Saints' Sean Payton refused to 'lose' draft pick Tommy Stevens to Panthers

Sporting News

The Saints-Panthers NFC South rivalry was plenty spicy before last week's NFL Draft. A pair of offseason moves had added more heat: Former Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater became the Panthers' starter; Joe Brady, who worked with Bridgewater in New Orleans before leaving for LSU to help make Joe Burrow the No. 1 overall pick, was hired as Carolina's offensive coordinator.

Then came Saints coach Sean Payton stealing a coveted quarterback prospect away from the Panthers late on Day 3 of the draft to raise it a few more degrees.

Payton really wanted Mississippi State's Tommy Stevens, whom the Saints see as another Taysom Hill. Two problems: Stevens had committed to Carolina if he were to become a priority free agent, and the Saints had traded away their late-round picks to move up earlier in the draft.

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There was a big reason Stevens wanted to go to the Panthers: He worked with Brady when the two were at Penn State. Stevens transferred to Mississippi State last year to work with another former PSU assistant, Bulldogs head coach Joe Moorhead.

As The Athletic laid out in its account of Payton's heist, negotiations with Stevens' agent left the Saints offering his client $144,000 as a free agent, but New Orleans still hadn't gotten the player to decommit. Payton decided he needed to "take" Stevens away from his division foe.

He began trying to trade back into the seventh round. He soon convinced the Texans to take a 2021 sixth-round pick in exchange for the 240th overall selection in 2020, which the Saints used on Stevens.

"There's no way I was going to lose this kid," Payton told The Athletic's Jeff Duncan.

And if Stevens ever makes a big play to help New Orleans win a game, against Carolina or some other foe, then Payton may never stop crowing about his daring raid.

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