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FAB 1. Is It Fair For The Bucs To Evaluate Winston On Just 2019?
We’ve seen it all from Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston this year.
We’ve seen the sterling performance in a 55-40 Week 4 upset of the Rams out in Los Angeles when Winston threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns with one interception and was the NFC Offensive Player of the Week – looking like the number one overall pick from the 2015 NFL Draft.
And we’ve seen an absolute clunker from Winston in a 37-26 loss to Carolina in London two weeks later when he passed for 400 yards with a career-high five interceptions and a fumble to go along with just one touchdown – a game in which Winston has lived up to his “turnover machine” moniker.
We’ve seen Winston play really well in a loss, as he did in a Week 3 32-31 defeat to New York when he passed for 380 yards and three touchdowns and one interception as he drove the Bucs down the field for a potential game-winning field goal, only to see rookie Matt Gay miss the kick.
And we’ve seen Winston play decent in a win against Arizona last week as he threw for 358 yards and just one touchdown with two interceptions.
There are seven more games to evaluate Winston before the Bucs have to make an absolutely monumental decision about whether or not he is the quarterback of the future in Tampa Bay. Winston is in an ever-important fifth-year option that is paying him $20.922 million in 2019.
With Winston coming into his first year with Bruce Arians throwing for 14,628 yards with a 61.6 percent career completion percentage and 88 touchdowns and 58 interceptions in his four years with Dirk Koetter, the question that has been on my mind for some time is how Arians would evaluate his quarterback.
So I asked Arians on Wednesday if he is going to evaluate Winston on his entire five-year body of work or just the 2019 season he’s spent coaching the team’s first-round pick in 2015.
“I don’t give a shit about the last four [years],” Arians said. “I only care about when I had him. It doesn’t have shit to do with the Saints.”
Arians was a bit touchy about the subject because moments earlier he was asked about how he would evaluate Winston on the first nine games of the season.
“The last [three], very good – I think three for sure,” Arians said. “Still a little bit up and down at times, but [in] two-minute situations and bringing us from behind, he’s been excellent.”
Arians isn’t necessarily interested in evaluating Winston now. He’s focused on seeing how Winston and his Buccaneers team fare against visiting New Orleans. Arians, like most NFL head coaches, live week-to-week – and rightly so.
But let’s examine what Arians said because it was telling.
Arians told me that he wasn’t going to include Winston’s four previous years in Tampa Bay in his own personal evaluation. That’s erasing a lot of Winston’s interceptions and fumbles, as well as his underwhelming 21-33 record as a starter.
But it’s also erasing his back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons to start his career, his Pro Bowl berth in 2016 – albeit after several veteran QBs opted not to play in the all-star game – and the career-high 64.6 percent completion percentage Winston put up last year by starting nine of the 11 games he played in.
Arians would also be erasing Winston being the Bucs’ all-time leading passer and touchdown thrower, as well as his career low 2.5 interception rate in 2017 (he currently has a 3.9 INT rate this year, which is the highest of his career).
Perhaps the bigger question is, will Jason Licht and the Glazers just ignore – or maybe just devalue – Winston’s first four-years in Tampa Bay when it comes to their evaluation of him, too?
And if so, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Because I’m not really sure.
What do you think, Bucs fans? I’m curious to get your opinions on it.
I don’t think Winston necessarily got the best coaching from 2015-18, nor do I believe that Koetter was in his corner then the way Arians is now. So I suppose I would weight what he does this year a bit more than how he performed under Koetter during his first four seasons in red and pewter.
But I would also take into consideration two things.
The first is that this is his initial season in Arians’ offense and there were bound to be some growing pains. Games against the 49ers, the Panthers and the Titans were evidence of that.
The second is that the narrative around Winston hasn’t changed a whole bunch. He still throws a bunch of touchdowns and a bunch of interceptions. He’s up to 17,393 yards passing with 105 touchdowns and 72 interceptions on his football card heading into this week’s game against the Saints.
On the year, Winston has completed 59.7 percent of his throws for 2,765 yards with 17 touchdowns and a league-high 14 interceptions. That puts him on pace to throw for a franchise-record 30 touchdowns and a career-high 24 interceptions, along with 4,915 yards, which would also be a new franchise record.
