By: Jordan Kendall, Assistant Sports Editor
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston is one of the greatest mysteries in recent memory. He’s having a career season as he leads the NFL in passing yards and is second in touchdowns. The problem is he also leads the NFL with 28 interceptions and is the only quarterback with 20 entering week 17. This has led to a debate as to whether the Bucs should keep Winston around. It was reported that they are planning to bring him back in 2020, but I’m not sure it’s the best decision for Tampa Bay.
Numbers never lie
In a typical season, Winston might be in the MVP conversation with this type of performance. But his 28 interceptions are eye-opening, to say the least. The Bucs snapped a four-game winning streak against the Houston Texans that saw Winston throw four interceptions, including a pick six on his first pass attempt. In three of the four games, Winston threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. The last two produced 400 yards and four touchdowns in each game. But going back to the interceptions, he threw a pick in three of the four games.
To many fans, this would be a sign that he has the potential to put up big numbers week after week. What those fans may not realize is that three of the four teams Winston played all rank in the bottom half of total defense. His best game was against the Detroit Lions where he threw for 458 yards and four touchdowns. How impressive is this since the Lions pass defense ranks second worst in the NFL? The problem with Jameis is every pass seems to either be a touchdown or an interception. If he can’t cut down on the turnovers he won’t be an NFL quarterback for long.
If Winston leads the league in both yards and interceptions, it will be the third time since 2010 it’s happened. The two other quarterbacks who did so are surprising since both are considered among the best at their position. Drew Brees did it in 2012 and Ben Roethlisberger last season. Unlike Brees and Big Ben, Winston isn’t among the top quarterbacks and should be vulnerable to move on from.
Moving on at the right time
Entering the 2015 draft, two quarterbacks were seen as the top prospects. Winston was one of them and was joined by the University of Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. The Tennessee Titans drafted Mariota, but he has battled injuries and never showed the promise of someone drafted second overall. The Titans have seemingly moved on from Mariota and Ryan Tannehill has resurrected his career in Tennessee. If the Titans can move on from Mariota after five seasons, why can’t the Bucs? Winston has one Pro Bowl appearance which was only because half the quarterbacks in the NFC couldn’t play.
Looking at the quarterbacks who came into the league after Winston, and you must wonder how well they would perform in Tampa Bay. If Patrick Mahomes wore a different shade of red, he would put up the yards and touchdowns but more importantly not the turnovers. In the same draft class, the Bucs could have paired wide receiver Mike Evans with Amari Cooper. Seeing what Chris Godwin is doing this year, imagine what their offense could be capable of with two of the top receivers in football. 2015 didn’t have much for quarterbacks outside of Winston or Mariota, but 2016 did. What if the Bucs wait a year and take Dak Prescott? Looking at Winston’s career, I don’t think you can call him a bust. However, he’s certainly a disappointment and at some point, Tampa Bay will have to move on.
Should the Bucs move on from Winston?
Head coach Bruce Arians is considered a quarterback guru. He helped to develop Peyton Manning when he arrived in Indianapolis. Arians did the same for Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and helped Carson Palmer resurrect his career in Arizona. Its clear Arians knows how to get quarterbacks to play at a high level. I think he could do it with Winston, but next year has to be a prove-it year for Jameis. If the turnovers don’t cut down, it should be apparent the Bucs need to move on and find another signal-caller.
If Winston plays at a high level, perhaps Tampa Bay can make a push for the playoffs. The Bucs have the third-best total offense in the NFL, and if they can get Godwin and Evans to continue producing it could lead to success. Since Tampa Bay appears to have made their decision for next year, all I can say is that they need to be very cautious. If Winston starts the season with turnovers, don’t be afraid to find someone else off the street. Who knows, maybe that could open the door for Kaepernick.