METAIRIE, La. – First, Jameis Winston conquered the turnover stigma. Now, in his second year as the New Orleans Saints’ starting quarterback, Winston is aiming to prove he can pepper playmakers like Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas with the types of short and intermediate throws that have fueled this offense for years.
“I can do everything your favorite quarterback can do,” Winston insisted after saying how valuable it was for him to spend a year learning behind former quarterback Drew Brees in 2020.
“Hopefully I’m your favorite quarterback,” Winston added. “But I can.”
One of the things that stood out most when Winston spoke to the media last week was his bravado. Winston, 28, has shown great humility since he first joined the Saints as a backup in 2020, knowing he needed more growth and development to revive his career after parting ways with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they decided to move on to Tom Brady.
But the former No. 1 overall draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner isn’t going to shortchange himself either.
Although Winston dismissed the Saints’ pursuit of quarterback Deshaun Watson as something that was out of his control, it’s evident he is determined to prove he is worth even more than the two-year deal he signed worth $28 million plus incentives.
“I wanted to know that teams could value me at least a quarter of what I value myself as,” Winston said of conversations he had with teams in free agency.
Surely Winston’s market would have been even stronger if he hadn’t torn the ACL in his left knee in Week 8 last season after going 5-2 as the Saints’ starter and posting a career-best 102.8 passer rating with 14 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.
But Winston also stressed several times that this will actually be the first offseason when the Saints have given him the full reins of the offense, after he spent last summer in an open competition with Taysom Hill.
“And now I have that opportunity, I’m gonna do my best, and I’m gonna make the most of it,” Winston said.
Winston already started the process of rewriting his career narrative last year. New Saints coach Dennis Allen said that “14-to-3” touchdown to interception ratio was the “No. 1 thing that showed me that he could be our quarterback.”
“I thought he did a great job of protecting the ball – and we were 5-2 with him as the starting quarterback,” Allen said. “So I felt like he was a guy that gave us an opportunity to win.”
There are several other traits the Saints like about Winston, starting with the two that former coach Sean Payton always mentioned without fail: his arm talent and his leadership.
But when asked what area of his game he wants to focus on improving next, Winston said, “I’m really excited to focus on my intermediate accuracy.”
“Getting those easy completions to Alvin Kamara," Winston said. "We saw that in the [victory at the Seattle Seahawks last year], how effective that was. You know, really perfecting the passes from behind the line of scrimmage to 10 yards down the field.”
That makes a lot of sense if you’re the quarterback of an offense that features both Kamara and Thomas – two of the league’s most dangerous weapons in the intermediate area of the field. Kamara leads all running backs with 373 receptions since he entered the league in 2017, while Thomas set the NFL record with 149 catches in 2019 before an ankle injury forced him to miss 26 games over the past two seasons.
However, that hasn’t always been a big part of Winston’s game.
Part of the reason why Winston has a career completion percentage of 61.2 (and 59% last season) is he admittedly likes to swing for the fences. And sure enough, he did complete four passes of 49-plus yards with the Saints last season.
But Winston admitted that while he used to dislike the idea of being a “game manager,” one of the greatest lessons he learned watching Brees is there is a time and place for trying to “light the scoreboard up.”
“I know I can make the big plays, but really just staying in the rhythm of completing the football, keeping the offense going throughout the course of a game is something that I’ve been able to focus on,” said Winston, who pointed out that his current injury rehab has actually helped with that since he has been limited from throwing deep balls.
When asked if the biggest issue for him is looking for those throws more often, or if he can’t shake the idea of holding out for bigger plays, Winston pounced on the word “can’t.”
“Don’t say 'can’t.' Don’t say 'can’t.' Because statistically I did not put up near the numbers that I’m used to putting up,” said Winston, who averaged just 186 passing yards in his six complete games – in large part because the Saints relied more heavily on their defense and run game than their thin receiving corps.
Getting Thomas, who missed the entire 2021 season, back and ideally adding at least one more premier pass-catcher in free agency or the draft should help quite a bit too.
“I did it effectively last year. And I just want to get better at it this year,” Winston said. “This was actually the first offense that I was in that we played the Canadian concept of football, where we’re efficient on first and second down, and I’m grateful that I got a chance to see Drew Brees do that for a year while he was here.
“I’m excited to focus and work on that even more with this being the second year. … I’m excited to continue to grow as a quarterback, to grow as a leader and to grow in this offense and get things rolling.”