If we’re realistic about Jameis Winston, all Bucs fans would agree that he’s far from perfect and needs to improve when it comes to protecting the football if this team is ever going to be a Super Bowl contender. Of course, there are varying degrees to which fans believe he’s fallen short of expectations, but anyone who watched Winston play last year knows that 30 interceptions is bad, limiting your own opportunities to score is bad and giving other teams more chances to score is bad, especially with an NFL-record seven pick-sixes. That’s pretty simple.
There is also plenty of good that comes with having Winston as Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback. He’s an aggressive downfield passer who consistently trusts his receivers and gives them chances to make plays. Flashes of anticipatory, high-degree-of-difficulty throws exist in almost every one of Winston’s games, and he consistently makes plays that not a ton of passers in the NFL can make.
So how do we weigh his brilliance against his blindness as a passer? Could another available quarterback more aptly handle the responsibilities placed on them in Bruce Arians’ offense in 2020?
While this year’s free agency crop of QBs is littered with big names, is any of them a great fit in Tampa Bay? Let’s look at the realistic (and semi-realistic) quarterback alternatives for the Bucs this upcoming season if Tampa Bay wants to go in a different direction and/or the team and Winston cannot agree to contract terms.
1. Philip Rivers
Never the most physically gifted quarterback, Rivers has utilized an unorthodox delivery and uncanny accuracy to carve out a Hall of Fame career despite limited playoff success. His arm is still okay, but not great, and Rivers pushed the ball down the field less last season than he has in the past.
Schematically the fit may be able to work, but does Rivers really represent more success for the Bucs in 2020 than Winston will? What’s the upside to this move? Granted, it is difficult to predict what the 38-year old Rivers will look like away from the disastrous organization that is the L.A. Chargers (and their history of unbelievable losses), but his play was trending in the wrong direction last season, and he isn’t getting any younger.
I tried to think of ways that Rivers was an upgrade over Winston, and even in the one that stands out the most – less turnovers/mistakes – Rivers was still bad last season, throwing 20 interceptions, third-most in the league. Some of Rivers’ turnovers were just as stubborn and shake-your-head worthy as Winston, albeit behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.
One area where Rivers would be an upgrade is that he takes far less sacks than Winston due to his rapid mental processing and stronger desire to play on schedule. Winston isn’t a great athlete, but he’s way more mobile than Rivers and more willingly gives way to an improvisational style of play, which has its blessings and its curses.
Still, if the Bucs’ biggest issue as an offense last season was protecting the football, opting for a slightly less negative with no upside and less chance of the high-end plays that Winston provides makes little sense to me. I don’t think opting for Rivers over Winston would be a disastrous move for the franchise that would mark the difference between 6-10 and 10-6, but I think the evidence we have suggests the better chance for success and growth as an offense would be to tag Winston, who already knows the offense, in 2020 over inking Rivers to a short-term deal.
2. Tom Brady
At age 42, Brady is not “cooked,” but he is declining. Still, he’s probably a Top 15 quarterback at worst right now, and a Top 10 ranking with a bounce-back season isn’t out of sight just yet either. Brady can still zip the ball in tight windows, and he’s still on the top of his game mentally. He’s actually the guy at the top of Tampa Bay’s list – and a lot of QB-needy teams’ lists, too.
Also, if you’re looking for less turnovers you’ve come to the right place, as Brady hasn’t thrown more than 11 interceptions in a season since 2012. In fact, over the past four seasons combined Brady has thrown just 29 total interceptions, or one less than Winston did just this past season (yikes!).
I’m gonna make this simple. If you’re the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and you can get Tom Brady, you get Tom Brady. Period.
Maybe the scheme fit isn’t totally perfect, but Arians needs to find a way to tweak what he has to in order to get Brady on board. Excitement among the Tampa Bay fan base would be at an all-time high, the Glazers would love a sold-out Raymond James Stadium, players in the locker room would be absolutely thrilled, and Brady can still win you games and ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT LOSE THEM for you.
