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New Orleans Saints QB situation: The long-term outlook

Drew Brees’ retirement marked the end of an 15-year era with the New Orleans Saints and quickly saw the team hold one of the most questioned quarterback situations in the NFL.

Currently in the team’s room of signal-callers is last year’s starter Jameis Winston, a newly signed Andy Dalton, Swiss Army Knife Taysom Hill and second-year quarterback Ian Book.

The primary question that remains looking ahead is if Winston can establish himself as a true franchise quarterback for the Saints, something he has a chance to do after the team re-signed him to a two-year, $28 million contract back in March.

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Looking back at the New Orleans Saints’ 2021 season

new orleans saints qb situation: jameis winston
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Winston didn’t get to play the entirety of the 2021 season due to a torn ACL and MCL he suffered in his left knee against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 31. Over seven games, he completed 95-of-161 passing attempts (59%) for 1,170 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. These numbers reflect a quarterback that boasts a decent amount of production with some room to continue growing as a pure passer.

Jameis Winston stats (2015-2021): 61% completion, 20,982 yards, 135 TD, 91 INT, 87.8 QB rating

Deep passing in particular will be an area to work on, though Winston certainly has some solid firepower to build chemistry with and get better in this area. According to Pro Football Focus, Winston completed just six of 22 deep ball attempts for 273 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions before the season-ending knee injury. He delivered 44.4% of those shots accurately with three of the dropped by the intended receiver.

Winston has also noted that he wants to improve his intermediate accuracy.

“Getting those easy completions to Alvin Kamara. We saw that in the [victory at the Seattle Seahawks last year], how effective that was. You know, really perfecting the passes from behind the line of scrimmage to 10 yards down the field.”

New Orleans Saints’ Jameis Winston , via ESPN’s Mike Triplett

With all of this, it’s important to respect the amount of contests in which these numbers were produced over and looking at it as a whole. Winston showed something to potentially build upon and was on track to vastly improve his touchdown-to-interception ratio from his previous season as a starter, which stood at a dismal 33-to-30. That’s a big step in the right direction on one of the biggest knocks on him.

Related: New Orleans Saints QB Jameis Winston had ‘visible limp’ during OTAs

What Jameis Winston’s track record tells us

Winston was originally selected by the Buccaneers with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He spent a total of five seasons in Tampa, where he completed 61.3% of his passes for 19,737 yards with 121 touchdowns and 88 interceptions — an alarming ratio that is absolutely going to have to stay on the right trajectory

In his final season with the Bucs, he completed 60.7% of his passes for 5,109 yards with 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions, a single-season passing yards personal best for him but also by far the worst ratio he had ever posted. In February of 2020, Winston underwent LASIK eye surgery to fix his nearsightedness and astigmatism and it seems to have paid off in some potential mistake-making that could have been partially attributed to vision issues.

Winston noted after the procedure when he met with reporters that depth perception and blurriness had improved for him.

It was so far, so good with the campaign he was putting together with the Saints in 2021 before injury. As long as he doesn’t revert back to some of his old tendencies, this may be a completely new era for the perception of Jameis Winston.

Related: Grading the New Orleans Saints 2022 NFL Draft results

Long-term projection for New Orleans Saints QB situation

NFL power rankings, New Orleans Saints
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

It’s tough for a player to come back from an ACL injury and reach his full potential. It’s also unfortunate that it happened in Winston’s first season as the team’s starter, not giving him a chance to fully establish himself in his second year with new scenery.

While Winston has shown some flashes, he’s yet to prove to the New Orleans Saints that there’s a good reason to invest in him as a long-term starter. Let’s not ignore the obvious. We have not seen a large sample size of Winston with the Saints considering the length of time he’s been there and the fact his first season truly assuming the helm was cut way short. His time to prove himself begins when the Saints open the season against the Atlanta Falcons.

2022 is a big year for Winston in that the Saints have put him in a position to have success. One of the biggest pieces of that was landing former LSU star wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Landry himself said he came to the Saints for Winston partially. 

“He’s a leader, man. He’s one of the reasons why I came here, just the conversations that we had, the intent that he’s putting behind the things that he’s saying. Obviously, out here on the field, what you see is what you get. Look, I don’t see nobody else out here. This guy is the last one. That’s who he is. That’s something that you want at that position and a part of your team.”

New Orleans Saints’ Jarvis Landry, via Katherine Terrell of The Athletic

On top of this, the Saints drafted speedy former Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave, a player popularly pinned as the best receiver in college football last season, with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The Saints gain a versatile player in Olave who has shown elite ball skills and route-running ability and is capable of achieving a high level of production both on the outside and in the slot, catching 65 passes for 936 yards with 13 touchdowns in 2021. Star veteran pass-catcher Michael Thomas will also be back in the fold after he missed the entire 2021 season to injury.

The fact Winston was able to find success with a limited wide receiver room is something that should give reason for optimism, even if the sample size was not large. Some analysts have even gone as far as to make the Saints quarterback an early MVP candidate, which could make sense when considering the absolute ceiling of what this year could mark for both himself and the Saints in a best-case scenario.

Regardless, there are no excuses to be had as far as supporting cast goes for Winston moving forward. As long as he remains healthy in 2022, it should be easy to make a fair evaluation of how much the quarterback has truly progressed.

Winston has been largely underwhelming for the majority of his career. But if he can build off of some of the positives he showed last year and put together a consistent season, Winston can prove that a change of scenery paid off.