Leading up to the start of NFL free agency, NESN.com will break down the New England Patriots’ top potential veteran quarterback options. Next up: New Orleans Saints free-agent QB Jameis Winston.
2021 status: unrestricted free agent
2020 stats: 7-of-11, 75 yards
Pros: One year after going completely unwanted in free agency and settling for a one-year, $1.1 million contract to be the New Orleans’ Saints third-string quarterback, Winston could find himself back as a starter in 2021. If quarterback Drew Brees indeed retires, and assuming New Orleans doesn’t make a splash addition at the position, then Winston is the odds-on favorite to start for the Saints this upcoming season. New Orleans does first have to sign him, however.
And until that happens, he is a candidate for other open jobs. After being drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015, Winston was a pretty decent starting quarterback.
From 2015 to 2020, Winston ranks:
- 13th in EPA + CPOE composite (expected points added plus completion percentage over expected)
- 14th in EPA per play
- Ninth in success rate
- 11th in CPOE
- First in air yards
That’s out of the 32 quarterbacks with at least 1,724 plays in that span.
Winston has a big arm, has proven he can be accurate despite making difficult throws and still is only 27 years old. Out of young quarterbacks with potential to improve in a new system, Winston ranks right up there and potentially even higher than other options like Marcus Mariota and Sam Darnold.
The Saints are on Russell Wilson’s list of potential trade destinations if the Seattle Seahawks choose to move him. If the Saints did figure out how to trade for Wilson, that would make Winston available to be signed. The Patriots wouldn’t need to give up a draft pick for Winston, and it’s unlikely that he’ll garner top free-agent money. Signing Winston for cheap would allow New England to put better pass-catching weapons around him with their over $60 million in cap space.
Cons: There’s a reason why there was little interest in Winston as a starter in 2020, though we would advocate for him to get another opportunity. Winston was suspended three games to start the 2018 season for an incident in 2016 when he was accused of groping a female Uber driver. After returning from the three-game ban, Winston was later benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick and shared starting duties with the veteran QB throughout the season.
Winston became the first quarterback to throw 30 interceptions since 1980 in his next season when he also became the first QB to throw over 30 touchdowns (he finished with 33) and 30 interceptions in a single season. He went 380-of-626 for 5,109 passing yards with seven pick-sixes in that 2019 season.
Winston still ranked surprisingly high in advanced metrics between 2018 and 2019 (out of 32 QBs):
- 10th in EPA + CPOE
- 10th in EPA per play
- Eighth in success rate
- 13th in CPOE
- First in air yards
Despite the fact that Winston has been fairly accurate over his career, he does need to make better decisions. He’s never thrown fewer than 11 interceptions or had an interception rate lower than 2.5 percent as a starter. Tom Brady only had an interception rate higher than 2.5 percent three times with the Patriots (2001, 2004 and 2005). That’s an issue Winston would need to fix in New England.
It’s unlikely that Winston will sign another one-year deal worth only $1.1 million this offseason, but he’s still a potential buy-low candidate compared to other QBs who have not been as efficient over the last six seasons.
Patriots’ chances: low