I still remember it like it was yesterday.
I was in eighth grade and we had just taken our seats in “computer class”. I can’t remember the EXACT name of the course, so just bear with me.
Anyway, I had buccaneers.com as my computer’s home page so I could always be up-to-date and welcomed by whatever news that concerned my favorite team.
Needless to say, I was deeply saddened when I opened my browser the day that Tony Dungy was fired.
It was a huge moment for the Tampa Bay franchise. The coach that had taken one of the NFL’s worst franchises and made them into a perennial playoff contender no longer had a job. More importantly, one of the best/greatest human beings on the planet was on the outs.
There were a multitude of potential outcomes that came with the decision, but it was obvious that this move would either take the franchise to new heights or plunge it back into the depths of Football Hell.
As we all know, the Bucs traded for Jon Gruden and won a Super Bowl the following year. Even though Gruden had just two other playoff appearances over the next six seasons (2003-2008), the decision paid off.
Now, the Bucs are faced with another decision that will likely determine what happens to the franchise over the immediate - and possibly long-term - future, and that’s what to do with Jameis Winston.
Winston is by far and away the closest thing that the Bucs have had when it comes to a franchise quarterback. The team has been plagued and hampered by either band-aid QBs or draft picks that didn’t work out for whatever reason (see Josh Freeman and Steve Young).
Things are different with Winston, though. He has demonstrated all of the qualities that you need in a franchise quarterback throughout his career, even with all of the back-breaking turnovers.
But the turnovers. The damned turnovers. There are just so many of them and some of them are really, really bad. Like record-setting bad.
When you add in the fact that Winston is entering his sixth year and is still making the same bad decisions he did earlier in his career, it’s easy to see why this is a perplexing decision for Tampa Bay.
It’s not just about Winston, though. Whatever Tampa Bay decides to do with him can have ramifications not only in 2020, but beyond next year, as well.
The decision is already making an impact as I write this post. If the Bucs decide to let him walk or bring him in back in any capacity, it’s going to have a direct effect on Tampa Bay’s potential free agents like Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, Breshad Perriman, and others. How much the Bucs decide to pony up - or not pony up - will predicate what happens with those guys. The Bucs were a 7-9 team in 2019, but many felt as if a couple of more games could’ve been won if it weren’t for the turnovers. Winston could potentially hold the key when it comes to “taking the next step” for this franchise, but the Bucs could lose some key players that contributed heavily in 2019 if they decide to stick with Winston. While he may hold the key to improvement, he could also hold the key to disaster.
Tampa Bay could decide to pay Winston, which may cause them to miss out on a potential superstar and diamond-in-the-rough like Barrett. What if Winston doesn’t work out and Barrett goes on to have a long, successful career elsewhere? That type of mistake could haunt this franchise for years to come.
What if the Bucs decide to franchise him and he balls out? Like, let’s say he throws another 30+ TDs and 5,000 yards, but this time he cuts the interceptions down to 10-15? The Bucs will likely be paying Winston MORE in 2021 than if they just went ahead and extended him after 2019. That scenario could have a large impact when it comes to what the Bucs need to do in 2021 (extend Chris Godwin, pick up OJ Howard’s fifth-year option, etc).
Then there’s the scenario of signing Winston to a long-term deal. If the Bucs go this route, it could save them money in the long run and there’s a chance that Winston sheds his turnover-prone ways and leads the Bucs to the Holy Land, but there’s also a chance that the Bucs overpay him and are stuck with a ticking time bomb at quarterback for the foreseeable future. The long-term extension may handicap the team in ways that force them to remain dormant when it comes to personnel moves.
The Bucs fired Tony Dungy because he “couldn’t get over the hump in the playoffs” and hired Jon Gruden because they felt like Gruden could provide the spark that was needed to get over said hump. The Bucs simply thought Gruden was worth the investment, and it paid off in the short run.
That what Tampa Bay has to do with Jameis Winston. Is he worth the investment? Will he make them better? Will the investment pay off or will it flounder? What are the direct, indirect, short-term, and long-term ramifications that could play out?
Whatever happens, the result is likely to have a lasting impact like the decision to fire Dungy. If Tampa Bay makes the right decisions, then this team is likely right back on track to making the playoffs every year, but if the Bucs make the wrong decisions, then they could be facing another decade of futility.
The only question remains is: on which side of history will this offseason rest?
Is this Tampa Bay’s most crucial offseason since firing Tony Dungy?
This poll is closed
Shut up, ginger