On Wednesday morning, ESPN’s ‘Golic and Wingo’ welcomed ESPN NFL Analyst and former NFL player Marcus Spears onto their show to discuss - among other things - the return of New Orleans Saints quarterback, Drew Brees.
Of course, as these conversations tend to do this off-season, it led to a conversation about possible landing spots for soon-to-be unrestricted free-agent, Teddy Bridgewater. With the plethora of free-agent quarterbacks potentially coming available this off-season, it’s been a common practice to rank the ones predicted to hit the open market.
When it came to ranking Bridgewater, the question was presented to Spears about whether he’d bring aboard the former Minnesota Vikings quarterback, or Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2015 first-round draft pick, Jameis Winston.
To which, Spears responded,
“Teddy Bridgewater....this is what kills me when I’m not on TV. When I hear people say, ‘Well, (there’s) only been a few 5,000 yard passers...and Peyton Manning threw just as many interceptions in his first five years.’, and all of that. Man, did we not just watch Jameis throw 30 interceptions?”
This isn’t the first time someone has discounted Winston’s 5,000-yards passing while emphasizing the negatives. Trey Wingo followed up by mentioning the fact Winston has led the league in turnovers since joining the NFL in 2015 when combining interceptions and fumbles lost. In fact, Wingo pointed out he has a two-digit lead over the quarterback in second-place, Philip Rivers.
For the past five off-seasons now, the talk surrounding the Buccaneers has been the contrast between Winston’s ups and downs, how they impact the team, and whether or not the franchise can be as successful as they want to be if they stick with the same quarterback moving forward.
This year though, there’s a new snippet of information entering into the conversation. And that’s Winston’s now surgically repaired sense of sight.
“Now, he had LASIK,” Spears said. “I’m not trying to be facetious...Maybe that helps him. And maybe that was an issue. And if it was you got a damn good quarterback. But if it wasn’t, you got a dude that’s going to throw fifteen to - I don’t want to say thirty - fifteen to twenty interceptions a year. Can you win with that? No! You cannot win with that. Turnover margin, is the biggest discrepancy between winning and losing in this game.”
Winston’s eye sight isn’t a new topic. The fact he’s gotten it fixed or improved is, however. And the impact it’ll have on the playing field is what Spears was pointing to in his conversation with Mike Golic Jr. and Wingo.
Unfortunately, it’s an answer nobody will have until well after the deadline for the Buccaneers to make their decision on what to do with Winston’s future. Like Spears stated, if the surgery helps Winston clean-up the mistakes which have plagued his six year NFL career, then great. If it doesn’t, then his tendency to turn the ball over will continue, and the impact on the survivability of the team will continue with it.
Spears also made it a point to go back and bring in the impressions most everyone had when Arians was hired in January of 2019, saying,
“When Bruce Arians went to Tampa everybody was on board. We was like, ‘If anybody can get Jameis to play at a high level, it’s Bruce Arians.’ He couldn’t. I mean, the production - obviously - was there. But, when you coming to the sideline and your quarterback coming off a three interception game, a four interception game, and you looking at your offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and you asking yourself, ‘What can we do to protect this guy?’. Nothing. Because he’s been doing it way before you got there.”
It’s true. Just about everyone made some sort of statement referencing the hiring of Arians as one final shot the Glazer family could take at getting Winston to realize the potential most have seen in him since he came out of Florida State as a National Champion and Heisman Trophy winner.
Statistics have never been part of the problem from a production standpoint. Results however, have been. Through six years, Winston has a 28-42 record with just one winning season to his name.
Early on, it was youth and an immature approach to the game credited for Winston’s shortcomings. Something which could be corrected by keeping the quarterback with his offensive coordinator from his rookie season by hiring Dirk Koetter to stay in Tampa as the head coach beginning in 2016.
Then, it was a defensive issue, which seemed to get fixed in the tail end of the 2016 season helping the Bucs achieve Winston’s lone winning record, finishing 9-7. The 2017 off-season saw the team focus on ‘Weapons for Winston’. However, 2017 came with an injury to Winston and saw the Buccaneers defense come crashing back to earth as the team’s record crashed with it to 3-10 with their starting quarterback under center.
Winston’s 2018 began with a suspension, and never got on track as the entire team felt out of sync after suffering their first loss in Week 3 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mike Smith was fired, Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick bounced back and forth leading the team, tension was evident and at the end of the year, Koetter was fired.
Which brings us back to 2019, and the arrival of Arians and his elite group of coaches and coordinators. As the season went on, the defense got better, and being paired with two Pro Bowl receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
In 2019, when Winston accounted for fewer than two turnovers, the Buccaneers finished 4-3. In games where he had two or more, 3-6. All three of those wins came against non-playoff teams, while four of the six losses came against teams who made it to the post-season.
Spears drew a familiar conclusion at the end of the segment, believing the Buccaneers have to prioritize winning the turnover battle and getting a quarterback who can protect the ball better than Winston has in his first six years of professional football.
Of course, Winston could also come back in 2020 as a quarterback who protects the ball better than he has thus far, but so could another. Specifically Bridgewater, who has a career 2.3% interception rate while Winston carries a 3.5% rate into the upcoming season.
On the flip side of things however, Winston’s 4.7% touchdown rate is almost equally higher than Bridgewater’s 3.6% rate as his interception percentage is.
Bridgewater has never thrown more than twelve interceptions in a single season. Winston’s career low is eleven, and it came in a year he started just nine games.
Winston has never thrown fewer than nineteen touchdown passes in one year, and Bridgewater has never thrown for more than fourteen.
Bridgewater has 34 career starts in five NFL seasons thanks to the catastrophic knee injury he suffered in 2016. Winston has 70 starts and almost as many wins as Bridgewater has starts, despite the struggles.
There’s no easy answer here. And this is just comparing the incumbent Buccaneers starter to one possibly available option. After his appearance on Golic and Wingo, it’s clear the three analysts have made their minds up.
While it doesn’t impact the final decision to be made by Arians, Jason Licht and the Glazers, it’s good information to have coming from people who have played the game and been close to decision makers for quite a while.
To hear Spears’ complete thoughts on Jameis Winston from his appearance on ‘Golic and Wingo’, check out the Locked On Bucs Podcast where you can also hear my reactions to the comments as well as James Yarcho’s.