It’s Time For The Tampa Bay Buccaneers To Move On From Jameis Winston

Benjamin White ‘23

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When 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was drafted with the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, he was expected to be the player to snap the Buccaneers’ playoff drought. They had not won a playoff game since 2002 nor been in the playoffs since 2007. To return to that level, Tampa Bay needed Winston to excel as an NFL quarterback. Instead, the Buccaneers have been left to deal with a controversial individual and player in Jameis Winston.

 

 

Before the NFL Draft, many questions surrounding Winston arose from his character due to his run-ins with the law. Some of Winston’s legal issues have been serious accusations, while others have been plain stupid decisions. In 2012, Winston was charged with playing around with B.B. guns and causing damage to a complex in Tallahassee, Florida. The very next month, he was accused of sexual assault by a Florida State classmate, but the “State Attorney’s office opted against charging Winston, citing ‘problematic’ testimony by his accuser” [1]. In 2013, Winston’s decision-making did not improve much, as he was accused of stealing soda from a Burger King; luckily for Jameis, the manager chose not to press charges. In 2014, Jameis was also accused of shoplifting crab legs from a Publix. This finally resulted in consequences in his sports career, as he was suspended from the Florida State baseball team. That same year alone, Winston received another suspension after yelling inappropriate comments while on a table in Florida State. Even when he was merely in college, Winston accumulated a long list of controversies for his personal behavior. Despite that, the Buccaneers decided to pick Winston with the number one overall pick in the 2015 draft due to Winston’s big play-ability. 

 

 

Through his first five seasons in the NFL, Jameis Winston has demonstrated his abilities that landed him the first draft pick, such as excellent arm strength and confidence in his receivers. The issue has always lain in his decision-making as it has been both terrible on and off the field. In his first two seasons in the NFL, he stayed remarkably healthy, playing all sixteen games of the regular season. In year one, he threw for 4,042 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, and only 15 interceptions, winning him the Pepsi 2016 Rookie of the Year Award and a trip to the Pro Bowl. While a 22-15 touchdown to interception ratio may not be considered impressive, it certainly shows a positive foundation for a rookie quarterback to start out with. His passing yards represented the promise he had had as a quarterback in his early 20’s. Despite finishing the season with a 6-10 record, Buccaneers fans had hope for the future.

 

 

In year two for Jameis Winston, the Bucs had to overcome some turmoil, as head coach Lovie Smith was replaced by Dirk Koetter. Despite the major coaching change, Winston threw for 4,090 passing yards and 28 passing touchdowns, but his interceptions increased to 18. However, his passing completion percentage did go up from 58.3% to 60.8% in his first two years, showing signs of improvement. The biggest sign of improvement was the Buccaneers as a whole, as they finished with a record of 9-7, barely missing the playoffs.

 

 

Year three was more difficult for Jameis. He missed three games due to an AC joint injury. In 13 games, Winston threw for 3,504 passing yards, 19 passing touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Once again, his passing completion percentage went up, this time from 60.8% to 63.8%. Due to Winston’s three game absence, the Buccaneers suffered a severe dropoff from their previous record, from 9-7 to 5-11. With an increased completion percentage, Tampa Bay fans were counting on a career year from Winston in year four to put the Buccaneers back in playoff contention.

 

 

Unfortunately, Winston’s legal troubles followed him into the NFL. In 2016, Winston allegedly groped a female Uber driver. When this accusation arose in the 2018 season, it resulted in a 3 game-suspension for Jameis Winston. Luckily for Tampa Bay, they had a serviceable backup in Ryan Fitzpatrick who could fill the void that Winston’s suspension left. Jameis Winston was expected to return to a starting role after returning from his suspension… until Ryan Fitzpatrick started his “Fitzmagic” and went on an absolute tear. In his mid 30s, Fitzpatrick did things Bucs fans had not seen out of an early 20s Jameis Winston. Through the first three games, Fitzpatrick threw for over 400 passing yards in each game, with an 11/4 passing touchdown to interception ratio, leading Tampa Bay to a 2-1 record. This was the beginning of Jameis Winston’s downfall.

 

 

Fitzpatrick’s play did decline shortly after, leading to Winston getting his starting job back; however, due to Winston’s inconsistent play, there were two other games in which Fitzpatrick started. In his 11 game-season, Jameis Winston threw for 2,992 passing yards, 19 passing touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. Once again, Winston’s passing completion percentage went up from 63.8% to 64.6%. The Buccaneers finished the season with a 5-11 record and a 3-6 record when Jameis started as quarterback.

