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New Orleans Saints nearly traded up for Mac Jones in 2021 NFL Draft

Matt Johnson

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The New Orleans Saints starting quarterback for the 2021 season hasn’t been decided, but a draft-day blockbuster trade nearly came together that may have changed the franchise for years to come.

Even before Drew Brees officially announced his retirement, the Saints were making plans at quarterback. They re-signed Jameis Winston and restructured Taysom Hill‘s contract, bringing back the top candidates to take over as the starter.

But the Saints weren’t done. They did extensive work on the 2021 NFL Draft’s quarterback class, evaluating the top prospects and also determining which unheralded signal-callers they like. New Orleans ultimately drafted Ian Book in the fourth round, but things would have been very different if not for the New England Patriots.

According to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, the Saints had an agreement in place with the Arizona Cardinals for the No. 16 pick. The trade would allow New Orleans to draft Mac Jones, but the Patriots stepped in and drafted the Heisman Trophy finalist 15th overall.

It’s evident Payton was clearly high on Jones. Howe also reported that New Orleans started making calls to trade up after the Alabama quarterback slipped past the Denver Broncos. The Chicago Bears moved up to No. 11 for Justin Fields, but the cost was too high for the Saints to move up from the 28th pick.

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Who will be the New Orleans Saints quarterback in 2021?

The Saints are very high on Book, who man viewed as a potential sixth- or seventh-round talent before the NFL Draft. However, the rookie is destined to be the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart in his rookie season, making it a two-man race for the starting job.

Hill stepped in as the Saints’ quarterback in 2020 when Brees went down. It allowed Payton to get more creative with his scheme using RPOs significantly more frequently. But Hill was also inconsistent as a passer. In the three games he had 20-plus pass attempts, the Saints never surpassed 24 points and their defense carried the team to victory.

Related: New Orleans Saints pick Payton Turner No. 28 overall in 2021 NFL Draft

New Orleans is very high on Winston, with some believing he offers even more upside than Matthew Stafford. While he’s prone to committing turnovers, the 27-year-old is also extremely talented and is best suited to properly utilize the weapons on the Saints’ offense.

This will be a battle in training camp and both quarterbacks will see plenty of snaps in the preseason. While Payton has compared Hill to Steve Young, there’s also a realization that the Saints’ offense can’t be as versatile if he is the primary quarterback. But if Winston is the full-time starter, Hill can still see the field as an offensive weapon.

Read More: Jameis Winston to be New Orleans Saints quarterback in 2021?