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Saving Jameis: Can the Bucs Salvage Jameis Winston or Is It Too Late?

Jameis Winston is at a tipping point in his career. While statistically, his put up some impressive numbers, the wins just haven’t come for him or a franchise desperate for them. The biggest question facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is what to do now?

Tampa Bay has benched Winston after some of the worst football you will ever see from a starting QB in the NFL. Is it time to cut bait or can Winston rally back from this?

False Hope

The thing that drives you insane about Jameis Winston is you can see the talent. He oozes it. Arm strength, accuracy (most of the time), he can rip a ball anywhere. We’ve all heard it, “He’s the first guy in, the last guy to leave”. He was a leader that people rallied to. NFL scouts and coaches raved about his football IQ, saying he was one of the most intelligent players to come out of the draft in years.

Understanding how all of this has transitioned into a turnover-filled hot mess has many layers. A lot of it would seem like excuses. Blame the defense. Blame the running game. Blame the receivers running wrong or incomplete routes or the offensive line not blocking. Blame his coaching.

Or maybe you just point the finger at the guy who is making these boneheaded decisions. Blame Jameis.

Winston has always been the guy. He said recently he doesn’t fear anything but God. He wasn’t worried about losing his job. He wasn’t worried that his turnovers were getting his team beat. He always has felt he was the best guy to lead his team to victory. Winston made his own mess this season with the Uber driver fiasco. It cost him the first three and half games of the season and folks, in the NFL, that’s just enough time for someone to take your job.

The best scenario for the Bucs was also their worst. Ryan Fitzpatrick, lighting it up in the first two games of the season and half of the third. Big plays, highlights on Sportscenter, fans in the stands wearing Fitzmagic t-shirts and beards.

For the first time in his life, Jameis Winston was no longer the preferred choice of his team’s fans, his teammates and probably the coaching staff. His teammates that used to respond to his rousing speeches roll their eyes. Think he’s fake. The pressure was immense not to just be the quarterback for the Bucs, but to match Fitzpatrick’s production. To give the fans the wow plays. The bombs to D-Jax. 30 points a game. 400 yds passing. In Winston’s mind, he had to make everyone forget Fitzmagic and embrace him again as the quarterback.

So a lot of the things we saw eradicated from his game toward the end of the ’17 season and during the pre-season suddenly returned. He stopped taking what the defense gave him and tried to be greedy. He’d force balls into his playmakers when there were obvious, safer choices. He would try to score a touchdown on every play. As he failed, and failed, and failed again, the pressure weighed on him. Instead of simplfying, he doubled-down. “I have to make a play.”

We saw the results on Sunday.

Reasons to Hit the Pause Button

The truth of it is, there’s a number of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who struggled with the turnover bug in their first 49 games of their NFL careers. Future and current Hall of Famers like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. Even Mr. Too-Safe Alex Smith had 52 interceptions in his first 49 games. Peyton Manning had 58 interceptions in his first 49 games (Winston has 54). Roethlisberger was right behind at 49. Matthew Stafford, considered one of the better QB’s in the league today, had 57 at this point in his NFL career.

The big news flash – young quarterbacks tend to turn the ball over, yes, even the great ones.

Reasons to Panic

Where Winston has failed terribly is on the scoreboard. While the win-loss record has certainly not been exclusively his fault. How many times had Jameis provided a lead only to see his substandard defense blow it? Yet wins and losses are how a quarterback is judged. It’s a bottom line business. Did you win?

Why was Peyton Manning, who threw more interceptions than Winston in his first four years, already considered elite? He won. A lot. So people overlooked it. Brett Favre set an NFL record for interceptions. Why is he in the hall of fame? He won. A lot.

For Winston, this is his albatross. In the modern NFL (1998 on) Not a single elite quarterback has started his career with this low of a winning percentage. In fact, only Drew Brees was under .500 in his first 49 games (23-26). Alex Smith and Matt Stafford are the only starter of consequence in Jameis’ range, neither are considered elite.

Who is Jameis sharing company with? Brandon Weeden. Sam Bradford. JP Losman and Jake Plummer. He’s hanging out with Patrick Ramsey and fellow FSU alum, Christian Ponder. In fact, since 2000, only 8 players have lost more than Winston has in his first 49 games (19-30). That’s right. Even Josh Freeman won more games than Winston had at this point.

Can He Be Salvaged?

It’s up to Jameis, really. Winston has failed because he believes too much in himself. At the same time, that may be all that gets him through this storm. It’s the first time in his life he’s been benched for on field performance. He’s missed games for bad behavior off the field, but never has he been benched and told, you’re not the guy anymore. It’s got to be sobering for him. Will it change him? Will it click into him that the most precious commodity he has is that pigskin?

Other quarterbacks have overcome the turnover bug early in their career and have been successful. The biggest odds against Winston at this point is the lack of winning. Most NFL quarterbacks who are anything in this league have experienced the playoffs by now. Some level of success. Jameis’ best year was a fluky 9-7 season.

At some point, the losses work on your psyche and you begin to doubt yourself or the organization. Coaches get fired, others are brought in to “salvage” you. The pressure gets greater and greater and when Jameis is pressured, he becomes “the maverick”.

Pewter Report’s Mark Cook likened Winston to Vinny Testaverde. Vinny also had a turnover problem in Tampa Bay that eventually got him run out of town. He went on to have a 20 year NFL career reaching the playoffs 5 times. Winston can be in the league for a long time. He has too much talent not to be. Some coach will be arrogant enough to believe they can harnass the maverick and “fix him”.

Will it be in Tampa Bay? It depends on how strongly the Glazers feel he can be saved. Dirk Koetter doesn’t think so and is betting his coaching career on a career backup over Winston. The chips are all in on Fitzmagic. If the Bucs don’t win, there will be a new coaching staff (and likely front office) here in Tampa Bay. Will there be a new quarterback as well?

We’ll see.

J.C. De La Torre

J.C. De La Torre

Want to give JC a piece of your mind? E-mail him at JC@whatthebuc.net JC De La Torre is formerly a columnist/blogger for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blog site BucsNation.com where in 2016, he was nominated as best sportswriter in Tampa Bay by Creative Loafing. Previously, he served as a featured columnist for Bleacher Report on Tampa Bay sports, an editor and featured columnist for SB Nation Tampa Bay covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Gators, wrote for NFL.com’s Blog Blitz and contributed to Pewter Report, one of the top magazines on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. JC is also a filmmaker, comic writer and rabid Whovian.

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