What should the Bucs do about Jameis?

by Gary Shelton on January 2, 2020

in general

The Bucs are taking their time with Winston./TIM WIRT

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

Does he think about 33 touchdowns? Or does he think about 30 interceptions.

It's an easy day for Jameis Winston. His Bucs are out of regular-season games, and there are no playoffs to be had. He just made a ton of money and threw for a ton of yards. His team won seven games, but it lost nine.

So where is Winston's head? Does he think it was a good year? Does he think it was an awful year? Does he think it roller-coastered to both?

And when he thinks about tomorrow, does he wonder what color jersey he will wear?

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With Winston, no answers are easy ones. He led the league in passing yards, which is something. But he led it in bonehead plays, which is also something. He led it in easy dismissals of his problems -- who isn't weary of hearing him say "I've gotta get better?"

All of this is pertinent, of course, because for the first time, his coach Bruce Arians has softened on the apologies for Winston. After blaming the receivers, bad luck and the absence of Blaine Gabbert (Blake Gabbert?), Arians has suggested the Bucs will take a hard look at Winston before deciding whether to give him next season.

It was a touch of realism by a coach who discovers he has Winston on his shoes. Arians came to Tampa with the reputation of being a quarterback whisperer, but whispers don't cut it with Winston. Media questions don't cut it. Fans booing don't cut it.


Because Winston doesn't get it. He simply doesn't get it.

Look, this isn't a quarterback who cleaned things up as he went along. He threw 11 of his interceptions in the last four games. That's not a quarterback who realizes he isn't accurate enough to hit the windows at which he's aiming. This is a guy who is convinced he can make enough good plays to offset his bad ones. And he can't.

Is Tampa Bay ready, then, to throw another quarterback away? Think before you answer. Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl elsewhere. Steve Young. Doug Williams. Chris Chandler got to a Super Bowl. Vinny Testaverde threw 34 interceptions one season here, but he got to an AFC title game. And all of them left Tampa Bay with zero compensation.

When you think of the guys who replaced those quarterbacks, it's easy to say that the Bucs made a mistake in unloading all of them. Sure, the fans were angry. Losing does that to a fanbase.

My biggest problem with Winston is this: He isn't getting any better at protecting the football. He threw more than twice as many picks this year as he did in 2018 (14), and more than he did combined in 2016 and 2017 (29 total).

In his first five seasons in the NFL, Peyton Manning threw 100 interceptions. But in his next five seasons, he thtew 63. Does anyone here see Winston cutting down his interceptions by more than a third next year?

In his first five seasons as the starter, Drew Brees threw 64 interceptions. The last five years, He's thrown 43.

That's the kind of growth that gives a fanbase hope. No one should expect Winston to never throw an interception. I suspect fans will have to suffer through that always. But you want to know this garbage eats at Winston. You want to know he isn't just telling you what you want to hear when he talks about cutting down on his slop.

Hey, I get it. Some fans are so frustrated with Winston they won't acknowledge anything that is good about him. He doesn't win enough, and he makes stupid plays. But the truth about Winston is that he teases you with his yardage and touchdowns, then lets you down at the end.

Consider: This year, Winston threw for more yardage than anyone in the league. He threw for more touchdowns than Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. He had a higher rating than Eli Manning, Baker Mayfield and Cam Newton.

But he threw more picks than anyone since Testaverde in 1988.

Hey, interceptions are supposed to be harder to throw, right? They have restricted defensive back play, and allowed throwing it away, and liberalized holding roles, and the dump-off pass is in vogue.

So why isn't Winston getting better?

Maybe it's because it isn't important enough to him. After all his protests, he continues to throw the ball to cornerbacks. Usually, they're open.

So what happens now? The Bucs draft 14th, which isn't high enough to draft a sure thing. There will be chatter about Cam Newton and Marcus Mariota and Andy Dalton, but those guys weren't clearly better than Winston last year.

My gut still says the Bucs sign him to a one-year franchise tag. Otherwise, the Bucs go from mediocre to awful.

And next year, when Winston starts throwing to Saints and Falcons, you can say you knew it all along.

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