Where were you at Winston’s age?

by Gary Shelton on November 23, 2018 · 6 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Winston has had his struggles so far./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 4 a.m.

The latest last chance has arrived for Jameis Winston. He has tried to play his way into your hearts. He has tried to play his way out of town.

And now, with a huge payday in front of him, with a faltering football team around him, it is time to decide.

Should he stay or should he go?

It would be easy to understand if the Bucs shook their head in the direction of Winston and decided that he was a mistake, after all. They can say that they are weary of waiting for the phone to ring and mean trouble. They can point out the dozens of discussions about protecting the football. And they can decide to blow it all up and begin again.

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It would be easy, too, if the Bucs pled patience with their wayward passer. Quarterbacks are rarely successful right out of the chute, they can argue. There are a painful number of shortcomings on the roster that have nothing to do with the quarterback. They can wonder when a No. 1 overall talent will fall into their hands again. And they can decide to risk the wrath of those who are fed up with Winston and keep him in their huddle.

Thumb's up, or thumb's down? Stay the course or reroute it? Retain him or retrain him?

Over the final six weeks of the NFL season, that will be the decision to be made (if it has not been made already). It is a decision that must be made on an executive level, because the head coach probably will not be back and the general manager may not be. It is a decision that will weigh a player's potential against his payroll. Right now, the payroll is winning.

The guy has six games left in the season, and in five of them, he will be an underdog. He will have to play well enough to offset a horrible defense. He will have to be efficient enough to use a group of receivers that is the team's strongest unit.

I saw one argument yesterday that suggested that Dirk Koetter should have considered Winston's four-interception day against Cincinnati as "just a bad day." That's a horrible argument. Winston has six days of three or more interceptions in his career.

At this point, where does the jury stand on Winston's future.

Personally? I favor keeping him by 51 percent to 49 percent. But I may need a recount.

There can be no discussion that Winston has lived a sloppy life. He has had too many skirmishes with trouble to convince most of us that he is a solid guy. Other quarterbacks don't get in the kind of trouble he has. Other quarterbacks  haven't thrown 11 interceptions in 164 pass attempts. In 50 career games, Winston has 55 interceptions and 16 fumbles. That will not do.

But this should be said, too. Winston is a young man in an old man's profession. He is 24, and a lot of quarterbacks were learning their trade at his age.

Hall of Famer Dan Fouts? He had a 5-20 record at Winston's age. Joe Namath had 70 interceptions. Peyton Manning had 58 interceptions, although he had started to win. Joe Montana had not; he had two career wins at Winston's age. At Winston's age, Steve Young was 1-4 with the Bucs. Len Dawson had only one start, and he lost it.

There are more examples. Drew Brees was 10-17 as a quarterback at Winston's age. Johnny Unitas was 10-9. Brett Favre was coming off of a 24-interception season. Troy Aikman was 7-19. Terry Bradshaw had 58 interceptions. John Elway had 52. Ken Stabler hadn't thrown an NFL pass yet.

Y.A. Tittle was 1-6 at Winston's age. Bart Starr was 3-15-1. Fran Tarkenton had thrown 68 interceptions. These are Hall of Fame quarterbacks, guys. Yes, rules make it harder than ever for a quarterback to throw an interception, but the examples do show that quarterbacks often have to grow up, and have their teams do the same.

And so it goes. It takes time for a quarterback to ripen, and NFL teams don't like to give a quarterback time. The money plays a factor, too. Winston is scheduled to make $20.1 million dollars in 2019.

Look, I understand if there are those who have seen Winston lose too often. It's easy to lump him in with Josh Freeman and Trent Dilfer and Vinny Testaverde. Hope runs out very quickly at these prices.

Still ....

Me? I swallow hard, and I pay it.

No, I don't give him a long-term contract yet. I want him to prove some things to me on the field, and some things off. I want maturity at both places. But at this point, I'm not ready to blow him up and start over with another rookie and another set of mistakes.

The hardest thing in the world is patience. Right now, it's the thing the Bucs need the most.

And it's the hardest thing for a team to ask of its fans. But a 3-7 with another season spinning out of control, there is no other choice.





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