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There may not be much for Jameis Winston to do as the Saints’ No. 2

Prior to 2019, Drew Brees went 15 years without playing at least 15 games in the regular season. And Winston’s backup history isn’t good.
Bucs quarterbacks Jameis Winston (3) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) interact before a game against Washington in 2018 at Raymond James Stadium.
Bucs quarterbacks Jameis Winston (3) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) interact before a game against Washington in 2018 at Raymond James Stadium. [ Times (2018) ]
Published Apr. 27, 2020

TAMPA — Jameis Winston is not a living-vicariously kind of quarterback. He has a front-and-under-center type of personality.

Not that he had a better option, but it’s worth examining Winston’s plan to sign a one-year contract with the Saints to back up Drew Brees.

It’s fair to question whether his decision-making will improve by constantly drilling down on these important matters: do I wear a hat or a helmet on the sideline? If it’s a hat, forward or backward? How often do I go for a cup of Gatorade?

There’s no doubt Winston will benefit by watching and learning from Brees both on and off the football field. He also will be coached hard and well by Sean Payton.

Related: Jameis Winston to Saints: A step back hoping to push career forward

Then again, Bruce Arians knew something about coaching quarterbacks, too. Just ask Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck or Carson Palmer.

But in New Orleans, Winston will get a bird’s-eye view of how a pro’s pro at quarterback goes about his business. He’ll learn how Brees protects the football and — most importantly — wins games. If the Saints lose, it’s rarely because of Brees.

At best, Winston is hoping to become Teddy Bridgewater, who went 5-0 as a starter when Brees was out with a thumb injury last season and parlayed that into a three-year, $62 million contract with the Panthers.

But what nobody is saying is that Winston also could be Luke McCown, who backed up Brees, attempted one pass from 2013-14 and started the final regular-season game in 2015 after the Saints had locked up their NFC playoff seed.

Prior to last season, when he missed five games after tearing a ligament in his thumb, Brees had played at least 15 regular-season games for 15 straight years.

Related: Bucs have Brady, Saints have Winston, and we all have a nervous tic

The truth is, not everybody can play second fiddle.

You remember way back to 2018?

Winston was suspended the first three games of the season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

When he arrived at training camp, coach Dirk Koetter immediately announced that the Bucs would prepare Ryan Fitzpatrick to start the first three games of the season. Winston, he said, would have to lead from behind.

Fitzpatrick got virtually all the first-team reps in training camp with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries.

Winston spent most of his practice time throwing to Justin Watson and Freddie Martino.

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Fitzpatrick passed for 400 yards and at least three touchdowns in his first three starts that season, beating the Saints in New Orleans and the defending Super Bowl-champion Eagles at home before losing the next week at Raymond James Stadium to the Steelers.

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Winston’s first appearance that season came after the bye week, when he played some mop-up duty in a 48-10 loss to the Bears in Chicago. He went 16-of-20 for 145 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

Winston started the next three games but felt he had to put up Fitzpatrick-like passing numbers and was benched again after throwing four interceptions in a 37-34 loss at Cincinnati.

It’s important to understand the job of a backup quarterback in the NFL.

Related: Inside the Bucs’ trade with the 49ers to select Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs

Once the regular season starts, the No. 2 quarterback will take virtually no reps during the week in practice. He may get to operate the look squad for the defense. But in that instance, Winston wouldn’t be running the Saints offense, but that of the opponent.

Even then, the Saints may opt to have Taysom Hill take some of those reps.

One way to combat that inactivity is to take extra reps after practice. Winston has always done this, even as a starter. His work ethic and devotion to his craft has never been questioned.

If he runs out of receivers, he’ll find an assistant coach or ball boy to throw to.

But as the No. 2 quarterback, you must be ready to go in the game cold, play fast and make plays.

Playing fast — too fast ― is what has gotten Winston in trouble at times.

Related: The driving force behind Bucs first-round pick Tristan Wirfs

He has been anything but risk-averse.

Winston knows the flaws to his game. He must eliminate turnovers.

Koetter sat Winston down prior to the 2017 season to discuss his carelessness with the football.

“Maybe we’ve got to cut our risk a little bit," Koetter said in a meeting captured on film by HBO’s Hard Knocks. “Your M.O. in your career, you’ve always been a risk taker, even if it got you in trouble early in a game. Either you’ve been good enough, or your team has been good enough, to bail you out of it.

“Now we have a good team, by far the best team since you’ve been in the NFL. And you are a guy that’s able to win a game. But ... we don’t need you to lose a game for us. You’re the only guy that can really lose a game for us, because no one touches the ball enough. So, there’s a fine line there.”

But there’s a thick line between starter and backup. It’s a different job and a different type of pressure.

Like fishing, it’s hours of boredom punctuated by complete insanity.

And sometimes, you never get a bite.