The “Jameis Winston Experiment” in Tampa Bay could possibly come to an end very soon. After five seasons, zero playoff appearances, 88 interceptions and 50 fumbles (23 lost), the Buccaneers might be moving on from their 2015 number one draft pick.
The anti-Jameis crowd is saying, “Finally!”. The #ThatsMyQB crowd is saying, “No way!”. The Tampa Bay sports media members are saying all kinds of things. But what are the Buccaneers actually saying?
I’ve been a Winston supporter ever since he was drafted. I’ve been a member of that #ThatsMyQB crowd. I’ve defended him in social media debates and I’ve written numerous times about why the team should stick with him. What I haven’t done, is looked at this Buccaneers’ quarterback situation from the team’s perspective. It’s always been from a Bucs fan point of view or a Winston fan point of view. What I wanted to do or maybe needed to do in this case was look at it with unbiased eyes. From more of a business standpoint. No feelings. No fandom. No football. Just business. Because THAT is how the Bucs are looking at this.
It’s the ugly side of the NFL. Players come and players go. Look at the Gerald McCoy situation last off-season. It happens. But this time is a little different. This time it’s the Bucs former #1 pick of the 2015 Draft. This time it’s the guy who was supposed to be the first franchise quarterback in franchise history. This time it’s the guy who was supposed to lead this team back to the postseason.
The hardest thing about making this decision is that it is Jameis. He’s everything a team could want in a franchise quarterback, both on and off the field. He’s a competitor. He’s a leader. He’s got the heart. He’s got the work ethic. He’s got the drive. He’s got the football IQ. He’s got the arm to make all the throws. He’s a pillar in the community. And he’s just a really nice, young man. The biggest problem, really the only problem, is that he just can’t stop turning the ball over. And after nearly doubling his 2018 interception total with 30 last season, the Bucs may be saying enough is enough.
This off-season, there are essentially three ways that Tampa could go with Jameis Winston. One is re-signing him to a multi-year deal. Another is using the franchise tag on him. And the other is letting him walk in free agency. All three have pros and cons. And all three are still possibilities. But only one of them is the best option for this team.
As a Winston fan, I always saw this as the only real option for the Buccaneers this off-season. Even after he threw 30 interceptions, including 7 pick-6’s last season, I still thought that it was a no-brainer to make him the first Buccaneers QB to ever sign a second contract. But is that the right business decision?
Let’s say the Bucs re-sign him to a 3yr/$75M contract with $40M guaranteed. I think $25M a year would be a fair price for him at this point. Now they’re locked in for three more years with a guy that can’t stop turning the football over and hasn’t proven that he can win in the NFL. Plus they’ve now committed to paying him $40M over the next three seasons no matter what happens. Sure he could have ended up having a “massive season” in 2020 just like Carson Palmer is predicting, but why should they expect it? He threw five more picks in 2019 (30) than he did in 2017 and 2018 combined (25). How do the Bucs know if his turnover troubles are even fixable? What if they’re not? Maybe he doesn’t throw 30 again next season, but what if he still throws 20 more? What if that’s just the kind of player Jameis is? We all know he’s a gunslinger. So was Brett Favre. So was Peyton Manning. They both had more turnovers at this point in their careers. But should the Bucs gamble $75M on hopes that he’s going to turn out to be the next Favre or Manning? I’m not so sure that’s the best business decision from the team’s perspective. Of course, the “pro” here is that the “QB Whisperer” himself Bruce Arians does fix Jameis Winston and he throws less than 15 picks next season and leads the team to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. Typically, for most of his quarterbacks, the second season in Arians’ system is much better than the first. It could happen. And if it did, then he would definitely be worth that $25M a year. But it’s a gamble.
At one point, I thought that this might be the best option for the Bucs. The biggest “pro” with the tag is that it would give the Bucs one more season, Winston’s second with Arians, to evaluate him and see if the turnover problem is going to continue to be a problem or not. If he has a solid season, cuts down on the picks and gets the Bucs to the playoffs, then the team can once again consider signing him to a long, multi-year deal with guaranteed money. If the turnovers keep coming, then they could cut him loose and go a different direction.
However, there are multiple “cons” that come with this option. One is that the franchise tag will end up costing the team about $27M next season, which is probably more than re-signing him to a multi-year deal that would cost them. Two is that they would be using the franchise tag on him instead of Shaq Barrett. That’s a problem because if Shaq is not tagged, he could command as much as $20M a year if he hits the open market. The price of a franchise tag on an outside linebacker is about $16M, which means it could save the Bucs about $4M in cap space. That could be the difference between re-signing or not re-signing one of the other free agent players from that defensive line. The third is that they could miss out on one of these big-time free agent quarterbacks that might be available this off-season like Philip Rivers or Tom Brady. What if they tag Winston and he has another terrible turnover year? The free-agent quarterback group for 2021 isn’t near the caliber of what it is this year. They could be missing out on a chance to bring in a proven vet with a winning pedigree that could get this team over the top and into the playoffs. And it’s because of these three reasons that I don’t feel like the franchise tag is the best decision from the team’s perspective.
