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NFL: DEC 21 Texans at Buccaneers

A Clouded Future: Uncertainty surrounding what’s next for Jameis Winston

The Bucs Nation staff tries to answer questions of what lies ahead for the 2015 first-overall pick.

Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

He’s eighth all-time in the NFL for most passing yards in a season. He’s second all-time in the NFL for the most passing yards through the first five seasons of his career. He’s eighth all-time in the NFL for the most passing touchdowns in that same span.

But he is also the first quarterback in NFL history to ever throw for at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a single season.

Depending on who you talk to, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston should pack his bags and leave Tampa Bay. The 2015 first-overall selection has been a mixed bag of tricks since coming into the league and has people asking many questions about his future despite the countless team records he has also broken.

Tampa Bay is 32-48 since they drafted Winston and is 28-42 with him under center. While the 25-year-old has not had much help either throughout his career in what is considered the ultimate team game, he has also put his team in bad spots often.

So with his contract officially over, we’ll answer a few questions that are on the minds of many surrounding Winston and the Buccaneers.

Will he be able to cut down on his mistakes?

Gil: I’d like to say yes. Why? This offensive system is one people like to overlook as being a complex one. Throws are predicated on the quarterback and receiver being on the same page. The interception on the throw to Justin Watson is a perfect example. Watson had the hot route to cut inside, so, he faked inside on the defender then cut up but that caused Winston to throw to the inside right to the Atlanta defender.

There was about 10-15 of the interceptions where people easily assumed he threw “right to” the opposing player but there was miscommunication on the read between quarterback and receiver. Fix that and his interception numbers look better so another year in this system would pay dividends to all parties involved I think.

Carson Palmer threw the most interceptions of his career under Bruce Arians their first season together. Winston has, too. Palmer never threw that high number of interceptions again. That can be the case for Winston as well and it’s a possibility the Bucs should take a chance on.

NFL: Houston Texans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston (3) reacts as he threw a interception against the Houston Texans on December 21, 2019.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Evan: I mean, sure, he can certainly cut down on the mistakes, but you have to wonder if that means he will throw 10 interceptions in 2020 or if he will throw 28. Throwing 30 picks in one season establishes a rather large scale of improvement.

There’s no option here. Winston has to cut down on the mistakes. The whole offense has to. And I’m talking in a major way, not just a minor one. He needs to throw 16 or less interceptions in 2020. One per game. And he needs to avoid the 3+ interception games more than anything. If he goes for 16 INTs or less in 2020, then I’d say bring him back for at least another year. Depending on how the rest of the season goes, of course.

Bailey: Maybe he cuts his mistakes down, but by how much? I don’t think it’ll be enough. Palmer went from a 3.8% interception rate in his first year under Arians to 1.3% in an injury-shortened season the next year. But in the following years, he posted rates of just 2%, 2.3% and 2.6%. Winston’s problems are more significant. His interception rate in 2019 was a ridiculous 4.8%. To get back to his career-best of 2.5% (in 2017), he would have to nearly cut his 2019 rate in half. I don’t see that happening. Even if he goes down just 1%, he’ll have the same mark that Palmer posted when he threw 22 picks in year one under Arians.

Numbers aside, are we really supposed to believe Winston is going to make that drastic of a jump next year? The miscommunications are one thing, but how many times did we see him throw picks as a result of staring down his receivers from the start of a play? Too many. He’s been making these mistakes for five years. Maybe he doesn’t make 30 of them next year, but I don’t think you can trust him to come all the way down to 16 as suggested above. Does a 28-touchdown, 20-interception next year make anyone feel better? I doubt it.

David: It could happen. But history says it won’t, at least not enough. Interceptions are the face of quarterback mistakes, and Jameis threw interceptions on 4.8% of his throws this year. A career high. But he’s been above 3% in his last two full seasons as a starter. In fact, his interception rate has gone up in three of the last four years.

Now, some believe this is the Arians effect. That Carson Palmer went through the same, and came back to earth the next year. Palmer’s interception rate rose to 3.8% in his first year under Arians. A full percentage point lower than Winston. And in 2013, Palmer threw 22 interceptions. Twice - without Arians - Winston had an interception rate of 3.7% and 3.2%, or very close to the rate Palmer’s jumped to under Arians in year one. Winston was already there, because it’s part of who he is. He makes bad decisions. Not all of the time, but about 3% or more of the time. Even if we take off the amount of interceptions people want to credit to his receivers or wind, he’s still above 3%. Which eliminates the argument Arians’ system causes an increase in quarterback mistakes in year one. It means Winston did exactly what he did in previous years and got no better, despite the obvious improvements of those around him.

