The Tampa Bay Buccaneers exhibited confidence in their franchise quarterback Jameis Winston in April when they decided to exercise the fifth year of his contract. What does this mean to the team and cap implications?
It’s no secret that fans have been divided over Winston’s play and the off-the-field incidents uncovered during his time at Florida State. Following his incident with an Uber driver, Winston served a three-game suspension while backup Ryan Fitzpatrick produced a record-setting performance to start the season.
The magic ended in week three with Pittsburgh when the Steelers defeated the Bucs on Monday night. The following game against the Chicago Bears created more uncertainty about the team’s season after they received a trouncing. Winston’s season debut proves as lackluster as Fitz’s was, mustering a touchdown instead of a field goal.
Turnovers like interceptions doomed the team. After the bye week, Winston’s back in command to try to get the Bucs back the momentum they lost.
So does Winston deserve that fifth year? Let’s consider that the team is one of the worst passing franchises in the NFL in their 44-year history. Granted, the top five in passing yards are owned by the team’s franchise QBs, the likes of Vinny Testaverde, Josh Freeman, Trent Dilfer, and Doug Williams. Freeman in his fourth year is right behind Williams for 5th of all time for passing yards. He’s also 5th in passing touchdowns and 6th in interceptions thrown.
While Winston is only one of six Bucs QBs to eclipse the 10,000 passing yard mark, he’s also the beneficiary of a more pass-centric league. Putting Winston’s numbers into context, many of his stats come from the significant deficits the team often finds themselves in. The tenures of Lovie Smith and now Dirk Koetter have been tumultuous at best, with one winning season in the last eight.
Now that we put Winston’s production into the fold, does he deserve that fifth year and what does it mean to the team in 2019?
Well, let’s start at the potential offseason implications 2019 will bring. Assuming the 2018 season resumes its chaotic course and the Bucs fail again to get to the playoffs and/or produce another winning season, I suspect GM Jason Licht and Koetter will get canned. The Glazers will have to find a GM who will help oversee the process of finding another head coach. Players will have to learn yet another system. To top that off, there’s the salary cap issue.
As is, Winston stands to make the most at $20 million, which amounts to about 11 percent of the Bucs’ 2019 cap. Assuming they don’t cut any players, they would be over $25 million over the cap. The fifth-year option might as well be a franchise tag, but in the interest of possibly rebuilding with the new regime, they should rework Winston’s deal since the Glazers were that confident to pick up his option in April.
Barring any serious injury, Winston could overtake the franchise records set by Testaverde and Freeman in passing yards and TDs.
Winston’s fate hinges on a few factors: Will he have a new front office to deal with? Will the new staff have the same confidence in him as the current staff? Would he be interested in reworking his deal to be more cap-friendly?
Something that almost guarantees the Bucs’ commitment to Winston is how horrendous the defense still is. With too many deficiencies with depth, it may take another draft or two to address the glaring issues of the unit.