During the offseason and training camp in the lead-up to this year’s NFL season, Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill battled to replace future Hall of Famer Drew Brees as the New Orleans Saints’ starting quarterback.
Winston ultimately won that quarterback battle, but after Winston tore his ACL in the Saints’ 36-27 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday — head coach Sean Payton confirmed the season-ending diagnosis Monday — Hill’s chance to earn the starting position is here again.
That is, when Hill is ready to play.
The former BYU quarterback hasn’t practiced since leaving New Orleans’ win over Washington with a concussion on Oct. 10, NOLA.com reported, and he wasn’t available Sunday to step in for Winston, who also damaged his MCL. Instead, Trevor Siemian took over and completed 16 of 29 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown.
Here’s where the Saints’ options are at quarterback, if they choose to go with someone already on the roster instead of searching for an answer via trade or free agency — former NFL MVP Cam Newton is currently a free agent, for example. New Orleans currently has three quarterbacks outside the injured Winston on its roster: Hill, Siemian and rookie Ian Book.
“We’re satisfied with our quarterback room,” Payton told reporters Monday.
He added his thoughts about how Winston, who’s on a one-year deal with the team, performed this season prior to the injury, “We definitely were encouraged. We felt like we saw the arm strength, the leadership, all of those things.
“Remember, the thing we talked about all the time is that they’ll evaluate you by your record. He was 4-2 and it wasn’t always perfect, but absolutely. He’s someone who had become a vital part of what we were doing.”
Who will replace Winston? It’s an important question for the Saints, who sit at 5-2 and just a half-game back of Tampa Bay in the NFC South following Sunday’s win.
The case for Taysom Hill
Hill has the greatest familiarity with Payton’s offense, having been with the Saints since 2017. He’s long been a do-it-all player for New Orleans, playing a variety of positions on offense while also contributing as a special teams player, and that role continued even as he served as Winston’s backup in the early portion of this season.
Hill has rushed for 77 yards and three touchdowns so far in 2021, though he’s missed the past two games while waiting to clear the NFL’s concussion protocol.
The big question surrounding Hill is when he will be available to play again, and Payton said “we’ll see” in regards to Hill’s availability for their next game, against Atlanta at the Superdome this Sunday.
“He’s doing well. He’s progressing. He’s on schedule and all of that is good,” Payton said.
When Brees was injured last year, the Saints turned to Hill over Winston to start in his absence. New Orleans went 3-1 in Hill’s four starts, as he completed more than 70% of his passes and threw for 834 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in that stretch. The dual-threat Hill also ran for 209 yards and four touchdowns, with a 5.3 yards-per-carry average.
He also had some struggles during those four starts. Among them, Hill was sacked 13 times and fumbled the ball six times, losing three of them.
After signing a contract extension this offseason with New Orleans that came with four voidable years and helped save the Saints some cap space this season, the opportunity is here again for Hill to show he’s worth investing in.
The case for Trevor Siemian
Siemian, a seventh-round draft pick by Denver back in 2015, joined the Saints late in the 2020 season and spent some time on the team’s practice squad. He was waived and briefly without a team at the start of this season before re-signing with New Orleans, and now he may have a chance to start for the Saints.
Siemian, who bounced around the league with four other teams before landing in New Orleans, showed poise as the backup coming in against the Buccaneers and avoided making any costly mistakes against the defending Super Bowl champions. He led five scoring drives — two for touchdowns, three for field goals — and that included a 12-play, 70-yard drive in the fourth quarter that culminated in a 23-yard field goal from Brian Johnson that gave the Saints a 29-27 lead.
“He has good athleticism and we had a chance to acquire him last year to get to know him more,” Payton said of Siemian. “I would say he picks things up very quick, the ball comes out quick, and that served him well yesterday with the pressure we were getting.”
Siemian has a 13-12 record as an NFL starter, though he hasn’t started 10 or more games in a season since he was with Denver in 2017, when he went 5-5 as a starter that year. He’s thrown for 5,848 yards, 31 touchdowns and 24 interceptions while completing 59.1% of his passes in his career.
The case for Ian Book
The rookie out of Notre Dame is more an emergency quarterback for the Saints right now, if injuries continue to pile up. But the organization saw enough in him to invest a fourth-round pick in the quarterback in this past NFL draft.
During the preseason, Book completed 9 of 16 passes for 126 yards and an interception in limited action. Payton was asked if he would be comfortable if Book was the primary backup or was forced into action.
“Well, if we were comfortable with the quarterback room, we would be comfortable with him being the backup as a rookie,” Payton said. “Otherwise, we would be uncomfortable with the room and would probably look outside.”
What all this means going forward
Payton declined on Monday to get much into who would start between Hill and Siemian for the Saints in their next game, against the division rival Falcons. Hill, coincidentally, got his first NFL start last season against Atlanta.
“We’ll see. This is going to be the $6 million question and honestly, we’re going to look closely at what the best thing is for our team this week,” the coach said. “As the week progresses, we’ll see how we want to play it out and we’ll be ready to play on Sunday.”