Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
Sikkema’s Stat of the Week
Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Matthew Stafford; they all threw interceptions. And you know what else? They eventually won football games.
You know who can’t do that in Tampa Bay? Jameis Winston.
Brees had a worse turnover ratio than Jameis Winston did when Brees was Winston’s age. And then, in his third year in the league, Brees evolved and never looked back.
Manning had a worse turnover ratio than Winston did when Manning was Winston’s age. And then, in his third year in the league, Manning evolved and never looked back.
Favre had a worse turnover ratio than Winston did when Favre was Winston’s age. And then, in his third year in the league, Favre evolved and never looked back.
Stafford had a worse turnover ratio than Winston did when Stafford was Winston’s age. And then, in his third year in the league, Stafford evolved and never looked back.
This isn’t about maturity or age or time or giving up on a guy too soon. It’s about a quarterback who’s always been this way, and that people have wanted so badly for him to be more that they’re living in a world that doesn’t exist.
It’s Year Four for Winston. He isn’t Brees or Manning or Favre or Stafford. They all figured it out by now.
With so much evidence against him, I don’t think he ever will figure it out – not in Tampa Bay, at least.
I do wonder how different things would be if the events of Winston’s on-field football life did not pan out the way they did, in the exact order they did.
I remember where I was when I first saw Winston. I was in my old apartment at the University of Florida the night Winston threw for 356 yards and four touchdowns against Pittsburgh to open up the 2013 college football season, completing over 90 percent of his passes. I remember thinking, “Wow, this kid is going to be something special.” And that season he was. Winston threw for over 4,000 yards, 40 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions on the way to becoming the Heisman Trophy winner and the catalyst for the Noles’ national championship.
Since then, Winston has never been close to being that kind of player, in college or the NFL. Winston threw just 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions the following season, his last at Florida State. Winston threw 22 TDs and 15 INTs as a rookie in 2015, followed by a career-high 28 TDs in 18 INTs the next year. In 13 games last season, Winston threw 19 TDs and 11 INTs, and has six scoring strikes this year and a league-high 10 picks in just three and a half games. As Scott Reynolds pointed out in his SR’s Fab 5, Winston is a turnover machine.
To this point, in his three full seasons with the Buccaneers, he’s never thrown for a season average TD-INT ratio of over 1.7 (just once). Of Brees, Manning, Favre and Stafford, they rarely, if at all, have posted TD-INT ratios below 2.0 at all after their first two years as starters. Winston should be much better than he is, at this point, and he’s just not.
Nothing compared to the first season we saw from Winston at Florida State, and I wonder how much that first impression truly skewed the belief in him that would follow.
First impressions are hard to break. They’re foundational. Winston’s was iconic – heroic, even. The kind that makes you think he could save a city. That’s what the Buccaneers thought, at least. And now, not only is he not on the side of the building at Raymond James, not only was his face not on the initial marketing campaign, not only was he not voted a captain by his teammates, he’s not even the starting quarterback anymore.
It’s not just about the stats. Winston has some of the highest passing numbers in NFL history for anyone his age. You can take some of Winston’s stats and put them up against the best. But it’s these surrounding things that matter.
It’s the fact that, yes he hasn’t had a good defense around him, but he’s put the Bucs defense in a hole far more times than he should. It’s the fact that there are players in the locker room who don’t believe in him to the point where they’ve asked to be traded – players that know what it’s like to win. It’s the fact that the coaches and front office would even entertain the idea of benching him – and then actually doing it.
And all of that is still without even mentioning his off the field problems. Coming into the NFL, trust was the one major weakness with Winston. It was his decision making on and off the field that prevented him from being a home run prospect. So far, four years later, he’s lost his job twice already this season, once for off-field decision making and the other for on-field decision making.
He hasn’t learned. I’m not sure he ever will as long as he’s a Buccaneer.
I can be hard on Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter, at times, but that’s just because I know the weapons and the pieces that have been put before him as an offensive-minded head coach. With those players, you should expect better results than the Bucs have had – I hope he’d say that, too. But here, I feel for him. I feel for him because he’s handcuffed by a franchise quarterback that can’t be trusted. A quarterback who they had to come up with a different game plan for just because he couldn’t hit the throws consistently like the team did in the first three weeks of the season.
Koetter was essentially forced to play the quarterback – Winston – who wasn’t necessarily the best QB on the team. I don’t think anyone forced him to do it, but the nature of the situation demanded that Winston be the guy.
The Buccaneers have done everything they possibly could – relatively speaking – to help Winston. They’ve extended the contracts of Mike Evans and Cameron Brate (his two most comfortable targets). They went out and got him historically the best deep threat receiver in the game in DeSean Jackson. They’ve invested high draft picks and spent money on the offensive line. They’ve drafted tight ends and wide receivers. Heck, they even hired Koetter for Winston when Tampa Bay fired Lovie Smith
And Winston repaid them by throwing four of the ugliest interceptions I’ve seen in 2018, all in one game against the Bengals to create a deficit FitzMagic couldn’t even overcome.
Make no mistake, Ryan Fitzpatrick is starting in Carolina because he is better than Jameis Winston. Not more talented, but better and his 13 touchdowns and five interceptions this year in a little over three and a half games prove it.
Is Winston’s time in Tampa Bay up? If you ask me, it should be. How many more excuses can you give him while Fitzpatrick put up historic yards and a winning record in the same offense with the same defense behind him?
But Winston likely isn’t going anywhere at the NFL trade deadline, and the team will likely start him again at some point this year. The reason why is because this current Bucs regime may only go as far as Winston goes. That’s why I think he’ll get another crack at it, and maybe even another crack after that.
But should he? No, not here.
If Winston can’t get this together, it’s a No. 1 overall pick that is a blemish on Jason Licht’s draft record. If the team has to draft a new quarterback, they could do so with a new GM, and if that’s the case, they likely wouldn’t keep Koetter around, either.
They know this.
Their only solution is to win this year, and that’s why Fitzpatrick is starting. Because he gives this team the best chance to win. I think Fitzpatrick needs to win six out of the last nine games to save the jobs of this current regime.
It’s all on Fitzpatrick now, and all Winston can do is wait.
The Buccaneers are not his team anymore.