By Tom Brady – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Writer
Let me take you back to Chicago and April 30, 2015.
It’s the first day of the NFL draft and after a disastrous 2-14 season, the Tanka Bay, sorry, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they have been awarded the 1st overall pick.
The clear need for the Buccaneers is a leader, a winner, and somebody to build the franchise around for years to come. Draft experts claimed there would be only two possibilities with the 1st pick – Jameis Winston, a talented pocket quarterback out of Florida State and Marcus Mariota, a more mobile quarterback out of Oregon. Both previous Heisman Trophy winners and both would be expected to bring a win now mentality to Tampa Bay.
Winston was arguably the more polished QB in college and showed better leadership skills than Mariota. However, trouble followed Jameis around after numerous accusations including shoplifting and assault, his draft stock somewhat dropped in the build up to the draft. Despite all that, the Buccaneers showed faith in Winston, and used their most important pick for a decade to bring him to the NFL and keep him in Florida.
If you look at the 2016 draft, it appears that the Bucs picking a QB in 2015 was the right decision. The Bucs had the 11th overall pick in 2016 and with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz going as 1 and 2, while the other QB options were limited (with the exception of Dak Prescott who went in the 4th round – I highly doubt the Bucs were aware of his potential during the draft).
I always thought that the Bucs could have signed an experienced free agent QB to replace Josh Freeman for the 2015 season and then look to the draft in 2016, but if they hadn’t gained the 1st or 2nd pick, they wouldn’t have found an NFL ready QB.
Granted, since then exceptional talents like Pat Mahomes could have been available but it’s all a game of what if.
So, was picking Winston the right decision?
As the 2019 NFL season starts, it’s clear that Mariota has made a better and more consistent start in the NFL compared to Winston over the last 4 years. Winston has more completions and touchdowns, but has also played more games, and has far more interceptions and sacks. The fact is, most NFL fans would rather have Mariota as their QB over Winston right now.
The debate over Winston has been ongoing between Bucs fans pretty much since his second year as the starting QB. He showed glimpses in his rookie year of being able to grow into a great NFL QB – he did and still does have great size and a strong arm and fans argue that the best QB in the world couldn’t be too productive behind an unreliable offensive line.
The Bucs have changed and upgraded the offensive line numerous times over the 4 years Winston has been behind centre but he is yet to show the skills necessary to be a great, consistent QB in the NFL.
The Bucs decision-makers are clearly high on Winston but is this because they used a 1st overall pick on him or because they genuinely believe in his ability? He has certainly been afforded ALOT of time and patience and it wasn’t until Ryan Fitzpatrick was brought in that Winston had any real competition at QB – Winston was ultimately dropped in favour of Fitzmagic for the best part of the 2018/2019 season.
The consensus amongst Bucs fans (myself included) is that Winston has one more year to prove his ability and expectations are high under the guidance of the QB whisperer Bruce Arians and former QB turned Bucs Offensive coach Byron Leftwich. Deep down, Bucs fans want Jameis to succeed. He went to college in Florida and has a lot of fans due to his work in the community and he really does seem like a nice guy. But being a nice guy doesn’t keep you in the NFL.
So what are the options for the Bucs?
If Winston can show consistency, maturity and better decision making in the 2019 season then he will be re-signed and given another chance next year. After all, he’s still only 25 years old and has time to develop.
If not, the Bucs are likely to gain a top 10 1st round pick for the 2020 draft which is LOADED with good quarterbacks. Arians will be licking his lips at the thought of working with the highly rated Jake Fromm, out of Georgia or even Justin Herbert from Oregon, if available. Other feasible options include Derek Carr who is out of favour at the Raiders and both Dak Prescott and Phil Rivers, who are both in contract negotiations but for now are set to be free agents in 2020.
Perhaps the most intriguing option is a certain Marcus Mariota, who is also set to hit free agency in 2020 – could we see a huge plot twist based on draft decisions 4 years ago?
Even if Winston does perform this year, it may be worth looking at a strong back up either in the draft or free-agency. After all, you never know what you’re going to get with Famous Jameis…
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