The Carolina Panthers were all set and ready to sign Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens as an undrafted free agent over the weekend, but head coach Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints had other ideas.
After trading up to take a tight end at the end of Round 3, the Saints were looking to call it a weekend as they had zero picks in Rounds 4-7.
The team then began to reach out to players they thought wouldn’t get drafted, but were interested in signing as free agents.
One of those was quarterback Tommy Stevens out of Mississippi State who projected to be a hybrid-type player in the NFL. Much like Taysom Hill who is already on the roster. There was a problem, however, as Stevens already had a verbal agreement with the Panthers to join them as a free agent in the event he went undrafted.
Sean Payton wasn’t having it.
“It became my project,” said Payton, who said the Saints first offered to match Carolina’s offer (a $15,000 signing bonus and $30,000 of Stevens’ salary guaranteed).
Then Payton said the Saints tried upping the offer to $144,000 of the salary guaranteed. But Stevens and agent Buddy Baker didn’t budge because Stevens wanted to honor his commitment to Carolina.”
Payton respected Stevens for keeping his word, but he wasn’t going to allow him to go to the Panthers. During the final round of the draft, Saints traded next year’s sixth round pick to the Texans for their seventh round pick this year.
They then took Stevens.
“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.’”
The 6’5″, 237-pounder rushed for 381 yards and four touchdowns and completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 11 scores during the 2019 season.