Jameis Winston entered the offseason hoping he could return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and make up for the lost opportunities that defined his early career. Once that opportunity closed and starting spots disappeared, the 26-year-old’s seemed destined for the New Orleans Saints.
Winston and the Saints are closing in on a one-year contract, per Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson. When the deal is finalized, it could be remembered as the moment that turned Winston’s career around.
The skinny: Winston entered the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft with all of the potential in the world. He showed flashes across four seasons with the Buccaneers, but turnovers and baffling decisions on and off the field derailed a promising player.
- He was accused of sexual assault in 2012, suspended by FSU’s baseball team for stealing crab legs in 2013 and suspended half a game by the football team for making vulgar remarks in 2014.
- Winston came into the NFL and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He showed immense promise with 22 touchdowns, 4,042 passing yards and an 84.2 quarterback rating.
- The NFL suspended him for three games in 2018 for groping an Uber driver in 2016.
- Over his next two NFL seasons, Winston threw 38 touchdowns and 25 interceptions, with some of his worst throws coming in crucial moments.
The Buccaneers hoped that hiring Bruce Arians would turn Winston around. The veteran head coach seemed to help Winston take a step forward, but the young quarterback didn’t become a part of NFL history for good reasons.
- Winston set career-highs in passing yards (5,109), touchdowns (33), yards per attempt (8.2) and first downs (243).
- However, Winston also threw 33 interceptions, posted a 4.8% interception rate and ended his season on a record pick-six.
The perfect mentor: If Winston wanted to find the ideal place to rebuild his image and learn, he found it in New Orleans. Drew Brees is the man in New Orleans and by following his shadow, Winston can turn things around.
- Drew Brees can be an incredible teacher for Winston. The 41-year-old is a future Hall of Famer and is still playing well despite a decline in physical tools.
- Watching Brees from the sideline and breaking down film with him allows Winston to better understand how one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks reads defenses, processes information and consistently makes the right decision.
- The 26-year-old can shadow Brees, even picking up on work habits, things to identify while watching film and how to carry oneself as the face of a franchise.
It’s hard to find a better mentor for Winston than Brees. Of course, one star quarterback isn’t enough to make this the perfect landing spot. That exists because of the coaching staff, environment and an opportunity to succeed.
Following in Teddy Bridgewater’s footsteps: Many thought Bridgewater’s career was over after his devastating knee injury in 2016. A trade to the Saints in 2018 changed everything and signing in New Orleans can do just that for Winston.
- Bridgewater dedicated himself to learning from Sean Payton on the finer details of one of the NFL’s best offenses, how to execute each play and to master everything.
- After a year in New Orleans, Bridgewater turned down a chance to start with the Miami Dolphins in 2019 and returned to the Saints.
- When Brees went down, Bridgewater stepped up and posted a 99.1 quarterback rating with 1,384 passing yards and a 67.9% completion rate in an offense that Payton tailored for his skills.
- After his impressive work in a few games and with a glowing endorsement from Payton, Bridgewater signed a $63 million contract this offseason.
The move worked out perfectly for both the Saints and Bridgewater. If Winston is dedicated to turning his career around, the reward can be even greater for him.
The path to opportunity: It only takes one chance for everything to change. Ryan Tannehill came on in relief of Marcus Mariota in 2019 and went on an incredible run that led to a life-changing contract.
- Brees is entering his age-41 season and he is certainly more susceptible to missing time due to injuries at this stage of his career.
- If Brees goes down, the Saints will want to keep Taysom Hill in his current role as an offensive weapon.
- Thus, the door opens for Winston to step in. After spending time learning from Brees and Payton, he’ll play behind a terrific offensive line with exceptional weapons and an offense tailored to his skills.
The deal is a win-win for the Saints and Winston. They recognize a quarterback capable of throwing for 5,000 yards is an exceptional plan to have if Brees gets injured, while Winston realizes a chance to grow and revitalize his career.
It’s possible that Winston chose the Saints as a shot at revenge against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If that played a role at all, it’s the kind of fire and competitiveness that New Orleans will love even more.
Winston isn’t a draft bust, but his history of questionable decisions and mistakes in critical moments has crushed his reputation. Fans and coaches around the NFL are skeptical that he will ever seize his incredible physical talents to become a reliable quarterback.
He can turn the skeptics into believers and it all starts in New Orleans. If Winston buys in and learns from NFL greats, the day he signed with the Saints will be remembered as the moment that saved his NFL career.