Jameis Winston doesn’t take “privilege” of succeeding Drew Brees for granted
METAIRIE – Jameis Winston will begin his tenure as the New Orleans Saints starting quarterback Sunday afternoon.
It will be an historic time as he leads the team in pre-game warm-ups, summons his offensive teammates into the huddle for the first time and awaits the first snap of his new life.
This will be the first time since the last game of the 2005 season that someone other than Drew Brees has been the Saints quarterback of record.
Sure there have been periodic games, most notably four last season and five the season before that, when circumstances dictated that someone temporarily replace Brees in the starting lineup.
But Brees has been the Saints starting quarterback ever since Sean Payton became head coach and handed the keys to his offense to Brees to start the 2006 season. Brees went on to become most prolific passer in NFL history before retiring during the off-season.
And now Winston isn’t replacing him, but he is succeeding him – proudly and humbly accepting those same keys.
“It’s a privilege to be the quarterback here,” Winston said.
The second act of Winston’s NFL career is starting much differently than his first one did.
Winston, 27, will officially succeed Brees in the season opener against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in Jacksonville, Fla., some 200 miles northeast of where Winston’s first act began – in Tampa.
Winston arrived in Tampa under much different circumstances.
He had won the Heisman Trophy.
He had led Florida State to a national championship.
He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
He immediately became the Buccaneers starting quarterback and held that job for five seasons.
He was very productive, somewhat inconsistent, turnover prone and experienced the good and bad aspects of being the face of a franchise from the first day on the job.
Then everything changed less than two years ago.
The New England Patriots and Tom Brady parted ways, and the Buccaneers pounced on the opportunity. They released Winston and replaced him with the quarterback who has won the most Super Bowls.
Suddenly Winston was unemployed – and no one was eager to hire him to be their starting quarterback.
The Saints offered him a job – at a much lower salary as Brees’ backup last season. It was a one-year deal offering him little work last season and no promises beyond that.
“It was just the opportunity to learn underneath Drew to see how we do things and to have the opportunity for when the time came to compete to become a starter in our league,” head coach Sean Payton said Wednesday.
Brees retired in the off-season, the Saints re-signed Winston and Winston beat out Taysom Hill to be the starter.
“I have been through the thick and thin as a quarterback in this league,” Winston said. “I am never taking a day for granted again.”
This time, Winston earned the job that had been handed to him the last time.
This time, Winston has much to prove after entering the NFL as the most coveted new player last time.
This time the Saints rescued him, after he had been brought in to rescue the Bucs the last time.
Throughout training camp, Winston smiled as he talked about the second chance he has.
“I think about how grateful I am to be in the position that I am in now,” he said.
Winston has a different skill set than Brees, but there are similarities to their pre-New Orleans careers.
Both were high draft choices, though Brees was drafted later as the first pick in the second round by the San Diego Chargers.
Both quarterbacks played five seasons with their first teams.
Brees played in 59 games, starting 58; Winston played in 72 games, starting 70.
Brees completed 62.2 percent of his passes; Winston completed 61.3 percent.
Brees passed for 12,348 yards (209 per game); Winston passed for 19,737 (274 per game).
Brees threw 80 touchdown passes and 53 interceptions; Winston threw 121 touchdown passes and 88 interceptions.
Winston, who watched Payton, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, Brees and the Saints operate first-hand twice a season against the NFC South rival Bucs, now has a full season, off-season and second training camp within the program.
“These coaches are elite, so I’m letting them do their job and I’m just doing what they ask me to do and I know if I do that, I know that’s what number nine (Brees) did and look how he turned out,” Winston said.
He won’t be judged as much by how many passing yards and touchdowns he accumulates. He will be judged more by how high is completion percentage is, how few turnovers he has – and most importantly how well he helps the Saints maintain the degree of success they have enjoyed under Brees and Payton.
“We won the national championship, but man, is that it?” Winston said. “Oh, you won the Heisman. Is that it? It’s been almost 10 years ago. Like, how much have I grown? We’re on to bigger and better things. I’m trying to be the best man I can possibly be. I have two sons. I’ve got a lot of things I’ve got to represent, and I understand it’s bigger than me.
“I’m ready to take that next step, so I have to carry myself a different way. I’m not a 21-year-old kid anymore. I’m a grown man. This is big-man status.”
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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…