TAMPA, Fla. — Despite a strong showing from quarterback Jameis Winston in the preseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not committing to a starter in Week 4 when he returns from his three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Speaking on the Buccaneers’ television broadcast on WFLA TV on Thursday night, general manager Jason Licht said, “I don’t think it’s fair to say right now that he’s going to be the guy.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick, who won two of three starts for the Bucs last season while Winston was recovering from a shoulder injury, will get the nod to start this season. The Bucs play the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football in Week 3.
Licht cited the short week in Week 4 and momentum as factors that could influence the decision.
“[If] Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin, whoever it is, is playing lights out, I don’t think it’s fair right now just to say, ‘Yes, automatically, [Jameis] is going to be the guy,'” Licht said. “Now, he may be. Dirk and I — Dirk in particular — he’s got some time to think about that.”
At the beginning of training camp, Koetter was also noncommittal about Winston returning as the starter. He had Winston working primarily as the third-string quarterback before gradually getting more work in with the first- and second-team units.
But then Winston turned in arguably his strongest training camp and preseason to date, completing 30-of-41 passes (73 percent) for 388 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His 126.9 passer rating was the fourth-highest of any quarterback this preseason.
“I think performance-wise, you’d have to give Jameis an A for the preseason,” Koetter said after Winston’s final preseason performance in Week 3. “I don’t think anybody in their right mind would say that wasn’t an A performance on his part. I think he handled it well. I think he performed very well, and I think he did a really good job of working on things he needed to work on.”
By comparison, Fitzpatrick completed 17-of-28 passes for 183 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 79.9.
Despite the lack of commitment, Winston said he’s appreciative of the support he’s gotten from the organization and teammates. He also acknowledged the predicament that he put the team in and the uncertainty of the situation.
“I’m just going to work my tail off,” Winston said. “Who knows how things will go? Hopefully they go great. I know it’s going to be a tough situation for our coaches but I just want to get back with my team. That’s out of my control. I’ve just got to get back and work hard and make sure I’m ready for Week 4.”
Per NFL rules, Winston cannot be at the team facilities during his suspension, nor is he permitted to have contact with teammates or coaches. He addressed the team prior to his exit with what several teammates said was a memorable speech.
“He told us he’s going to miss us and no matter what, the ship’s gonna keep going — which is true,” said right tackle Demar Dotson. “When he comes back, [he said] he hopes we’re 3-0. We all hope that, no matter what.”
Added Keith Tandy: “He basically was telling us, ‘Be where your feet are right now. Live in the moment, don’t waste time, control what you can control now and if you do that, everything will take care of itself later on.”