Did Sean Payton burn a draft pick just to spite the Panthers?

NFC South beef is real. And it’s spectacular.

Did it lead to New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton wheeling a draft-day deal just to spite the Carolina Panthers? It sure sounds like it.

The Athletic’s Jeff Duncan reported a wild draft-day tale featuring the New Orleans Saints head coach that saw him set his sights on a player the Carolina Panthers and offensive coordinator Joe Brady coveted.

The Saints traded into the seventh round on Saturday to usurp their rivals and draft a player who might not make the 53-roster in the fall.

Here’s the CliffsNotes version, per Duncan.

Panthers targeted Taysom Hill 2.0

The Panthers had their eyes on Mississippi State’s Tommy Stevens, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound quarterback/athlete in the mold of Saints wild-card Taysom Hill. Brady coached Stevens when they were both at Penn State.

Here’s Stevens playing the Hill role as a Nittany Lion.

Brady was a graduate assistant at PSU before joining Payton’s staff on the Saints in 2017. He since orchestrated LSU’s championship passing attack, which led to the Panthers hiring him as their offensive coordinator this offseason.

Stevens eventually transferred to MSU and left his senior year as a fringe NFL prospect likely to be signed as an undrafted free agent. Brady coveted Stevens, and the Panthers began negotiating with him ahead of the draft.

Not so fast, Carolina

According to Duncan, the Saints also coveted Stevens and reached out to his agent during the sixth round on Saturday. The Saints had traded all of their late-round picks and intended to pursue Stevens as an undrafted free agent.

But when Payton found out that Carolina and his former assistant Brady had the inside track to Stevens, all that changed. Payton went all-in to nab his guy, spite a division rival and one-up Brady.

“It became my project,” Payton told The Athletic.

When Stevens and his agent stopped responding to Saints offers, presumably having reached an agreement with the Panthers, Payton upped the ante.

Sean Payton apparently got bored and made a deal on the last day of the draft. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Payton makes his move

He traded a sixth-round pick from next year’s draft to the Texans to get back into the seventh round. He sent a text message to Brady to let him know that he had been beat and another to Stevens and his agent telling them not to make plans to move to Charlotte.

Then the Saints selected Stevens with the 240th pick in the draft.

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

But here’s the the thing. The Saints have Drew Brees inked in as their starting quarterback. They signed Hill to a stunning $21 million extension to retain his services. Then they signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter Jameis Winston to a backup role.

Will Stevens even make the cut?

Where’s the room on a 53-man roster for another quarterback, much less another gadget player like Hill? There’s a strong likelihood Stevens doesn’t make the 53-man roster this fall or whenever the NFL takes the field again.

And if that is the case, then Payton truly did just swing a trade and use a draft pick to spite the Panthers. And one-up a former colleague.

Long live NFC South beef.

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