So, could he come in under 4.8% next year? Could he throw fewer than 30 interceptions? Yes. That’s like asking a college student if they ‘could’ stop drinking while they’re hung over. But once they get in the party, that 3% is coming back. History has shown no reason to think otherwise.

James: Nope! Look, this guy has been doing the same stupid stuff since his last year at Florida State. The difference is, back then, FSU’s talent was superior to all their opponents to the point that they could easily overcome the early holes Winston dug them. Now, after five years in the NFL, Winston is still doing the same things he was then. He’s late on timing routes, he’s staring down receivers, and he’s digging holes that the team has to climb out of. Then after every game we have to hear “I gotta be better” and “I just need to fix the mistakes.” Well, if he could he would have by now. The fact that he hasn’t tells you all you need to know as to whether or not he can.

Does Jameis Winston deserve another contract from the Bucs?

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reacts after throwing a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half at Raymond James Stadium on December 29, 2019.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Gil: What other position on the field touches the football more than a quarterback? The money talk is funny because he can seriously make anywhere from $20M to $30M a season because of the position itself. That is just the way of life in the NFL. Do I think the Bucs will pay him the latter? Probably not, but you never know. If a team wants to pay a quarterback much less than that, then draft one every four-to-five years and never get beyond a rookie contract.

Now, let’s say he gets around $25-million a year. That puts him ahead of quarterbacks Joe Flacco, Nick Foles, Jacoby Brissett, Derek Carr, Alex Smith, and Cam Newton who are in the $20M to $25M salary cap range in 2020. So is it really that difficult to fathom Winston making that much money? Again, it’s just what the position calls for.

Yes. It’s easy to sit back and say “Oh, but the turnovers!” without acknowledging what exactly goes on within this offense. Was he a lean-mean interception throwing machine? Yes. Did he set franchise records? Yes. Did he lead the league in passing yards? Yes. There’s only one quarterback in the history of the NFL ahead of Jameis Winston who threw for more yards in the first five seasons of their career. He’s got what it takes. And with a coaching staff that is competent enough to work with him, keep the continuity going.

Evan: Yes. A franchise tag is technically considered another contract and he deserves that. He’s set all kinds of franchise passing records and is easily the most gifted quarterback to start in Tampa Bay.

James: Does he deserve one? At this point I say no. Will he get one? Yeah, probably. This is what makes Winston the most infuriating athlete in the history of pro sports. He does things that most quarterbacks can’t do. He makes plays that maybe only three or four players can make. At the same time, he makes decisions that no other quarterbacks will make. His lack of awareness, I.Q., and his ineptitude at times plummets him to merely mediocre quarterback and the Buccaneers aren’t going to take any trips to the postseason or win any playoff games in today’s game with that kind of play from the most important position.

You can point to all the team records he holds now, but who are we kidding - that bar was set pretty low to begin with. At the absolute most he deserves the franchise tag, but there are already rumblings that he won’t play under the tag. This $30M a year that is the rumored asking price is asinine. He sure as heck doesn’t deserve that.

David: That’s a tough question. My answer is going to be, no. He doesn’t deserve one, in the sense he’s done something to where he’s being withheld an earned opportunity if he doesn’t get one. He has potential, determination, enough modesty, and the apparent support of his locker room and coaches. But if you’re dropping anywhere near 33% of your available cap space on a player, it better be someone who is helping you win every week. Not someone who you can win in spite of, in case he has a bad one.

Bailey: I’m inclined to agree with James and David. I find it hard to say he “deserves” a new contract with the Bucs. At best, he “deserves” a franchise tag and one more year under Arians to prove he can be the future. But you absolutely cannot give him a long-term contract right now. Over five NFL seasons, he has consistently shown that he has the potential to go nuclear at any given moment. He does a lot of good, but there’s too much bad that comes with it to justify a multi-year deal. Given the fact that the options out there to replace him could be just as risky as bringing him back, the tag makes the most sense.

If they let Winston go, who do they replace him with?

Evan: There are some high-profile quarterbacks that will hit the market this year (Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers), but the odds of them leaving their teams are pretty low. Philip Rivers was a very intriguing option until he decided to have one of the worst years of his career. Teddy Bridgewater may work, but I don’t know if he has the arm. If this system is so complicated you probably don’t want a rookie or younger player running it, either.