Of course, Brady has to want to come to Tampa, and I apologize if I have my doubts that not only will he want to jump ship in New England, where a playoff berth and division title are virtually guaranteed every year, but that he would also want to come play for a team that, while improving, can’t offer what other suitors have in an offensive line or even a more proven defense.
So, if the Bucs can get Brady, get him. But I think it’s the longest of long shots and I don’t consider it a realistic option for the Bucs right now.
3. Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill, Matt Stafford and Andy Dalton
I just put Stafford here only to address the fact that Detroit isn’t trading him, so forget about that one. If the Lions cut him or traded him he would cost the team $32 million in dead cap money.
Tennessee has been heavily rumored to be prepared to invest big-time in Tannehill, so let the Titans be the ones to make that mistake.
The Bengals want to trade Dalton, but I don’t see the Bucs investing a draft pick in a 32-year QB with a $17.7 million salary that has been mediocre over the past two seasons.
Also, Carolina probably only moves on from Newton if they believe his physical health is a concern moving forward, at which point I would be hesitant to invest much in the star quarterback if I were running the Bucs. A healthy Newton is an upgrade over Winston, but he hasn’t truly been healthy in a long time, and he turns 31 in May. After shoulder surgeries and foot surgeries, Newton is a high-risk prospect that may have to settle for a one-year prove-it deal elsewhere.
4. Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota and Case Keenum
None of them are better than Winston. And none of them are ideal scheme fits for Arians’ offense either. Also, they all fall short of the physical prototype Arians has typically pursued at quarterback – think Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Winston in terms of stature and pocket presence. It’s hard to believe any of them are real options moving forward.
5. The 2020 Draft
I don’t mind this option for the Bucs, but at No. 14 their choices are going to be pretty limited with LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert off the board by then. Those three QBs are going in the Top 10 in the draft, and there is at least a decent chance that a fourth – likely Utah State’s Jordan Love – could work his way in there, too. The Bucs don’t have the ammo to make a big jump up the board without sacrificing the majority of this year’s draft choices and next year’s picks, too.
If Love is available at 14, the Bucs may consider selecting him, although there is incredible irony in moving on from a 30-30 TD/INT quarterback for one that just threw 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions playing in the Mountain West Conference. Even if the Bucs were to pull the trigger on Love, that decision would ultimately come after choosing to tag Winston or not. So Winston would still be the Bucs quarterback in 2020, and Love would be waiting in the wings and developing.
Although I seriously doubt it would happen at No. 14, Washington quarterback Jacob Eason could be a Bucs’ target in the second round if the team still has questions at the position when the draft rolls around.
Here is a fact: the Glazers hired Bruce Arians in large part because they believed his gifts working with quarterbacks and his offensive scheme could develop Winston into a player that had a better shot at maintaining his peak play in the league. In my opinion, 2020 was a small step in that direction, while some of Winston’s flaws also became more visible.
Still, what is there to suggest that the Glazers were wrong after this past season?
“Winston threw tons of picks!”
Okay, well he did that before. Winston has always been a maddening quarterback to watch in some ways, but weren’t the highs during last season also higher than they were before? Didn’t he show improvement as a deep ball passer? Wasn’t Winston also better than he’d been before, outside of the turnover-worthy plays and shake-your-head sacks that he occasionally takes?
I am not saying that Winston is a terrific or even desirable option for the Bucs at quarterback to begin the 2020 season. I am not saying he will ever cut his bone-headed plays in half or that he will become a perennial Pro Bowl passer that everyone envisioned he could when he became the first overall pick in 2015. I am not saying that the Bucs won’t lose any games because of his play next season and his generous nature with the football, because they very well may.
But I am saying that Winston appears to be the best option to start at quarterback for the Bucs in 2020 given Tampa Bay’s current circumstances. Tampa Bay hired Arians to help Winston succeed, and giving up on that process after one year, without a clear plan for upgrades at the position, isn’t a wise decision. Unless Brady comes calling, the Bucs need to tag Winston and give him one more chance as their starting quarterback in 2020.