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Jameis Winston to be New Orleans Saints quarterback in 2021?

Jan 17, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) prior to kickoff against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a NFC Divisional Round playoff game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Jameis Winston signed with the New Orleans Saints to be mentored by Sean Payton and Drew Brees. With the future Hall of Fame quarterback expected to retire, Winston could be poised to take the lead in this offense next season.

After seeing Teddy Bridgewater walk in free agency, New Orleans signed Winston to a one-year contract. Payton was hopeful that a year under his tutelage could get the most out of Winston, unlocking the potential that made him a No. 1 overall pick. As the Saints prepare for a future without Brees, who is likely headed to NBC, a favorite could be emerging to take over as the starter in 2021.

New Orleans Saints rumors: Jameis Winston likely the heir apparent to Drew Brees

While Winston was listed as the team’s No. 2 quarterback, Taysom Hill stepped in as the starter when Brees suffered 11 fractured ribs. The Saints went 3-1 with Hill under center, seemingly giving Payton more confidence in the gadget quarterback.

New Orleans already made its big investment in Hill. After applying the first-round tender to him last offseason, the Saints signed him to a two-year contract worth $21 million. As a result, he is owed $16 million for the 2021 NFL season for a team facing alarming salary cap problems.

Many expected that Hill would be the franchise quarterback when Brees retired, especially since Winston is a free agent this offseason. But New Orleans might have other plans for next season.

Read More: New Orleans Saints quarterback: Top options to replace Drew Brees in 2021

The Athletic’s Larry Holder wrote Thursday that fans should prepare for Jameis Winston to win the starting job next season and to be the heir apparent to Brees.

Holder detailed the sense he has gotten around the team regarding sentiments towards Winston, especially in comparison to Matthew Stafford. There’s a belief Winston has the same talent as Stafford, with an even higher amount of upside. Furthermore, his football intelligence is “off the charts,” and Payton is confident he can coach the interceptions out of Winston.

Related: NFL world reacts to New Orleans Saints QB Jameis Winston burning former team on trick play

That level of confidence in Winston may sound surprising. However, Payton is incredibly self-assured in his abilities as a coach, a lesson NFL fans have seen unfold with Hill.

Everyone remembers Winston’s 2019 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He threw a league-high 30 interceptions, including a record seven pick-sixes. There were also plenty of highlights and impressive stats from that campaign. He threw for 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns. Additionally, per Player Profiler,┬áhe led the NFL in deep passes (113), ranked 14th in pressured completion rate (37.2%) and had the eighth-most money throws (19). He also finished with the fifth-most passing yards (1,133) on play-action throws despite ranking 18th in attempts.

Jameis Winston would certainly make far more mistakes in this offense than we saw from Brees. However, he’d elevate this team’s ceiling and make it far more explosive than we’ve seen the past two years. Given he’ll be relatively cheap to sign, whereas acquiring Stafford or Deshaun Watson would cost draft picks and a ton of money, Winston might be the Saints’ best option.