A.J. Hoffman: Should the Bucs cut Jameis Winston?

Should the Bucs cut Jameis Winston? Brian Blanco/Getty Images

The NFL has determined that Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston is guilty of touching an Uber driver in an inappropriate and sexual manner almost two years ago. He will be punished with a three-game suspension, but in this instance, it almost seems that sometimes overeager NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is going easy on the young quarterback. The baseline suspension for any sort of sexual misconduct has been six games, but Winston got half that, and I don’t think it’s coincidence that the light suspension came with a full-on apology from Winston. 

Winston’s history is well chronicled. While his crab leg shoplifting arrest may be the most memorable mistake James made in college, being accused of rape while at Florida State was the biggest black eye on his resume coming into the league. There was considerable debate over whether or not Winston had grown up or could be trusted enough to warrant using a high draft pick on him. Eventually, his talent won out, and Tampa decided to roll the dice with the 1st overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft. It was assumed that Winston would be walking a tightrope as far as off-field issues go, and at times it looked as if he was going to be able to shake the image. 

However, since 2015 the climate regarding sexual behavior has changed. In 2018, there is basically a nationwide zero tolerance policy, particularly if you are someone who works in the public eye. The public relations hit that a team takes now for any sort of sexual misconduct is as severe as it has ever been. The Bucs could take a bigger blow than most on Winston, because this puts him squarely into the “repeat offender” category. This obviously puts the team in an incredibly difficult predicament. 

And 2018 is the final year of Winston’s fully guaranteed rookie contract. He will earn a fully guaranteed $3.9 million in salary and bonuses in 2018, minus the near $125k he will lose for the suspension. Since Winston was a first round pick, the Bucs have a fifth year team option, which they exercised at the beginning of May. That isn’t fully guaranteed (aside from an injury) though, and wouldn’t become fully guaranteed until March of 2019. 

Winston’s three years have been productive. He has averaged 23 touchdowns to 15 interceptions on 3700 (ish) yards per year and he is over a 60% passer. The problem is the team has not met expectations with Jameis under center. Winston is 18-27 as a starter, including a disappointing 3-10 last season when many experts thought the Bucs were set to make a run in the NFC South.  

All this begs the question, “is the juice worth the squeeze?” Winston is a talented quarterback and a charismatic leader, as chronicled on the Bucs turn on HBO’s Hard Knocks series. Tampa put their faith in him to perform on the field and behave off of it. He has now let them down on at least one of those fronts, and now find themselves in a position of losing their quarterback permanently if he were to have another incident that falls under the league’s disciplinary policy. Do they want to wait for that to happen, or would it be smarter to cut ties now and prepare for life without Winston? 

It isn’t a given that the Bucs can’t win this year, even with Winston missing the first three games of the season (the Bucs play New Orleans, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in those games). They are a talented team, but they were the only team in their division not to make the playoffs last year, and only the Giants had a worse record in the NFC. Which points to this being a crossroads decision for the Bucs. If they decide to walk away from Winston now, they would almost assuredly be terrible in 2018, which would put them in a position to draft a future franchise quarterback in next year’s draft. It wouldn’t be easy, and there would be egg on the face of GM Jason Light, who green-lit the Winston pick. There would be some in the fan-base who would disagree, as there would be with almost any quarterback change. It would send a message, loud and clear, that the Buccaneers (and inherently the NFL) will not tolerate this kind of behavior from any player. 

The downside, of course, is that franchise-caliber quarterbacks are hard to come by. There is no guarantee that the next quarterback the Bucs get is as talented as Winston. In fact, it’s unlikely. Being a franchise-caliber quarterback also means being the face of the franchise, though, and Winston has proven that he isn’t the type of person you want representing your franchise. At 24, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that Winston would find another franchise willing to take a shot on him, and there is the possibility that the Bucs have to watch their once-prized pick turn from good quarterback to great quarterback. That would hurt, but not as much as sweeping yet another incident of sexual misconduct under the rug. 

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