METAIRIE, La. — Jameis Winston has officially secured his second chance.
It will be Winston’s first start since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided to move on from him following the 2019 season. And it will be a chance for the former Heisman Trophy winner and 2015 No. 1 overall draft choice to revive his career after he was derailed by turnovers in Tampa.
Meanwhile, the Saints will be trying to prove they can remain a playoff contender in the wake of Drew Brees’ retirement. This will be the first time in 16 years that someone other than Brees has entered the season as New Orleans’ starting QB.
“I would love to carry that torch from him,” Winston said earlier this year when he got emotional while talking about how much it meant to him to spend last season as Brees’ backup. “I would love to be able to provide the excitement and joy and resilience that he provided for this city.”
Winston earned this opportunity by outperforming Taysom Hill in the preseason. The two of them split first-team reps equally throughout training camp and the first two exhibition games. But Winston made the decision easier with a dynamic performance in Monday night’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars — completing 9 of 10 passes for 123 yards and two deep touchdowns to receiver Marquez Callaway.
Hill, 31, went all-in this offseason to become a full-time starting quarterback after he went 3-1 as a starter last season while filling in for an injured Brees. Hill slimmed down and tailored his offseason workouts to the QB position specifically. But it seems likely that the Saints will now want to continue using Hill’s versatility as a read-option QB/RB/WR/TE after he has been so special in that role over the past three years.
Winston went 28-42 as a starter with the Buccaneers from 2015-2019, completing 61.3% of his passes with 19,737 yards, 121 touchdowns and 88 interceptions. He displayed some dynamic highs and lows during that tenure — especially in 2019 in his first year under coach Bruce Arians. That year, Winston led the league with 5,109 passing yards but also became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season.
Turnovers have been Winston’s biggest hurdle, with a league-high total of 111 from 2015 to 2019.
But Winston has made decision-making his priority over the past two years. He said that is the No. 1 thing he learned from Brees — focusing on the right decision on every snap rather than trying to force a big result.
So far, that approach seems to be paying dividends. Interceptions have been rare for Winston over the past four weeks in practice, though he did have one that bounced off the hands of receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey on a slightly underthrown deep ball in the preseason opener.
Winston initially signed a one-year deal with the Saints in 2020 that was worth just $1.1 million plus incentives — specifically because he wanted to learn under Payton, Brees and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr.
He signed another one-year deal this year that was worth $5.5 million guaranteed — plus another $7 million in possible incentives that he now has a better chance of reaching.
Winston’s start in New Orleans’ second preseason game was his first start ever with the Saints since there was no preseason last year. Afterward, he acknowledged how special the opportunity was for him.
“I was just thankful. These opportunities don’t come too often. A whole year of not starting a football game,” Winston said. “That’s what I said in our team prayer, like, ‘Lord, thank you for this opportunity.’ … He’s the one that did it, the lord did it for me. And I missed it man. I missed going out there and leading the pack. That’s fun, that’s fun stuff.”