Saints coach Sean Payton would not divulge who his primary backup quarterback would be for today's game with the Chiefs, but although sources said veteran Jameis Winston would enter the game to replace Drew Brees if need be, with Taysom Hill remaining in his jack-of-all-trades role, things have changed. The Saints announced Winston has been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Hill has quarterbacked the Saints the last four games, going 3-1 while Brees recovered from multiple cracked ribs, but before Winston was placed on the COVID list, Hill was to return to his role as a running back/receiver/special teams ace and Wildcat quarterback, sources said, with Winston in line to replace Brees should he get hurt. The Saints prefer, for in-game changes, to insert Winston into the traditional quarterback role to allow Hill to continue aiding the offense and special teams in the multi-faceted manner in which coach Sean Payton prefers. Of course, now that has all changed.
Sources said that Hill would likely feature heavily in the game plan even with Brees now fully cleared from his injuries and feeling no discomfort and experiencing no limitations from the rib and lung problems that forced him out of action last month, but with Winston out, Hill would likely have to be in the backup role.
Winston has continued to impress the staff with his work ethic and ability, and though he has played sparingly since signing a one-year, $1M deal in the offseason, he is someone who could have a future in New Orleans beyond this season with Brees expected to retire in 2021. The Saints signed Hill to a multi-year extension in the offseason and view him as a part of their quarterbacking situation moving forward.
Having all three quarterbacks active would've given Payton great flexibility in how he calls the game and he could've remained multiple with a full playbook at his disposal. There are no concerns about Brees being vulnerable to re-injury, and the issues he was having throwing the ball regularly late last week had dissipated over last weekend, sources said. The future Hall of Famer notified the coaches on Monday that he was feeling great and ready to resume practice, the medical team fully cleared him to do so and there were no issues through the work week.
Brees, 41, has been remarkably durable for his career before a thumb injury caused him to miss about six weeks last season. He will not have his top receiver, Michael Thomas, for this game against the Chiefs, which could be a Super Bowl preview of sorts, but sources said the team was erring on the side of caution to prevent any aggravation to an ankle issue the All Pro has been dealing with. If this was a playoff game, Thomas would likely play but the Saints are hopeful of navigating the situation to have him as close to 100 percent as possible for the postseason, opting to put him on injured reserve Saturday to allow him to return for their playoff opener.
The Saints are in contention for the top seed in the NFC and had not lost in two months prior to a setback against the Eagles last week.