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Buccaneers are better off going outside for a backup quarterback

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Ryan Fitzpatrick had an exciting run in 2018, but Tampa Bay should probably look outside the organization for Jameis Winston’s next backup.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

New Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has made it clear in the past month that Jameis Winston is his starting quarterback. So, the only real decision to be made at the quarterback position this offseason concerns the backup role.

Tampa Bay spent the last couple of seasons with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Griffin backing up Winston. Of course, Fitzpatrick’s performance in that backup role was memorable. “Fitzmagic” took the entire league by storm in the first two weeks of the 2018 season, as the Bucs beat the Saints and Eagles in back-to-back games. From there, the veteran was much more inconsistent, though he still wasn’t the worst option to have behind Winston. He was definitely serviceable.

The team has kept Griffin around since 2015, but he has yet to take a snap in the regular season. He has shown some promise in preseason action over the years, but not enough for him to be fully trusted as the No. 2 over Fitzpatrick in the last two seasons.

With both Fitzpatrick and Griffin set to be free agents this spring, it feels like it’s time for Tampa Bay to move on and find a new backup for Winston. That backup should be someone that can push him long-term and be groomed to step in and produce right away if necessary. The two in-house guys just might not be the best options going forward.

Despite Fitzpatrick’s success in the backup role the last two years, it’s hard to see the Bucs bringing him back. He will turn 37 in November, and while he showed he had plenty left at different points in the 2018 season, he has to be nearing the end of his time in the league. Might he want to explore the possibility of a starting role — even if it’s transitional — elsewhere? That wouldn’t be surprising.

UPDATE: While talking about Fitzpatrick’s appearance at the Celebrity Charity Shootout at Topgolf over Super Bowl weekend, the guys on the Pat McAfee Show noted Tuesday that the veteran said he wants to be a starter wherever he ends up in 2019.

Griffin is younger than Fitzpatrick, but he is already 29 years old. If he hasn’t shown enough to be given snaps even in garbage time, he probably isn’t the right guy to push your starting quarterback either. Tampa Bay might be interested in keeping Griffin around as a preseason/No. 3 guy, but he probably doesn’t fit into what the team needs from the No. 2 role.

So, what happens next? The Bucs could opt to sign a quarterback in free agency, but the available guys don’t inspire much feeling. Guys like Tyrod Taylor and Teddy Bridgewater are intriguing, but both are more likely to look for/find starting jobs somewhere in the league. That would leave guys like Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Josh McCown, Robert Griffin III and Brett Hundley as the top options. Could Tampa Bay go that route? Probably, but the draft would be ideal.

There are a number of backup/developmental prospects in this year’s draft that are worth looking into. The Bucs could presumably use a fourth-rounder (or an earlier pick if they gather more selections via a trade) on someone that can sit and learn behind Winston in addition to providing relief when called on. Because the Bucs aren’t contractually committed to Winston beyond 2019, finding a young guy with potential would set them up in a better position than sticking with one of their existing options. If things go south for Winston this season, having a rookie step in and get meaningful reps before potentially assuming a starting role in 2020 makes a lot more sense.

Of course, there really isn’t a right answer, but that’s how I’m seeing things for the backup role right now. What say you, Bucs fans?