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Examining the QB options: If the Saints can't cram Jameis Winston under the cap, would he make sense for the Broncos?

Andrew Mason Avatar
March 15, 2021

Eleventh in a series

PREVIOUS ENTRIES: Nick Foles | Marcus Mariota | Andy Dalton | Tyrod Taylor | Alex Smith | Ryan Fitzpatrick | Mitchell Trubisky | Sam Darnold | Jacoby Brissett | Gardner Minshew II


  • EXPERIENCE: 6th year

THE HIGHS: Few quarterbacks tantalize like Winston. The big arm. The high football I.Q. There are enough moments where Winston looks like the No. 1 overall pick he was in 2015 to make every one of his coaches mutter to themselves, “Why can’t he ALWAYS play like that?”

The apex of Winston’s career came in Week 4 of the 2019 season against the Los Angeles Rams. Wade Phillips’ Rams defense came into the game having allowed just 22 points and a single touchdown in the previous two weeks. Winston led an attack that accounted for 48 points, and he was the biggest reason for the success. The Bucs won, 55-40. A week later, he had his fourth consecutive game with a passer rating of over 103.0 in a loss at New Orleans. Even though the Bucs were 2-3, it was easy to see Winston as the Bucs’ future; in a four-game stretch, he had 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Then the Bucs went to London. Winston threw five interceptions in a mind-numbing loss to Carolina. He never really recovered.

THE LOWS: There is one market in which “30/30” isn’t a baseball milestone. In Tampa Bay, Winston sealed his fate with Bruce Arians by throwing 30 interceptions during the 2019 season. It was Arians’ first on the job after being out of coaching for a year following his departure from the Arizona Cardinals. Even though Winston threw a career-high 33 touchdowns in 2019, the NFL has become a place where a quarterback must throw twice as many touchdowns as interceptions to be viable for the long term.

Winston hit 30 picks with a flourish, tossing 10 in the last four games of the 2019 season — including four in a Week 16 loss to Houston, and an overtime pick-6 grabbed by Atlanta’s Deion Jones in the 2019 finale. It was the appropriate end to Winston’s five seasons in Tampa Bay and sealed his 25th multi-interception game since 2015. No one in the NFL has more — although the Broncos, as a team, also have 25 multi-interception games since 2015, a figure exceeded only by Miami, Cleveland, the New York Jets and Winston’s Buccaneers.

FOUR-YEAR FORM (2017-20)

(Rankings are among 62 quarterbacks with at least 250 total plays — attempts, rushes and times sacked — over the 2017-20 seasons.)

  • PASSER RATING: 88.2, 30th
  • YARDS PER ATTEMPT: 8.02, 5th
  • TOUCHDOWN-PASS RATE: One every 20.52 attempts, 18th
  • SACK RATE: One every 14.37 pass plays, 37th
  • INTERCEPTION RATE: One every 26.49 attempts, 59th
  • FUMBLE RATE: One every 50.44 plays, 56th
  • BALL-LOSS RATE (INTERCEPTIONS + FUMBLES): One every 19.27 plays, 60th

WHAT STANDS OUT: Of course, you go to the interceptions.

The fumble rate is equally troubling, which means that Winston gives the opponent an opportunity for a takeaway twice a game on average.

And then there is the fact that the Bucs got better without Winston. Granted, it took adding Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette, Tristan Wirfs, Antoine Winfield Jr. and others to push Tampa Bay over the top.

But Winston will also successfully sling it. Only six quarterbacks have more 300-yard games since 2015 than Winston, a group that includes Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, Kirk Cousins and Ben Roethlisberger. In 2019, he didn’t just lead the league in interceptions, but he paced it in passing yards and yards per game. And just four quarterbacks have more games with at least 10 yards per attempt since 2015: Cousins, Rivers, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill.

It’s easy to note the poor company that Winston keeps because of his giveaways, but he keeps some good company, too.

WHY HE COULD BE A FIT: Winston’s ceiling remains stratospheric, and unlike a quarterback like Darnold, it can be argued that he has had the year of what John Elway called “football rehab.” In Winston’s case, he got it with Saints coach Sean Payton.

Payton, who heads into his 16th year as Saints head coach this fall, had nothing but praise for Winston, and with the retirement of Drew Brees, only Taysom Hill would stand in Winston’s way. But does the presence of Hill bring an awkwardness to any potential scenario at quarterback, and might Winston prefer a clearer spot?

If that happens — and if the primary goal at QB is to find the best competition possible for Lock to strengthen the room overall — Winston checks a lot of boxes.

And then there was his 2020 LASIK surgery. Could that have been a cause of his woes? He said last April that he could see more clearly, and could read street signs for the first time.

WHY HE WOULDN’T BE: Because the Saints are contorting their salary-cap into knots to keep together as much of the team that lost in the divisional round as is reasonably possible … and that includes Winston.

Winston’s litany of off-field issues dating back to his days at Florida State will also give teams pause. He was, by all accounts, a model teammate as a backup quarterback in New Orleans last season. But his three-game suspension for groping an Uber driver happened just two-and-a-half years ago, at the start of the 2018 season.

HOW THE BRONCOS MIGHT GET HIM: Via free agency. Although Winston played last year on a $1 million salary, he would likely command much more if the Saints cannot re-sign him and he tests the market.

Coaxing Winston out of the New Orleans quarterback incubator could take a contract similar to the one that Chicago gave Mike Glennon in 2017. That deal gave Glennon $18.5 million in guaranteed money, although it could have been worth up to $45 million had Glennon succeeded and played it out. Thus, there would be a “prove-it” element to the deal. Chicago’s dead-money charge in 2018 for Glennon was a reasonable $4.5 million.


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