FAB 3. Will Winston’s 3-Game Suspension Aid His Development?
Led by columnist Tom Jones, the Tampa Bay Times continues to beat the anti-Jameis Winston drum, and there’s nothing wrong with that narrative. After all, it’s a fact that Winston was suspended for three games for an incident in which he allegedly groped a female Uber driver, which if true, was certainly inappropriate.
Yet, it’s also a fact that the female Uber driver didn’t call the police and press criminal charges, nor did she file a civil lawsuit. Her lone resolution to the situation was merely to file a complaint with Uber, which suspended Winston’s account.
I’ve stated my opinion on Winston in a previous SR’s Fab 5. I’ve decided to bet on him – that this incident, which happened over two years ago, will be the last time Winston gets in trouble and that he won’t put his NFL career as Tampa Bay’s quarterback in jeopardy again.
If I’m wrong, I’m wrong and if Winston screws up again, he’ll be suspended for a year and the Bucs will cut him. Jones and any others in the anti-Winston camp that want Winston gone will be vindicated – proven right and can say, “See! I told you so!”
The Times can continue bellyaching over Winston and publicly shaming him with column after column all season long for all I care. But it seems pointless to me. Unless something else happens off the field, Winston will return in Week 4 and possibly start the next week at Chicago and spend the rest of the season under center.
Does Winston want to move forward and put this incident and his suspension in the past? Of course he does, and said that repeatedly on Thursday. Wouldn’t you say the same things? While the punishment came down in June, this alleged incident happened over two years ago.
I repeat. Two years ago.
Think about yourself for a second and how you might have changed or grown as a person over the last two years in certain areas or aspects of your personal life. For example, there was a two-year period of time decades ago where my father went from being an alcoholic womanizer to a sober, faithful man who now devotes his life to Kairos prison ministry.
Winston, by the way, has now said he’s sober and given up alcohol.
Jones wanted Winston to publicly address the Uber driver in his press conference on Thursday. Keep in mind Winston can’t come out and specifically apologize for what may or may not have happened with the Uber driver during the ride in Arizona in March of 2016 because if he does admit guilt or fault, it could open him to a civil lawsuit if she wants to grab some cash from a millionaire quarterback, who, by the way, will be making $20.92 million next year while playing out his fifth-year option, which the Bucs picked up this offseason.
Winston looked humbled and dejected when he addressed the media on Thursday after practice. I don’t think his words rang hollow. He – and his teammates – clearly wants to move on and focus on football. They don’t want this to be a dark cloud that lingers and hangs over this franchise for the 2018 season.
There are an awful lot of Tampa Bay fans that still support Winston, and I believe the Times is in danger of being viewed as being an anti-Winston news outlet if the anti-Winston narrative continues because he’s the Bucs quarterback and they are Bucs fans. Of course, that’s the Times’ business, and this is just my opinion.
I consider Jones to be a friend and his columns on Winston are excellent and well-written and some have been fair, and I’ve told him that on more than one occasion. I just don’t agree at all with the narrative and his proposed solution – cutting Winston and banishing him from Tampa Bay.
Winston will be banished from One Buccaneer Place for three weeks for his suspension, and let’s discuss this for a moment. Winston has only missed a few games before. At Florida State he was suspended for the Clemson game in 2014, but was still on the sidelines as backup quarterback Sean Maguire led the Seminoles to a 23-17 victory in overtime. Last year, Winston was on the sidelines with an injured shoulder while watching Ryan Fitzpatrick go 2-1 in his absence.
It’s going to be a little tougher on Winston this go-around. For the first time in his life, Winston will actually be banned from football – not just be prevented from playing. He will not be allowed to practice with the team until after the Bucs play Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football in Week 3. Winston will not be allowed to be at One Buccaneer Place at all. Not in the locker room. Not in the meeting rooms.
Winston will not be allowed on the sidelines to view the game as a spectator. In fact, Winston – and any player suspended by the league – is barred from being in any stadium that the Buccaneers play in from Week 1-3.
Although not exactly 100 percent healthy, we did see an improved Winston when he returned from his shoulder injury from his last three-game absence. As a passer, Winston was far more accurate from Week 13-17, completing 123-of-183 passes (67.2 percent) for 1,584 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions over the final five games of the season than he was at the start of the season in the first eight games before his three-game absence, as he completed 159-of-259 passes (61.3 percent) for 1,920 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions.
In the first game upon Winston’s return, the Bucs lost a 26-20 game in overtime at Green Bay, followed by three three-point losses to Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina in which the defense and special teams were just as big of a culprit in those narrow defeats as Winston and the offense might have been. In fact, Winston’s worst game of the season might have been the season finale against New Orleans in which he engineered a 31-24, come-from-behind victory. Winston completed 28-of-51 passes for 363 yards (54.9 percent) with a season-high three interceptions to go along with one rushing touchdown and a 39-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Chris Godwin
But Winston’s growth occurred watching Fitzpatrick from the sidelines and in the meeting rooms.
“I learned a lot in terms of just watching Fitz prepare throughout the week,” Winston said. “When it came to the game, I was trying my best to be engaged and to put myself in the same situations Fitz has put himself in. But definitely seeing a veteran quarterback at his finest execute and lead this team was very eye opening to me. … Very humbling, but it was a whole learning experience. I’ve never been in that situation before where an injury prevented me from playing. Like I said, I sat back and I viewed thing from a different perspective and viewed it as an opportunity to get better and not to regress.”
Winston will need to use this time as Tampa Bay’s backup quarterback to continue to learn by watching Fitzpatrick. Will he once again be aided by being sidelined? Can he benefit and emerge as a better quarterback in Week 4 by only watching Fitzpatrick operate on television?
When he returns to action, Winston has 13 games to prove himself worthy of the $20.92 million fifth-year option he’s been granted. He’s damaged his image and his standing with some in the Tampa Bay community. Winston put himself into another bad situation and has alienated some of his fan base.
Winston not only has to prove that he is a more mature individual off the field that can be more responsible around women (quitting alcohol should help), but more importantly as it pertains to his professional future, he also has to prove that he is continuing to improve as a quarterback and lead his team to more wins in 2018. During his three weeks off spending a lot of quality time with his newborn son, Antonor, and his fiancée, while working out on his own and watching game film and studying the playbook.
Having zero contact with Dirk Koetter, his coaches and his teammates will be absolutely brutal for Winston, a leader and a person that takes pride in being a great teammate. This three-game suspension will be torture for him. It will be far worse than being sidelined for a game at Florida State or injured for three games last year in Tampa Bay.
How Winston emerges in Week 4 from this three-game suspension will go along way in determining how Tampa Bay’s 2018 season fares, but also should give us a glimpse of Winston’s future with the Buccaneers. Bucs general manager Jason Licht needs to head into the 2019 offseason with a very open mind about the quarterback position.
Is Winston the future at the quarterback position and worth investing in with a long-term contract extension? Or is Winston still viewed as a character risk and a turnover machine with more losses than wins on his resumè? We’ll get some hints during training camp and the preseason, but we’ll truly find out the answer to those questions starting in Week 4.