmed that Lattimore agreed to convert most of his scheduled $10.2 million salary into a bonus this year and add automatically-voiding years to the end of his deal — which should give the Saints a few million dollars’ worth of breathing room.
The Saints began the week with less than $1 million in cap space. But now they can afford to add a possible veteran free agent or two, in addition to the rookie class.