Agent’s Take: Saints hoping Taysom Hill can be long-term replacement for Drew Brees after latest extension


Taysom Hill couldn’t win a preseason competition with Jameis Winston to be the Saints starting quarterback. After Winston beat Hill out, he resumed the jack-of-all-trades role he has played for most of his career, where he lines up at running back, wide receiver and tight end as well as taking snaps under center in wildcat formations. Additionally, Hill has been a special teams standout.

Hill is still a winner, though. He is winning financially.

The Saints surprised the NFL world last week by signing Hill to a four-year, $40 million contract extension with $21.5 million in guarantees. The deal is worth as much as $94 million through base salary escalators and incentives contingent on Hill being a highly productive starting quarterback. The $54 million of new performance bonuses consist of $18 million in incentives and $36 million in salary escalators.

Unlike most contract extensions, Hill’s doesn’t include any new money this year. Hill is still making $12.159 million in 2021, but his $10.1 million in 2022 was fully guaranteed at signing. His $9.9 million 2023 base salary, which is guaranteed for injury, becomes completely secure next March 18 on the third day of the 2022 league year. $1.5 million of Hill’s $10 million 2024 base salary is also guaranteed for injury. It will be fully guaranteed on the third of the 2024 league year. His $10 million 2025 base salary is unsecured.

Hill’s new contract extension isn’t the first time the Saints have a made a curious financial decision with him. As a restricted free agent in 2020, the undrafted Hill was given a first-round tender for $4.641 million when a second-round tender at $3.259 million probably would have been sufficient to prevent any other team from signing him to an offer sheet. Hill was the only 2020 RFA to receive a first-round tender despite only attempting 13 passes in his three NFL seasons.

A second-round RFA tender effectively kills interest from other teams. Had another team been willing to extend an offer sheet to Hill with this lower tender, the prudent thing for the Saints to do would have been declining to exercise their matching rights and taking a second-round pick as compensation for his signing. During Hill’s first three NFL seasons, he gained 352 yards on the ground and scored three touchdowns in 64 rushing attempts. He also caught 22 passes for 238 yards with six touchdowns.

The Saints doubled down on Hill financially shortly after his exclusive negotiating rights reverted back to them because he didn’t generate any interest during the RFA signing period. He was given a two-year, $21 million contract (worth up to $22 million through incentives) with $16 million fully guaranteed. In essence, the Saints valued the one unrestricted free agent year Hill gave up at $16.359 million because of the $4.641 million RFA tender’s existence. It was an exorbitant amount for someone who hadn’t been on the field for more than 23% of the Saints’ offensive plays in any season and had never taken any meaningful snaps at quarterback up to that point in his professional career.

Hill started four games at quarterback during the 2020 regular season because of Drew Brees’ broken ribs and collapsed lung. In the four starts, Hill completed 71.9% of passes for 834 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions to post a 96.9 passer rating. He rushed for 209 yards while scoring four touchdowns on 39 carries. The Saints had a 3-1 record with Hill as a starter.

It’s highly unlikely Hill would have generated a lot interest at quarterback as an unrestricted free agent this past March, especially with the salary cap decreasing from $198.2 million in 2020 to its current $182.5 million level. The jury was still out on Hill being a full-time starting quarterback because of his decision-making on passing plays and issues with ball security.

The Saints would have been justified in putting Hill and Winston on equal financial footing to replace a retiring Brees at quarterback. Winston signed a fully guaranteed one-year, $5.5 million deal worth up to $12 million with incentives in March. The Saints wouldn’t have had to worry about both players earning the incentive package since backup quarterbacks typically only play when the starter is injured or extremely ineffective.

The Saints could have saved a lot of money by letting Hill play in 2020 on the more appropriate $3.259 million second-round RFA tender and re-signing him after the season. Instead of Hill making $21 million over the two years, the Saints could have had him for $8.759 million if he were currently playing under the same deal as Winston before factoring any incentives he could earn this season. There’s a $12.241 million difference between what Hill is actually making over these two years and what the Saints probably could have paid him. 

The Saints have been starting journeyman Trevor Siemian at quarterback ever since Winston suffered a season-ending knee injury during a Week 8 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. Interestingly, the Saints chose Siemian over Hill for quarterback when he returned to action in Week 9 from the concussion he suffered in Week 5 against the Washington Football Team. Siemian is playing this season under a one-year contract at his $990,000 league minimum salary. The Saints have lost all four games that Siemian has started.

It appears Hill is in line to start over Siemian in Thursday night’s game with the Cowboys unless the foot injury that kept him out of the last two games prevents him from playing. Presumably, Hill would have six games to convince the Saints he should enter the 2022 season as their quarterback. Leading the Saints to the playoffs, which would be the team’s fifth straight appearance, would help in that regard.

