Jason Licht and Bruce Arians have a very important decision to make this off-season. A major decision. A historic decision. A decision that could make or break this franchise for years to come.
WHAT SHOULD THEY DO WITH THEIR QUARTERBACK POSITION?
I don’t envy them at all. This is a decision that not only affects the player, but it affects the team as a whole. It could affect the franchise. It could potentially affect their jobs. Especially in Licht’s case. He drafted Jameis Winston with the #1 pick of the 2015 NFL Draft. He chose him to be Tampa Bay’s franchise saving quarterback. If he decides to move on from Winston and go another direction, then it means he wasted five years of this franchise’s time AND that #1 draft pick. But what are the alternatives? What are the other options for the Buccaneers this off-season IF they decide to let Jameis walk? That’s what I’m taking a look at here. I wanted to weigh out all the options on the table to see what might be the best decision for the 2020 Buccaneers. Whether it’s just a rumor or whether it’s coming straight out of One Buc, I’ll break down every choice, good or bad.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t have a very good track record when it comes to quarterbacks. In their 45 years of existence, they’ve had over 30 different regular season starting quarterbacks. Jameis Winston is now tied for the most seasons as the Bucs starter (5) along with Doug Williams, Vinnie Testaverde, Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, and Josh Freeman. If he sticks around, he’ll be the only Buccaneer QB to start for six straight seasons. If he doesn’t, he’ll just be the next in a long line of failed attempts to find this team a true franchise quarterback.
Jason Licht could go a bunch of different directions with this QB decision. Re-sign Jameis. Go with a veteran free agent. Draft one and start all over again. Roll the dice with Ryan Griffin. Or even a combination of a couple of them. Whichever he chooses, he needs to make damn sure it’s the right choice, or it could mean his job. With the Roberto Aguayo debacle freshly seared into Bucs fans’ brains, a wasted #1 pick with Winston could possibly push them over the edge to the point where the Glazers have no choice but to make a change at general manager.
THE IN-HOUSE ROUTE
This is something that nobody has talked about or even mentioned when it comes to possible quarterback scenarios for the Bucs, but I think it could be an option (even if it is the most far fetched). Ryan Griffin is still under contract for another season. The Bucs could choose to let Jameis walk and allow Griffin to become the starter. I know he has zero experience, and he’s a HUGE unknown, but how would that be different from drafting an unproven rookie and starting him right away? If Bruce Arians feels like Griff can be a solid game manager and NOT turn the ball over, then he just might feel comfortable with him as the starter if the defense is as good as he thinks it’s going to be. That’s a lot of “IF’s”, but it’s a possibility. Retaining Griff as the starter and re-signing Blaine Gabbert as a veteran backup, who knows the system, is an option that could be on the table. The best thing about this scenario is that it would save them a ton of cap room, and allow them to re-sign most, if not all of their free agents. It’s probably the most unlikely option, but it’s possible.
THE FREE AGENT ROUTE
This year’s group of free-agent quarterbacks is a very intriguing one. It’s made up of some of the best quarterbacks of all-time, although they’re on the downward slopes of their careers. There’s been a bunch of BIG names “linked” to the Buccaneers already from Tom Brady to Philip Rivers to Drew Brees to Dak Prescott. There have also been some not-so-big names linked to them too; from Ryan Tannehill to Teddy Bridgewater to Derek Carr to even Marcus Mariota, don’t even start, I know. Of all the Bucs options, this one might be my least favorite. It would be like putting a Band-Aid on an arterial bleed. It’s pointless. Sure it might lead to one good playoff run, but what then? They’ll be right back in the same position looking for another “franchise QB”. Let’s look at each one of these free agents separately, and see what, if anything, would be appealing about them.
Tom Brady: Sure, pretty much every football fan outside of Boston hates this guy with a passion. Still, he might go down as the best quarterbacks of all time. I personally think he’s staying in New England, especially after that Super Bowl commercial. However, you never know what the Patriots might do. Brady is 42 years old and might have a couple more years left in the tank, even though he says he’d like to play until he’s 45 years old. Even though he got the Pats into the playoffs with no offensive weapons to work with and he’d probably salivate to play with the offensive stars on this Bucs roster, I just don’t see him coming to Tampa. I say he returns to New England to finish his career with Bill.
