Was Jameis Winston’s historical day enough to salvage Buccaneers career?

By Vincent Frank
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston has been a maddening figure for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their fans over the course of his five-year career.

A turnover waiting to happen, most have come to the conclusion that Winston’s career with the Bucs will end once he hits free agency this coming March.

Fresh off becoming the first quarterback in NFL history with back-to-back 450-plus yard games, we’re now not too sure.

A turnaround of epic proportions: Winston is now playing some of his best football under first-year head coach Bruce Arians and talented Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

Over the course of his past two starts, Winston has put up 914 passing yards to go with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. The mistakes are still a problem, but this has enabled him to help the Buccaneers to an average of 38 points during that span.

It’s in this that things are starting to take shape for the much-maligned signal caller in Tampa. Does this mean a return to the Buccaneers in free agency come March? There’s a lot of factors that go into this. Let’s look at some of them below.

The mistakes: We can’t ignore just how turnover prone Winston has been throughout his career.

  • Thus far this season, the former No. 1 pick has thrown a league-high 24 interceptions to go with five fumbles lost. That’s a total of 29 giveaways in 14 starts.
  • As Arians has mentioned multiple times in the past, this is not acceptable. We’re talking about an average of nearly two turnovers per game.
  • Since he was selected first overall back in 2015, Winston leads the NFL with 82 interceptions. That’s the same number of picks as Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has been in the league a decade longer than Winston.

The highs: When he’s on, Winston has proven himself to be a dynamic player in the backfield. That’s not even in question.

  • Winston has led the Buccaneers to four consecutive wins after a 3-7 start to the season. It won’t be enough to play postseason football, but it’s a trend in the right direction.
  • This four-game span has seen Tampa Bay average nearly 35 points per game. For his part, Winston has tallied a whopping 1,495 yards in those four games.
  • He’s helped the likes of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both break out to the tune of 1,000-plus receiving yards this season, making history in the process.

The Bruce Arians equation: Arians took this job in large part due to Winston’s presence and the belief that the quarterback could be a long-term solution.

  • The veteran head coach went to bat for his quarterback multiple times early in the season. Even before his debut in Tampa, Arians made it clear that the offense was going to be catered around Winston.
  • Sure Arians has sounded off on his quarterback at times. That was no more evident than after a six-turnover performance against the Panthers in London back in Week 6.
  • Even then, it seems that the two have build a solid foundational relationship in their first season together.

The options: Tampa Bay is not limited in potential options to replace Jameis Winston should the team decide to move in another direction.

  • Ryan Tannehill: This veteran quarterback has had a tremendous season with the Titans. He’s led Tennessee to a 6-2 record in eight starts, putting up 17 touchdowns compared to six interceptions in the process.
  • Marcus Mariota: Wouldn’t it be funny if the Buccaneers decided to kick the tires on the same player that went one pick behind Winston in the 2015 NFL Draft? While it seems unlikely after he was benched, Mariota could be an option.
  • Philip Rivers: Dating back to his days with the Cardinals, Arians has always had a fondness for veteran quarterbacks. Just ask Carson Palmer. Finishing up the worst season of his career, it’s not yet known whether this future Hall of Famer will return to the Chargers next season.
  • Tom Brady: Pie in the sky? Maybe. What we do know is that this six-time Super Bowl champ is not on the greatest of terms with his Patriots team right now. Should Brady somehow hit the open market, Tampa could be a desirable location for the twilight of his career.
  • Eli Manning: Yet another player who has fallen on hard times recently, Manning made what was likely his final home start as a member of the Giants on Sunday. Would he be seen as an upgrade over Winston? We’re not too sure. But Manning remains an option and has a much better track record than his younger counterpart.
  • Nick Mullens: If Tampa were to look for a younger quarterback without exhausting a first-round pick, Mullens makes some sense. At just 24 years old, the 49ers’ backup has a bright future. He played darn well in favor of an injured Jimmy Garoppolo last season.

Bottom Line

These are just a few of the numerous options Tampa Bay has if it decides to move on from Winston. While it seemed like it was a foregone conclusion just a couple short weeks ago that he was as good as gone, we’re not too sure.

How the final two games of the season plays out will tell us a lot, as will the market that greets Winston once free agency starts in March.

At the very least, the Buccaneers’ four-game run has some thinking that Winston might have a future in Tampa after all.