Buccaneers fandom has been divided like never before over the debate as to whether or not the Bucs should bring back Jameis Winston. There’s the group that believes Winston is the only guy, no matter what, and can’t fathom anyone else under center. There’s the group that would rather see a broom handle with a bucket for a head than Winston. Then there’s the group that just want it all to end because the bickering and debating and fighting have pushed them to their breaking point.
The only thing that matters at this point is the opinions of the Buccaneers and the opinions of Winston. And the opinions of the organization seems to be pretty strong.
According to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, she spoke to a team source that said, “All quarterback options are available and if Jameis asks for too much he’s probably not going to be [in Tampa Bay].”
You can hear it for yourself in the video below at the 3:15 mark.
However, have the public comments and actions caused this relationship to sour beyond repair?
You can look at this entire situation from both sides, but here’s what we’ve seen - a team that seems non-committal on the player they spent a number one pick on in the 2015 NFL draft. No quarterback drafted in franchise history has ever received a second contract and the Bucs are putting themselves in a dangerous situation.
When Bruce Arians gets asked about someone like Shaquil Barrett, he responds by telling the media that Barrett is going nowhere and he’ll be back. Ndamukong Suh? They’ve had talks and both sides want to stay together. Jason Pierre-Paul? They want him back.
But what about questions regarding Winston?
We get phrases like “unknown quantity,” “explore all options,” “door number two,” and so on. You also get reactions like Arians saying “hell yeah we can win with him.” According to Adam Schefter, the Bucs are planning on using their franchise tag on Shaq Barrett rather than Jameis Winston, as Arians pointed out that he was the NFL’s sack leader and “those are hard to find.”
Let me ask you this; when was the last time you saw a franchise allow their top pick at quarterback explore free agency, only to result in a happy reunion between the two? Can’t think of one? Neither can I.
Yes, this very well could be a game of chicken between the Bucs and Winston’s agent. We all know the rumored asking price for Winston was $30 million per season, so perhaps this is the Bucs telling Winston’s agents to see what his market value is and the Bucs would give him a million or two over that rather than trying to find a middle ground between just the two sides. Doubtful, but we don’t know.
Here’s where the problem lies - if this is a way of the Bucs proving Winston isn’t worth as much as he believes, the public comments and allowing him to test the market may have soured him on the idea of returning. He may feel slighted that the head coach and general manager didn’t believe in him enough to lock him up before other teams have the chance to speak with him. So, even if they do make an offer once free agency has already begun, is that going to make for a comfortable work environment? Would Arians and Winston be able to look each other in the eyes and trust one another after what we’ve seen transpire?
Again, this is all the public perception from what little we’ve seen or heard this off-season, but perception is reality in most cases. Arians and Licht both mentioned Tom Brady by name as someone they’d want to sign. Can the 26 year old Winston feel great that his coach and GM would rather have a guy who will be 43 when the season begins rather than continuing with him under center? Probably not. Even though Brady may go down as the greatest to ever do it, it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement when a coach mentions he’d rather have two years of a quarterback well past his prime than a young guy who could be around for the next decade.
Which leads to this - if the Bucs are doing all this to play hardball and get Winston back at a cheaper price, it very well could bite them in the butt. If Brady signs with someone, then Rivers, then Tannehill, and Teddy, then Winston opts to jet off for a big deal with a team he feels wants him - what exactly does that leave for the Bucs? Now they’re forced to go into desperation mode where they’re sending draft capital to the Bengals for Andy Dalton, the Raiders for Derek Carr, or the Lions for Matthew Stafford. Or they’re in full panic mode and have to trade up for one of the top quarterbacks in the draft, causing them to wait until day two to get a new offensive tackle.
This is a slippery slope that could become a full blown catastrophe if one thing goes wrong and the dominoes fall in the opposite direction the Bucs want or expect.
I’ve reached the opinion that the Buccaneers and Winston might both benefit from parting ways. If that perception is indeed reality, it could mean that Winston would be better off playing for a team that pursues him and tells him how much they want him in the building rather than returning to a team that “settled” for him when those options behind the other doors didn’t pan out. The Bucs, on the other hand, could benefit from a clean break and just ripping the band-aid off rather than bringing a player back into the building that wasn’t their first choice.
Let’s be honest with one another, if Winston was truly the first choice of this franchise, they would not risk letting him explore the open market. He’d be locked up already with all the support of the franchise behind him. There’s no “testing the waters” or “seeing what else is out there” when you’re sold on a guy. Like it or not, Winston is now a back up plan and that can’t sit well with him.
No one will ever question his work ethic. No one will ever question his dedication. No one will ever question his passion. Obviously, however, there are other questions that the Buccaneers have or - again - there’s no chance they would even think about the risk of letting Winston speak with other teams.
In the end, this is a dangerous game being played. Either the Buccaneers are confident they can get an option they want behind one of the other doors, or they believe Winston truly doesn’t have a solid market in free agency and they can bring him back at a discount. Either way, this could go very wrong very fast if the Bucs aren’t careful.