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Saints traded back into draft for QB Panthers wanted

Most people would argue you can never have too much of a good thing. For a pair of NFC South rivals, this ideology wiggled its way into the conversation during the 2020 NFL Draft.

Coming into the draft, the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers boasted solid -- and if you're talking Drew Brees, really solid -- options at the game's most important position. But that didn't stop either from looking into the possibility of adding one more QB. In fact, both war rooms were so intrigued by that notion that they engaged in a bidding war for the same guy: Mississippi State's Tommy Stevens.

"(The Panthers) felt like they had him signed, sealed and delivered," Saints assistant GM Jeff Ireland said on the team's official podcast Monday, via The Athletic's Jeff Duncan. "(Stevens' agent Buddy Baker) wasn't really talking to us, so we just decided we'd just go take him from them. ... There's a little bit of competitive juices flying between me and Sean (Payton) about, 'We want this player. We're not going to let anybody take him from us.'"

After dealing their remaining picks on Day 2, all the Saints could do was wait to wade in the undrafted free agent pool at the end of Day 3 in search of some diamonds in the rough. Until they saw all 6-foot-5, 237 pounds of Stevens still available as Round 6 concluded.

Both the Saints and Panthers, namely Carolina offensive coordinator Joe Brady, had already zeroed in on Stevens as a target. Prior to transferring to MSU in 2019, Stevens played four years at Penn State where Brady was a graduate assistant from 2015-16, giving him the inside track on the 23-year-old. With his team having used all of its picks on defensive players, Brady's only hope was for Stevens' descent to continue.

Appearing destined for life as a UDFA, Stevens and his agent began negotiating with Carolina before the draft was over. As Duncan noted, the Panthers offered him a $15,000 signing bonus and guaranteed $30,000 of his salary. Payton was not having it.

Once the Saints became aware of the offer, they said they would match it and pitched the idea of Stevens becoming "Taysom Hill 2.0." His camp wasn't moved. After calling back to have his offer of $144,000 guaranteed salary get the "We'll get back to you" treatment, Payton's competitive fire grew stronger.

In Payton's words, securing Stevens became "my project." His motivation pushed the Saints' brain trust to frantically work the phones in an effort to trade into the seventh round to get him.

New Orleans received two offers -- Vikings at No. 244 and Texans at No. 240 -- for its 2021 sixth-round pick, and went with Houston's. Boom, done deal. To make the victory even sweeter, Payton fired off a couple texts as Stevens officially became a Saint. One to Brady, which read, according to Duncan, "Not so fast," and the other to Stevens and Baker: "I'm tired of asking. Now, I'm taking."

Stevens now joins a QB2 group that includes the recently extended Hill and recently signed Jameis Winston. There's no debating that Brees is the man now but it'll be interesting to see how Payton attempts to turn Stevens into the man he believes he can be while still housing the player he wants to model him after.

As is often the case, the uncertainties of the future will sort themselves out once the time comes. But as, Payton told Duncan, there's at least one thing he knows with absolute certainty as it relates to the present.

"There's no way I was going to lose this kid."

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