For nearly as long as he’s been an NFL player, Taysom Hill’s name has been tethered to Sean Payton.
Payton, the now-former New Orleans Saints coach, took a chance on the former BYU dual-threat quarterback, claiming him off waivers in 2017 after the Green Bay Packers cut the then-rookie.
In the five years since, Hill — despite having not started 10 games at quarterback in the NFL (he’s currently at nine) — is a hot topic name in the league, largely due to his abilities as a utility player and Payton’s creativity in getting him on the field.
So, how will Payton’s departure change the outlook for Hill?
Both sides are in a tough spot — the Saints are tied to Hill’s contract, while still searching for the longterm replacement for Drew Brees. Hill, meanwhile, has proven himself to be a weapon from a utility position but hasn’t been a Day 1 starter, and now his biggest advocate is leaving New Orleans.
The biggest factors surrounding Taysom Hill for the Saints
His contract: In November, Hill and the Saints agreed to a unique contract extension that pays according to his position.
According to ESPN, the four-year deal would pay $40 million if he stays in his current role — as a backup QB along with playing at running back, wide receiver and tight end, as well as special teams — but can be worth up to $95 million if he becomes the Saints’ starting quarterback over the next four years.
For Hill, who was set to become a free agent after the season, the deal also comes with $22.5 million in guarantees.
His recent injury: Hill was injured in the team’s season finale. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot, which will require multiple surgeries, Payton said at the time.
“My take is they will have to do a surgery. That’s what I heard today. So it’s a Lisfranc. They’ll repair that area and then do a smaller surgery to remove the hardware after it’s healed,” Payton told reporters.
Payton did not give a timetable for Hill’s recovery from the Lisfranc injury the day after the season ended.
Hill also suffered a Lisfranc injury in his right foot during BYU’s 2015 season opener against Nebraska and missed the rest of the season.
How quickly Hill can recover from the injury — and come back fully healthy — could impact his value moving forward, either to the new coaching staff with New Orleans or perhaps another NFL franchise.
Payton’s belief in Hill: Payton has often spoken highly of the 6-foot-2, 221-pound Hill and his unique abilities, particularly as a runner.
In 2019, Payton compared Hill to another former BYU quarterback, Steve Young, who’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Well, if you look back at Steve’s career, and people don’t remember his time before he came into the NFL, you had a very athletic player that I think advanced when he got to San Francisco. And he always had great ability with his legs,” Payton said of Young, per ESPN. “... That was something that as you began to watch (Hill’s) skill set, you’re just trying to think of players that were similar at an early stage in their career.”
What obstacles lie ahead this offseason
Hill’s contract: Days before Payton announced he was stepping down as the Saints coach after 16 seasons, Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine published a list of the worst player contracts for each NFL team heading into the offseason, and for New Orleans, he deemed Hill’s the worst.
Part of that reasoning was Hill’s age — he turns 32 this August — and part was his production as a passer.
Though he has a 7-2 record as a starting quarterback, even with five starts this season, he had more interceptions than touchdowns — Hill finished the year completing 58.2% of his passes for 978 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions.
He also rushed for 374 yards and five touchdowns.
“On March 19, the contract will become guaranteed through 2023, meaning the Saints are essentially locked in to be paying a 33-year-old quarterback who still feels like a project. That’s a scary proposition given how much of his success has been dependent on his athleticism,” Ballentine wrote.
Also, Over the Cap estimates that the Saints have the worst cap situation in the NFL by a sizable margin, about $76 million over the league’s projected 2022 salary cap of $208.2 million.
The Saints’ QB situation: Hill was one of four New Orleans quarterbacks who started in 2021.
Jameis Winston, who battled Hill for the starting job last offseason, was the Day 1 starter before being lost for the season with a torn ACL halfway through the year.
Fellow veteran Trevor Siemian made four starts for New Orleans and went 0-4 as a starter, though he helped the team win games against Tampa Bay and Atlanta when he entered midway after injuries to Winston and Hill.
Rookie Ian Book also got a start when both Hill and Siemian tested positive for COVID-19.
Both Winston and Siemian will be unrestricted free agents when the new league year opens in March, and it’s fair to wonder if they will explore options with other NFL teams now with Payton gone.
The Saints also own the No. 18 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft, and already many draft experts are predicting New Orleans will choose a quarterback with their first-round selection.
Could Hill be on the move?
NFL.com writer Nick Shook identified 10 players that the Saints could move — considering their salary cap situation — with Payton gone, and Hill was among them.
“A favorite of Payton, the versatile veteran might be deemed expendable by whoever takes over in New Orleans. Hill is a below-average passer set to earn high-end QB2 money, whose greatest strength is his running ability,” Shook wrote.
“And while we’re seeing more designed runs for quarterbacks these days, it’s unclear whether the new regime will view his playmaking value in line with his salary. That all said, finding a trade partner for Hill might be particularly challenging.”
Shook also identified three teams who could potentially be interested in Hill: the Las Vegas Raiders, Washington Football Team and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Leading Saints coaching candidates
Several intriguing names have emerged among the list of potential candidates to replace Payton as the Saints’ head coach. Among them are:
- Dennis Allen, Saints defensive coordinator.
- Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator.
- Brian Daboll, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator.
Allen, who has been New Orleans’ defensive coordinator since 2015, is the early leading candidate to succeed Payton, according to NOLA.com’s Luke Johnson.
He also has previous head coaching experience with the Raiders, from 2012-14, and while Allen’s primary focus is on the other side of the ball, he would at least be familiar with Hill and what he brings to the table.
The other two, Bieniemy and Daboll, both employ mobile quarterbacks in their offensive systems with Kansas City and Buffalo, respectively, a potential plus for Hill if either headed to New Orleans.
That’s not to say Hill is on the same level as a passer as Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo’s Josh Allen, both of whom completed more than 63% of their passes this year and threw for over 35 touchdowns a piece.
Rather, it’s a suggestion that if a creative offensive coordinator like a Bieniemy or Daboll lands in New Orleans, it could be a positive for Hill, a utility player whose value hasn’t always been easy to define.