Indianapolis – Quarterback Jameis Winston remains on the New Orleans Saints' radar as the possible starter in 2022, after helping the Saints to a 5-2 record before tearing his left ACL against Tampa Bay on Halloween.
Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis said Thursday the team will address the position with a sense of urgency this offseason, and that the soon-to-be free agent figures into the equation.
"Hopefully we can get something done with one of the guys that's available," Loomis said from the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, "and Jameis is certainly an option for us and hopefully we're an option for him, as well. We'll go through the process here and see what happens."
Winston was one of four quarterbacks – including Trevor Siemian,Taysom Hill and rookie Ian Book – to start games for New Orleans during the '21 season. Winston was named the starter after a training camp competition with Hill, and completed 95 of 161 passes for 1,170 yards and 14 touchdowns, with three interceptions. He also ran 32 times for 166 yards and a touchdown, and his interception percentage (1.9) was his lowest in a season as a starter.
Currently, only Hill and Book are under contract. Hill has started nine games for the Saints over the last two years, and has helped the team to a 7-2 record in them.
Targeting a quarterback in the draft is a difficult because of where New Orleans is selecting.
"When you're picking in the latter half of the draft you just don't know what's going to fall to you, No. 1, so it's hard to target someone," Loomis said. "Even if you decide you want to make a move forward, you're limited in that – moving from where we're at, at No. 18, into the top eight or 10 picks is really difficult, it's expensive in terms of the draft capital that you have to give up. It can happen, it's not impossible. But it's pretty difficult to predict."
Loomis also said that the receiver position also will require some attention, even with Michael Thomas, the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2019, on track to return after ankle surgery that kept him off the field last year.
"We're expecting to have Mike back," Loomis said. "His progress hopefully is going well, and the reports are that it's been going well. I know he is certainly motivated; Michael is always motivated, so that's not an issue. But Tre'Quan (Smith) is a free agent, and Deonte Harris is an RFA (restricted free agent), so we've got some work to do to complete that room."
In free agency, Loomis said New Orleans is unlikely to be a Day 1 or 2 shopper.
"Our philosophy is going to be, we're looking for value in free agency," he said. "We're going to be looking for a value player or two in that middle-market, low-market range."
As for the upcoming draft, which will be held April 28-30 in Paradise, Nev., Loomis said the Saints still are evaluating prospects and determining the strengths of the class.
"I think that there's, based on what we've seen so far, I think there's a really strong group of receivers and defensive backs," he said. "And there's a couple of other positions, but we're still gathering that information."
Gathering portions of the information in Indianapolis puts NFL teams back in familiar territory, after the Combine was canceled last year due to Covid-19 concerns.
"The last two years have been pretty unusual for the evaluation process for our league," Loomis said. "So it's good to be back into a circumstance that feels a lot more normal than it has been the last two years. It's a real good information-gathering circumstance for us.
"Our college scouts were able to get on campuses this year, they were able to do much more of a normal process than they were the year before. So I feel good about where we're at. This has been a valuable event for not just the Saints, but for our entire league."
THE WELCOME MATT: Matt Rhea joined the franchise as the new director of sports science and head of the strength and conditioning program. "I think we're just advancing in terms of the technology and the techniques and the things that he's going to apply and hopefully help us with," Loomis said. "Not just the injury factor, although that's important, but in terms of just the performance of our athletes." Rhea was football director of sports science at Alabama in 2020-21.
TWO MORE: Loomis said two more coaches will be added to Dennis Allen's staff in the near future – senior offensive assistant and defensive quality control.