It’s looking more like Drew Brees is headed into retirement after the Saints’ 2021 playoff run. Brees, who turned 42 on Friday, already has a post-playing career lined up with NBC Sports and there’s no doubt New Orleans officials are already thinking about quarterback succession plans.
Brees has showed physical decline tied to his arm strength the past two seasons and for being one of the league’s most durable QBs for a long time, he has missed 9 of the past 32 regular-season games because of injury. The Saints have gone 8-1 with other quarterbacks starting in his place, so there’s some promise for Sean Payton’s offense even without Brees for good.
Here’s a look at where the Saints might be headed at QB for next season, starting with Plan A in house:
Will the Saints replace Drew Brees with Taysom Hill full time?
When Brees had to miss four games in 2020 because of an injury to his ribs, Hill made the most of his strong audition to show he can more than a gadget player, better suited to run and catch the ball.
Hill was comfortable making all the throws with good efficiency. He hit on some nice-looking deep throws with his underrated arm at 6-2, 221 pounds. He also offered the dynamic rushing element to complement Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray well.
So the Saints already have proved they can tailor Payton’s offense with Hill’s dual-threat skill set to maximize him as an athletic passer. They invested plenty in Hill to extend him through the 2021 season. He got $16.3 million and New Orleans to set to take a cap hit that almost matches that money in 2021.
What’s interesting is that Hill will be 31 next season and is unsigned for 2022. The Saints have set up an extended look at Hill to see if he can become more than a mid-career bridge QB. Payton’s offense gives Hill a high floor as he’s well indoctrinated in the offense. Hill is the easiest, most natural transition the Saints can make and the money says he’s the most likely short-term solution (at worst) for no Brees.
Does Jameis Winston have a shot to replace Drew Brees?
There was speculation that Winston would the get the first chance to fill in for Brees instead of Hill. But he didn’t come close to getting that opportunity, as the Saints took advantage of a favorable schedule in Brees’ absence and got more than what they needed offensively to win all but one of those games with Hill.
Winston signed a bargain-basement one-year deal to try to resurrect his career after the Buccaneers, who took him No. 1 overall in the 2015 draft, locked into Tom Brady to replace him. Winston was helped most by absorbing concepts of a new offense behind Brees vs. live reps, as he saw mop-up duty in only two games.
There’s a fair chance the Saints re-sign Winston as a cheap, high-end backup. But Winston, knowing Hill has the fast inside track to succeed Brees, could try to find a situation where he has a better potential of starting in 2021.
What other free-agent QB should appeal to the Saints?
The Saints are facing the worst salary-cap situation in the NFL and although Brees’ retirement would bring some relief in that area, after they figuring out who they’re cutting and keeping, they simply can’t be active spenders in free agency.
Philip Rivers had a solid season with the Colts but he like fellow former Charger Brees, may not return to play in 2021 and made $25 million in 2020. The Cowboys should be locking up Dak Prescott soon. So that leaves the classic bridge QBs at $10 million or less, led by Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
When weighing all that, Hill, already under a reasonable contract in relation to starting QBs around the league, is the Saints’ most cost-effective veteran option, too.
Can the Saints find a QB in the 2021 NFL Draft?
The Saints are looking at another late first-round draft pick. The Saints should be among those teams in the mix for the second wave of QB prospects in a strong 2021 class. There’s a good chance, however, that BYU’s Zach Wilson, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Alabama’s Mac Jones are all gone before their turn, but Florida’s Kyle Trask would be an intriguing option who can be molded well in Payton’s offense.
With the cap issues, however, the Saints might need that pick to help Hill (or the defense) vs. replacing him. Because of Hill showing what he can do and doing it rather well, QB now seems more like a luxury pick New Orleans — at least before the second round.
For now, it would be shocking for the Saints to roll with anyone other than Hill at QB after Brees. It would also make sense to draft a high-upside developmental option outside of Day 1 Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett?) given Hill’s one-year contract status.