Drew Brees. Tom Brady. Philip Rivers. Dak Prescott. They’re all part of the 2020 free-agent quarterback group. While I think Brees and Prescott are staying put, Brady and Rivers could be available. The Chargers have basically said they’re moving on from Rivers, but it appears as though the Colts have some significant interest in him already. And according to his agent, Brady has meetings set up with multiple teams over the next couple of weeks, including the Buccaneers. Even if the Bucs miss out on one of these guys, it could still set off a chain reaction of shuffling quarterbacks. For instance, the Raiders are one of the teams that Brady is supposedly meeting with. If they end up signing him, then Derek Carr would suddenly become available, whether he’s released or just as a trade.
Since Brady seems like the more likely scenario, I’ll use him as an example. If TB12 does, in fact, have a genuine interest in coming to Tampa, then why wouldn’t the Bucs seriously entertain the idea? They’d be doing themselves AND their fans a disservice if they didn’t. Sure he’s 42 years old. But he’s also a six-time Super Bowl champion and he’s only thrown 36 interceptions since Jameis Winston came into the league five years ago. They might only get two or three more years out of him, but that’s about all the Bucs are going to get out of Bruce Arians too. They may as well put themselves in contention for those two or three years, right? Brady would do that. Adding him to this team with all of these offensive weapons and a defense that’s on the rise automatically makes them contenders in my opinion.
The “cons” here are simple. One is that in this scenario, the Bucs would not only be paying more for Brady than they would have for Winston, but they would still have to use a valuable early-round draft pick on a quarterback as well. At least, that would be the smart thing to do. Signing Brady and then drafting a guy like Jacob Eason to sit, watch and learn from one of the best to ever do it for the next couple of years would be ideal for this team and would set them up for years to come. The problem with this is that they’re not using that draft pick on another position of need.
Another “con” in this scenario is that Jameis Winston is no longer a Buccaneer. While that may make some of you Jameis haters happy, it’s not a good thing for the organization. It means that they wasted a #1 draft pick. It means that these last five seasons were wasted. And it could mean that Jason Licht is that much closer to looking for a new job. In any case, it’s not a good look for a franchise that is already the joke of the league.
Perhaps the biggest con in this scenario is that the Bucs could end up with nothing. They could miss out on Brady AND Winston, which would be the absolute worst thing that could happen. What would they do then? Re-sign Blaine Gabbert to be the starter? Promote Ryan Griffin? Sign a different free agent? Draft a rookie to be the starter? None of those options sound appetizing to me at all.
With all that said, here’s what I’ve come up with as the best possible business decision for the Buccaneers organization moving forward. (Disclaimer: This is purely my opinion, based on everything that I’ve heard and seen from different media sources as well as what Bruce Arians and Jason Licht both said at the NFL Combine last week. It is not the opinion of Bucs Life Media or any other members of BLM.)
I do feel like the Bucs have at least talked to Winston about a new deal, but the two sides were just so far apart that they couldn’t get anything done, which led them to where they are now. It appears as though they will not be using the franchise tag on Winston, but are now leaning toward using it on Shaq Barrett if they can’t get a long term deal worked out. That leaves them with Door #3, free agency or the Tom Brady sweepstakes as it turns out. The Bucs seem to be waiting to see what’s going on with him before they make a final decision on Jameis. According to Arians, a decision could be announced as early as this week. In less than two weeks, free agency opens up and Winston will hit the open market. The Bucs may be rolling the dice a little bit here thinking that there may not be much interest from other teams. After all, he is coming off of that 30 interception season. He’s never made the playoffs. And he might be getting the reputation of a head coach killer since he’s on his third one in five years. If they miss out on Brady and there’s no real interest for Jameis from other teams in free agency, then they could end up getting him back for much less than they originally would have by just re-signing him to a multi-year deal.
There are two different ideal scenarios for the Bucs, from a business aspect. The first is signing Brady and drafting Eason, which sets them up for the next decade with franchise quarterbacks and could end up bringing another Lombardi Trophy to Tampa sooner rather than later. The other is missing out on Brady, but re-signing Winston for $18M a year rather than $25M a year because he didn’t generate any real interest in the free-agent market. Those are the two most likely outcomes for the Bucs quarterback situation this off-season. Regardless, we should find out soon what the decision is and then hopefully, we can put all of this behind us and move on with whatever Jason Licht and Bruce Arians decide to do.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!