Drew Brees: This one hasn’t garnered quite as much attention as some of the others, but it has been put out there. The Saints are hurting pretty bad for salary cap space, with just over $9 million available. Unlike Brady, Brees is taking some time this off-season to contemplate retirement and hasn’t stated which way he’s leaning yet. He’s 41 years old and could choose to hang up his cleats and start a broadcasting career. If he does decide to continue playing, I seriously doubt it would be for a Saints division rival. However, I also don’t see the Saints being able to afford to re-sign him. For that reason, I think Brees will retire and ride off into the sunset.
Dak Prescott: Here’s another scenario that hasn’t been as popular, but has surfaced a time or two. The Cowboys have nearly $80 million in cap space, so they should be able to afford to keep him, but you never know what Jerry Jones is thinking. If he hits the open market, then he could be an option for Tampa Bay, and he wouldn’t be a bad one. He’s got all the tools to run Arians offense effectively. The question is, can he do it without that all-star offensive line and a legit running game? I’m not so sure. In any case, I see him staying put in Dallas, so Bucs fans probably shouldn’t get their hopes up too much about this one.
Philip Rivers: Of all the really good quarterbacks rumored to be headed to Tampa, this one might have the most steam. The Chargers have already said publicly that they’re preparing to move on from the 38-year-old Rivers. He’s reportedly moved his entire family to Florida, including all 17 kids. And Bruce Arians is on record saying, “I love him. He’s a winner!”; however, I’m not convinced that he’s the man for the job. I don’t think he has the arm for Arians offense, and he’s not mobile enough to survive behind this Buccaneers o-line. Do you really think the Bucs would replace the 26-year-old Winston with a 38-year-old Rivers, who threw the third-most interceptions in the league last season? Even if the Bucs do sign him, he’s just a stop-gap for this team. He’s not going to play much longer, and they’ll be right back in the same boat. Rivers might be playing somewhere next season, but I don’t think it will be in Tampa. My guess would be Indianapolis.
Ryan Tannehill: Again, not a scenario with much behind it, but it’s still out there. It seems as though the Titans are moving on from Marcus Mariota, so I’d be surprised if they let Tannehill walk too. He didn’t have a great season, but he did just enough to ride Derrick Henry’s coattails to the playoffs. He doesn’t perk up my interests at all as a Tampa Bay prospect. I don’t think he has the arm strength to run Arians offense, and he’s just not that good of a quarterback.
Teddy Bridgewater: With Drew Brees possibly retiring, the Saints might be looking for Teddy to be their new starting quarterback. He’s only 28-years-old and under contract until 2022, with a 2020 salary of just $4 million. It might be the best way for them to fix their starting QB situation with little to no cap space. Besides, he did fill in nicely for Brees last season going 5-0 in the stretch that he was out with a thumb injury. My guess is that he remains in New Orleans as the starter.
Derek Carr: I heard someone throw this name out recently, and it intrigued me just a little bit. The scenario was that Jon Gruden would bring in a big name vet like Brady or Rivers in to run his complicated offense and send Carr packing, which of course, led to Carr coming to Tampa. I don’t really see this happening, but I didn’t hate the idea of Carr to the Bucs IF they do, in fact, let Winston walk. He would be a good fit for the offense, and he definitely has the arm to make all the throws necessary. Plus, he’s still fairly young at 28-years-old. For this to happen, though, the Raiders would have to eat about $8 million in dead cap space, so it’s not likely to happen, and I would still prefer Winston over him.
Marcus Mariota/Mike Glennon: Believe it or not, I’ve heard both of these names pop up in connection with the Buccaneers. I’m taking a HARD PASS on both. I’m sure both of these guys will get signed somewhere, but it won’t be in Tampa. With Glennon, the Bucs have been there done that. And they made the right decision about Mariota back in 2015, so that’s not happening either.