 

 

Following the 2018-2019 season, Dirk Koetter was fired. Things seemed bleak in Tampa Bay, until head coach Bruce Arians announced he was coming out of a one-year retirement to coach the Bucs. In Arians’ five year-tenure with the Arizona Cardinals, he led them to a division title and an NFC championship game appearance, while being known as a QB friendly-coach. His offense was centered around dynamic QB play with more passing plays than rushing plays. The 2019-2020 NFL season would be the last year of Winston’s rookie contract. Typically, players have better years during a contract year due to being motivated for a higher paying contract. With Arians at head coach, along with the growth of young wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Winston seemed poised for a breakout season.

 

 

Turnovers clearly presented trouble during Winston’s first four NFL seasons, as he posted 58 interceptions along with 15 lost fumbles. However, everyone who had paid attention to the Bucs knew that Jameis Winston had his moments where he highly resembled a franchise player. If Bruce Arians could help Winston cut down on his turnovers, Jameis would be a top QB in the NFL. And in this past season, Jameis Winston did make NFL history… just for the wrong reasons. Despite having an insanely impressive number of passing yards (5,109) along with 33 passing touchdowns, Winston’s turnover issue became even worse. With 30 interceptions, Winston became the first player in NFL history to throw for 30 TDs and 30 interceptions, with the last interception of his season being a pick six to the Falcons in overtime. Signs of hope derailed further as Winston’s passing completion percentage fell from 64.6% to 60.7%.

 

 

Jameis Winston’s tenure under contract has ended, and debate has already started whether the Buccaneers should bring him back or not. The argument in his favor has been that he has been a durable player. In the past season, he managed to start all 16 games, and in his NFL career, injuries have only caused him to miss 3 games. The other argument in Winston’s favor is that he had to learn a whole new offense this past season under Bruce Arians. Arians’ offense relies on a majority of passing plays; therefore, Winston not having a full grasp of the offense could have led to some poor choices which resulted in his many interceptions and 3 fumbles lost on the 2019-2020 NFL season. If the Bucs use the franchise tag on Winston, they could keep him under a fair salary while only giving him one year to prove he can cut back his turnovers. All provide valid reasons that suggest Tampa Bay should bring back Jameis Winston.

 

 

Giving Jameis Winston a season to prove he can cut back on his turnovers could have positive upside. However, Winston has already had five years to cut back on his interceptions, yet has failed miserably every time. His decision-making has also been horrific on and off the field. Due to his previous three game-suspension, any other run-ins with the law would force the NFL to give him a harsher suspension. Another issue with Jameis Winston has been in his inability to take Tampa Bay to the playoffs. The best quarterbacks in the NFL have all overcome adversity to elevate their team to the next level. Tom Brady shaped a dynasty after being drafted in the 6th round. Patrick Mahomes took the Chiefs to the Super Bowl after years of falling short with Alex Smith. Aaron Rodgers has dragged his team to the playoffs multiple times despite the Packers consistently having a struggling defense. The best Jameis Winston has done was missing the playoffs with a 9-7 record. 

 

 

The Buccaneers have a dynamic receiving core, a decent offensive line, and an elite defensive line when it comes to stopping run plays. To go 7-9 in a contract year is just unacceptable. Young players typically struggle in the playoffs and have to get a feel for that playoff intensity before making a real Super Bowl run. Jameis Winston has never gotten a feel for that playoff intensity. If the Buccaneers’ ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl, they need to let go of Jameis Winston while they still can. Despite his 30 interceptions, having over 5,000 passing yards demands a high paying-contract. Jameis Winston has not been able to help the Bucs in their Super Bowl aspirations, or even in snapping their playoff drought. Overpaying an unproven, losing, and poor decision-making QB just proves disastrous. The 2020 NFL draft class is loaded with QB talent, meaning that the Bucs could trade a package of draft picks to move up to a top 5 draft selection. With said pick, they’d be in contention for Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa, and Heisman Trophy winner, Joe Burrow. Franchise tagging Jameis Winston could help him learn Arians’ offense and elevate his game. But due to Jameis Winston’s poor decision making, inability to lead a team to the playoffs, and the QB talent of the 2020 draft class, bringing back Jameis Winston simply does not seem worth it. In order to snap the playoff drought, Tampa Bay should look towards another young, dynamic player; not the one who has failed the team time and time again.

 

[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/columnist/mike-jones/2018/06/22/because-his-past-jameis-winston-cant-afford-more-transgressions/725825002/