One of the bigger position battles during training camp has been the quest to replace Drew Brees in New Orleans. The Saints have been evaluating Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill throughout practices and preseason games, but Sean Payton will have to make a decision soon.
Payton told reporters and fans that they needed to wait a while after the Saints’ 23-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday night. The longtime New Orleans head coach told the media that he had not yet made the call. When pressed on a timeline, Payton said that he would make a determination before the Week 1 game against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 12.
As we all know, preseason stats should be taken with a grain of salt. Backups play a lot in the trenches on both sides and the play calling doesn’t always simulate what will take place in the regular season. It has been clear, both on the stat sheet and with the eye test, that Winston looks to be the better option.
Winston was 7-of-12 for 96 yards with a touchdown and a pick against the Annual Preseason Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens in the first game, but shredded the Jaguars defense in the second game with two touchdown passes, including a 55-yard dime to Marquez Callaway. Winston was 9-of-10 for 123 yards with zero turnovers and zero sacks in that game.
Hill, a source of frustration for a lot of bettors and fans because of Payton’s affinity for the former BYU quarterback, is 19-of-32 in the preseason for 219 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a couple of sacks. Hill had double the pass attempts of Winston in the game against Jacksonville, but only had 15 more passing yards and two more completions.
If you recall, Winston signed a one-year deal for the 2020 season with the Saints to back up Brees and learn under the legend’s tutelage. Winston may have found a starting opportunity throughout the season elsewhere, but made what seemed like a smart, responsible decision to try and build his value back up and also get his career back on track by learning from one of the best to do it in the modern era.
The Saints rewarded him with a contract for this season. Winston’s cap hit for 2021 is only $2.5 million with a base value of $5.5 million. He could earn up to $12.5 million in incentives.
Hill signed a four-year, $140 million extension in mid-March around the same time that Brees decided to hang up his cleats. The Saints could make the call to try and get immediate dividends from the extension and roll with the more expensive Hill, even if Winston seems to win the QB competition.
Right now, the Saints are field goal underdogs at the Superdome in that opener with the Packers. The total sits at 50 per DraftKings Sportsbook, a number that would likely go up if Winston was named the starter based on both his big arm and his proclivity for interceptions.
According to the Jameis Winston Yes/No First Snap prop at DraftKings, bettors believe that it will be the former Heisman Trophy winner that gets the start on September 12.
The “Yes” price is heavily juiced at -350, with 260 on the comeback for “No”. Betting percentages show that DraftKings users overwhelmingly believe it will be Winston, with 94% of the handle on Winston as the Week 1 starter, though only 58% of the bets.
Judging by where Brees was by the final season of his Hall of Fame career, it is fair to wonder how much of a downgrade either QB is from his final season. With Brees now out of the equation, is there a difference in the minds of oddsmakers between Winston and Hill?
“If they can keep him from the stupid mistakes, both Ed (Salmons) and I think he can be a top-seven QB or better,” stated Rex Beyers, a risk manager at the Westgate Superbook. “Not many can fire a ball 50 or 55 yards downfield right where they want to, but can he eliminate the stupidity?”
A top-seven QB, eh? That has to mean that a Winston-led Saints team would be graded much higher than a Hill-led squad.
“Winston’s probably a couple points better on paper,” Beyers suggested. “Ed thinks maybe a point, but also that we will see more Hill than some expect, in one manner or another. Before a game is played, we’re not going to let it impact how we book the futures. Also, all 18 weeks have been up since mid-May and we won’t be moving anything off of a preseason quarter or two.”
One thing that Beyers did note during our discussion is that the bigger issue for the Saints will be the losses on defense, something also noted in the Saints Team Preview by our own Wes Reynolds in the 2021 Pro Football Betting Guide.
This remains a fluid situation in New Orleans and one that NFL bettors should follow as Week 1 approaches.