Jameis Winston “all in” on new role as Saints backup QB

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Jameis Winston, Derek Carr
(Photo: Stephen Lew)

METAIRIE – Demario Davis says “adversity can be the best thing to happen to a person.”

Jameis Winston hopes to prove him right.

The New Orleans Saints teammates spoke separately to reporters earlier this week and their conversations intersected inadvertently yet poignantly. Davis’ perspective on life and football seemed especially pertinent when Winston spoke a little more than an hour after he did.

Davis, the elder statesman linebacker who perennially is the team’s leading tackler, followed head coach Dennis Allen to the banner inside the team’s indoor practice facility to speak after his first appearance at OTAs.

“In adversity, that’s where you can see yourself the clearest,” Davis said. “Adversity can be the best thing because it gives you a proper perspective on life.”

Davis drew a large crowd of reporters, attracting the type of attention that has been routine for Winston throughout his eight-year career as an NFL quarterback.

But when the open locker room period was winding down later in the afternoon, Winston inconspicuously arrived at his locker and an unexpected question-and-answer session ensued.

It was impossible to forget Davis’ words about adversity offering “a proper perspective on life” while listening to Winston, whose career has been turned upside down by the adversity he has faced for the last three years.

“This game is bigger than you,” Winston said, “so humility and understanding where you’re at in terms of the present moment and being able to fulfill and be all in where your feet are at the moment is very important instead of worrying about your past or worrying about your future, focusing on where you’re at right now and taking advantage of that moment.”

If he chose to let his mind wander, Winston has a lot to look back on and perhaps a lot still to look forward to in his NFL career.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Winston the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2015. During the next five seasons Winston played in all but eight games, starting all but two of the games in which he played.

As a Buc he passed for nearly 20,000 yards and more than 100 touchdowns, but when Tampa had a chance to sign Tom Brady after the 2019 season it jumped at the opportunity and unceremoniously let Winston go.

Winston signed with the Saints to back up Drew Brees in hopes of eventually succeeding him as the starter. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 75 yards and Brees’ career ended in a divisional playoff loss to Winston’s former team.

The following summer Winston did indeed become Brees’ successor after a training-camp battle with Taysom Hill. Winston won four of his first six games as the starter and the Saints were on their way to a fifth victory when Winston suffered a season-ending knee injury – again against his former team

Winston worked his way back from knee surgery to start the opener at Atlanta last season despite a foot injury suffered in the preseason. He rallied the Saints in the fourth quarter to a 27-26 victory, playing through a back injury.

That injury limited his effectiveness in consecutive losses to Tampa (again) and Carolina before Allen turned to a healthy Andy Dalton. Winston was inactive for Dalton’s first two starts and didn’t play again despite being active for the final 12 games.

During that stretch Winston said that losing his job because of injury and not regaining it once healthy enough to play “hurt my soul.”

After missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season since Brees’ retirement, the Saints signed free-agent quarterback Derek Carr to a four-year, $150 million contract with $100 million guaranteed.

That made Carr the starting quarterback and the termination of the final year of Winston’s contract was a tempting option for the Saints. But the organization and the quarterback agreed to a restructured one-year deal for Winston to back up Carr.

“The best dependability is availability,” Winston said, “and my last three years I have been banged up.”

He added that he understood that in light of his absence the last two seasons, the Saints “have to continue to move forward.”

“I trust this organization,” Winston said.

If Carr hadn’t come along, Winston’s health would have been one of the biggest storylines of the offseason. Instead it’s an afterthought.

“I’m getting healthy,” Winston said. “I feel good. I’m still working. It’s going to be a process.”

Winston didn’t want to get into details about the status of specific injuries, but did say
“overcompensation opens up other stuff,” meaning favoring injured areas created new issues.

He said his focus is on getting “holistically healthy so I can be at my best when the opportunity presents itself.”

That opportunity, barring an injury to Carr – who missed just four of a possible 146 games in nine seasons with the Raiders – likely won’t present itself until Winston presumably tests free agency after the upcoming season.

“I still believe I’m a starting quarterback in this league,” Winston said. “There are some Hall of Famers that got their big break at 30. I’m still young. I’m 29. Right now my role is to serve this team in the role that I’m in. And I’m all in to doing that.”

Winston said that role “is to serve Derek and be the best teammate I can be.”

“I believe in this team,” he continued. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to still wear a Saints uniform and to be in the NFL in general.

“Everyone has different journeys in this league. This is where I’m at. This isn’t where I visualize being in the near future.”

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Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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