The Saints have known for a while that they would eventually need to find Brees’ successor, which is why they have been linked to multiple quarterbacks in the draft.
In 2017, there were several rumors that they were planning to draft Patrick Mahomes, but the Chiefs traded up in front of them to select him. Thus, as franchise-altering Mahomes would have been for them, he wasn’t an actually viable option.
Lamar Jackson, on the other hand, could have been a Saint. The former Louisville Cardinal was linked to them extensively in the 2018 draft, to the point where he was their expected pick when they mortgaged a future first-round pick to trade up to the 14th overall spot. Instead, they selected edge rusher Marcus Davenport.
In hindsight, the Saints definitely would want that decision back. Yes, Jackson is in the midst of a down season, but it’s impossible to ignore his MVP production in 2019. Not only did he post a 113.3 passer rating (although that’s inflated by touchdown luck), he also ran for 1206 yards and an absurd 6.9 yards/attempt, proving to be a dynamic weapon that defenses couldn’t game plan for.
Jackson has benefitted greatly from an offensive scheme that has been built for him to succeed, but you’d be foolish to believe Payton could not have not only done the same, but construct a system that was even more sustainable than Baltimore. If he was able to make Hill produce at a respectable level, could you imagine how he could have leveraged Jackson’s dual-threat ability?
The selection of Jackson may also have sped up New Orleans’ succession plan for Brees. Had they drafted him in 2018, it is very unlikely to believe Brees is still starting for them. Thus, they would already have a much cheaper quarterback under center, which would allow them to handle Brees’ upcoming dead cap hit, and allow them to build a much different offense.
Rather than find the next Brees, Payton would be best off adapting and creating a new offense, and Jackson would have been a perfect fit for him. Hindsight is 20/20, but remember, this was a draft selection many that to be likely at the time.