It was a surprise Friday when it was reported that New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton would start Taysom Hill and not Jameis Winston at quarterback in place of the injured Drew Brees. Winston is the backup and was the primary replacement for Brees after he left the game in Week 10.
So why not Winston, who has five seasons as a starter under his belt? Why did Payton choose Hill, who has never started an NFL game?
The reported answer to those questions is simple: curiosity.
Planning for the future
Starting Hill now is a way for Payton and the Saints to figure out if Hill can be Brees’ eventual successor. One source with “deep knowledge of Payton's thinking” told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that "Sean just wants to know" whether Hill has what it takes to be the Saints’ next franchise quarterback.
The Saints already think highly of Hill. This is his fourth season taking a handful of snaps per game and over the spring he signed a two-year, $21 million contract. Payton said at the time that Hill deserved to be the team’s No. 2 at quarterback, despite the presence of Winston (who had signed a one-year deal with the Saints).
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Payton also told Hill when he signed the contract that he’d get the chance to start if Brees got injured. With Brees recovering from a collapsed lung and 11 rib fractures, that bill has come due and Payton appears to be paying up.
What will Brees do?
The question of who will replace Brees when he retires is becoming more relevant by the day. Brees is 41 and according to Schefter is expected to retire at the end of this season. That was before Brees got injured, so who knows how that will affect his thinking? Will he take the injuries as a sign that it’s time for him to hang up his cleats? Or will he want another season to say goodbye after the injuries robbed him of at least three starts?
No one knows what Brees will do when the season is over, but the Saints want to be prepared for all eventualities. Signing Hill to that contract was part of the preparation, and now the Saints have to see if Hill is what they need him to be. If he’s not, then they need to start making new plans immediately, but at least they’ll know.
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