Everything is great outside of those interceptions.
Winston added two more last Sunday against Arizona, but a strange thing happened.
Tampa Bay’s defense actually helped overcame them for a change. After Winston’s first pick, the Bucs defense held the Cardinals to a field goal. Following Winston’s second interception, linebacker Lavonte David got the ball right back to the offense with a forced fumble and fumble recovery in the red zone.
“That’s the big thing – when your defense gets turnover you want to score touchdowns,” Winston said. “And when you put your defense in a bad position you want them to get you the ball back. That’s called being great teammates, not saying, ‘Aw man, why are we in this situation?’ They go over there and say, ‘How can we make the best of this?’ They find a way to get the job done.”
I’ve always thought that Winston and his gunslinger mentality reminded me of Green Bay legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre, who threw his share of interceptions along with touchdowns. Hat tip to Bucs fan and @PewterReport follower @ShawnSagastume for the idea of the first five years statistical comparison between the QBs.
Packers general manager Ron Wolf and head coach Mike Holmgren knew that Favre was capable of throwing four touchdowns in a game – but also a pair of picks. Green Bay needed more than Pro Bowl safety LeRoy Butler on defense. The Packers needed more difference-makers on defense that could get the ball back for Favre when he made some errant throws.
So Green Bay signed All-Pro defensive end Reggie White in 1993, Pro Bowl defensive end Sean Jones in 1994, defensive tackle Santana Dotson in 1995 and former Pro Bowl free safety Eugene Robinson in 1996. Lo and behold, Favre grew in Holmgren’s offense and the Packers defense became formidable enough to win the Super Bowl during the 1996 season.
That’s what Licht has recognized as he has tried to load up the defensive side of the ball with the likes of outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul, Carl Nassib and Shaq Barrett, inside linebacker Devin White, defensive tackles Vita Vea, Beau Allen and Ndamukong Suh over the last two years.
Licht has also thrown ample resources at the secondary by drafting four cornerbacks in Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart over the past two years, in addition to drafting safeties Mike Edwards and Jordan Whitehead and signing safeties Andrew Adams and Darian Stewart – although the youth and inexperience of the secondary has been the team’s Achilles heel this season.
If the front seven can continue to rush the passer and defend the run well, and the young secondary can mature by next year and become playmakers, Winston might have the help he needs to negate some of his turnovers.
Of the course the big question – will Winston be a Buccaneer in 2020?
Whether it’s just on this one year or all five years, Arians has said he will give Licht and the Glazers the truth about Winston.
“I will not lie – that’s for sure,” Arians said. “They’ll get my honest evaluation. That’s who I am, so I don’t think they have to worry about that.”
Arians has his reputation as “the quarterback whisperer” to uphold. It would hurt his ego a bit if Winston falters down the stretch and Arians’ latest reclamation project doesn’t work out.
But Arians is a winner and won’t want to beat a dead horse if Winston continues to turn the ball over at a high rate and the losses pile up. He won’t want Winston to be an albatross around his neck in 2020 unless he truly believes the arrow is pointing up with Winston and he can win with him.
The same goes for Licht. Love him or despise him as Tampa Bay’s general manager, but the guy doesn’t have much of an ego. He isn’t afraid to cut his losses on his draft mistakes and his misses in free agency.
That was evidenced after his first year on the job when he released quarterback Josh McCown, defensive end Michael Johnson and left tackle Anthony Collins after a 2-14 season. Licht also swung for the fence and traded up to draft kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round in 2016, and then cut him a year a later after he didn’t pan out. Licht also parted ways with 2016 second round pick defensive end Noah Spence before the start of the season, and he just released first-round pick cornerback Vernon Hargeaves III this week.
Some NFL GMs hang on to mistakes because they don’t want to admit their wrong. Licht isn’t like that, which is a good thing. If he believes it’s too risky to re-sign Winston after this season – whether it’s to a long-term extension or the use of the franchise tag – he’ll give the Glazers his honest opinion.
Just like Arians will.
Whether it’s based on Winston’s five-year career in Tampa Bay or just this year will largely depend on how Winston finishes this season – and just how good this year ends up being for the quarterback and the Buccaneers.
Grab some more popcorn because this show isn’t over yet.