Winston, who was the first pick in the 2015 draft, hasn’t had a full season as a starter since his last season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019. He hasn’t given up on that idea, despite playing only 10 games in the past two years due to injuries, but he said he knows it’s something he’ll have to table at the moment.
“The main thing is the opportunity, and I’m just grateful every chance I get an opportunity to step into a building and play a sport I love,” Winston said after the conclusion of practice at the Saints’ facility on Tuesday. “However, I know that I’m still a starting quarterback in this league. But, man, I have to be, like this is all a process. There’s some Hall of Famers that made their big break at 30. So I’m still young, I’m still 29, but right now my role is to serve this team in the role that I’m in. And I’m all-in to doing that. Because again, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to still wear a Saints uniform or to be in the NFL in general.”
He added: “Everyone has different journeys in this league. But it’s challenging to be a NFL quarterback. And when you have an opportunity to be a starting NFL quarterback, you want to make the most of it. I’ve just had some unfortunate injuries over the past three years, so this is where I’m at. But this is not what I visualize being in the near future. But where I’m at right now is focusing on getting healthy, focusing on taking advantage of this opportunity I have to serve Derek [Carr], to serve this team and serve this organization the best that I can.”
Winston’s search for a starting quarterback role made his decision to stay with the Saints in 2023 somewhat of a surprise. He worked with the Saints to revise his contract a week after the team signed Carr, and took a large pay cut to remain in New Orleans for the final year of his two-year deal he signed in 2022.
Winston could have asked for his release and tried the open market, but he said he feels comfortable in New Orleans. He said one of the things that he liked was the ability to stay in the same system.
“It’s just very familiar,” Winston said. “I trust this organization, I believe in this team that we have a great defense, great offense. And last year we had a lot of opportunities to break open some games, but with the addition of Derek, I think he’s gonna bring a lot of good things to this team.”
Winston was named the starter for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, but played only seven games in 2021 before tearing his ACL. He injured his foot and fractured his back at the beginning of last season, and backup quarterback Andy Dalton ended up with the job after three games.
The Saints stuck with Dalton even after Winston felt he was healthy enough to return, and he publicly lamented losing his job to injury. Winston was asked on Tuesday if there was any trust that needed to be repaired after the way things unfolded last year.
“The best dependability is availability,” Winston said. “And the past three years or so, I’ve been banged up. So the leadership, they have to continue to move forward. And I just know when I first got here, we were gonna have some of the top players, some of the best coaches. So in terms of trusting this organization, I just know this organization — especially during the Sean Payton era — has been very successful. And [head coach] Dennis [Allen] has basically carried that over, because he is built to be a successful head coach.
“So for me, my accountability is just focusing on my health and being ready when that opportunity presents itself.”
Winston also discussed accountability when asked about his relationship with Allen, noting that his job was to buy into his leadership and be the best teammate he could be.
“Oh, well, my relationship is, he’s my head coach, right?’ Winston said. “And again, my main focus is on me, and how can I be accountable to what I’m doing.”