The countdown clock is ticking and week by week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers move one step closer to the expiration of Quarterback Jameis Winston’s rookie contract. Considering the fact he currently leads the National Football League in passing yards while also ranking second in touchdown passes thrown, it would be easy to assume that the Bessemer, Alabama native is in line for a massive contract extension this coming winter.
Unfortunately for Winston, that assumption isn’t one that provokes reality. Instead, that fantasy is likely to be met with intense deliberation by both the Bucs’ and the former-Heisman Trophy winner’s representatives, as both parties are nearing a crossroads decision regarding the signal-caller’s future with the franchise.
Tampa Bay drafted Winston first overall during the 2015 NFL Draft after a successful tenure at Florida State where he led the Seminoles to a victory in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game. Despite questions regarding his maturity, the team selected him with the idea that they were getting a big-armed passer who had been a winner at every level he played and was cast in the mold of the franchise’s future at the quarterback position.
Throughout the last five seasons, Winston’s career has seen many peaks and valleys. Initially, he set a multitude of Buccaneers rookie passing records, which provided a solid foundation that eventually led to him being ranked 57th on the NFL’s list of Top 100 Players of 2017 by his peers. However, things began taking a downturn in the years that followed. As of late, his career has been plagued by controversy and suspension relating to a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy, a right-shoulder injury, and bad decision-making with the football in his hand.
Make no mistake about it. Winston is a surefire, turnover machine who poses a threat to giveaway momentum and victories in favor of his opponents every single time he touches the football. Since entering the league, the former All-American has compiled 132 turnovers, which is the equivalent of just over 26 giveaways per season. Because of his misfortunes, and the fact that he plays a position where he touches the football every single play, it’s easy to understand why Jameis maintains a career record of 28-40 throughout 68 starts for Tampa Bay.
These aren’t exactly numbers that would incite Tampa Bay’s General Manager Jason Licht to award Winston with a massive contract extension moving forward. However, as of late Winston’s play has provided plenty of reasons for optimism that would suggest the team may be interested in placing a franchise tag on the quarterback. The jury is still out on this youngster’s case, and considering the fact the .500 Bucs’ are likely to miss out on a top quarterback in the upcoming NFL Draft, this move would be the best option for the franchise moving forward.
There is a slight chance that both Eli Manning and Cam Newton will enter free agency this offseason. Still, it wouldn’t make much sense for a team-building towards the future with a new coach to take a gamble on two quarterbacks whose careers are obviously declining. Manning is a breath away from retirement, and the oft-injured Newton has spent more time in the training room the past five seasons than Mr. Glass.
Winston isn’t completely to blame for the Buccaneers’ struggles as a team. Since being drafted, the franchise has been in upheaval by electing to change head coaches three times during his five-year career. First, the incumbent Lovie Smith was fired after a 6-10 performance on the season. Then, the team hired rookie head coach Dirk Koetter, a former offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons under Mike Smith who limped to a 19-29 record during his campaign between 2016-2018.
After hiring Head Coach Bruce Arians this past offseason, it seems that for the first time in Winston’s career there is a reason to believe his development will continue. The coach is considered a “QB Whisperer” and has worked with other quality passers earlier in his career like Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, and Carson Palmer. The two-time NFL Coach of the Year has led the Buccaneer to a 7-7 record thus far in his inaugural season with two games remaining.
Arians’ effect on Winston hasn’t gone unnoticed, as he embodies a cultural ideology of aggressive play and risk-taking. His trademark slogan, “No risk-it, no biscuit” mentality encourages Winston to take chances, who is obviously laying everything on the line this “boom or bust” season. As mentioned prior, the quarterback leads the NFL in passing this season with 4,573 yards and ranks second with 30 touchdown passes. Not bad for someone who has been sacked the third-most times across the league this season.
To gain a true sense of Winston’s career to this point. It’s important to find other comparable passers who embodied the mentality of a gunslinger during their first five seasons as starting quarterbacks in the league.
This case in point references one Hall-of-Fame player with one Super Bowl win, three MVP awards and eleven Pro Bowl appearances. Another reference can be made regarding a likely first-ballot inductee who won two Super Bowls (the only QB in NFL history to accomplish the feat with two different teams), five MVP awards (NFL record), and fourteen Pro Bowl appearances.
Those comparable players are none other than Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, respectively. Each player’s first five seasons as a full-time NFL starter, along with Winston’s are provided below as evidence to support the submission:
Through 5 Seasons as Full-Time NFL Starter
P. Manning: 20,618 YDS / 138 TD’s / 100 INT’s / 85.9 RTG / 27 Fumbles / 42-38 in Starts
J. Winston: 19,201 YDS / 118 TD’s / 82 INT’s / 87.8 RTG / 50 Fumbles / 28-40 in Starts
B. Favre: 19,364 YDS / 147 TD’s / 77 INT’s / 88.7 RTG / 52 Fumbles / 50-27 in Starts
By analyzing the evidence provided, the major factor separating Winston from the others is the difference in career wins. Despite not being coined a “winner” at this point in his career, it’s obvious Winston can be mentioned in the same breath as the other two from a statistical standpoint, specifically in terms of passer rating.
Another major point of reference is his career touchdown passes. This is sure to climb in the event he is resigned and continues his tutelage under Arians, as he has already shown improvement this season. It’s quite possible the coach’s plan to rebuild Winston will first start by building his confidence this season, and focus on better decision-making in the years to follow.
In layman’s terms, it would be absolutely foolish of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to cut ties with Winston at this point in his career because the evidence provided suggests there is plenty of upside to his career, which is being fueled by the developments in his current situation relating to performance, scheme, and coaching support. This team should slap him with a tag to allow the chance for his continued development.
The numbers don’t lie. It’s vital that in order to transcend from gunslinger to winner that “famous” Jameis cuts down on turnovers and better protects the football. I’m not suggesting that he is a future Hall-of-Famer like Manning or Favre, but that he currently is on a similar pace as the two individuals and still remains a prospective franchise quarterback.
Winston’s future is surrounded by a multitude of questions, yet he still possesses the makeup for success at the quarterback position in the NFL. The only thing that is glaringly obvious, and that can be presumed with one-hundred percent certainty is that he is no Marcus Mariota…