Jameis Winston’s No. 2 jersey matches his position on the depth chart. For now, he’s cool with that.
Eventually though, the goal of the New Orleans Saints' backup quarterback is to show he’s good enough to once again have one of those precious 32 starting NFL quarterback jobs.
Truth be told, he is already good enough to have one.
Heck, you can make a strong argument that Winston is one of the top two quarterbacks in the NFC South. (We don’t know how good Carolina No. 1 draft pick Bryce Young will be, but a healthy Winston very well could win a training camp battle in Atlanta over Desmond Ridder or one in his old stomping grounds of Tampa Bay against Baker Mayfield.)
But Winston isn’t concerned with that right now. His focus is on his backup role with the Saints, playing behind newly signed Derek Carr.
”The preparation stays the same,” Winston said Tuesday after practice at organized team activities. “I’m still preparing for whenever my opportunity does present itself because I still believe I’m a starting quarterback in this league. But right now, my role is to serve Derek and be the best teammate I can with my role on this team.”
Count me among the ones who thought we would never see Winston in a Saints’ uniform again after last season when injuries got the best of him for a second straight year. In fact, I had a column pre-written three months ago about Winston signing with some other team. The Saints had just signed Carr to a four-year, $150 million deal, a clear sign that Winston wasn’t in their plans as a starter.
Here's what I had written, as I assumed Winston would leave New Orleans:
Plain and simple, it was the right decision.
Winston knows his worth and is choosing to bet on himself. I don't blame him one bit.
Winston didn’t get to finish the comeback story he was hoping to write in New Orleans.
What was supposed to be a resurrection story instead turned into just a few pages of “what ifs."
”What if Winston hadn’t torn up his knee after a horse-collar tackle by Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ linebacker Devin White on that Halloween afternoon in the Dome in 2021?"
"What if Dennis Allen had given Winston the starting job back from Andy Dalton after Winston returned from a back-and-foot injury that sidelined him after the third games of the 2022 season?”
Well, none of that came to fruition and that column never made its way to print.
It's unclear just how many teams came calling for Winston’s services. What is clear is that Winston is back with the Saints for his fourth season. Why was it the right move for him?
“It’s just very familiar,” Winston said. “I trust this organization. I believe in this team.”
He also believes in himself. He’s learned a lot since arriving in New Orleans in 2020 after spending the first five up-and-down seasons of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“One thing that continues to show up is that this game is bigger than you,” Winston said. “Humility and understanding where you’re at in terms of the present moment. Being able to fulfill and be all in on where your feet are at the moment is very important. Instead of worrying about your past or worrying about your future, focusing where you’re at right now and focusing on that moment.”
He'll go into training camp in July knowing he’s Carr’s backup, just like he knew he was Drew Brees’ backup four years ago.
Winston threw for 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions in his first season as the Saints’ starter before the knee injury ended that season. Last season wasn’t nearly as promising. He threw four touchdowns and five interceptions in his three starts in 2022 before his injuries gave way to Dalton.
He still can throw one of the most beautiful passes you’ll ever see, like he did in Tuesday’s practice on a perfect strike downfield to undrafted rookie Malik Flowers.
Winston just turned 29 in January and says he still has plenty of good football left in him.
“There are some Hall of Famers that made their big break at 30,” Winston said. “I’m still young. But right now my role is to serve this team in the role that I’m in. And I’m all in to do that. I’m grateful for the opportunity to still wear a Saints' uniform and to be in the NFL in general.”
He's grateful even in a backup role. He doesn’t take any of this for granted.
“It’s the NFL,” Winston said. “They say (it stands for) Not For Long. You can be in and out of this league. I’m happy and grateful. I know we have the best quarterback room in the NFL, by far.”
Few NFL teams have the luxury of having two quarterbacks who have started at least 80 games. If something were to happen to Carr, having Winston as your Plan B isn’t too shabby of an insurance plan. Eventually, though, Winston wants to be someone’s Plan A.
“It’s challenging to be an NFL quarterback,” he said. “When you have an opportunity to be a starting NFL quarterback, you want to make the most of it. I’ve just had some unfortunate injuries over the past three years, so this is where I’m at. But this isn’t where I visualize being in the near future. Where I’m at right now is focusing on getting healthy and focusing on taking advantage of this opportunity that I have to serve Derek and this team and this organization the best that I can.”