To franchise or not to franchise?
That is the question facing the Bucs general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians by the end of this season. So is he worth it? Let’s take a look at his short career and try to figure it out.
Jameis Winston has been more productive than he has been destructive over his time in Tampa Bay. At just 25 years old, he’s become the Buccaneers all-time leader in passing yards (16,399), touchdowns (100), and yards per game (264.5). He is fourth in interceptions (68 in 62 games),z behind Vinnie Testaverde (112 in 76 games), Trent Dilfer (80 in 79 games), and Doug Williams (73 in 67 games) with Josh Freeman being fifth (66 in 60 games). Turnovers are never good, but I tend to look at TD%/INT% rather than just the actual numbers. For instance, Winston’s TD% is 4.7, meaning that nearly 5% of his throws are for touchdowns. In Tampa Bay’s history, only Mike Glennon (4.8) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (5.9) has a higher TD% among starting QB’s. Other notables are Brian Griese (4.6), Josh Freeman (4.1), Doug Williams (3.9), Brad Johnson (3.8), Jeff Garcia (3.8), Vinnie Testaverde (3.6), and Trent Dilfer (3.4). When it comes to INT%, Winston doesn’t look that bad considering. His 3.2 is better than a lot of former Bucs quarterbacks like Vinnie Testaverde (5.2), Steve DeBerg (4.4), Josh McCown (4.3), Doug Williams and Trent Dilfer (3.9), Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Griese (3.7), and Josh Freeman (3.4). In fact, the only ones better were Shaun King (3.1), Mike Glennon, and Brad Johnson (2.4). Sure, Winston has thrown his share of picks, but in the grand scheme of Buccaneers’ history, he hasn’t been as bad as some make him out to be.
The thing that makes Jameis Winston seem so bad is that when he is bad, he’s REALLY BAD. In his first NFL game, he only completed 48% of his passes for 210 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions plus he had 2 fumbles. Out of 62 career games, he’s had 14 games where he’s thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. He’s had 8 games where he’s thrown 3 or more interceptions. Then again, he’s also got 13 games where he’s thrown 3 or more touchdowns as well as a franchise-record 5 games with 4 or more touchdowns. When Jameis is “on”, there’s not many better. But when he’s “off”, he’s off the charts “off”.
You can’t deny the talent of the young man. It’s there. Unfortunately for him, he hasn’t had the support behind him to win more games. He’s never had a decent run game. He’s never had a decent offensive line. He’s never had a decent defense. They’ve tried to give him help over the years, it just hasn’t been enough. They got him one of the best wide receivers in football with Mike Evans and one of the best wide receiver duos in the league this year in Evans and Chris Godwin. They have the most expensive o-line in the NFL. They drafted the best tight end in college football a couple of years ago in OJ Howard, and now, they’ve brought in the “QB Whisperer” himself, Bruce Arians, along with Byron Leftwich and Clyde Christensen to coach him up. That’s all well and good, but despite all that money upfront, the o-line STILL isn’t that good. The Bucs STILL don’t have a decent run game. They STILL don’t have a decent defense. And they’re STILL losing games.
But let’s blame Jameis, right?
Well, two of the losses this season can be put on him. The first game against the 49ers where he threw 3 interceptions, including two for touchdowns, and then the London game against the Panthers where he threw 5 interceptions and fumbled twice. Those two games were lost because of his poor play. The other two losses were a team effort.
The dilemma is that Jameis does have a tremendous upside. His accomplishments speak for themselves. Here’s the list of NFL and franchise records that he’s tied or set in his first five seasons:
– Most passing touchdowns in a single game by a rookie (5)
– Most passing touchdowns in one half by a rookie (4)
– Youngest player to pass for 3,000 yards
– Youngest player to pass for 4,000 yards
– Second youngest player to pass for 10,000 yards
– Youngest player to pass for 40 touchdowns
– Only player to pass for 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons
– Most touchdown passes before 24 years old
– Most touchdowns in a game (5)
– Most passing touchdowns in a season by a rookie (22)
– Most passing yards in a single season by a rookie (4,042)
– Most rushing touchdowns by a QB in one season (6)
– Highest completion percentage by a rookie QB (58.3%)
– Most passing touchdowns in a single season (28)
– Most passing yards in a single season (4,090)
– Most 300-yard passing games in a single season (6)
– Most 300-yard passing games in a career (16)
– Most consecutive 3,000 yard passing seasons (3)
– Most seasons with 3,000 yards passing (3)
– Most consecutive seasons with 4,000 yards (2)
– Most seasons with 4,000 yards passing (2)
– Most passing touchdowns in a career (100)
– Most passing completions in a career (1285)
– Most career passing yards (16,399)
It’s an impressive list. In addition to all of that, he also has five 4th quarter comebacks and nine game-winning drives. Statistically, he’s by far the best quarterback that this franchise has ever seen and the closest they’ve had to a “franchise QB”. Unfortunately, the one stat that Bucs fans can’t seem to overlook is his 23-37 record as a starter. It’s the crappy part of being a quarterback. Winston could throw for 450 yards and 5 touchdowns scoring 42 points, but if the Bucs defense gives up 45 points, it’s an “L” on the QB’s record. Is it fair? Not really, but it comes with the job. Jameis knows that. He accepts that. He lives with that. He’s had to here in Tampa. He doesn’t have a choice. It is what it is.
