Sean Payton returning to New Orleans Saints sideline; QB Blake Bortles signing as backup, source confirms

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints are getting head coach Sean Payton back, but they are now up to a total of 15 players and three assistant coaches on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Payton returned to work for the Saints on Friday after being sidelined for a week by COVID-19, but four more players landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list: linebacker Demario Davis, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, safety/special teams ace J.T. Gray and running back Dwayne Washington.

With quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian among the players who landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week, New Orleans added some insurance on the field by agreeing to a deal with veteran quarterback Blake Bortles, a source confirmed to ESPN on Friday.

Bortles is set to back up rookie Ian Book, who is expected to make his NFL debut Monday night against the Miami Dolphins.

The Saints have been hit hard this week, with several key players landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including starting safety Malcolm Jenkins and starting tight end Adam Trautman. Davis was a second-team All-Pro in 2020 and a first-teamer in 2019. Gray was just named to the Pro Bowl. And Ramczyk is a perennial All-Pro, but he was doubtful to play this week because of a knee injury.

Payton tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday and missed Sunday night's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen replaced Payton as head coach, and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. handled the playcalling as the Saints delivered a 9-0 upset.

The 29-year-old Bortles spent his first five seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars after being selected with the third overall pick in the 2014 draft. Since then, he has bounced around the NFL, spending time with the Los Angeles Rams, Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers.

Bortles spent this past offseason with the Packers then briefly re-signed with the team in November as a backup under similar circumstances when Aaron Rodgers was sidelined by COVID-19. He has not attempted a pass in an NFL game since he went 1-for-2 for 3 yards with the Rams in 2019.

NOLA.com first reported on Bortles' signing.

Book, who was drafted in the fourth round out of Notre Dame, took snaps at practice Friday as New Orleans' No. 1 quarterback. He would be the fifth quarterback to start for the Saints during the 2021 calendar year. Drew Brees retired after making two playoff starts in January, and Jameis Winston suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 8 before Siemian and Hill took turns replacing him.

As a result of that attrition, the Saints rank an uncharacteristic 30th in the NFL this season with 194.6 passing yards per game and last with a completion percentage of 57.4.

"It's an unbelievable opportunity," he said Friday night. "I don't know what it's going to feel like. I've played in big games, but I think this is the biggest, obviously. We're professionals now and this is Monday Night Football."

Book, 23, went 30-5 as a starter at Notre Dame, finishing with the most wins in school history. He went lower in the draft, in part because he is just 6 feet tall. But his mobility and ability to make plays when the pocket breaks down were among his calling cards at Notre Dame.

Payton said Book is throwing well and appears to be a good "student of the game," but also stressed that it's up to coaches and the whole team to help Book play to his strengths and get comfortable.

"Obviously, you have a new quarterback, but it's more than just the quarterback,'' Payton said. "It's everyone else painting the right picture, us playing well in the kicking game and on defense.

"He's going to do fine. He's excited about the opportunity,'' Payton added. "It's up to us to give him the right things relative to the game and where we're at offensively.''

No matter what happens at quarterback, the Saints will rely heavily on a defense that became the first in 15 years to shut out quarterback Tom Brady.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.