Hmmmm. Seems like the best option may already be on the roster.....

Bailey: I have no actual clue. Midway through the year, this was the reason I stuck by wanting Winston to return in 2020. But now? I don’t know. You may not be able to find a guy that has a higher ceiling than Winston has, but you can surely find someone — in the draft or in free agency — that has a higher floor.

If you find a quarterback that throws for, say, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions next year to complement what should be a good defense? You might be looking at a playoff team. But who would that be? Can you pry Ryan Tannehill away from Tennessee? Matthew Stafford is a name that has been thrown around by some of my esteemed colleagues here at Bucs Nation, and I don’t hate that idea. Maybe you do take your chance on a rookie, but who? Is it Justin Herbert if he somehow falls to 14? Jacob Eason? A second-rounder? I wish it could be Joe Burrow...

Indianapolis Colts v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

James: The best route for this team, in my opinion, is bring in a vet on a two to three year bridge deal to man the controls as they develop whatever quarterback they draft in April. Philip Rivers seems to be a popular choice among Winston detractors. I talked myself into Andy Dalton being a better option - which was honestly painful to do.

The best option is probably Matthew Stafford should the Lions decide to move on. He has all the tools that Arians looks for in a quarterback, he has postseason experience, and he is also a member of the 5,000-yard club — not to mention he did it with fewer weapons than he would have in Tampa. Draft a quarterback on day one or two of the 2020 draft to sit and develop for a few seasons, then you have a seamless transition for the end of Bruce Arians’ contract into what we hope is carryover of the staff with Todd Bowles taking over as head coach and retaining the coaches that are starting to build something special here.

And it’s not like Arians doesn’t have experience implementing his system with rookie quarterbacks. He was a big reason the Colts drafted Peyton Manning, he was a big reason the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger, and Chuck Pagano reached out to him specifically because they knew they were drafting Andrew Luck. BA won’t have any problem working with a rookie quarterback if he feels that rookie can provide them with a chance to win without digging themselves a hole and shooting themselves in the foot three-to-four times a game.

David: That’s the real question, isn’t it? I’ve said it on Locked On Bucs myself. If you get rid of Winston for his downside, you have to be able to replace or make-up for losing his upside. If there’s a guy - rookie or not - who Bruce Arians, Byron Leftwich and Clyde Christensen believe can bring this team 250-yards and two touchdowns more weeks than not, then that’s the guy to get. Everyone is asking whether or not Bruce Arians would want to start over with a rookie. Age only serves to aid in measuring experience. Not ability. And no matter what, Arians isn’t starting over. Whether it’s with a rookie or a veteran. So if he doesn’t want to start over, then he’s going to keep Winston and we’re all wasting our time.

But, since it’s a point of conversation. As a rookie with Arians, Andrew Luck threw seven fewer touchdowns than Winston and twelve fewer interceptions. He fell about 600-yards shy of 5,000 passing yards, and the Indianapolis Colts went 11-5. Luck started his rookie season 2-2 with five interceptions and seven touchdowns. He finished it 3-1 with two interceptions and six touchdowns. The younger, more inexperienced quarterback did it because of ability, not age.

So the question isn’t, is the replacement a rookie or veteran. It’s, is there any quarterback available that makes this staff believe he can execute this scheme better than Winston. If so, go get him. Now, I’m not saying there’s an Andrew Luck in this draft. If there is, he’ll get picked way too high for the Bucs. So, if you want to know the first rock I’m turning over, it’s in Detroit.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arizona Cardinals
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) hug at end of game at University of Phoenix Stadium on September 18, 2016.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

GIL: I see everyone’s suggestions of a veteran, rookie, bridge guy, etc. Many options being shared. But I agree with Evan here. I don’t see a world where they do let Winston walk. As much as that pains many, this question may seriously be irrelevant. But let’s think about two veteran names here for a minute.

Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer.

No, I don’t mean for them to come in and compete with Winston (although some have thought about Luck coming back but to play under Arians again).

What if they join the Buccaneers coaching staff in some capacity? And I don’t mean both but rather one or the other. What if they are brought in to help in the development of Winston in this offense? Sure it is most certainly a pipe dream, long shot, crazy thought, whatever you’d like to call it. But Arians does like a huge staff. What’s one more name on the coaching roster?

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