NEW ORLEANS — Jameis Winston describes the prospect of taking over for retired, record-setting Saints quarterback Drew Brees as something that comes with a “tremendous amount of responsibility.”
It's also something Winston eager to do, albeit in his own way.
“You be the best version of yourself,” Winston said Tuesday in his first media conference since returning to New Orleans on a one-year, incentive-laden contract. "That’s what Drew Brees would tell me: ‘You be Jameis Winston. You don’t have to be Drew Brees, right?’
“I feel that it’s a tremendous amount of responsibility, following up behind a guy like Drew Brees,” Winston continued. “But I embrace that.”
Winston's voice cracked and he swallowed hard as he professed how much Brees' mentorship meant to him last season. And as if he were speaking to Brees directly at one moment, Winston said, “I’m just thankful that you showed me how to be an NFL quarterback, man. That was a privilege.”
“I just got a chance to witness one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time do it,” Winston added. “I got to experience what it looked like. I have been chasing the same dream that he has grasped, that Lombardi Trophy.”
Winston declined to discuss whether he entertained offers from other teams, stressing that he wanted to continue to play under coach Sean Payton, who designs and calls New Orleans' prolific offence .
“An important thing is continuity. And what I saw last year is the relationship between an excellent head coach and one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time,” Winston said. “One thing I know about Coach Payton is he enjoys challenges and he enjoys new beginnings. And I think he’s looking at this opportunity like, kind of how like I view it, as how, you know, when he got a young quarterback from San Diego, right? Like when he got Drew from the Chargers and they exploded together.”
Winston will have to earn the starting job in a competition with Taysom Hill, who served as Brees' primary backup last season and went 3-1 as a starter while Brees was out with rib and lung injuries.
“I embrace every competition and I know Taysom’s a competitive guy as well, and that’s where I’ll leave that," Winston said.
Winston and Hill are different types of quarterbacks. The stoutly built and versatile Hill has thrived as a read-option runner and also has played tight end and has been a special teams regular.
Winston has scrambling ability, but was known as more of a passer as Tampa Bay's starter during his first five NFL seasons out of Florida State.
“I admire Taysom,” Winston said. “Just his ability to do literally everything and ... how he handled all of his responsibilities like a pro.”
In 2019, Winston led the NFL with 5,109 yards passing and ranked second with 33 touchdown passes, but also obtained the dubious distinction of being the first NFL QB with at least 30 TDs and 30 interceptions in the same season.
The Saints have expressed confidence in their ability to help Winston cut down on risky throws.
“One of the greatest things I learned from Drew is we are making decisions based on it being the right decision,” Winston said. “We’re not concerned about the result, right? Because over time, the right decision is going to get us where we want to be and I bought into that.”
Winston entered the NFL with high expectations after winning the 2013 Heisman Trophy and being selected first overall by Tampa Bay in the 2015 NFL draft. But the Buccaneers allowed Winston to walk in free agency in 2020 after opting instead to sign Tom Brady.
Brady led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl triumph while Winston played sparingly in his first season in New Orleans.
Winston replaced Brees for one half in a victory over San Francisco — a game Brees started before leaving because of his chest injuries. While Winston did not throw a touchdown pass in that game, he led two scoring drives — one for a touchdown and one for a field goal — in a 27-13 victory.
In all, Winston played in four regular season games for New Orleans, completing 7 of 11 passes for 75 yards.
He also took the field for a trick play in an NFC divisional round playoff loss to Tampa Bay, completing a 56-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith to gave the Saints a 13-10 lead.
In his career, Winston has appeared in 76 regular season games with 70 starts, completing 61.4% of his passes for 19,812 yards and 121 touchdowns while also throwing 88 interceptions. He also has rushed for 1,040 yards and 10 touchdowns.
But the Bucs struggled to win with Winston, going 28-42 in games he started.
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Brett Martel, The Associated Press