Can Sean Payton Make Jameis “Famous” Once Again With the Saints?

“Famous” Jameis. Back in the year 2014 just six years ago, that nickname was popular among football fans who were passionate supporters of the Florida State University program’s prolific young quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner — who somewhat unexpectedly out of nowhere — led the school to a College Football National Championship.

But after an “up and down” career in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints‘ NFC South Division rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 26-year old QB Jameis Winston was released by Tampa late last month when they signed 6-time Super Bowl champion QB Tom Brady; and there were questions as to whether he would get an opportunity to start in the NFL ever again. Apparently those questions have been answered when word broke that Winston was signing a 1-year deal with New Orleans.

Now the next question becomes: can Saints head coach Sean Payton make Jameis “famous” once again?

Photo Credit: Barry Hirstius, Big Easy Magazine

As first reported by Yahoo! Sports NFL writer Charles Robinson, the Black and Gold are finalizing a deal that will be a relative bargain financially, which will help New Orleans remain under the NFL salary cap for next season. It’s now expected that Winston will be given every opportunity to compete for the #2 quarterback spot with current Saints back-up Taysom Hill, who the Saints just re-signed this off-season in NFL Free Agency.

But Robinson notes that much to the surprise of some, it’s also expected that Winston will also get a chance to possibly even become the next Saints starting QB — and eventually become the “heir apparent” to Saints starting QB and “living legend” Drew Brees —  as soon as next year in 2021 if Brees retires and takes a TV analyst role following this upcoming 2020 NFL Season.

But in order for that to actually happen, Winston must first prove that he can become a top-notch player at the QB position as he was just prior to the 2019 Season that ended a few months ago, when Winston turned the ball over a jaw-dropping 35 times (30 interceptions and five lost fumbles), in what was one of the worst seasons in that particular department in nearly 40 years. He is the first NFL QB ever to have thrown 30 TD passes and 30 interceptions in the very same season.

However despite the record number of turnovers, Winston still managed to lead the League last year in passing yardage, as he threw for over 5,000 yards (5,109) and was able to do so even though he played the majority of last year with a torn meniscus in his knee and a portion of the season with a severely broken thumb on his right throwing hand. And in all fairness: Tampa’s notable lack of a running game in recent seasons, hasn’t exactly been a help to him, either.

Though it might come as a shock to some of his biggest critics, Winston last year actually became the NFL’s all-time leader in career passing yards by the age of 26, and is second to only retired NFL Hall of Fame and former Miami Dolphins QB Dan Marino in career passing TD’s by that same age.

Clearly the biggest issue for Winston last season was his accuracy, and his tendency at times to “force” the ball into tight passing windows to his wide receivers when they were well-covered.

And after Winston had lasik surgery recently to correct the nearsightedness that’s affected his vision since his days as a high school star in his home state of Alabama, the joke among many fans was that maybe Winston turned the ball over that much because he actually COULDN’T SEE where he was throwing the ball.

Whether that was really the case or not, it certainly damaged his reputation throughout the League and explains why no other NFL team before last night, had made him an offer to come and play for their team.

And considering the fact that Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians — who like Sean Payton is considered an offensive “mastermind” or “guru” — seemed to be unable to have any positive impact on developing Winston’s passing skills as he has done with other NFL QB’s in the past such as Ben Roethlisberger and the recently-retired Andrew Luck; the thought among many analysts has been that Winston’s career could be finished already.

Yahoo! Sports’ Robinson in his report noted that Winston had planned on being patient and was willing to wait for the right opportunity to come along, to see where he could possibly end up playing next. In New Orleans and with the Saints had always been mentioned as a possible landing spot because of Payton’s capability to develop young quarterbacks (such as Brees and Tony Romo), though most people had openly scoffed at such a notion.

However, we all now know that such a notion wasn’t nearly as “far-fetched” as many had previously believed it was.

As far as Winston’s role with the Saints in the upcoming season ahead, it’s believed that because the Saints and Payton like using Taysom Hill all over the field as a runner, receiver, and special teams ace because of his dynamic athleticism, they are signing Winston as an “insurance policy” to protect themselves, just in case Hill were to get injured.

With Winston on the team now to presumably fill the role that was previously held by former Saints back-up QB Teddy Bridgewater (who signed with Carolina this off-season in Free Agency), the prevailing thought is that it will now allow Payton and the Saints to continue using Taysom as an offensive weapon but without having to constantly worry about what would happen if Hill got injured.

Yet it’s also assumed that now Winston will indeed get the chance to compete for the designated back-up quarterback role behind Brees, that Bridgewater filled and did so admirably; when he led the Saints to a (5-0) record while Brees missed time last year with a torn thumb ligament on his throwing hand.

But undoubtedly, the biggest impact of the breaking news of the past few hours is that now Winston will be playing a season behind one of the greatest NFL QB’s of all-time in Brees, and will have the obvious benefit of improving his passing skills, mechanics, and most importantly his decision-making, under Payton.

Unfortunately, it seemed that Winston was unable to do that with last year with Bruce Arians guiding him.

Does that mean that Payton will be able to do what Arians could not, and make Jameis “famous” once again? In the upcoming months ahead, chances are we’re all going to find out, for better or worse…..

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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