Saints go all-in again: Jameis Winston makes QB room stacked in New Orleans, where it’s Lombardi or bust

The Atlanta Falcons can field a starting offense of all first-round picks. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got Tom Brady to then get Rob Gronkowski out of retirement. And the Saints have, by far, the best quarterbacks room in the league.

The veritable arms race taking place in the NFC South has been the most exciting part of this unpredictable NFL offseason, and it just added more fireworks Sunday with the reported union of the Saints and Jameis Winston.

Before Drew Brees heads to an NBC booth, the Saints took a major step to ensure they can still win a Super Bowl if injury hits the greatest player in franchise history. The Winston signing, which likely won’t become official until Monday evening due to the compensatory pick formula, signals the exact thing New Orleans did last year when it signed Teddy Bridgewater.

Should anything happen to Brees during the season, they’ll be able to stay competitive in the tougher NFC with Winston taking over.

Who knows how they’ll work Winston’s contract into this year’s salary cap? New Orleans had about $3.5 million in cap space on Sunday morning, and that was before news of Taysom Hill’s contract extension and (obviously) well before any draft picks have been signed.

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The Saints and GM Micky Loomis have befuddled media and amateur cap experts for years with their manipulation of the salary cap. Every year we believe their cap massaging will finally come back to bite them, and every year they’re able to kick the can down the road.

It would appear that by 2022 they’ll have to pay their bar tab. But what’s clear is that the Saints won’t care how much dead cap they’re saddled with two years from now if it has meant another Lombardi.

Brees inked the last contract of his career last month when he signed a two-year deal worth $50 million. Payton may have slipped up when he initially called 2020 Brees’s last season, and he spent the following day walking back his words. Since Brees broke Peyton Manning’s record for all-time passing yards, it was been widely believed that he will be set to retire after winning his second Super Bowl.

If that happens this season, the Saints would be strapped with $22.65 million in dead cap heading into 2021. If that happens in the 2021 season, they’ll be faced with $11.5 million in dead cap in 2022.

(What I continue to struggle with is the infatuation with Taysom Hill. He’ll be 30 this season, and clearly the Saints don’t believe he can steer the ship if Brees goes down in 2020, hence the Winston signing this year and Bridgewater last year. But they still reward him with a reported two-year deal worth up to $21 million. What they pay him won’t matter as much if they win a world title, but it continues to be the most baffling part of a football program that is so far ahead of most of the competition.)

Consider the moves made this offseason. New Orleans brought back safety Malcolm Jenkins on a four-year, $32 million contract that the 32-year-old is likely to never see the end of. The deal can easily be turned into a two-year, $16.25 million deal after cutting him before the start of the 2022 league year with little dead cap penalty.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will be the perfect complement (finally!) to Michael Thomas. He signed a two-year, $24 million deal with a voidable year added in 2022. That bill will come due, but what will the Saints care with another championship?

And with the first pick in last week’s draft, New Orleans opted to protect its best chance at a title by selecting interior lineman Cesar Ruiz at No. 24. Ruiz will compete with Larry Warford for the starting right guard position and, at the very least, give the Saints a sixth man at the three interior positions should someone go down.

It’s the exact same logic the Saints have exercised in the quarterback room. Payton and Loomis went outside their norm last year when they awarded Teddy Bridgewater a one-year deal worth up to $12.5 million, spending more on the backup QB position than in previous years for insurance against an injury. Obviously that was needed early in 2019 when Brees went down with a hand injury and Bridgewater kept them afloat, and New Orleans is doing the same thing this year with Winston.

Once put into focus, it shows the Saints are doing the polar opposite of what the Packers are doing. Rather than trying to be the smartest team in the room and be set four years down the road like the Packers appear to be doing, New Orleans is pushing all its chips into the next two seasons for the Lombardi, surrounding its legendary quarterback with talent at every position necessary to reach the goal.

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