This is a conversation that is going to be beaten into the ground until we have a definitive decision from the Bucs as to what they’re going to do, but it’s a conversation that is 100% necessary. The questions surrounding Jameis Winston and his future in Tampa Bay can not be understated or overlooked. The long and short of it is, there is no clear right answer.
The people that want him to stay have statistics that can back them up. 5,000 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, franchise leader in virtually every passing category. And let’s not overlook the fact that Winston can make plays, make throws, that very few quarterbacks in the league can make.
Those that want him gone have statistics to back them up, too. 30 interceptions, seven pick sixes, one winning record. Opposing teams scored 131 points against the Buccaneers in 2019 off of turnovers. Were all of those solely the responsibility of Jameis Winston? No. But the fifth year quarterback was marked as responsible for 35 of the team’s 41 turnovers, so it can’t all just be bad luck, bad routes, or someone else’s fault. This isn’t where I’m going to dive into every one of Winston’s 30 interceptions, but that’s coming. What I am going to discuss is the fact that Winston directly threw an NFL record seven touchdown to opposing defenses. That you take 131 points that other teams scored as a result of Bucs turnovers (again, 85% of those attributed to Winston) and you’re talking about the difference between the 7-9 record they finished with versus making the playoffs.
If Winston doesn’t turn the ball over six times in the last two weeks, this is a very different conversation. We’re talking extension, not a new quarterback. Even if you give Winston the benefit of the doubt and place half (which is high) of the blame for his interceptions on his pass catchers, that leaves him with fifteen - that puts him with the fifth most in the NFL behind Baker Mayfield (21), Philip Rivers (20), and Jared Goff and Kyle Allen (16).
That’s how far ahead of the pack he is. Cut his interceptions in half and he’s still turning it over more than nearly every other quarterback in the league. At the end of the day, he’s become a liability. You can bring up the Carson Palmer interview and the history of quarterbacks under Bruce Arians, but there are still two glaring issues surrounding Jameis Winston: his decision making and the money.
The decision making isn’t going to change. He is who he is and that is a quarterback who - as I said earlier - is someone who can make throws most players in the league can not. The down side to that is that leads to him making decisions no other players do. Winston believes he can make any pass from any angle into any coverage. This is simply not the case and his turnovers show that. “Check your sheet. I’m ballin,” might have been one of the most tone deaf quotes we’ve ever heard. Winston has the inane ability to keep both teams in a game from kickoff to the bitter end. No, Jameis. Ballin is what Lamar Jackson did. It’s what Patrick Mahomes did. It’s what Russell Wilson did. And honestly, it’s what opposing defenses did.
However, many can look past all that. They can move beyond the turnovers, pointing out that 30 interceptions is an anomaly, not the norm, for Winston and they wouldn’t be wrong. They’ll error on the side of familiarity, raw unquestionable talent, and his entering year two under Bruce Arians as the next step towards the quarterback many - including myself - believed he could be when he was drafted. Again, justified and certainly well within reason.
But let’s talk about the money, because that’s what this is all going to boil down to. If Winston was willing to come back for around $20-million per year, there’s no question he returns to Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The early rumors and reports said Winston is looking for $30-million plus per season which is absolutely laughable. A million dollars per pick? Have you lost your freaking mind?
“Just franchise tag him and give him one more chance!”
Not happening, friends. Winston isn’t going to play under the franchise tag and his agents have made that abundantly clear. Second, Winston’s agents believe there are quarterback needy teams honestly willing to give him his asking price. Third, the Bucs need to save that franchise tag for Shaquil Barrett in case they can’t reach a long term agreement ahead of free agency and need that extra time to hammer out a deal. The Bucs aren’t going to risk losing the NFL’s sack leader to appease someone who is asking for far too much and ended his season the way Winston did.
So what would the Buccaneers do if Jameis Winston walks?
Logic dictates that they’d look to draft the long term answer. Joe Burrow is out of the question, so you’re looking at guys like Justin Herbert or Jordan Love. Likelihood that they slip to fourteen? Not great, but not impossible. Once free agency opens and guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Manning, and of course Winston find homes, the quarterback draft market becomes much more clear.
And let’s say the Bucs do get their quarterback at fourteenth overall. Let’s take a look at that for a moment.
With the rookie wage scale the way it is, you’d have your franchise quarterback for a dirt cheap price for the first four years of the deal. As a frame of reference, the Atlanta Falcons had pick fourteen in the 2019 draft and selected guard Chris Lindstrom. His rookie deal is for four years, $14.6-million dollars. Let’s round up and say the Bucs give their 2020 pick four years, $16-million. That’s a guy under center for a $4-million AAV. Yes, a quarterback that would cost $26-million dollars less than what Winston is asking.
This solves the Shaq Barrett contract, Chris Godwin’s extension, Demar Dotson’s replacement, a stud running back (looking at you, Kareem Hunt), and a veteran free safety to lead the secondary (Jimmie Ward, HaHa Clinton-Dix). Oh, and let’s not forget the need to re-sign Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh.
This is why teams like the Rams, Chiefs, Seahawks, Ravens, Eagles have all seen success in recent years. The Seahawks won their Super Bowl investing in other positions while Wilson was on his rookie deal. The Ravens, Chiefs, and Rams have all been making their runs and capitalizing on their quarterbacks’ rookie deals. The Eagles won their Super Bowl because Carson Wentz was on his rookie deal. This is what has allowed teams to overload their pass rush with playmakers and beef up their offensive lines - the ability to spend money on every position that isn’t quarterback, which once they hit their second contract end up chewing up anywhere from 15-20% of their cap space.
