Welcome to QB Stock Watch. This is the first entry in a series running for the remainder of this season about some of the league’s most difficult, and interesting, quarterback decisions to be made before Week 1 of 2019. Up first: Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Player: Jameis Winston
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6)
Current contract situation: Winston is in the final year of his rookie deal, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a fifth-year option they could exercise at $20,922,000. This is, at the moment, guaranteed for injury but when the new league year starts, it kicks into a 100 percent guarantee. I tend to agree with Michael Ginnitti over at Spotrac, who worried a bit about the Buccaneers’ cap situation in 2019 if Winston gets hurt this season. That may be part of the reason we’ll see Ryan Fitzpatrick on the field from here on out. If Tampa Bay indeed changes coaches this offseason, it will be one of the least attractive jobs on the market. The team’s veteran stars will need to be gutted in order to make room. Also, they will most likely be starting over at the quarterback position.
2018 season: Winston started the season on a four-game suspension. Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick is, in some ways, a better fit in that offense and took hold of the starting job even upon Winston’s return. However, both quarterbacks tend to spiral in less-than-ideal situations and Winston got his job back. He proceeded to throw six touchdowns and 10 interceptions over four games and lost his job again. He is now an unfortunate side character in a melodrama playing out in Tampa. He cannot play because they don’t want him getting hurt. The coaches don’t want to risk it because there is no time left to develop him.
What to expect for the rest of the season: Barring a catastrophically bizarre decision, Winston will probably ride the bench for the remainder of this season. The Buccaneers will have some hard choices to make in December and January, and Winston will likely be a huge subject of any head coaching or general manager interviews if they take place. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a team view him as a reclamation project on the free agent market, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see him somehow make his way back to Tampa Bay. It’s hard to overstate how many supposed offensive gurus are going to hit the coaching carousel in December and January promising ownership that they can fix the quarterback with the right system.
The Buccaneers currently have less than a 1% chance of making the playoffs, according to Football Outsiders. So the clock may start ticking on Winston’s future sooner than we thought.
Will the QB be on the same team next season? Here’s why I’m tempted to say yes: Winston was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. And even though there could be a different coach and different general manager, people hate giving up on No. 1 picks–especially quarterbacks. The fear that he will stumble into a better situation and maximize his potential is real–almost as significant as the fear that they’ll bring him back for $20 million and he’ll wind up on the bench again. If the Buccaneers make a coaching change, there will also be a curiosity as to how he’d perform with a different offensive coordinator.
Here’s why I’m tempted to say no: The obvious. His off-the-field record is troubling to say the least. His teammates seemed to respond much better to Fitzpatrick and it would be difficult to trust him moving forward. Making him play out his one-year option would put Tampa in another sticky situation. If Winston plays marginally well, he’ll need a top of the market APY on his next contract. If he doesn’t, the franchise has significantly delayed its ability to find its next quarterback.
Other options for the team: As we mentioned in Friday morning’s newsletter, I think it’s time Tampa Bay took a chance. They might now see their previous swing and miss at Chip Kelly as a godsend, but I think any team stuck in perpetual mediocrity needs to shake things up a little bit. What does that mean for the quarterback position? Sign Tyrod Taylor. Draft Tyree Jackson or take a flier on Jordan Ta’amu. Hire Chip Long or Jeff Scott or some Mike Leach disciple to coordinate your offense (not that Todd Monken was doing a bad job–he’s actually great–but Dirk Koetter took play calling responsibilities back). Do something that isn’t chasing your tail on Jon Gruden. Make the Buccaneers hard to defend.
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