Are the Saints Better Off Letting Taysom Leave NOLA in Free Agency?

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints, YouTube

In case you missed it: word spread rapidly like wildfire across the sports world yesterday that current Saints 3rd string QB (and now-famous offensive “weapon”) Taysom Hill very confidently also considers himself to a “franchise QB” in the NFL; leading to a huge wave of emotional response from football fans throughout Social Media ranging in emotion from joy and pure happiness, to total outrage and even scornful mockery.

There are many observers and analysts who strongly disagree with Taysom’s own personal assessment, which he strongly expressed in a recent interview last week in Miami prior to Super Bowl LIV.

The Black and Gold’s versatile and dynamic offensive star says that he views himself fully capable of becoming a permanent starter at the sport of Pro Football’s most important position — which is being a “franchise” or a proven starting #1 quarterback — and now says that he is willing to leave New Orleans to go play for another NFL team to prove it.

Hill currently now is considered a restricted free agent, but has been widely expected by most observers to return to the Saints organization for at least one more season; both in his current role and also as a back-up #2 QB, assuming of course that the team tenders him a qualifying 1-year offer to keep him on the team behind Brees (who also is likely to return next season) for at least one more year; under the guidelines of restricted free agency.

The one major issue unfortunately for Taysom Hill moving forward, besides the fact that he will already turn age 30 in August, is that he has mostly made his mark in his 3-year NFL career as a superior athlete with incredible physical skills; which have allowed him to have a huge impact as a runner and receiver.

But being a #1 starting QB and running the team’s offense is something that he really hasn’t done since his days back in college nearly 5 years ago.

Despite the praise and very favorable comments made recently by Saints head coach Sean Payton, there remains some much lingering doubts among many well-known observers and analysts about Taysom’s capability to effectively guide the offense purely as a passer and starting NFL quaterback.

However now after yesterday’s news and subsequent reaction across the NFL (especially among ‘Who Dats’ and long-time Saints supporters in particular), the question must be asked:

Could the Saints actually be better off heading into their future, by allowing Taysom to leave NOLA?

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints,

While several prominent NFL insiders and analysts including NBC Sports / Pro Football Talk writer Mike Florio have reported previously that New Orleans is considering making Hill the team’s next starting QB once 41-year old starting QB Drew Brees eventually retires for good, that possibility certainly is NOT guaranteed.

Despite the praise and favorable comments made recently by Saints head coach Sean Payton, there remains some much lingering doubts among many well-known observers and analysts about Taysom’s capability to effectively guide the offense purely as a passer and starting NFL quarterback.

Hill is a superb and dynamic athlete as both a runner and receiver, and of course has made his name as a stand-out performer on special teams. But as a classic drop-back, in-the-pocket QB purely from a passing perspective, the thought that Hill take over that role (and thereby making him the next “franchise QB”), remains very questionable at best.

As it’s been mentioned previously more than once: Hill was a slightly-average QB during his years in college in at Brigham Young University (BYU); an Independent school (no conference affiliation) and Division 1 / major college football program located out west in Provo, Utah, from 2012 to 2016.

He was also injury-prone (he missed a total of 18 games due to a variety of issues that included foot and elbow injuries) and made his mark mostly as a “running QB”, and much more so than he ever did as a passer.

Can Hill throw the ball great distances and “sling it” far down the field when he needs to?

Yes, absolutely he can, but — can he do it with accuracy and precision as a pocket passer in the classical sense — and not be forced to continue relying mostly on his athletic prowess, to make big plays during critical game-day situations?

That is the “million dollar question” that many of Hill’s biggest detractors still seem to have, as the Saints franchise prepares to enter into the upcoming 2020 NFL Free Agency signing period; which officially will begin in a little over a month from now (starting at midnight on March 18th).

But that isn’t the question for Hill; who told NFL writer and Associated Press Philadelphia Eagles beat writer Rob Maadi last week prior to the Super Bowl that he feels that he is up to the task; and is even willing to leave NOLA and the Saints franchise to prove it to everyone, if need be.

“Do I want to leave? The fact of the matter is no”, Hill said to Maadi.

