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The Buccaneers’ future is in Jameis Winston’s hands

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Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Here’s what we’ll talk about the next six months or so: who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should re-sign, who they should target in free agency, who they should pick in the draft, who they should trade for, who they should play where.

All of that is important. All of that also misses the biggest key to the team’s prospective improvement in 2017: Jameis Winston. The Bucs should improve their defense, they should add weapons on offense, but nothing will help them as much as Winston being a little more disciplined with the ball, and a little more accurate on his deep passes.

Last season, Winston showed marginal improvement over 2016. He was better, but it was a case of incremental gains, and arguably a little regression. Mike Evans’ improved play may have been a big reason for Winston’s improved numbers, but that causality could go both ways so is rather hard to judge.

What we do know, though, is that teams will only go as far as their quarterbacks can carry them. We saw that in the playoffs this season, with each of the final four teams being carried by one of the top quarterbacks in the league — and arguably, the two quarterbacks who put up the most consistent production this year are now in the Super Bowl.

That’s no surprise. Good quarterbacks have been driving NFL performances for decades, now. Teams that get to the Super Bowl in spite of their quarterbacks are few and far between, and to get there with even an average one you need an all-time great defense to compensate for him. The Bucs have a solid defense right now, but it’s not quite that good.

It’s a little frustrating, then, that we’ll have no way to gauge Winston’s progress until the start of the preseason — and realistically, the start of the regular season. The previous two years he got off to a very slow start, throwing seven and eight interceptions in his first four games of each season. A faster start is needed this season, because those kinds of numbers lose games.

So hey, we’ll speculate and talk about rumors and do all sorts of stuff. And that matters, too. But nothing matters as much as Winston’s progression this offseason.