How the Saints’ quarterback position took shape in a wild (and controversial) offseason | Saints
PALM BEACH, Florida — The first time in nearly two decades the New Orleans Saints truly entered the spring in search of a starting quarterback, the quarterback carousel felt like it was going off the rails.
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady retired, then did not retire. Aaron Rodgers, who won the last two MVP awards, has decided to stay in Green Bay amid speculation he may be away. Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan won their combined 13 Pro Bowl honors from the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts, respectively, via trade. And these are only more big names.
“It was a little crazy,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. “We hadn’t been to that market very often, so it was a bit different in that there were guys available through trade. I don’t think that happens every year.
New Orleans played its own role in adding fuel to the fire. During owners’ meetings, team officials confirmed that the Saints had attempted to acquire Deshaun Watson. When their offer ultimately fell through – Watson approving a deal with Cleveland instead – New Orleans signed Jameis Winston to a two-year deal shortly after.
The image behind Winston took on a new shape on Tuesday. Coach Dennis Allen said he wants Taysom Hill to focus on the tight end after Hill started nine games at quarterback the previous two seasons. To drive that point home, New Orleans struck a deal later that day with veteran Andy Dalton to back Winston.
While the dust settled at quarterback, the Saints still had several questions to answer about their chosen path.
First, why did the team pursue Watson so aggressively despite the mountain of ongoing civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct against the Pro Bowl quarterback? Twenty-two women accused Watson of a variety of acts ranging from assault to harassment.
Loomis, Allen and owner Gayle Benson all answered several questions during interviews about their interest in Watson, particularly in regards to their investigation of the allegations. Their responses were mostly short on specifics and quickly moved on to other topics.
“I don’t think we’re going into the details of exactly what it entailed, other than there was interest on our part,” Allen said. “We did our due diligence, we did our homework and he ended up going somewhere else.”
When asked what “due diligence” meant, Allen didn’t elaborate other than to say that the Saints “felt good where we were.”
Loomis responded to a question about how he weighed the decision knowing it could alienate some of the fanbase by saying, “You just gathered all the information you can and you’re making your best decision. “
He didn’t say if the Saints were privy to information that isn’t publicly available, but ended his comments on the potential trade, “we had a lot of different sources that we spoke with, and ultimately he is with Cleveland.”
Benson also quickly changed the subject when asked about Watson.
“I own the NFL, so I’ve met a lot of players,” Benson said. “He was just one of many. He’s with the Cleveland Browns now. We have Jameis Winston, and I’m so excited about it.
New Orleans quickly reached a deal with Winston, who was an unrestricted free agent after starting seven games for the Saints in 2021 before a season-ending ACL injury.
The Saints communicated to Winston’s camp that they were inquiring about Watson. After Cleveland completed the trade, Loomis said several members of the organization reached out to Winston to bring him back into the fold.
Winston has spent the past two seasons at New Orleans, but he’s played the equivalent of seven full games. Still, the Saints have seen enough to have confidence in him leading the offense in 2022.
“The No. 1 thing was 14-3 – 14 touchdowns and three interceptions,” Allen said. “I think that was the biggest thing that showed me he could be our quarterback.”
Unlike last season, when Winston and Hill fought a training camp battle for the starting job, the Saints will enter their offseason schedule knowing who their starter is. They will also have a clear hierarchy behind him.
By signing Dalton, an 11-year veteran with 148 career starts, the Saints accomplished two things: After seeing their starting quarterback miss at least four games in three straight seasons, they made sure they had a capable No. 2. They also freed up Hill to play his Swiss army knife role.
The Saints entered this offseason with a glaring question mark at the most important position, then went on a mad rush to find the answers they were looking for.
“I’m happy where we landed,” Loomis said.