FILE - In this Dec. 29, 2019, file photo, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton is seen on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C. Saints coach Sean Payton said he didn't mean to insinuate on a television appearance this week that record-setting quarterback Drew Brees had informed him of plans to retire after the upcoming season. “I'm a big dummy,” Payton said Wednesday, April 1, 2020, during a conference call with media in New Orleans. “I honestly don't know if it’s his last year. I think the thing he's done, and we've all done, is taking it year by year.” (AP Photo/Brian Blanco, File)

Payton likes Saints’ direction, quarterbacks

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton might have some tough decisions to make this offseason. With future-Hall-of-Fame quarterback Drew Brees set to retire, Payton’s task is replacing the man who leads the NFL in passing yards and completions. Brees also ranks second all time in passing yards per game and career touchdowns all time.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees waves to his family and fans after an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans. The Buccaneers won 30-20. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Possibilities for Payton

Currently, Brees is still on the Saints depth chart. The former Purdue Boilermaker has not officially retired. Much like last season, Payton expects Brees to make a hasty decision and not draw out the process. Only last year, Brees made the decision to stay with the Saints.

“He’s going to make a decision,” Payton said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a long drawn out process.”

If Brees were to retire, it would spell the end of one era and the beginning of another.

Currently on the Saints depth chart behind Brees as quarterbacks are Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston.

While do-it-all man Taysom Hill is locked down with the Saints for the upcoming 2021 season, Winston is not so clear. Winston’s one-year contract in the “Big Easy” expired after his former employer knocked the Saints out of the 2020-21 NFL Playoffs.

Coach Payton indicated he wants Winston to stay. He says Winston’s one season was an audition for player and team to gauge the former-Heisman Trophy winner’s suitability with Payton’s Saints.

After the 2020 NFL Season, Payton says he likes Winston’s ability and his potential for growth.

However, Winston sat behind  Hill when Brees missed several weeks with injuries. Winston only appeared in five games, completing eight throws on 12 attempts for 131 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Winston’s former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are on the cusp of winning a Super Bowl the season following Winston’s departure.

If Payton is honest in his assessment of Winston, he will need to pay more than the roughly $1 million the quarterback got this past season. Cap space is something the Saints are lacking heavily right now.

Uncertain Future

Any time a team is about to lose their franchise quarterback, there is turmoil. The New England Patriots lost Tom Brady and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The Houston Oilers went 12-4 in 1993 led by Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, only to go 2-14 in the season following Moon’s trade to the Minnesota Vikings.

Now, the Saints are in that same fold. However, Payton is confident in the direction of the Saints as a franchise if Winston were to take on another starting quarterback role.

Let’s not make it seem like the Saints have their pick of the litter in terms of great quarterbacks. They are in one of the great cap crunches in recent offseason history. Current projections have the New Orleans Saints in excess of $100 million over the NFL salary cap. On the bright side, the Saints have near a full roster.

Still, if Payton is serious about keeping Winston around, the Saints must move some money around. In fact, it is likely Winston will expect a similar paygrade to Hill, who received a two-year, $21 million contract extension prior to the 2020 NFL Season. Hill became the second-highest-paid backup quarterback in the league.

Regardless of the Saints cap issues, the quarterback situation for Sean Payton is one of the things to keep an eye on as the NFL offseason begins to hit its stride following the Super Bowl.

About Kyle Fansler

Originally from Seminole in the Tampa Bay area, Kyle is a contributor for ESPN Gainesville as well as local NPR and PBS affiliate WUFT. Kyle wants to get into sports with a lofty dream of being a sports broadcaster. He was raised playing soccer and baseball while watching hockey and football, so the knowledge about various sports is fairly extensive.

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