Sean Payton’s obsession with landing Tommy Stevens for Saints in NFL Draft

Sean Payton saw a lot of Taysom Hill in Tommy Stevens, the former Mississippi State and Penn State quarterback. Even with Hill on his roster, the Saints’ coach made sure to sign him, outmaneuvering the rival Panthers for him.

“There’s no way I was going to lose this kid,” Payton told The Athletic. “We know the role. We invented the role.”

After learning the Panthers had agreed to sign Stevens if he went undrafted, the Saints traded for a seventh-rounder pick, which they used to draft Stevens. Adding to the intrigue, Stevens had a relationship with new Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who coached him when he was a graduate assistant at Penn State and also worked with the Saints before leaving the NFL to coach at LSU last year.

“It became my project,” Payton said.

Initially, the Saints offered to equal the Panthers’ offer of a $15,000 signing bonus and guaranteeing $30,000 of Stevens’ salary. They then moved the offer up to $144,000 of guarantees. But that didn’t work. Stevens, who threw for 1,155 yards, produced 15 touchdowns and five interceptions during an injury-interrupted senior season for Mississippi State last year, had already made a commitment to the Panthers and wanted to honor it.

So Payton and the Saints used draft capital from next year, their sixth-rounder choice, to land the Texans’ seventh rounder (240th overall) to land Stevens. Payton said he texted Brady, “Not so fast,” and told Stevens and his agent: “I’m tired of asking. Now, I’m taking.”

“There’s a little bit of competitive juices flying between me and Sean about, ‘We want this player. And we’re not gonna let anybody take him from us. We’re gonna take him from them,’” Saints assistant general manager/college scouting director Jeff Ireland said on the team’s podcast.

“I said, ‘Honestly, I was having some fun,’” Payton said. “‘You had given your word and I respect that. But we weren’t going to lose you. You were going to become a Saint.’”

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