THE DRAFT ROUTE
Picking 14th in this year’s NFL Draft gives the Bucs virtually no chance at LSU’s Joe Burrow, who is overwhelmingly considered the best quarterback in this draft. It probably won’t even get them the second-best QB in this draft, which would be Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. That’s fine with me. He’s coming off of a serious hip injury, and it’s still unknown if he’s going to fully recover from it. With 6 of the top 13 teams possibly looking for a new QB, it’s highly unlikely that the Bucs even get the third-best quarterback in the draft, which would be Oregon’s, Justin Herbert. That’s fine with me too. He doesn’t have the arm to make the necessary throws in Arians’ offense. However, they might just have a chance at the fourth-ranked QB in this draft, which is Utah State’s, Jordan Love. I’ve had the Bucs taking him in both of my mock drafts so far, but not in the first round. His stock has risen since the Senior Bowl, so he’s gone from being a fourth-round project to a third-round prospect and now to a legit first-round pick. After that, there are some decent prospects like Georgia’s Jake Fromm or Washington’s Jacob Eason that the Bucs could take if the top four guys are gone by the time they go on the clock.
I’m not convinced that this alone is the solution to the Bucs QB problem. I do think they will be drafting a quarterback fairly early in this draft, but I don’t think it will be with their first-round pick, and I don’t think it will be to find a new “franchise QB”. I think it will be to find a new backup and possible “insurance policy” for the future. The only way this would work would be in conjunction with either re-signing Winston or signing a proven free agent to start next season.
THE JAMEIS WINSTON ROUTE
We’ve talked about free agents and draft prospects, old vets, and new rooks. What I haven’t touched on is the option of keeping Jameis Winston. With the decision to roll with Winston comes other decisions that Licht and Arians will have to make. Do they hit him with the franchise tag, or do they re-sign him to a multi-year deal? Each one has it’s pros and cons, so let’s break those options down:
With the decision to hit Jameis with the franchise tag comes a one year/$27 million price tag. It’s a pretty hefty price to pay for a guy who threw 30 interceptions last season. It’s also likely more than they would pay next season in a multi-year deal. It would allow the Bucs to evaluate Winston during his second year in Arians system, which is typically when it “clicks” for his quarterbacks. It would also give the Bucs a chance to cut bait should he have another 30 interception season without any salary cap repercussions. On the flip side, should Winston have a “massive year” as Arians former Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is predicting, the Bucs could end up having to fork over a fortune to re-sign him to a new deal plus there could be some animosity there about being tagged.
If they simply work out a multi-year contract, then they might be able to get him at a cheaper price than the $27 million franchise tag price. The Bucs have a little leverage to work with since he’s coming off that 30 interception season and a fifth straight year of no playoffs with Winston under center. I think a fair number would be something around the $23 million a year range with some performance incentives tacked on for good measure. Maybe even an escalating salary over the next four years starting at $20 million in 2020, then $22 million in 2021, $24 million in 2022, and ending with $26 million in 2023. That would be a 4yr/$92 million deal with $45 million guaranteed and a chance for more with performance bonuses. I think that would be a fair deal at this point in Winston’s career. But this 2020 season would be a BIG make or break year for him no matter what the Bucs decide to do.
The Bucs are doing their homework on Jameis. They thoroughly evaluate every player on the roster each off-season, but I would assume that they’re paying some special attention to this particular situation. It’s a BIG decision. It’s arguably the biggest decision in franchise history. Jason Licht is leaving no stone unturned. If I was a betting man, I’d say that they’re leaning towards a multi-year deal. Word on the street is that they’ve already agreed to something, and they’re just ironing out the details. We should at least know about the franchise tag pretty soon. The time for teams to use the tag starts on February 25 and ends on March 10, meaning IF the Bucs are going to use that on Jameis, they have to do so by then. At least that would give us the answer to one of the questions involving this situation. After that, free agency opens up as of 4 pm on March 18, and at that point, it may not be up to the Bucs any longer as Jameis Winston would be an unrestricted free agent and could sign with any team he wishes. I don’t think it will get to that point. I would be surprised if Jameis is not a Buc next season. He wants to stay in Tampa. Most fans want him to stay in Tampa. Bruce Arians likes him. Jason Licht drafted him and would love for him to become what he thought he would be when he picked him #1 overall. I just don’t see it happening any other way, but you never know. After all, the NFL is a business, and a “what have you done for me lately” league. Either way, we should know what their decision is soon enough.
Until then, as always; GO BUCS!!!