The New Orleans Saints quarterback battle may have been decided in their preseason game against the Jaguars. Sean Payton just doesn’t want to admit it.
If Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston were Payton’s children, Hill would by far be the favorite – the most coddled, complimented, and protected from outside scrutiny. Even after Winston’s scintillating first quarter, you could sense Payton wanted Hill to take some of the spotlight away from the ex-Tampa player.
Payton put Hill in at the end of the first quarter and kept him on the field until late in the third quarter, giving him the most playing time of all the Saints quarterbacks.
After the game, when asked about when he would name a starting quarterback, Payton had this to say:
"“We’re not going to try to anticipate saying, ‘Hey it’s gonna be midweek or next week.’ That’s, I think, the best way for us to handle it. It’s kind of how we’ve always handled something like this, but I was pleased with not just the quarterbacks. I was pleased with how we played as a team for the most part.”"
It sure sounds like Payton is reluctant to say anything about either quarterback despite Winston clearly impressing that night. Could Payton be secretly gunning for Hill to win the starting quarterback job?
Last year, Hill was the No. 1 backup when Drew Brees missed games, and he also got some playing time (that he shouldn’t have) when Brees was healthy. It’s no wonder Payton favors Hill since Hill embodies everything Payton stands for: safe, structured offense. Emphasis on safe.
Winston, the 30-interception man, goes against that ethos, so it makes sense that Payton might want Hill to succeed. Payton did all he could and gave Hill every chance to prove himself against Jacksonville….and Hill blew it.
New Orleans Saints quarterback competition has an emerging victor after Monday night’s game
Hill ended the game going 11-for-20 passing for 138 yards, adding a touchdown and no interceptions. Not bad by any means, but not enough compared to Winston who looked more poised and comfortable as the Saints’ signal-caller in a few throws than Hill did the entire night.
Everybody was “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” when Winston threw a beautiful long ball to Marquez Callaway for a 43-yard touchdown, and when he found him again for another touchdown in the first quarter. Nobody was watching when Hill was frantically doubling back trying to play a low line drive in the midfield.
Winston got first-team reps this game and his O-line no doubt aided his performance, but when Hill got first-team reps in the preseason opener against the Ravens, he didn’t have nearly as spectacular a showing as Winston.
Had Hill been the star of the game, we would have wanted to see Payton’s gleaming reaction. We imagine it would be something like a movie close-up of a coach shedding a single tear as he looks proudly in the direction of his homegrown protégé finally living up to his potential.
But even he has to face the facts: Winston outplayed and outshined Hill on Monday night.
Payton can prefer Hill’s short-area reliability all he wants, but the Saints need their No. 1 quarterback to be more than just a safe choice.
Winston’s ceiling is higher and yes, much more treacherous, but he’s shown he’s capable of creating downfield magic with Callaway and others, the kind of magic that could lead the Saints to a Super Bowl rather than an early playoff exit.
Winston is the risk Payton isn’t ready to take yet, but come season time, New Orleans’ offense will need Winston, not Hill, to win games. Hill had his chances. Give Winston his.