Can the Bucs survive if Winston isn’t good?

by Gary Shelton on July 10, 2019 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Year five, and the Bucs are still waiting on Winston./CARMEN MANDATO

Wednesday, 3 a.m.

It starts with the quarterback.

In every town, on every team, it starts with the quarterback. The way the rules are in the NFL today, it is impossible for a team to be good unless its quarterback is very, very good.

And so, before you begin to weigh the chances of the Tampa Bay Bucs -- who go to training camp at the end of this month -- to be better, you have look to Jameis Winston. How much improvement can he make, and how much improvement can he allow his team to make.

It's a tired question, isn't it? Which explains why so many have grown so weary of Winston so fast. He has days of promise, days when he will make you

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nod your head. But then he will throw an interception, or he will fumble, and his team will lose again, and a lot of fans will be ready to start over again. He is the quarterback, and therefore, he is the man to blame. He is the most polarizing player on the field, a guy who can keep his team close and a guy who can fade at the end.

And now, it is time.

He is 25 now, entering his fifth season. He is engaged man, a father. He has a new coach, a new coordinator. DeSean Jackson has taken his perpetual pout elsewhere. But the schedule remains hard, and the division is stacked with more accomplished quarterbacks.

In all fairness, then, what do you expect? Another five-win season? Another season with double-digit interceptions? Another man failing to overcome the lack of a solid defenses or a respectable running game? Another mixed bag where the fans try to separate what is good from what is lacking?

No, it isn't all his fault. The fair minds among us will admit that the Bucs have had a lot of shortcomings to overcome. They play defense like volunteers from the grandstands. They cannot run. They cannot kick. They cannot stop the penalty flags from falling like rain.

But no one else on this team was an overall No. 1 draft pick. No one else arrived with so many expectations. This is Winston's team, and it is silly to try to excuse him from the chaos.

It has always been a major flaw in the Bucs' blueprint. They have drafted impact players, particularly quarterbacks, and expected them to forgive the rest of the shortcomings on the roster. When they cannot, the entire team folds.

So what is different this season? Well, there is coach Bruce Arians, the quarterback whisperer who may need to do some shouting before it is all over. There is Byron Leftwich and Clyde Christensen, and fans who are trying to forget what they once thought of those two when they were the quarterback and the offensive coordinator. The secondary has been revamped, again. There is a new kicking hopeful. There is a new defensive scheme.

Ah, but there is also a history of failure here. You are aware that the last playoff game they won was that long ago Super Bowl. Heck,  in a league that helps its teams more than any other, it's been more than a decade since they made the post-season tournament. They have finished last seven times in eight seasons.

Winston, too, is part of that misery. He has won 21 of 54 starts in his four seasons. He has been suspended. He has gotten into a sideline tiff in a game in which he didn't even play. In his last two seasons, he has won exactly six times. He has been mocked for fake-eating his fingers in a sideline speech.

A suspicion here: Bucs fans, even the guys who hate Winston, don't want to. He's a gregarious sort with a good smile and a good arm. The fans would love to cheer him leading this team into the post-season. But frankly, that seems a long way off to most analysts. The running game hasn't been fixed. The defense still carries doubts. The offensive line in sketchy. Clearly, Arians has some heavy lifting to do.

Hey, you can make a list of the Bucs who need to have good years. Mike Evans, because he's the best player on the field. Carl Nassib, because Jason Pierre-Paul is healing Ndamukong Suh, because Gerald McCoy doesn't live here anymore. Chris Godwin, because Jackson doesn't, either. Ronald Jones, because he showed zero a  year ago. Carlton Davis, because the secondary was a mess. O.J. Howard, because he has star potential.

But for every name you call out, the argument is that Winston is more important. If he isn't good, the Bucs won't be, either. This team simply doesn't have enough ways to beat an opponent without him.

Do you believe in him? Do you believe in his future?

From here, what choice do you have?

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