After reading all of these stats, just think about this for a second.
What if Jameis had a decent o-line?
What if Jameis had a better run game to lean on?
What if Jameis had a defense that he could depend on to hold opponents to less than 20 points per game?
What could he accomplish, then? I realize that it’s his fifth season. I realize that he shouldn’t be having games as he did in London at this point in his career. I realize that he should be improving each year. But can you really expect that from him with an o-line that’s given up the second-most sacks in the league this season (25) and a defense with the worst secondary in football who’s on pace to allow the most passing yards in a season in NFL history?
Well, can you?
I’m not so sure. That’s why I don’t envy Jason Licht right now. He is on the verge of having to make the biggest decision of his career. Do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to roll the dice with Jameis Winston, or do they draft a new “franchise quarterback” in the upcoming NFL Draft and start from scratch? If they’re going to do it, then this is the time. If Jason is still on the fence after this season, then he has one of two choices: put the franchise tag on Jameis which pays him around $25 million or so for the 2020 season and give him one more chance to prove himself OR let him walk and draft a new QB. They won’t re-sign him to a new deal unless they’re absolutely sure that he’s the man from here on out. If there’s any question at all, it’s got to be one of those two choices.
Why draft a new QB next year? Just take a look at the quarterback class coming out in the 2020 Draft.
Tua Tagovailoa – Alabama
30 games: 70% comp/6,768 yards/81 touchdowns/10 interceptions
Jalen Hurts – Oklahoma
49 games: 65% comp/7,700 yards/68 touchdowns/15 interceptions
Joe Burrow – LSU
20 games: 66% comp/5,378 yards/45 touchdowns/8 interceptions
Justin Herbert – Oregon
36 games: 64% comp/8,952 yards/84 touchdowns/18 interceptions
Jake Fromm – Georgia
36 games: 66% comp/6,782 yards/63 touchdowns/16 interceptions
At least three of these guys will be first-round draft picks, and one of them could end up as the #1 pick of the Draft. If the Bucs are going to start over with a new quarterback, then it needs to be sooner than later. Bruce Arians doesn’t have a big window here in Tampa. He’ll be here for three, maybe four years tops before he hands the reigns to Leftwich (that is if Leftwich isn’t a head coach somewhere else by then). Jameis Winston was a big reason why Arians came to Tampa in the first place. So if the Bucs decide to move on from him, don’t you think Arians would like to handpick his next QB project himself? Of course, he would.
On the flip side, if Jason Licht and Bruce Arians do decide that Jameis Winston is the man, then they have to do two things next offseason: fix the secondary and fix the offensive line. The Bucs have a projected $84 million in cap space next year, according to Sportrac.com, and they’re going to need every penny. They’re not going to re-sign right tackle Demar Dotson, and I actually think Dot will retire after this season. His heart is in it, but his 34-year-old body is not. That means the Bucs have to find a legit answer for his replacement. Whether it’s moving Donovan Smith over there and finding a better-left tackle in free agency or getting one in the draft OR just finding a right tackle somewhere, it has to be done. As far as the secondary is concerned, I’m not sure what to do there. Jason Licht can’t continue to spend draft picks on it without getting results. It’s already full of young, early-round talent and it doesn’t seem to be working. They need experience. They need leadership. They need a true #1 corner in that group. Maybe he could bring in a veteran cornerback, but who’s going to be available? Who will the Bucs be able to afford? No matter what, they have to fix those two problems or this team will continue to lose games, and Jameis will continue to be the fall guy for those losses.
So what’s my opinion?
Keep him. Coach him. Make him better. Protect him and run the ball better with an improved o-line. Protect the leads that he gets better with an improved secondary. Jameis Winston has all the tools to be a great NFL quarterback; he just needs the team around him to help him be a successful one.
He’s got 10 games left this season to prove to Jason, Bruce, the team and the fans that he’s worthy of a $150 million contract. If he does it, then great. We know we have our “franchise QB” of the future, but if the turnovers, bad decisions, and poor play continue, then I think the choice is clear. As of right now, he’s still my quarterback. Let’s see if he can prove that he deserves to keep the job.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!