Tampa Bay is at a crossroads with their franchise. Just over three years ago they picked Jameis Winston out of Florida State with the first overall pick in the draft. The dream was that he would use his exuberant personality and big-play ability to lead this franchise for over the next decade. Actual events haven’t lived up to those expectations.
First, there’s the on-field roller coaster ride. He’s shown flashes of brilliance by throwing for 12,817 yards and 75 touchdowns*, the most by a quarterback under 25 years old in NFL history. But he’s also been a turnover machine. Since 2015, 70 turnovers* (54 interceptions and 16 fumbles) are the second highest, only behind Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles.
Despite the inconsistency, the Bucs’ brass stood behind him. Back in April, the team decided to pick up Winston’s fifth-year option, which would pay him $20.9 million. It seemed like the Bucs were willing to give Winston the reins for at least two more seasons before deciding on his long-term future. Since that decision, the wheels have started to come off.
Between November of 2017 to June 2018, the NFL investigated Winston for claims that he groped an Uber driver back in March 2016. The investigation ended with Winston being suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
This wasn’t Winston’s first off-field problem but all could possibly be forgiven if he came back and played well. During his suspension, the team went 2-1 with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. This pushed back Winston’s return for another week despite being done with his suspension. After being down 38-2 against the Bears, head coach Dirk Koetter decided it was time for Winston to make his return. However his comeback did not yield positive results.
Over the course of two and a half games, Winston may have sealed his fate in Tampa. The team went 1-2 with him starting but even more disturbing was the abysmal play from their so-called franchise quarterback. He threw for 1,036 yards and five touchdowns but also had eight interceptions. Add the two interceptions in the second half of the Bears game and that gives Winston 10 in only three total games. He was pulled after the first half against the Bengals. Trying to save his job, Koetter has started the past two weeks and will again against the New York Giants this Sunday.
Why Winston Should Start
First off, I personally do not think Winston is the answer long term. He’s too inconsistent on the field and is one more off-field incident from being kicked out of the league altogether. That being said, I am not in charge. General manager Jason Licht is, and he’s the one that handpicked Winston back in 2015. His future, along with Koetter’s, is tied to how well Winston does.
When Koetter announced on Monday that Fitzpatrick was going to be the starter again, I was generally confused. His reasoning behind the decision was also a head-scratcher.
“But we’re right in there. It’s just barely past the halfway point in the season and there’s a lot of football to be played. … I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that we can turn this thing and get on a little bit of a win streak. We’ve got to play better football more consistently across the board. Our defense took a nice step in that direction [on Sunday]. I still think if we can put it together on both sides of the ball we’ll be all right.”
Look, I get it. There are still seven games left to be played and you don’t want to signal to the guys in the locker room that you’ve given up on the season. But the Bucs sit at 3-6 and still play the Panthers, Saints, and Falcons again. The best-case scenario is they finish 7-9, beating the Giants, 49ers, Cowboys, and Ravens. That’s not going to happen and that’s not going to save Koetter’s job.
The Bucs need to see if Winston is salvageable. Either to keep him at least one more season or to try and trade him. Regardless, the only way this is going to happen is if he’s on the field. Last time he saw playing time he threw four first-half interceptions against the Bengals. At least see if Winston has learned from those mistakes and can finish out the year taking better care of the football.
Some people still don't grasp how badly Jameis Winston is playing. Maybe this will help:
Ryan Fitzpatrick passer rating: 119.3
NFL average passer rating: 93.9
Jameis Winston passer rating: 74.7
It's not just that he's getting outplayed by Fitz. He's getting outplayed by EVERYONE.
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) October 31, 2018
The best argument for not playing Winston is to avoid injury. His fifth-year option is only fully guaranteed due to injury. If Winston is hurt by March 2019, the Bucs owe him the entire $20.9 million and puts them in a weird spot in possibly finding a new quarterback. As a coach and GM, you can’t be afraid of injuries. The need to figure out his future once and for all needs to outweigh the fear of needing to pay him for one season.
Fitzpatrick is what he is at this point in his career. A quarterback that makes just enough plays to garner a new contract from a different team but can’t sustain that level. But Koetter thinks Fitz gives him the best chance at winning/saving his job and that says a lot about the faith they have in Winston. For all I know, the Bucs have already made up their mind about him.
*-2018 stats included
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