Winston and Taysom Hill engaged in a quarterback battle through training camp and the preseason. In the two preseason games, Winston completed 16 of 22 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception, while Hill completed 19 of 32 for 219 yards and a touchdown, with an interception. New Orleans' third preseason game was canceled due to Hurricane Ida.
"Jameis is going to be our starter," Payton said Tuesday. "He's done a great job, he's earned that.
"Both he and Taysom competed their tails off. It's always difficult when you don't have the full offseason that you're looking for or the full preseason, but we feel real good about that room. We've got four players that are going to be a part of that room. I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate how those guys have handled it.
"It's challenging. It's hard in our league when you have a competition like that because it's not the norm. You're really wanting to go through that process and give these guys as much of the opportunities and the reps that they need, and it's not always perfect."
Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in 2015, started five seasons in Tampa Bay before joining the Saints as an unrestricted free agent in 2020. He has passed for 19,812 yards and 121 touchdowns, with 88 interceptions, but threw just 11 regular-season passes last season for the Saints as he backed up Drew Brees and Hill.
"The No. 1 thing is leading your offense and moving the ball and scoring points," Payton said of the traits that stood out for Winston. "We feel like he's got the unique skill set with his arm talent where he can get the ball down the field. He's done a really good job of working through some of the progressions.
"A lot of that falls on us now, because one of the challenges is they're two entirely different players. So going into games with two different kind of mind-sets, relative to how do you help each one play well. So we'll look closely at the things that we feel like Jameis does really well, and then very closely at the things that how we want to utilize Taysom and positions we want to play them.
"I know this was asked a lot and I understand the question relative to, well, if Taysom is your quarterback, you're going to lose all the other things he can do. Yeah, that's true. And yet, we couldn't make the decision just based on that because if Taysom were to become that quarterback and continue to improve – and I do think he's going to be in that room working at that position – but we just wanted to look at it completely from an open-eye standpoint and just trust our gut with it.
Check out photos from New Orleans Saints' practice at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on August 31 as they prepare for Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers.
"Those guys handled it well, and I think our team's handled it well. For something as significant as that, it's kind of taken more of a backseat a little bit with everything else that's gone on. But they're both real good football players and we're going to need both of them this year."
Payton said that Hill still will play a vital role for the Saints this season.
"It's always challenging, disappointing and yet, I feel like I've got a real good dialogue with him," he said of his talk with Hill. "He's been here long enough with us now.
"The very first thing any player wants to know is, 'What's your vision for me? What do you see?' And I also think they want honesty in your evaluation, they want honesty in the vision. And so, I've got a very clear vision relative to how he's going to help us this year, no different than the vision we have with Jameis. Those two are both going to be extremely important if we're to play well and win games this year."