Winston’s $20.9 million fifth-year option for 2019 is guaranteed for injury only at this point. He could be cut by the Bucs after the season and prior to the start of the 2019 league year with zero salary-cap implications for the team and he wouldn’t be owed a dime.
“Yeah, I just know that I’m committed to this team, and committed to doing my best to provide an opportunity for me later,” said Winston, who was benched three games after returning from suspension earlier this year.
After two bad outings for Ryan Fitzpatrick in which he threw five interceptions and mustered one rushing touchdown, Winston is now back to starting.
Winston said he believes FitzMagic’s electrifying start to the season, where he threw for 1,230 yards in three games, was the reason coach Dirk Koetter was so quick to bench Winston after his dismal outing against the Cincinnati Bengals. In three quarters, Winston threw four interceptions.
“I think we can go back to how this season started — ‘FitzMagic’ — that was all the talk. He was playing excellent,” Winston said. “I can’t speak for Coach Koetter. I agree with him. We want to win. And any way our individual selves can add to that, we’re going to try our best to do that.”
But why, in his mind, didn’t Koetter chalk the Cincinnati game up to one bad day, as Winston has, and trust Winston going forward? The two have been together for four years. Was he bothered by that?
“It’s a week-to-week league,” Winston said. “That’s the simple way I can put it. In my heart, yeah, I believe I can be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. But we have an opportunity to show that. For me to be in the ranks with those high-ranked guys, I have to show that consistently.”
Some have speculated that some of Winston’s erratic play may have been linked to having so much on his mind — Fitzpatrick’s record-setting start to the season, the looming contract and repairing his image following a three-game suspension. A league investigation determined that he violated its personal conduct policy for allegedly groping a female Uber driver.
“I think that’s just been a part of my reality this year,” Winston said of his off-the-field issues. “But as a professional, my job is to go out there and execute on Sundays.”
Wide receiver Mike Evans applauded the way Winston has handled himself.
“He’s very mentally tough, one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around,” Evans said. “I know it’s a difficult situation for both of them because they’re both tough competitors and they both want to play.”
Evans empathized with Winston, who, like him, was a top draft pick. He wasn’t sure how he’d handle the situation himself, going from suspension, to starting, to benching and back to starting.
“I don’t know man. It’s tough,” Evans said. “Quarterback is the hardest position in all of team sports, in my opinion — the things that they have to think about, and they have to know what everybody is doing, not just on offense, but defense as well. It’s tough. It’s tough. I really don’t know what I’d do if I was in that situation.”