The only way for the Saints to get tremendous value from the new contract extension is for Hill to be the long-term replacement for Brees. $10 million per year is the current going rate for a bridge quarterback. Andy Dalton and Ryan Fitzpatrick signed one-year, $10 million contracts to be stopgap or short-term quarterback solutions for the Bears and Washington Football Team. Incentives make Fitzpatrick and Dalton’s deals worth as much as $12 million and $13 million respectively. The base value of Hill contract is the equivalent of him being a bridge quarterback for multiple seasons. 

The deal will prove to be a bargain for the Saints should Hill play well enough to earn all of the performance bonuses (salary escalators and incentives) for the entire $94 million, which is going to be virtually impossible. This would mean Hill is consistently the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year or league MVP by completing 65% or more of his passes, throwing for at least 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns each season while having a passer rating of 90 or above.

Hill would also continually reach 600 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns as the starting quarterback. The Saints would constantly win a minimum of 13 regular season games each season with a top 10 offense in points and total yards en route to the Super Bowl trophy. These statistics and achievements are salary escalator and incentive thresholds in Hill’s contract.

Hill doing this just for one season would make him a better version of Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who signed a six-year, $258 million extension averaging $43 million per year during training camp. If so, the Saints would have no qualms about remedying what would be a gross salary inequity by making Hill one of the NFL’s highest-paid players.

Hill wouldn’t come close to maxing out the contract by consistently performing like he did in his four 2020 quarterback starts over multiple seasons where the Saints reached the playoffs. If Hill fared how he did in 2020 during an entire season, he probably wouldn’t earn a Pro Bowl selection either.

Most likely, Hill would earn $2 million of the incentives annually for total of $8 million and $3.375 million of the salary escalators each for the 2023 through 2025 seasons worth $10.125 million. Thus, Hill would earn $58.125 million if he completed his deal because of $18.125 million in performance bonuses, which is the equivalent of $14,531,250 per year. This kind of production would also make Hill dramatically underpaid considering starting quarterbacks on veteran contracts in 2020 had a $26,882,455 average yearly salary, according to NFLPA data.

Hill would be hard pressed to sign a contract averaging $10 million per year, whether as a quarterback or jack-of-all-trades contributor, in 2022 free agency based on what he has shown so far this season. Teams wouldn’t have been clamoring to make him a bridge quarterback after losing a competition with Winston to start. Jacoby Brissett’s $5 million for one year with an additional $2.5 million in incentives from the Dolphins was the best pure backup quarterback deal in free agency this year.

There aren’t any other NFL players with Hill’s versatility. Cordarrelle Patterson is excelling this season as a running back, wide receiver and kick returner with the Falcons. He leads the Falcons in rushing yards (411) and is second in receptions (41) and receiving yards (500). Patterson is fifth in the NFL with 1,238 all-purpose yards (combined rushing, receiving and return yards). He is playing under the one-year deal worth $3 million he signed with the Falcons in April as a free agent after rushing for 232 yards and catching 21 passes for the Bears last season. Patterson also earned first team All-Pro honors as a kick returner in 2020. 

Hill could be best classified as a tight end or slot wide receiver when he isn’t playing quarterback, according to Pro Football Focus’ tracking of where he has lined up on offense since 2018. As a tight end, Hill is currently the NFL’s eighth-highest paid at the position with $10 million per year.

Logan Thomas, who started his NFL career as a quarterback, signed a two-year, $6 million contract with the Washington Football Team in 2020 free agency for a chance to compete for the starting tight end job. Only after solidifying himself as the starter with 72 receptions, 670 receiving yards and six touchdown catches in 2020 did Thomas sign a three-year, $24.065 million extension ($8,021,667 per year) at the start of training camp.

The extension makes Hill one of the NFL’s better-paid slot wide receivers. It’s in the same neighborhood as Tyler Boyd and Sterling Shepard’s contracts. Shepard and Boyd signed four-year extensions averaging $10.25 million and $10.75 million per year with the Giants and Bengals, respectively, in 2019. Boyd had back-to-back 1,000-receiving-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019.

Hill’s extension averages significantly more than the deal Cole Beasley received from the Bills during 2019 free agency. Beasley signed a four-year, $29 million contract averaging $7.25 million per year. In 2020, Beasley was one of the NFL’s most productive slot wide receivers with 82 catches for 967 yards. For his entire career, Hill has 34 catches for 388 yards with seven touchdowns.

It’s also hard to reconcile that the Saints are paying Hill more than linebacker Demario Davis if he isn’t playing quarterback. Davis signed a three-year, $27 million extension averaging $9 million per year in 2020 when he was 31, which is the same age Hill is now. Davis was coming off a 2019 season where he was named first-team All-Pro when he signed and earned second team All-Pro honors in 2020.

It would have been interesting to see how other teams viewed Hill on the open market. We’ll never know because of the extension. I suspect Hill’s value is much greater to the Saints than anybody else. One thing that seems clear is Hill’s contracts are better than his actual on-field performance.



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