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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. I’m Betting On Winston
I’ve seen the polls. I’ve read the columns from my friend and colleague Tom Jones in the Tampa Bay Times, who has called for the Buccaneers to part ways with quarterback Jameis Winston immediately following his three-game suspension by the NFL for an alleged groping incident involving a female Uber driver in Arizona in March of 2016.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about the topic: “What to do with Winston?”
Not “What will the Bucs do with Winston?”
In fact the question is what should the Bucs do with Winston?
Because what the Bucs will do with Winston is keep him on the 2018 roster where his teammates will rally around him this season. What happens after that depends on what transpires on the field this season and next, when he is poised to play on his fifth-year option for $20.922 million in 2019.
After a few weeks of reflection, I’m going to go against what Jones and a growing number of you might think, and I’m going to support Winston remaining with the Buccaneers – for the long haul if he continues to progress as a quarterback on the field.
Despite his popularity being at an all-time low in Tampa Bay, I’m with Winston.
I’m not condoning Winston’s alleged behavior at all, nor am I ignoring it. Let me be clear that groping, inappropriate sexual contact – whatever you want to call it – is unacceptable any time, anywhere and any place.
But I’ve spent a lot of time really thinking about this instead of instantly reacting to it, and I am putting a lot of stock into five things regarding Winston when it comes to my support.
1. The first is that this is his lone type of disciplinary action that Winston has had with the Buccaneers. I’m fully aware of his past transgressions at Florida State. They’ve been well documented, especially his alleged sexual assault of Erica Kinsman of which there were no charges filed. It’s true that they are a part of his past – his pre-Buccaneers past.
What we have to look at is his three years in Tampa Bay and all of the community service work he’s done with area youth and how he’s quickly evolved into a strong leadership role in the Bucs locker room and on the field. Should one incident that drew a three-game suspension (keep in mind that some PED suspensions are four games) by the NFL automatically wipe out all the good Winston has done in Tampa Bay?
The answer is no. So far, there has been more far more good than bad when it comes to Winston’s behavior. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
2. The second factor I’m looking at is that Winston’s alleged incident with the Uber driver happened in March of 2016. That’s almost two and a half years ago. So Winston’s first and only known incident that has happened since he’s been a Buccaneer happened when he was 22 years old. He’s now 24 and by the time he plays through his fifth year option – assuming he does and does not sign a long-term contract extension prior to 2020 – he will be 26 by the time he’s slated to be a free agent.
If this is the only nefarious incident that Winston will have as a Buccaneer by then it will have been almost four years since it occurred. One would have to think that enough growth and maturity will have occurred by then to realize that the chances of Winston committing another related act of impropriety greatly diminish as he will face a year-long suspension for the next occurrence. That’s something neither the Bucs nor Winston wants, and a telling sign that this is his first and last warning that the NFL will not be tolerant of any other behavior that would result in a suspension.
What I’m not going to do is use Winston’s youth as an excuse, however. Just because Winston is now 24 or will be 26 doesn’t automatically mean that something bad won’t happen again. Former Carolina wide receiver Rae Carruth plotted the assassination of the mother of his child at age 25. Former Atlanta safety and team captain Eugene Robinson was arrested during Super Bowl week soliciting an undercover cop for prostitution at the age of 35.
Stupidity doesn’t have a maturity date or an expiration date. I’m just willing to bet that this suspension has Winston’s full attention and that he’s going to change his ways, which leads me to my next factor.
3. The most telling passage in Winston’s statement following the official announcement of his three-game suspension was his admission that he had given up alcohol. Good for him, as by the accounts of that fateful night in Arizona, Winston had become drunk and unruly at a party – hence the Uber ride. Not only do I believe it was a contributing factor in the groping charge in Arizona, but I would bet alcohol was involved and possibly had a role to play in his night with Kinsman at Florida State.
Sober people typically make better decisions, and some people simply can’t handle booze. Some people are funny drunks. Some people are mean drunks. Some people get very flirty and grabby when they are drunk. Some people are pass-out drunks. I’m not sure what type Winston was, but the fact that he’s given up alcohol is a good thing as it has contributed to some of his past problems.
