Instead of replacing Jameis Winston, the New Orleans Saints have given QB the best chance to thrive

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METAIRIE, La. – Jarvis Landry pointed to the training field as if it were planned.

Just as the veteran receiver told reporters why quarterback Jameis Winston was one of the main reasons he chose to sign with the New Orleans Saints in free agency, Landry looked around and noticed that Winston was the only player left on the field about 15 minutes after training. ended.

“Look, I do not see anyone else out here. This guy is the last one. That’s who he is,” said Landry, who signed with the team in May. “It’s something you want in that position and apart from your team.

“He’s a leader, man. … Just the conversations we had, the intention that he puts behind the things he says.”

Winston is heading into his eighth season. Depending on your perspective, you could argue that this is a make-or-break season for the former No. 1 overall draft pick – or his best chance yet to thrive as a starting quarterback.

True, the Saints considered replacing Winston as they aggressively pursued a deal for now Brown’s Deshaun Watson, who faces 24 civil lawsuits for inappropriate behavior and sexual assault during massage sessions. But everything they have done since has furthered their commitment to Winston, 28, as he recovers from a torn left ACL he sustained on October 31st.

New Orleans signed him to a two-year deal worth $ 28 million plus incentives, with $ 21 million in guarantees. So, instead of adding a potential long-term replacement in the draft, the Saints reinforced Winston with both wide receiver Chris Olave and left tackle Trevor Penning in round 1, swapping their first-round pick away in the quarterback-rich 2023 draft class.

Throw the expected return of All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas from the ankle injury that wiped out his entire 2021 season, and Winston’s top three receivers should be upgrades.

“This team that we’re building is electric, so I’m just excited about that,” said Winston, who has used the words “excited” and “grateful” countless times this offseason.

“I’m happy with the opportunity I got and I’m looking forward to really building on that opportunity and taking advantage of it,” said Winston, stressing how meaningful it is for him to go into this summer without being in a daily competition for the job when he was with Taysom Hill last year.

But Winston said it’s as much about getting the regular training reps with his teammates as it is about any status symbol. While Winston said it made sense for him to have a “certain type of ownership” over the leadership role he inherited from former Saints legend Drew Brees, he was quick to insist: “I will always be in a competition. “

“It’s promising when you look at the choices we have and how this team is building,” Winston said. “But you know when I said it feels good not to be in a competition – I always compete.”

Winston has participated in practice through OTAs and minicamp, seven months after he underwent surgery to repair his knee. He is wearing a protective brace, which he said he plans to wear all season. And he is not yet participating in full-team exercises, while still being restricted from some activities like rolling out to make a play.

But Winston does pretty much everything else on the field and insists he is “far” ahead of schedule.

Winston said he’s happy to take things slow and “do it the right way.” But he did not want to miss spending this time around his teammates because he said that was what he missed most in the last two months of last season.

“He loves his teammates sincerely,” said running back Mark Ingram II, the latest in a long line of Saints teammates over the past two years to share that sentiment.

“He’s the man. I’m glad he’s our Q,” Ingram said. “He’s just a great guy, man – great quarterback, great leader, super talented. I’m excited about the year he’s getting.

“He still has like a super chip on his shoulder. He wants to improve, he wants to get better, he wants to be the best. That’s the mindset that many of us have in this dressing room. ”

Coach Dennis Allen and longtime Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. both mentioned Winston’s infectious energy and leadership, something former coach Sean Payton also praised.

But it’s clear Carmichael’s top task will be to maximize Winston’s strengths while continuing to eliminate the turnover problems that plagued him in his first five seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Last year was almost a perfect balance. Winston went 5-2 as a starter while throwing 14 touchdown passes with three interceptions and a career-high passing rating of 102.8. If he keeps these conditions, his next contract will be a blockbuster.

At the same time, however, Winston completed 59% of his passes and had an average of 186 passing yards in his six complete games, while the Saints relied heavily on their defense and some conservative offensive game plans.

The improvements on wide receiver and a healthier offensive line should help increase these numbers. But Winston has also admitted he wants to improve his “middle precision” – especially in an offensive that will feature Thomas, Landry and pass-catching running back Alvin Kamara.

So far, Winston has shown good signs on the training ground. He said it helps that he was limited to short and intermediate throws in the early stages of recovery.

“He’s been working after this offseason to get ready to go and be a big part of communicating and sharing his thoughts on how he sees things, and we’m excited to get started,” Carmichael said. “I have played and I have controlled the game [last season], and he knew what it took to win those matches. Everything was not perfect – there were things that we all want to grow from.

“But I thought he did a good job in his preparation and he’s obviously a great team man.”

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