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Mar 11, 2020
Mike TriplettESPN Staff Writer
- Covered Saints for eight years at New Orleans Times-Picayune
- Previously covered LSU football, San Francisco 49ers
- Iowa native and University of Iowa graduate
METAIRIE, La. — So, how does a 29-year-old quarterback with 15 career pass attempts become one of the most fascinating names in free agency?
The 6-foot-2, 221-pounder is a modern-day tall tale — as much Paul Bunyan as he is Steve Young, Kordell Stewart or Jim Thorpe. So before we get to his outlook as a restricted free agent, let’s look back at where exactly he came from:
Weight loss weightloss weight loss programs weight loss foods weight loss tips Wait, we just found out about Hill; how is he turning 30 in August?
Hill got a late start to his college career at BYU, thanks to a two-year church mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Australia after he was named the 5-A All-Idaho Player of the Year at Pocatello’s Highland High School. He actually missed three football seasons since his mission started in the winter following his senior year. He was initially committed to play for coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford but switched to BYU in part so he could enroll in school earlier once his mission ended.
Hill then spent five years at BYU, including a medical-redshirt season. He had a total of four season-ending injuries (knee in 2012, broken leg in 2014, torn ligaments in his foot in 2015 and hyperextended elbow in 2016). Yet he still finished his career with 6,929 passing yards, 43 touchdown passes, 2,815 rushing yards and 32 rushing TDs, while earning the nickname “Thor-terback” from the Cougars’ coaching staff.
Hill was 26 when he signed with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted rookie in 2017, then turned 27 just before the Saints claimed him off waivers after final roster cuts.
Weight loss weightloss weight loss programs weight loss foods weight loss tips How did the Saints find out he could do, well, everything?
Coach Sean Payton became enamored with Hill while watching the Packers’ preseason film (he was actually looking at receiver Max McCaffrey and Hill kept catching his eye). Once Hill was in the building, his legend really grew in the weight room. Punter Thomas Morstead said when Hill would squat 500 pounds, he looked like he was just casually standing up out of a chair. His college coaches apparently told him he wasn’t allowed to squat more than 700.
Hill also has ridiculous speed — he reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds at his BYU pro day. So New Orleans’ coaches began to wonder how they could use such a unique athlete, and former special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff finally found a way on his coverage units. Hill immediately made an impact with four tackles as a rookie. Then in 2018, he added kickoff returns, two fake-punt conversions and a blocked punt to his arsenal.
Hill also started to turn into an offensive phenomenon during that 2018 season, when Payton started using him more each week as a read-option quarterback, running back, fullback, tight end and receiver. He reached his peak in the Saints’ playoff loss to Minnesota in January, when he completed a 50-yard pass, ran the ball four times for 50 yards, and caught two passes for 25 yards and a touchdown.
Including the playoffs, Hill has now completed 7 of 15 passes for 169 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception. He has run for 410 yards and three touchdowns. And he has caught 25 passes for 265 yards and eight TDs.
Weight loss weightloss weight loss programs weight loss foods weight loss tips Do the Saints view Hill as Drew Brees’ successor?
The short answer is yes. They could still draft a quarterback this year or next. And the market is suddenly flooded with experienced veterans who could be had for relatively cheap prices (Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota, etc.). But the Saints are genuinely intrigued by the idea of making Hill their full-time starter if Brees retires after this season — which is why they’re willing to let their other option, Teddy Bridgewater, leave as an unrestricted free agent.
I’m not going to make a lofty comparison to the way the Baltimore Ravens have retooled their offense around MVP Lamar Jackson. But it could be something similar to what the Buffalo Bills have done with Josh Allen.
If nothing else, it would be fascinating to see what happens if an innovative mind like Payton fully commits himself to designing his playbook around Hill. Although Hill’s passing experience is limited, we already saw huge growth from him between his 2018 preseason struggles and the 2019 preseason, when he completed 40 of 59 passes (67.8 percent) for 443 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception while running 18 times for 148 yards.
My biggest concern about Hill’s potential as a franchise quarterback is the possibility of injury — especially since doesn’t avoid tackles while almost relishing contact in the open field.
Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman debate whether Taysom Hill should take over as the Saints’ franchise QB and successor to Drew Brees in 2021.
But I don’t think Payton is being deceptive when he continues to profess his faith in Hill’s ability. Payton has been raving about Hill both publicly and privately since his rookie year. He didn’t back down from comparing Hill to Hall of Famer Steve Young last summer, in the sense that Young was also a terrific athlete who was a bit of a late bloomer in the NFL. And Payton has always loved the energy Hill brings to the team as much as anything else about his skill set.
If anything, Payton should probably edit himself since the Saints have to try to negotiate a contract with Hill.
Weight loss weightloss weight loss programs weight loss foods weight loss tips Is there any chance another team steals him away?
This seems unlikely, both because of the Saints’ feelings toward Hill and because they plan to tender him at the highest compensation level for restricted free agents. That means the Saints can match any offer he might sign with another team — or receive a first-round pick from the other team if they let him go.
The RFA tender levels have not yet been set. But it will probably cost between $4.5 million and $5 million for a first-round tender. Although an innovative team like the Ravens or New England Patriots might be able to find their own fun ways to use Hill’s versatility, it’s hard to imagine anyone giving up a first-round draft pick and a hefty contract unless they’re willing to make him a starter.
In the meantime, the Saints will try to sign Hill to a long-term extension over the next week to eliminate any competition from even entering the ring.
Weight loss weightloss weight loss programs weight loss foods weight loss tips Will the Saints keep risking Hill in his current role?
How can they not? Hill ranked third on the team with seven TD catches last year, including the playoffs. And he was arguably their best player on the field in the playoff loss. As valuable as he might be as a future quarterback, he’s every bit as valuable as a dynamic playmaker here and now.
The Saints will probably want to back off his special-teams snaps, though. And it will be important for them to sign another veteran quarterback they trust in case Brees gets injured. The Saints had to limit their usage of Hill last year when Brees missed five games with a thumb injury because Hill was their only backup behind Bridgewater during that stretch.
The last thing they want to do is keep Paul Bunyan encased in bubble wrap on the sideline.