Payton detailed the battle to acquire Stevens in an interview with The Athletic. New Orleans selected Stevens in the seventh round of the draft. The dynamic quarterback attended Penn State before he played his 2019 campaign at Mississippi State.
Because the Saints didn't have a seventh-round pick, Payton and the Seattle Seahawks front office spent that time negotiating with players and agents they thought they could sign as undrafted free agents. Payton targeted Stevens as one of those players.
The Saints soon learned that the Panthers were on Stevens' trail and had the inside track to sign the quarterback. They'd hired former LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady as their offensive coordinator this off-season. Brady was a graduate assistant at Penn State when Stevens signed with the Nittany Lions. Joe Moorhead, who coached Penn State and was Brady's boss within the football program, was later hired as Mississippi State's coach, where he again worked with Stevens.
The Saints knew this information and learned the details of the Panthers' offer to sign Stevens. New Orleans matched the offer and told Stevens he could be the next Taysom Hill. Payton molded Hill -- a quarterback on the Saints' roster -- into one of the most dynamic weapons in the NFL, as he often lines up at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and other positions.
Payton and the Saints eventually learned their offer wasn't good enough, and offered Stevens more money. Yet, Stevens still appeared likely to sign with the Panthers, so Payton and the Saints brainstormed for other ways to get their guy.
They called other NFL teams that had picks in the seventh round, negotiating with the Minnesota Vikings and Houston Texans before they completed a trade with the Texans to acquire the No. 240 overall pick.
Payton sent Brady a text message that read "not so fast," before the Saints finally took Stevens in the seventh round.
"[Carolina] felt like they had him signed, sealed and delivered," Saints General Manager Jeff Ireland said Monday on the Saints' podcast. "[Stevens'] agent wasn't really talking to us, so we just decided we'd just go take him from them."
Stevens will still have to fight to make the Saints' roster this off-season. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound athlete completed 60.2 percent of his throws for 1,155 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions in nine games last season at Mississippi State. He also had 83 carries for 381 yards and four scores in 2019.
The Saints drafted former Michigan center Cesar Ruiz with the No. 24 overall pick, former Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun and former Dayton tight end Adam Trautman. The team now has Stevens, Hill and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston on their depth chart to back up starter Drew Brees.
"I think Taysom brings his own game to the table and I bring mine," Stevens told reporters after he was drafted. "I'm glad I'm going to be teammates with someone like Taysom and the other quarterbacks in that room."