Jameis Winston is no stranger to of field problems

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Is signing Jameis Winston a good decision - for the Saints, or anyone else?

He had more turnovers than years of age in 2019. Is that correctable?

The Rob Brown Show
April 28, 2020 - 6:23 pm
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It's no secret that Jameis Winston has a history of off the field problems that began when he was a young quarterback in Tallahassee, and that has followed him through his time in Tampa Bay. Sexual assault allegations, claims of shoplifting, and genuinely inappropriate behavior have been a hallmark of the career of the Heisman Trophy winner and 2014 College Football National Champion.

Jameis Winston has baggage. There's no way to ague that. Winston is either a privileged athlete who refuses to learn that his actions have consequences, a young man who is seriously immature, or somewhere on the spectrum in between. There's plenty of arguments for both viewpoints.

But that's not what I'll be discussing here. I'll be, pardon the pun, tackling this discussion on a football only level, and answering the question: was this a good decision for the Saints, and if not, would it be for any other team in the league? Winston's behavior off the field will undoubtedly play into this discussion, but we'll be looking at it from an overall perspective. If you're looking for a moral compass regarding whether or not Winston's life away from football should impact your decision to be a fan of the Saints (or any other team that takes a risk on him,) this likely isn't the blog you're looking for.

Let's start with the most obvious and glaring issue: can Winston be contained in a way that will make him an asset to a franchise, as oppose to a liability away from the team?

On the list of cities that can provide opportunities for those who struggle with discipline to falter in their lives, New Orleans is very clearly towards the top. With an abundance of bars and clubs, festivals and celebrations, the list of temptations is long and varied.

But there's good news for Winston, who's been no stranger to poor decisions throughout his career. 

For the first time, he isn't the face of the franchise who's helmet he wears. He won't be looked to as a leader or a stalwart. Instead, he'll have a mentor, multiple mentors in fact, to look to for guidance, for clarity on how to act if he ever wants an opportunity to have his face on the banners hanging outside of the stadium.

And he'll have something else this time around.

He'll have the humility that comes with losing that role. He'll have the understanding that his raw natural talent is no longer enough to excuse his behavior. And he'll have a paycheck, and a future, that fully depend on his ability to maintain his composure away from the team.

Will that be enough? 

Who knows. But, like everything else, the Saints are taking a gamble, as will any other franchise who signs Winston if he doesn't end up inking the line in NOLA.

So, let's address Jameis Winston the football player. Let's talk about what Sean Payton is getting in his new backup quarterback.

Let's talk about the player who made the Pro Bowl in 2015. Let's talk about the quarterback who led the league in passing yards in 2019. Let's talk about the 2015 rookie of the year, and the man who passed for more touchdowns than anyone in the league that wasn't named league MVP (Lamar Jackson is an absolute stud.)  

But let's also talk about the man who threw more interceptions than the other top five touchdown producing quarterbacks in the league, combined. And let's talk about the man who did so with the league's most impressive wide receiver tandem running routes for him.

Is that a guy who can help the Saints get better? And is that the man the Saints should trust to be the heir apparent to surefire Hall of Famer Drew Brees when he decides it's time to step away?

From a franchise perspective the Saints are in a far better place than Tampa Bay. With a General Manager who has, for the most part, pulled all the right levers over the past few years and a Head Coach that has been around long enough to establish and maintain a specific culture in the locker room, New Orleans can provide a stable atmosphere that the Buccaneers have been working towards for the past few years, but have yet to establish. For a personality that seems as volatile as Winston's, this culture shift might provide a more stable foundation for him to relaunch his career. 

Winston is the illustration of a Jekyl and Hyde player. Every snap felt like a touchdown was waiting - you just weren't sure if it was going to be to his team, or the other. Winston was once described as having the rare ability to keep both teams in the game on any given snap. That is a direct reflection of Winston's biggest problem both on and off of the football field - poor decision making.

There's no doubt that Jameis Winston is an immensely talented and gifted athlete. You don't win every college award available to a quarterback, a national championship, become the NFL's rookie of the year, and make the Pro Bowl without talent.

The only question is the grey matter, what's between Winston's ears, and if he can learn to reign in the risks and make the smart throws without trying to be a hero on every snap. 

If there's one guy who can provide the greatest opportunity for Winston to learn how to control his game as opposed to try and be "the man," it's Drew Brees. Brees remains one of the most intelligent players under center in the league, and while his age has slowed his physical abilities, his decision making remains unparalleled in. You can't teach natural intelligence, but you can teach risk management - and Winston can learn much in that department from the man who saved football in New Orleans.

Winston's turnovers are the most discussed part of his game, without doubt. But is it fair to cast all the blame onto Winston? 

Tampa Bay's offensive line was, to be frank, not very good. In 2019, Winston was sacked 47 times. Some of that may be attributed to Winston's decision making, sure. But only Matt Ryan, with a bad offensive line in Atlanta, and Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson, who spend as much time out of the pocket as in it, were sacked more than Winston. And Winston threw for roughly 600 more yards than the next closest passer in that group, and seven more touchdowns than the rest. There's something to be said for that.

Winston also had less time in the pocket than nearly all other QB's in the NFL. Fortunately, that's not a problem in New Orleans, which boasts one of the strongest offensive lines in the league. In 2019, while Winston was running for his life, Drew Brees was sacked roughly half as often, and was pressured on only one out of four dropbacks - the lowest pressure rate in the league.

There have been one dozen 5,000 yard seasons in the history of the NFL. Drew Brees is responsible for five of those behind multiple iterations of an offensive line that New Orleans continues to restock and reload every year. 

This alone should give Winston the opportunity to prove himself.

But Winston isn't the only one who's going to benefit from this relationship. The Saints have something to gain here as well.

Winston is a significantly different quarterback from Teddy Bridgewater. Jameis is certainly more physically gifted than Bridgewater, but Bridgewater hs demonstrated a more intelligent approach to the quarterback position. When Drew Brees was lost for five weeks to a thumb injury last year, Bridgewater not only stepped in to plug the dam, but led the Saints to a 5-0 record as a starter. 

The Saints are casting the dice that, should the worst happen and Brees be lost for another extended length of time, a backup quarterback with plenty of experience can step in and hold the line until his return. Taysom Hill has proven himself an invaluable gadget player in Sean Payton's creative offense. If Hill was listed as the #2, the Saints would not be able to risk an injury to the Swiss Army Knife of a player, losing a major part of that design. 

Instead, they can turn to a former NFC South rival, leaving Hill available for the wildcat QB/WR/RB/TE/FB/utility player that he has been for the black and gold thus far.

With a one year deal the Saints also give themselves a full season to evaluate Winston up close. While Sean Payton has said numerous times that he believes Hill is talented enough to be a franchise quarterback, the longer Payton can use him as a "gotcha" player the happier he's going to be. Winston has also shown that, when playing his best, he is capable of carrying a franchise. 

So the Saints get a cheap test run with a potential franchise quarterback, and at very little cost. If Jameis proves he's capable of acting like a responsible adult, and learning the lessons that Drew Brees has to teach him, he may be in line for a major payday to start under center. The Saints would be free to use Hill until he decides to move on and attempt to be a quarterback elsewhere, or to continue to sign him as a utility player permanently. 

Whether Winston will or will not be the man is yet to be seen.

But the Saints taking a chance on a one year deal is not unreasonable. And if there's a team in the league that provides the perfect situation to test his mettle as a starting QB, it's New Orleans.

Whether or not Winston can learn - or will - is a gamble they've decided to take.

Only the future will decide if it was a good one.

 

 

 

 

 

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