Welcome to The Hook, my weekly column which hooks you into a different Tampa Bay Buccaneers topic each Thursday, as well as some of my thoughts on the Bucs and the NFL at the end in a section called Cannon Blast.
I invite you to offer me some feedback on The Hook to help me mold it into something you want to come back to read each Thursday.
The Bucs’ marriage with Jameis Winston might be falling apart.
And like a divorce, sometimes it works out best for both parties.
Yet is this marriage salvageable? Or is one partner ready to move on?
Like most marriages, the Bucs had strong feelings about Winston and it started off with quite the wedding. The Bucs held the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and chose their partner, selecting Winston over Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. There was a flirtation with Mariota, but the love for Winston was too strong, and like an episode of ABC’s The Bachelor, Bucs general manager Jason Licht called Winston on the night of the draft and asked him football’s equivalent of, “Jameis Winston, will you accept this rose?”
Accept he did, and the champagne and wedding cake was served from Tampa, Florida to Bessemer, Alabama. The honeymoon went great and there was a genuine excitement heading into the first game against the Titans.
It was a made-for-TV fairytale match-up, a Rose Bowl rematch featuring Winston against Mariota, who was drafted No. 2 overall by Tennessee. Except the Bucs and Winston weren’t “Tennessee ready” under former coach Lovie Smith, and Tampa Bay and its groom was blindsided by the Titans, losing 42-14.
Since then, like almost all marriages, there has been ups and downs.
A 9-7 record during the 2016 season and a narrow miss of the playoffs certainly qualified for a high, as did Winston’s Pro Bowl berth as a rookie the year before. A three-game league suspension for violating the NFL’s conduct policy to begin the 2018 campaign was without question, a low.
The 2019 season was filled with the ultimate highs but also the extreme lows.
Winston had 33 touchdown passes, which was a franchise record – a high.
Winston also tossed 30 interceptions, which led the NFL – a low.
Winston passed for 5,109 yards, and became just one of eight quarterbacks in NFL history to hit the 5,000-yard mark – a high.
Winston also threw an NFL record seven pick-sixes – a low.
The five-year marriage between Winston and the Bucs has been just like the 2019 season – up and down, winding, turning, flipping all around.
There is the rush of adrenaline, but also that knot in your stomach and a sense of nauseous at times during the Winston ride.
It can be thrilling, and you think you want to ride it again. Maybe. But can you stomach it?
That is what ownership, general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians are still trying to figure out in the month of February.
Bucs fans, like the kids and other family members do in an unstable marriage, tend to pick sides. And like real life, it isn’t particularly healthy and can lead to some heated debates on Twitter and elsewhere.
Like a marriage that has so much time invested in it, there comes a time to try and decide if it is worth saving. That’s where the Bucs are as Valentine’s Day approaches – nearly one month until the start of NFL free agency in 2020.
Will their partner – in this case their quarterback – ever change? Can he change and stop turning the ball over at the highest rate in the league? Do you believe him when he says week after week, game after game, that he knows he needs to change?
Unfortunately, like a rocky marriage, things get said – sometimes out of frustration. Sometimes to try and make the other person change. And sometimes just because you don’t really have any answers.
“That’s the thing, there’s so much good. There’s so much good and there’s so much outright terrible. So, we have to weigh that and see what happens.” – Bruce Arians
If you think for a second that didn’t sting Winston and his camp a little, you are gravely mistaken.
“Free agency – who’s available. What’s behind door number two? That’s the first question. As you evaluate for the draft, that’s another question. Are they better than what you have? And then you evaluate and that’s when you make your decisions.” – Arians
And if the first quote didn’t sting enough, the next one probably felt like a slap in the face. That’s Arians admitting that the grass might be greener in free agency and/or the NFL Draft and that the Bucs plan on talking to other quarterbacks to see if one of them might be a better fit in Tampa Bay.
Five years. Playing through injuries. Three different head coaches. Working harder than anyone in the building. A lack of a running game for the most part. Spotty pass protection at times. Defenses that were historically bad through stretches. Kickers missing important kicks. Being the face of the franchise. Changing lives in the community. Never throwing teammates or former coaches under the bus.
Human nature tells us those comments didn’t just sting Winston, they hurt to a degree. Maybe not a slap in the face, but close to it.
Even Winston’s biggest critics can’t argue any of the above observations. Jameis Winston has done everything right. Everything he possibly could to win games for the Buccaneers.
But all those interceptions.
Those damn turnovers.
And the win-loss column over the last five years (32-48) tells the biggest story that the organization is looking at.
Unfortunately, in the NFL there is no marriage counselor. You work the issues out on your own, or you move on.
And while we all await the Buccaneers’ decision on Winston’s future in Tampa Bay, which will likely come in March, as Arians suggested in his post-season press conference on December 30, do we know for sure that Winston himself wants to come back? Does Winston want to save this marriage? Maybe he is ready to move on and find a new partner in free agency.
The one thing neither side can do, is let pride get in the way and string out a partnership that is going nowhere. Why delay it? If either side isn’t 100 percent committed, why not just rip the band-aid off quickly?
The longer it goes, the more likely it is to get messy. Winston and his camp know the Bucs are considering dating others. Maybe Winston is flirting with others, too. They are essentially separated for right now.
Is the grass greener for one side, both sides or neither? The Buccaneers have walked away from every single quarterback they have drafted in the history of the franchise. They’ve yet to ever renew their vows with their chosen partner.
Some of the Bucs’ decisions were good ones. Some of them were awful.
Doug Williams. Steve Young. Some might even argue Trent Dilfer. Three former quarterbacks that the organization didn’t see a future with that went on to lead their future marriage partners to a Super Bowl. The Buccaneers at the time thought Jack Thompson, Vinny Testaverde and Shaun King were better options.
