NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday that the Saints are expected to name Winston the starter, per sources informed of the situation.
In addition to giving Winston the chance to again prove himself as a starter, the expected move also sets him up for financial gain. Winston's one-year, $5.5 million contract includes $7 million in incentives, Rapoport noted. Most of the incentives on Winston's deal are very reachable if he remains the starter. Beat writer Nick Underhill has a full breakdown of the incentives.
New Orleans opens the 2021 season Sunday, Sept. 12, against the Green Bay Packers at the Superdome. The kickoff is at 4:25 p.m. ET.
The former No. 1 overall pick beat out Taysom Hill for the starting job. The distance between the two was apparent in Monday's preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Winston shined on Monday, divebombing an overmatched defense to the tune of 123 yards on 9-of-10 passing with two gorgeous TD strikes. In the game, Winston showed everything you want from a starter: Poise in the pocket, calmness under pressure, and an innate feel for what the defense is trying to accomplish.
His second TD pass to Marquez Callaway was picture-perfect. Winston read all-out pressure, knew he had his receiver one-on-one, bought time by drifting the pocket and laid a perfect ball towards the pylon as the free rusher got in his face.
While Winston had a tendency to be reckless with the ball during his run in Tampa Bay, the hope is that Sean Payton's offense can even out the rough parts. The Saints need Winston to eschew his sometimes happy feet in the pocket and take the check down when warranted. Better footwork could also help him avoid some of the low throws that he displayed this preseason, particularly on long sideline tosses.
One thing should be certain: Deep shots are back in the Saints offense.
After the past few seasons of Drew Brees' diminished arm strength restricting the offense to merely the occasional heave, Winston's big arm should help stretch the field with regularity once again in the Bayou. The former first-round pick is at his best when driving the ball down the seam. We should see plenty of shots schemed up by Payton this season with Winston at the helm.
The decision to start Winston has the added benefit of shifting Hill back to his gadget role within the offense. While the 31-year-old showed some flashes under center, his play was up-and-down this preseason. Payton didn't call direct run plays for Hill, a clear advantage of his, electing to see what the offense would look like with the BYU product in a standard scheme. Hill made some good throws but didn't show rapport with receivers, struggled versus pressure and was off the mark too often for a full-time starter. While Hill is an elusive runner, he struggles in the quarterback scramble drill when the pocket breaks down.
It was clear that Payton would have had to run a completely different offense if Hill was named the starter.
With Winston at the helm, the Saints will still be able to offer a dose of Hill here and there as a QB/runner/tight end/receiver. It's a gig that gives defensive coordinators fits preparing for every week.
Winston joined the Saints last season to learn from Brees and Payton in hopes of reigniting his career down the road.
Now, he's got that shot.