“But as you look at free agency, you have to find the right opportunity for you. You have to find the situation to take care of your family. I want to play quarterback in this league. If New Orleans don’t view me that why, well then I have to leave.”

Taysom’s comments indirectly led to the subsequent follow-up interview conducted by NBC Sports Pro Football Insider Peter King; who on his nationally-syndicated podcast / radio show (as well as his weekly Monday morning column Football Morning in America yesterday), then pointedly asked Payton if Taysom Hill would actually consider leaving for the opportunity to start as a QB elsewhere in the League.

Here is what King had to say about the entire situation at the current moment, specifically:

I asked Sean Payton on ‘The Peter King Podcast’ whether he thinks a team will make an offer to restricted free-agent QB Taysom Hill, who has become hugely valuable since being claimed on waivers from the Green Bay Packers following the last game of the 2017 preseason.

Payton thought about it for a minute and then said: “Yeah, I think someone is going to make him an offer. But the first thing the fan has to understand is . . . if we tender Taysom as a one [meaning placing a 1st-Round tag on him], the team that makes the offer on him and signs him to an offer understands they’re going to give up a first-round pick if we don’t match”.

“That’s easier to do if you’re pick #22, #23, #24, or #25. We might very well see if it’s a team in the second half [of the 1st Round in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft near the end of April]”, Payton added. I’d expect the Saints to tender him with a first-round tag, particularly if Drew Brees retires. I told Payton I’d like to see him coach for the next 10 years. “I’d like to do that,” he said. “He was a valuable claim for us. Like gold bullion.”

As Payton noted to King in that interview: IF another NFL team decided to outbid the Black and Gold for Taysom’s services or possibly even make him such an irresistible offer that he would willingly accept it and leave to go elsewhere to be a starting QB, then they would have to give up their 1st Round pick to the Saints in the upcoming draft.

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints,

That of course would then mean that the Saints would have not just only one, but TWO picks in the 1st Round of the draft.

And as a result of that happening, it presumably would give New Orleans the opportunity to package both picks and “flip” them in a trade with a team that’s picking ahead of them; possibly for a Top-10 rated / “elite” caliber college star. Obviously they would lose the advantage of having Taysom’s dynamic athleticism as a vitally important part of their high-powered offensive attack.

However, it likely also would give them a very good chance to move all the way up into the top half of the 1st Round — so that they could take an “elite-caliber” or a “franchise QB”  that could become the new starter after Brees eventually retires — such as Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa , or University of Oregon QB Justin Herbert.

It goes without saying that many Saints fans (especially those living in Louisiana) would absolutely love to see former LSU All-American QB and 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow become the eventual successor to Brees, but the Cincinnati Bengals don’t appear to be willing to give up the Draft’s top overall #1 pick.

Another possibility is that the Saints front office simply might just decide to use BOTH picks (in a very similar manner as the New England Patriots have often done themselves in a handful of previous NFL drafts in the past) and select two extremely-talented players; each of whom they hope could come in and make an immediate impact individually; while simultaneously providing them a pair of top-caliber performers for the team’s future, moving forward.

Whether Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis actually would go through with such a scenario isn’t the question, because Saints fans (and especially those who follow this team loyally and faithfully every single day) are more than well aware that Payton and Loomis are always open to the idea of making the team’s roster the very best it possibly can be.

Photo Credit: Barry Hirstius, Big Easy Magazine

The real question will come if a team looking to upgrade at the starting #1 QB position such as the Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Chargers, Indianapolis Colts, or the Las Vegas Raiders, decides to make Hill an offer that he simply just can’t refuse (in fact, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden is said to be a huge fan and a very well-known admirer of Taysom’s overall talent and wide variety of capabilities).

Would the Saints actually be better off by allowing Taysom to leave NOLA for a chance to go elsewhere and prove that he really can be a “franchise QB” — while using the presumed 1st Round pick that they’d get back for him in return for an opportunity to continue building the team towards their future, while also helping them remain competitive — long after Drew Brees is gone?

In a little more than a month from now once Free Agency officially arrives, we’ll all find out just what the actual truth really is about the capability of Taysom to become a “franchise QB”, soon enough….

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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