The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a golden opportunity to move on from quarterback Jameis Winston. He doesn’t deserve to be the face of an NFL franchise, not after he’s repeatedly faced allegations of sexual assault and dealt with them with immaturity.
And frankly, he’s a pretty average quarterback, whose due big money when his contract expires after this season.
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Ryan Fitzpatrick has given the Bucs a fantastic opportunity to start over. He’s been as good as (or better than) people could’ve hoped Winston would be this season. The Buccaneers can trade Winston to a quarterback-needy team before the deadline. Tampa Bay can draft a quarterback high in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft. Fitzpatrick can stick around as long as he’s relevant, likely into the 2020 offseason when the rookie quarterback has had a year to develop. Then the Bucs can trade Fitzpatrick.
In roughly 18 months, the Buccaneers would look like the Kansas City Chiefs after trading Alex Smith and moving on to Patrick Mahomes at the apparently perfect moment. They shed Smith’s contract and can use that money to surround a young, affordable and talented quarterback with talent.
Could this go wrong? Of course. Fitzpatrick could regress over the next 18 months, and the quarterback the Bucs hypothetically draft could be a bust. Tampa Bay could take an ambitious swing for an ugly miss. The conservative option is to keep Winston, extend his contract at a moment of vulnerability and keep on keeping on.
But as noted by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, NFL teams can struggle building teams around the best quarterbacks. The New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots may make it look easy, because they have some of the best signal-callers in history. But the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens have showed the process is a complicated one. The Bucs could re-sign Winston and find out they’ve got Joe Flacco 2.0 — but without Flacco’s Super Bowl win and with Winton’s history of sexual assault allegations. That’s not exactly a promising future.
If the Bucs are worried about selling Winston at an all-time low, then they could reinsert him into the offense with hopes that he’ll excel for a few weeks. Meanwhile, a quarterback elsewhere could get hurt (See: Jimmy Garoppolo). That could boost Winston’s value for a midseason trade.
At that point, the Buccaneers can salvage Winston to get draft capital and use that capital to draft a quarterback like Missouri’s Drew Lock, Oregon’s Justin Herbert or West Virginia’s Will Grier. And 2019 might be an interesting draft with a solid amount of quarterback talent but few teams in the mix to draft them.
Who in the NFL thinks they don’t have a quarterback of the future? The Giants certainly don’t. Other than New York, it’s murky — maybe the Miami Dolphins, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins will want to draft a quarterback. But in all likelihood, those teams will stand pat with the quarterbacks they have. The 2019 draft could be a prime moment to pounce. Most of the teams expected to finish near the bottom of the standings either just drafted a quarterback or have an injured veteran they are financially committed to.
With Fitzpatrick looking like the ideal quarterback for their system in the short term, the Buccaneers should look to the draft, not their current depth chart, for the future of their franchise.