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Did the New Orleans Saints make a mistake with the Taysom Hill contract?

After a tough start to the 2020 season, Taysom Hill’s contract is starting to look like a very bad piece of business for the Saints.

Did the New Orleans Saints make a mistake with the Taysom Hill contract?
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - OCTOBER 12: Taysom Hill #7 of the New Orleans Saints runs for a nine-yard touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers during their NFL game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 12, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

It was one of the more shocking contracts of the offseason, and through the first six weeks of the 2020 NFL season, Taysom Hill’s big payday still does not appear to make any more sense for the New Orleans Saints. Quarterbacks will often command big money when their contract is up for discussion, and usually, a QB signing a deal worth $10.5 million per year would be considered a success. However, Hill is not a traditional QB, which is where this contract starts to get controversial for New Orleans.

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What are the specifics of Taysom Hill’s contract?

Entering the 2020 NFL offseason, Taysom Hill was a restricted free agent, raising the question of whether any team would be willing to offer the Saints’ Swiss Army Knife a lucrative contract to pry him away from New Orleans. No offer materialized immediately, but the Saints still needed to solve the issue of how to handle Hill’s contract with him heading into his final year in New Orleans.

On April 27, they did just that, signing Hill to a two-year, $21 million deal. What was arguably even more stunning than the initial numbers was that $17.439 million of that was fully guaranteed, with $8 million as a signing bonus. Had the Saints done nothing, Hill would have been due $4.641 million, meaning this was essentially a one-year contract extension worth $16.359 million.

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The structure of the contract is perhaps the most baffling. Hill has a cap hit of just $4.841 million in 2020, which, given the Saints had limited cap space in 2020, is perhaps the only positive. As it stands, Hill is due to count $16.159 million against the 2021 cap. For a team that projects to be $50 million over the cap next year, that is a lot of money for a player who has no defined role.

What makes it worse is that the Saints cannot even move on from Hill unless they can convince a team to trade for him. If the Saints were to cut Hill this offseason, they would be left holding $11.159 million in dead cap, saving just $5 million.

That high dead cap would be due to the $4 million signing bonus and the massive $7.159 million in guaranteed salary that Hill is due. If the Saints could trade Hill, they could be looking at just a $4 million dead cap hit (the prorated signing bonus).

What had Hill done to deserve his big contract?

There is no denying that Hill is heavily utilized by the Saints. They use him as their personal protector on punts, and he has come up with some blocked punts as well.

If you look around the internet, you will find no shortage of highlights which demonstrate Hill’s versatility. In particular, Hill had a game on Thanksgiving in 2019 against the Atlanta Falcons, in which he demonstrated both sides of his versatility, blocking a punt and scoring an offensive touchdown.

That versatility is certainly valuable, but on its own, it does not command the massive contract that the Saints gave to Taysom Hill in the last offseason. If we dig into Hill’s numbers from the first three years of his career, they do not exactly blow you away.

Through those three seasons, Hill has carried the ball 71 times for 410 yards and three touchdowns. On top of that, he has been targeted 33 times for 265 yards and eight touchdowns, seven of which came in 2019.

The problem for the Saints is that Hill can give their offense a shot in the arm when they need it most. In the 2019 Wild Card game against the Minnesota Vikings, Hill put up 75 yards and a touchdown on six touches, as well as 50 yards through the air on his one passing attempt.

In that game, Drew Brees struggled, and Hill accounted for nearly a fifth of the Saints’ passing yards, including the longest passing play of the game. He led the team in rushing, putting up more yards than Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara combined. In the receiving game, he was also the man on the other end of Brees’ longest pass of the day.

Therein lies the problem that was faced by the Saints in the 2019 offseason. In Hill, they have a player who can flip a game, be that on special teams or offense, and that potential comes at a price.

The Saints may also harbor hopes that Hill could be a potential successor to Brees at some point. However, when Brees was injured in 2019, it was Teddy Bridgewater they utilized under center. They then brought in Jameis Winston to back up Brees in 2020, suggesting Hill may not be the QB in waiting.

With a career regular-season passing record of 7-for-15, 157 yards, zero touchdowns, two sacks, and an interception, that may not be all that surprising.

The first six weeks of 2020 have not gone well

Had Taysom Hill come out and started 2020 in sublime fashion, then the contract is likely not even being discussed at this point. However, Hill has struggled so far, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry while adding a drop on his five targets this season. Hill averaged 5.8 yards per attempt last season and dropped just one pass on 22 targets. One more incompletion thrown in his direction will match the number that the Saints had when targeting him last season (three).

After bursting into the season with a 13-yard carry on his first rushing attempt, Hill has added just 33 yards on the 12 carries since. In that Week 1 game, Hill took a snap under center and hit Alvin Kamara 38 yards downfield to essentially clinch that game. That play gave fans of Hill hope that this season might be one where we see him return value on that contract.

Related | QB Power Rankings 2020: Drew Brees rebounding after slow start

That has not been the case; Hill has thrown the ball just once more this season, an incompletion. There have also been serious errors that have, or could have, cost his team.

Against Green Bay in Week 3, with the scores level in the fourth quarter, Hill fumbled and gave the Packers the ball. On the ensuing drive, the Packers took a lead they would never relinquish.  In Week 4, Hill fumbled the snap, and it took Kamara to jump on the ball and salvage the drive with the Saints trailing by seven.

In Week 5, Brees completed a 14-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders to kickstart a drive. The next play, Hill threw an incompletion, and from second and 10, Brees could not salvage the drive. Later in the game, Hill dropped a touchdown, but fortunately, Brees was able to salvage the drive with a one-yard touchdown on the next play. Then in overtime, with Brees marching the Saints down the field, they handed the ball to Hill on second and nine, only for Hill to manage just three yards, stalling the drive and handing the Chargers an opportunity to win the game.

This season has not started well for Taysom Hill, and it has shone a bright spotlight on his contract. When you put that contract in the context of what Hill brings to this offense, his struggles so far in 2020, the way he at times seems to stall the momentum of this offense, and the Saints salary cap situation in 2021, Taysom Hill’s contract could end up being viewed as one of the worst contracts ever handed out in the NFL.

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