We all know how that turned out.
This marriage is at a crossroads and no one can accurately predict where it goes or how it turns out, as money will play a factor. If this were a romantic Hollywood movie, Winston would come back, lead Tampa Bay to become the first team to win a Super Bowl in its home stadium and wind up winning multiple Lombardi trophies. Parades would follow, games would be sold out for years, and everyone lives happily ever after.
But this isn’t Hollywood. It’s Tampa.
If I was Licht, I would give Winston one last shot with the franchise tag. Prove to me you can be a better spouse and meet my needs (fewer turnovers). Prove to me the post-game press conference soundbites are for real, as actions speak louder than words. I would also give him everything he needs to succeed. Make fixing the running game a priority this offseason with another dynamic running back and another key piece or two along the offensive line.
But I also identify and admit my weaknesses over the years, and strive to become a better spouse by giving Winston the support he needs. I take responsibility for some of the pain inflicted during this marriage.
It’s a two-way street, but let’s give it one more year.
One last chance to save a partnership that everyone wants to see succeed. Both partners must put their 100 percent effort into making it work with a better ground game for support from the organization and fewer interceptions from Winston in the second year in Arians’ offense.
And a year from now, if nothing changes and the Bucs aren’t in the playoffs, then both parties know they did everything they could. If it doesn’t work, both sides can walk away with their heads held high with no animosity.
Cook’s musings and ramblings about the Buccaneers and the NFL. Good stuff. Check it out.
• Speaking of bad marriages, has there even been a more painful breakup that the one between the Buccaneers and quarterback Doug Williams following the 1982 season? Williams was coming off of his third trip to the playoffs in four seasons (1979, ’81, ’82) and was making $120,000. To put that in perspective, Williams was not only the lowest paid quarterback in the league, 12 backups made more money than he did. Read that again – 12 backups made more money than Williams did!
Williams and his camp asked for $600,000 during contract negotiations, and owner Hugh Culverhouse came back with a counter of $400,000 and some real estate. Now from what we understand, some of that real estate would have made Williams millions, but can you blame the guy for wanting his salary in cash – not partially in the form of land deeds? And to make things even worse, Williams had just weeks before suffered a terrible tragedy when he wife died suddenly following surgery for a brain tumor. She was 26.
The two never reached an agreement, and the decision set the organization back for years. Williams headed to the USFL where he was the quarterback for the Oklahoma/Arizona Outlaws for two seasons before being signed by the Washington Redskins in 1986. It took from 1982 until 1997 before the Bucs would return to the postseason. And Bucs fans had to watch Williams be named the Super Bowl MVP with the Redskins in 1987.
It’s always been a Bucs’ life.
• So it is now confirmed that Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston had a LASIK procedure to correct his nearsighted issue. Many fans are begging the question, why did it take so long?
Well for one thing, like many surgeries that are performed, there isn’t a perfect track record and it is still a serious procedure that isn’t without risks. It doesn’t take but a few seconds to Google what those risks are. Double vision, glare, halos, regression of the vision – loss of vision. We only have two eyeballs and you can’t order an extra set from Amazon – at least not yet. So I get why Winston waited.
But many players play football with vision issues. Former Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is one who wore glasses or contacts 21 hours a day. The only time he didn’t was on Sunday during football games. But trying to sack a quarterback lined up less that five feet away from you, is a little different than trying to identify wide receivers from defenders 30 yards down the field.
I have no idea if this LASIK surgery will decrease Winton’s interception totals. As a person who is also nearsighted I have my doubts. It isn’t like Winston is a sniper for the Navy Seals. Winston and I can see things in the distance, just not in sharp focus. He saw Darius Leonard in the Colts game just fine, he just might not have been able to read what Leonard had written on this wristbands.
It really boils down to decision-making when it comes to Winston’s interceptions. And if that doesn’t improve, then the only thing Winston will see more clearly is the outline of the numbers on the back of the jersey as the defender who intercepted the pass is racing towards the opposite end zone.
• I remember when I found out I was nearsighted. My dad and I were working out in a field burning a brush pile on a fairly warm day back in 2010. We had taken a break and my Dad asked me to dry the sweat off his glasses. I took a dry towel wiped them down and as a joke, I put them on. It was like a scene from a movie where the clouds parted, and heavenly choir music started playing. I could see!
I remember thinking to myself, wow this is how normal people see. Sharp, clear edges off in the distance. I could make out the spikes on a pine cone in a tree 50 yards away instead of just seeing a brown shape hanging. I could see my cousin Eddie (yes, I really have cousin Eddie) out behind his barn 300 yards away.
It was like going from a grainy old television set in the 1970’s to the more modern Ultra 4K. It was that dramatic. So I don’t know. Maybe having the LASIK procedure helps Jameis Winston throw less interceptions. At the very least though, he will see pine cones a little clearer and his cousin Eddie – if he has one.
• I miss Pat Summerall calling games for CBS and later on for FOX. I miss Frank Gifford, “Dandy” Don Meredith and Howard Cosell in the Monday Night Football booth. Dick Enberg, Charlie Jones, Dick Stockton, they have all gone on to the big TV booth in the sky. Rest in Peace guys.
Uh, what’s that? Stockton is still alive and doing Bucs games? My bad.
But you get what I am saying if you are an old-timer like me. The new crop of announcers just aren’t the same.
I don’t hate Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, I mean they are no Lindsey Nelson and Hank Stram. But they aren’t the worst, are they? Well plenty of people think so.
NFL fans turning on the Super Bowl and seeing that Joe Buck & Troy Aikman are commentating… pic.twitter.com/epvGvhWaKC
— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) February 2, 2020
Are we sure Stockton is still alive? Hey interns, can you Google that for me?
He is? Okay, good.