Many questions have yet to be answered when it comes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason, but one thing that has been made very clear is that Jameis Winston is and will be the starting quarterback. We have heard it from both head coach Bruce Arians as well as offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, and they’ve made sure to stay away from any quarterback controversy which is one of the reasons that Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t resigned when his contract expired. They want not only Jameis to know this is his team, but for every player on the roster to understand who will be behind center come week 1.
What hasn’t been made so clear, is who will be backing up Winston when the season starts. The Buccaneers currently have 4 quarterbacks on their roster with Winston being joined by Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin, and Nick Fitzgerald. Blaine Gabbert was an odd signing for many, as he is known around the league as the worst backup quarterback, not exactly what you want to be known as if you’re fighting for a spot on the roster. The main upside to having Gabbert on the team is that he comes with a wealth of experience and has spent quality time as both a backup and a starting quarterback in the NFL. His time hasn’t exactly equated into a great success, but the experience is something every team values and covets, especially in a teaching role.
Ryan Griffin was a little more sensible signing, as he has been a backup in Tampa for the past several years, but most of that time was spent as the third string behind Mike Glennon and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Griffin doesn’t come with as much playing experience as Gabbert, but Griffin certainly knows the team better than someone coming in fresh would and he knows what the fans in Tampa expect. Griffin has yet to play at the professional level, so it’s hard to judge how good he might be, but one of the reasons he has struggled to get onto the field is due to a shoulder, he injured in 2017 that found himself being placed on the injured reserve before being activated to play backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Nick Fitzgerald gives us even less experience than Griffin, but he does find himself among some shining draft picks that will be joining the Buccaneers this season. Fitzgerald was signed as an undrafted free agent following this most recent draft, which gives the Bucs a young quarterback that might find himself in the position to make the team simply based on his age and potential upside. The main advantage Fitzgerald has besides his age is his ability to be a dual-threat player, having run for over 1,000 yards in two of his four years at Mississippi State and almost running for a thousand in another year. When you can run for almost 1400 yards and throw for almost 2,500 yards in the same season, you find yourself in short company and high demand.
Surely, we won’t see the Buccaneers carry more than 3 quarterbacks on their roster, and we may even see them drop down to just 2 if they can find the backup who gives them the confidence that a 3rd string backup won’t be necessary. The only issue at that point is trying to figure out which of the 3 are most likely to be what Arians is looking for, and for my money, I’m placing my bet on the talented rookie Nick Fitzgerald. Not only is he extremely young, but he has that dual-threat ability, the ability to play more than one position, and from everything we saw from him at Mississippi State, he has a great mentality for the game.
Assuming Arians opts for only one backup, Fitzmagic 2.0 will fit the bill nicely, but given that Arians is a coach who loves having depth at every position, we may just see Blaine Gabbert finding himself looking for another job, for no other reason than he demands a higher salary than either Fitzgerald or Griffin. Releasing Gabbert would free up almost $1.6 million dollars, and for a team that is crunched for money in regards to the salary cap, that money could go a long way towards filling another hole on the team.
Statistically speaking, none of the 3 really stand out from the crowd or from each other, but for two of them, it is more of their lacking the opportunity to show what they can do. With Gabbert, we know what we’re getting, a man who on average throws an interception for every touchdown thrown, and with a team already struggling with turnovers, it may prove to be a chance that Arians and Leftwich just aren’t willing to take.
Fitzmagic 2.0 may already find himself with a leg up on the competition, as he’s caught the attention of Bruce Arians who sees him as not only a 3rd string backup but a flexible option for various schemes and situations.
“Nick’s one of those intriguing guys, because as a quarterback he can do a lot of things for you, and I think back to Joe Webb, some of those guys who were running quarterbacks they found a niche playing special teams, being your third quarterback, maybe playing some other position as a guy to get you out of games. So, that would be his role – if he can win it – and [we’ll] groom him as a quarterback.”
Given that neither Gabbert nor Griffin really instills confidence in their ability to lead a team, let’s hope for the sake of everyone involved, that Jameis Winston stays healthy and on the field. Perhaps we find the Buccaneers in a position where they are up by several scores and we can see exactly what Griffin can do, but if not, Griffin may find himself once again going through a season without seeing a snap.
If you were Arians or Leftwich, who would you keep as your primary backup? If I’m a betting man, I’m going with Gabbert once again finding himself being released and relegated to hoping a team winds up in such shambles that they are required to call on the worst backup in the league….here’s to hoping the Bucs aren’t that team.