According to the Uber driver, Winston began to inappropriately touch her and when she asked what he was doing he stopped. Depending on how drunk Winston was during the Uber ride, there is a pretty good chance he may not totally remember the events that transpired or allegedly transpired, and that’s not good. Preventing any other incidents like this from happening by staying sober seems like the wise and reasonable thing for Winston to do.
4. Winston announced he had become a father to his son, Antonor Malachi Winston, on July 4. He got engaged his to his long-time girlfriend and the child’s mother, Breion Allen, back in May. The actions that were alleged to occur in Arizona in March of 2016 happened at a different time and place in Winston’s life. Getting married and becoming a father require more selflessness and maturity.
Yet make no mistake. There are plenty of deadbeat dads and cheating husbands out there in the streets of America. Getting married and having a child doesn’t mean that Winston – or anyone – will automatically be more responsible and won’t make mistakes. But it means he should be more responsible.
Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans hasn’t had a single incident that has damaged his reputation while at Texas A&M or in Tampa Bay. Evans, who is a father and was married a few years ago, now has more in common with Winston than just being teammates and catching touchdown passes. Here’s to hoping that being a father and eventually being married allows Winston to stay on a truer path like the one that Evans seems to be on.
5. The final point I’m marinating on is a big one to the Bucs organization, and that’s the level of investment the team has in Winston, who was the first overall draft pick in 2015. In case you haven’t heard, trying to find a good quarterback isn’t easy, especially for this franchise, which has never had a drafted quarterback get signed to a second contract in its four decades of existence.
Think about that for a second.
Now think about the fact that former Bucs quarterbacks Doug Williams, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer all went on to win Super Bowls elsewhere, and that Vinny Testaverde, the number one overall pick in 1987 by Tampa Bay, passed for 46,233 yards and went to the playoffs three times in his 21-year career.
Simply parting ways with the first overall draft pick – especially a quarterback – is not an easy decision, nor should it be despite what Jones thinks. Do you really want to see Winston, who has yet to fully develop as an NFL quarterback, go off and be successful elsewhere at the ripe old age of 26?
Are you willing to bet that Winston goes elsewhere and flops? History suggests otherwise because the track record this team has is that good quarterbacks that leave here find greatness elsewhere. I don’t think that this fan base can withstand another one, especially the old-time folks that have been following this franchise since 1976.
So does Winston deserved to be banished from Tampa Bay over an alleged act that the NFL deemed worthy of only a three-game suspension? No, absolutely not.
And don’t tell me that the original ban was supposed to be for six games. It’s a three-game suspension that only becomes a six-game suspension if he doesn’t meet certain requirements set forth by the league, which likely includes counseling. If it were a six-game suspension, Winston would be suspended six games by Emperor Goodell and his NFL.
Instead of being over-reactionary and wanting to kick Winston down the road and betting against him, I’m betting on him. And you know what? The Bucs are, too.
I’m going to go all in on supporting Winston, and forgiving him of – at the very least putting himself in a bad situation – with alcohol and bad judgment as the culprit – and expecting a sober Winston not to make any more bad decisions that will put his NFL career in Tampa Bay at risk.
I don’t believe Winston is a bad guy. I don’t believe he’s undeserving of a second chance in Tampa.
If I’m wrong – and the Bucs are wrong – and Winston screws up again, we’ll have egg on our face and the player many hoped would be this team’s franchise quarterback will indeed be on the next pirate ship out of Tampa Bay. Jones and those who believe Winston should have been released by now will be proven right in the end.
I’m willing to take this chance because I’ve seen pro players like Ray Lewis, Ben Roethlisberger and Kobe Bryant bounce back from similar accusations to have a lot of success with their respective teams. I think Winston can, too.
I believe that the only way Winston won’t be a Buccaneer past the year 2019 will be if he falters on the field as a quarterback, rather than off the field as a citizen not using good citizenship. He has two years to grow and mature as a QB. And of course I’m hoping he grows and matures as a person, too.
Winston has 100 million reasons not to screw up again. I’ll take those odds – that’s a bet worth making.