The Buccaneers have a great situation in their secondary - which came on strong in the second half of the year - that the five corners and five safeties combine for less than 5% of their cap. The Bucs need to spend money on their offensive line and pass catchers. Saving money at quarterback would do wonders for this entire team top to bottom.
“Bruce isn’t going to want a rookie quarterback at his age.”
Why not? People seem to forget that before Carson Palmer, Arians was the rookie quarterback specialist. He played an integral role in the Indianapolis Colts drafting Peyton Manning. Arians even did “detective work” as he called it to learn more about Manning and Ryan Leaf and argued to the bitter end as many in Indianapolis wanted Rivers more. Arians talked the Steelers - who were set up with Tommy Maddox - into drafting Ben Roethlisberger. It was Arians that Chuck Pagano reached out to to become offensive coordinator in Indianapolis to come in and groom rookie Andrew Luck. All of these players had early struggles, as well as early success, under Arians. And if you’re going to trust Arians to steer this ship in the right direction, why not let him hand pick the player that has to lead his offense? Yes, he saw the raw talent of Winston. Yes, he was excited to work with him and get him straightened out. Things change and it’s starting to appear that the relationship between the Bucs and Winston is souring. Let Arians find his guy if they’re moving on from Winston - but more on that in a moment.
Now, let’s say the Bucs go the free agency route. A guy like Bridgewater - though unlikely to leave New Orleans in my opinion - is estimated to get around $20-million dollars per year according to Spotrac. That’s still $10-million less than Winston’s asking price and still allows you to allocate funds elsewhere. Instead of only having around $60-million to solve the Barrett/JPP/Suh/Free Safety/Right Tackle/Running Back issues, you have $70-million. Again, a win. Not as ideal, but a win nonetheless. No, Bridgewater doesn’t have the arm strength Winston does, but he also doesn’t make the massive number of mistakes. In nine games, Bridgewater turned the ball over three times total. His yards per attempt was a mere 1.1 yards fewer than Winston’s. Bridgewater could be effective in Arians’ scheme, he just doesn’t have quite as strong of an arm.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a weaker arm in exchange for ball security.
At the end of the day, the fandom will be as divided on this as they’ve been on Winston his entire career. For the long term success and the ability to build a championship team, signing Winston for $30-million per year will only continue to cause this team to hover in mediocrity. One more year isn’t going to change Winston’s decision making. One more year isn’t going to change what we’ve seen over the last five years.
One more year only does two things - increases Winston’s price or proves he is, in fact, not the guy and now you only have three years left with Arians to find and develop a quarterback. In that time you also run the risk of losing Bowles to a head coaching position, so you’re starting over on the defensive side of the ball. Strike while the iron is hot and get a quarterback that isn’t breaking the bank while simultaneously breaking the hearts of fans with his mistakes.
Winston ain’t it, folks. We don’t need another year to know that. No more wasting time, no wasting astronomical amounts of money. Find someone who protects the ball and can help this team contend this time of the year in 2021, 2022, 2023, and beyond. Follow the model laid out by Seattle, Kansas City, Baltimore, Houston. It’s time - and it’s best - for both sides to move on.
Finally - and this is a late addition to this column as these tweets began coming out the day after I originally wrote all of this - the “life after Winston” train is picking up steam. The Draft Network’s JC Cornell - who has been pretty spot on regarding a lot of his Bucs information including the hiring of Arians, the Bucs moving on from Gerald McCoy, and the signing of Suh - has started preparing folks that this is a very real possibility;
How are you going to feel if the Buccaneers walk away from Jameis Winston?— JC Cornell (@CornellNFL) January 13, 2020
High possibility it happens.
Our own Gil Arcia has backed up this sentiment as he’s been hearing the same information;
The possibility is higher than high, I’d say. Have to start preparing yourselves for life after Jameis. https://t.co/hFiqP6ejmO— Gil Arcia (@GilArciaBUCS) January 13, 2020
A month ago, we were all but certain that Jameis Winston was going to become the first quarterback drafted in Buccaneers history to get a second contract. Now, it seems to be a long shot. That does not mean hope is lost. That does not mean the Bucs are back to rebuilding. That does not mean that Winston is going to go off somewhere and win a Super Bowl in the next few years because #ItsABucsLife. What it means is there is a business decision to be made and the Bucs will make the best one for the team. As I pointed out earlier, it’s about the collective, not the individual.
And let’s face it - the Bucs can draft a quarterback and be perfectly fine if they can compliment him with a top tier running back. If the NFL playoffs have taught us anything it’s that you can take the “it’s a passing league” analytics and shove them. At the end of the day, pounding the rock is what gets you into the playoffs and gives you a chance to win the Lombardi trophy. Use some of that money you would’ve spent on Winston and go get a Kareem Hunt, a Melvin Gordon, or - should the stars align - a Derrick Henry. That takes pressure off your rookie quarterback and helps win games.
For more Jameis Winston discussion, check out the latest Locked on Bucs episode here (or click the media player below) to hear myself and David Harrison talk the Bucs’ quarterback quandary with Gil Arcia.