Quarterback Jameis Winston failing to fire for Tampa Bay
24-year-old’s problems off the pitch have been coupled with poor performances on it
Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being benched during Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati defeated Tampa Bay 37-34. Photograph: Andy Lyons/Getty Images.
Jameis Winston hasn’t developed on the field and there’s little evidence he’s grown up off it.
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Winston first overall out of Florida State in 2015 he was considered a remarkable if flawed talent: a risk taker with a great arm, a PhD-level understanding of the game, and the strength to make plays with defenders draped all over his body.
His performance this Sunday in Cincinnati should be the final straw though. Winston completed just 18 of his 35 pass attempts, throwing one touchdown to four picks – matching his career high. Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Winston late in the third quarter and instantly turbo-charged the Bucs’ flagging offence, tossing for 194 yards on 11 of 15 passing, with two touchdowns to zero interceptions.
If that doesn’t scream quarterback controversy, nothing does.
“I don’t have any problems making decisions, and I will make it when the time is right, head coach Dirk Koetter said after the game. “Now is probably not the right time to make it.” It doesn’t seem that hard.
Winston entered Week Eight 21st in quarterback DYAR, a measure of the quarterback’s overall value. In other words: he’s stunk, even with an abundance of weapons surrounding him. For what it’s worth, Ryan Fitzpatrick was eighth on the list, ahead of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger. Winston was terrible on Sunday while Fitzpatrick was immense.
In mitigation, Winston’s offensive line and run-game have struggled ever since he rolled into town, but too many of Winston’s mistakes are of his own making: overshooting receivers downfield and forcing throws to spots he needn’t. His is a boom-or-bust game, lacking any efficiency. That doesn’t work in 2018, where explosive quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers are also among the most efficient in the sport. If Winston had shown something – anything – that suggested his game was evolving, it would be a different story. But he hasn’t, whether that’s because he’s unwilling or unable.
Add all this to the fact that Winston served a three-game suspension to open the season for allegedly groping a female Uber driver in March of 2016 (Winston was never charged over the incident but did apologise to the driver). Winston’s history with off-the-field concerns is well-documented, ranging from the theft of crab legs to the alleged sexual assault of another student while at Florida State (again, Winston was not charged over the allegations but did reach a settlement with the woman). It’s understandable to think those reasons alone should end his run in Tampa. Is the juice worth that toxic squeeze?
The Bucs picked up Winston’s fifth-year option last offseason but the $21m he’s owed is only guaranteed through injury. The Bucs could move on from him this offseason without owing Winston a cent although the more likely option is that the team will seek to trade him.
If the Bucs do move on, the 2019 draft class isn’t loaded with talent. The best-eligible quarterback in the country, Oregon’s Justin Herbert, is reported to be considering returning to school for an extra year. That gives Tampa some leverage in negations.
Moving on from the first overall pick is painful. It’s an admission of failure, from the top to the bottom of an organization but that shouldn’t stop the team moving on at the earliest possible opportunity (the trade deadline isn’t until Tuesday, guys). It’s a sunk cost at this point. Fitzpatrick gives them the best chance to win games in 2018, although he is far from a perfect player himself.
Winston will, of course, have suitors. An NFL coach will convince himself he can fix Winston, they always do. A franchise will give up more than we expect for him, be it via trade or in free-agent dollars, they always do. But Winston is who he is: a net-negative at quarterback with a troubling pattern of off-the-field behavior.
Elsewhere, the Cleveland Browns have reportedly parted company with head coach Hue Jackson following Sunday’s 33-18 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers.