Why the New Orleans Saints are still playoff contenders after re-signing QB Jameis Winston – New Orleans Saints Blog

METAIRIE, La. — Jameis Winston has as much meaning for the New Orleans Saints now as he did two weeks ago.

And it still makes New Orleans a legitimate playoff contender in 2022.

Obviously, the Saints can’t hide from the fact that they thought quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was instead sent to the Cleveland Browns, would be a major upgrade because they went too far in their efforts to tie the present, the future and the image of the franchise to the quarterback last week. However, the Saints have always insisted they hold Winston in high regard.

And yes, both things can be true — which the Saints demonstrated by actually committing to Winston with a two-year, $28 million deal, with $21 million guaranteed.

It’s not just a placeholder agreement. Of course, the Saints could still end up signing a quarterback within the next two years, as they recognize how important that position is to their long-term future. But they don’t have to force a pick on a quarterback because Winston is still just 28 and could potentially become a long-term solution himself.

More importantly, the Saints re-signed Winston because they are in win-now mode. They have made it clear on several occasions that they do not plan to rebuild under new coach Dennis Allen, despite their salary cap limits. They proved it by suing Watson. They proved it again on Monday.

Although quarterbacks have been changing teams at a dizzying rate in the NFL in recent weeks, Winston offers arguably the best combination of upside and affordability.

The former No. 1 draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner went 5-2 as a New Orleans starter last season before tearing his ACL in Week 8. If he hadn’t injured, the Saints would have had an excellent chance of making the playoffs — and re-signing Winston would likely have been a no-brainer.

Instead, they finished 9-8 and narrowly missed the playoffs in a wild final week of the season while setting an NFL record with 58 different starters used in a season due injuries and COVID-19 issues.

Winston wasn’t perfect in his first year as a New Orleans starter (he averaged just 186 passing yards in his six full games and completed just 59% of his passes). But he proved he could overcome career-derailing turnovers with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by throwing 14 touchdown passes with just three interceptions. He showed his big-play ability with four completed passes for over 49 yards. His passer rating of 102.8 was a career high.

And he’s done it all with perhaps the NFL’s most anemic collection of wide receivers while All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas has missed the entire season with an ankle injury.

This year, Thomas should return in good health. And it would be shocking if the Saints didn’t add more pass-catching assist through free agency and the draft.

The Saints will have to overcome new holes in other places – starting with Sean Payton’s decision to withdraw from training. They also lost free safety Marcus Williams to the Baltimore Ravens in free agency (replacing him with former New York Jets safety Marcus Maye). And there’s a good chance they’ll lose three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead, who entered this offseason as ESPN’s No. 1-ranked free agent.

Despite the loss of Payton, Winston will still work with the same offensive coordinator (Pete Carmichael Jr.) and quarterbacks coach (Ronald Curry), and the Saints still have one of the best defenses in the NFL.

They still have an enviable collection of elite players (Thomas, running back Alvin Kamara, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, defensive end Cameron Jordan, linebacker Demario Davis and cornerback Marshon Lattimore among them). They can’t help but have better luck with injuries than last season.

And they now have more salary cap space and project capital to work with after paying a fraction of the price for Winston than they would for Watson. They won’t use all of the $30 million cap space they cleared for a potential trade with Watson, but they should be able to pick their spots and add a few more signings.

All of these factors should add up to a realistic run for the NFC South title or wildcard spot – even if Tom Brady has decided to return to the rival Buccaneers.

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