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Coach Sean Payton says quarterback is not a 'must' for New Orleans Saints in upcoming draft

'We feel like we've got real good players in the building'

Whether or not a quarterback is among the New Orleans Saints draft picks in this year's draft, it won't be because the team is picking from a position of need, Coach Sean Payton said Tuesday, after competing in the four-hole celebrity shootout, one of the lead-up events to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana.

Payton was asked about the Saints' quarterback position, which will feature a competition entering training camp for the first time since, likely, 1999. From 2006-20, Drew Brees handled the duty. This year, with Brees having retired, Payton said Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill will compete to start.

"We're mindful of our depth at each position," Payton said. "We're currently in our final (draft) board readings on the defensive side of the ball.

"I think relative to that position (QB), it still stays the same in traits that we're looking for. (But) I don't think it's a 'must' position. We feel like we've got real good players in the building."

Cornerback, however, is a position that the Saints will be mindful of. Jackrabbit Jenkins was released during the offseason, leaving the team without one of its 2020 starters.

"Corner is an area that we have to address here between now and the start of the season, and I think we'll be able to find that," Payton said. "But we lost some good players that we knew we might have to, to get our numbers below (the salary cap). I think that's part of operating in the salary cap era."

But for the immediate Saints future, the most prominent question is who will be the team's first starting quarterback in the post-Brees era.

Hill started four games for the injured Brees last season and helped the team to three victories. Winston, an unrestricted free agent the last two years, re-signed with New Orleans after having an intimate look at the Saints' operation.

"I feel like we've got two real good candidates under contract, and we feel strongly about those guys," Payton said.

Hill has four years in the Saints' system, and Winston's knowledge is much further along because of his year in New Orleans. The team didn't have an in-person offseason program last year due to Covid-19 restrictions, so Winston didn't have OTAs and minicamps with which he could use to acclimate.

"I think that year was important for him, but I also think it was important for him to see our program, so both sides benefited from that year," Payton said of Winston. "He came in and picked things up, he's someone that picks it up quickly. And Taysom has been with us for awhile now. Both those guys, you don't have to worry about their approach and how they work."

Saints players announced they would forgo voluntary workouts this year, too, as a safety measure. But Payton didn't expect that to be a major hindrance.

"There's a little bit of flexibility," he said. " We're in constant communication with our team.

"There are some things that are important as we ultimately get ready for training camp, and that's our vaccination rate – we're doing really well in the building, we're close to 99 percent in football operations. So we're really down to two or three people, and that's it. Everyone else has been vaccinated. Our state's done a great job.

"We're kind of at that stage now where everyone's got that opportunity and we're obviously encouraging that, our players are in the midst of going through that. We've sent our information relative to that.

"But a year ago, these guys trained extremely well at home. I know that Jameis and Taysom, both those guys are going to be guys that work hard at it. If this shifts in a way where there are some guys coming in, some guys not, we're not going to worry about that. We'll focus on the training camp, but (also) the players that are in the building now rehabbing and getting ready for training camp. That's really where our attention is drawn."

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