Jameis Winston is no franchise QB, so Bucs shouldn’t give him his job back upon immediate return

Eric Adelson
Columnist

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers do not need Jameis Winston to win. They should start acting as such.

Winston is not a franchise quarterback. He’s not even a good employee of the franchise. He has been credibly accused of sexual assault (after being credibly accused of sexual assault in college). He behaved in the one way he knew he could not. In doing so, he has embarrassed a proud organization through his actions and the misrepresentation of his actions. He has failed in his role as a leader. That should be obvious to everyone – especially to him.

Ryan Fitzpatrick should be the starter not only for the first three games of the upcoming season, but for the fourth as well.

Jameis Winston apologized to his teammates for missing three games this season due to a suspension. (AP)

Too little, too late in Jameis Winston’s statement

Winston took a familiar approach in a statement accepting his three-game suspension from the NFL on Thursday, in the aftermath of an accusation that he groped an Uber driver two years ago in Arizona.

“I would like to say I’m sorry to the Uber driver for the position I put you in,” Winston said in a statement. “It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize. In the past 2 1/2 years my life has been filled with experiences, opportunities and events that have helped me grow, mature and learn, including the fact that I have eliminated alcohol from my life.”

It’s great that he’s cut out alcohol, but shouldn’t he have taken that step when he signed that contract and assumed his current role in the first place? The idea that this entire situation is “uncharacteristic” is a whopper of a stretch. Winston has constantly talked about learning and growing, but learning and growing should have come before he put on the Bucs uniform, not entering Year 4 in the NFL. Over the past six years, he has said a lot of the right things but done a lot of the wrong ones. That’s been a steady pattern. Franchise quarterbacks don’t do that.

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Why won’t the Buccaneers get rid of Winston?

It is too soon to cut ties with Winston. The Bucs are not going to bail on all that potential (and money). This is still a business, and Winston still has that all-too-redeeming quality, his arm. Other athletes have grown up when they see the writing on the wall. It’s up to the Bucs to start scrawling furiously. If that means trading for another quarterback to add to the mix, so be it.

There is a chance Winston will finally mature and stand aside the titans of the franchise he plays for: names like Ronde Barber, John Lynch, Warrick Dunn and Gerald McCoy. But when the Bucs have been good in the past, they haven’t needed a superstar passer. Their stars have been spread throughout the roster – veterans who have been reliable during their careers, both on and off the field. That should serve as a reassurance to the men in the locker room, and a final warning to Winston.

Yes, it’s a different sport now than it was in the 2002 season, when the Bucs won the Super Bowl. There is more of a premium than ever on passing. But the Philadelphia Eagles’ championship, with a backup quarterback, shows depth and physicality matter just as much. The Eagles had mutual trust. Winston hasn’t yet shown himself trustworthy. Even if he is perfect from here on in, there’s that risk that he’ll let the team down again. The Bucs will certainly live with that in the very short term, but he shouldn’t be touted as a new man no matter how many games he wins this season.

Benching can prove to Winston that he’s replaceable

The Bucs face the New Orleans Saints, Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers to start the upcoming season, and after what’s likely to be a struggle in those games, it will be tempting to trot Winston right out there against the Chicago Bears, coddling him yet again. It’s a better approach for the team if Fitzpatrick is given a fourth start. That will give a better indication of his ability to win with the Bucs, and it will give Winston more time to, in his own words, “embrace this as an opportunity to take advantage of the resources available to help me achieve the goals that I have for myself.” He needs those resources and he needs time. His career depends on it.

Injured Tampa quarterback Jameis Winston, left, and coach Mike Bajakian, center, work with Ryan Fitzpatrick during a game in November. (AP)

Winston has always known football will be there for him. It was there for him at Florida State, where then-coach Jimbo Fisher and minions of fans defended him at every turn. If he knows the starting job is immediately his again upon his return, the message is the same: he’s indispensable.

Well, he’s not. The most the Bucs can hope for is that he’s another Ben Roethlisberger, who seemed to wake up after he got into trouble for allegations of sexual assault. It’s practical to give that best-case scenario a chance to play out. But not with Winston plastered on stadium signs and billboards. Not with constant talk of “When Jameis gets back.” Not by putting him above anyone else, including Fitzpatrick.

Less than a year ago, at the start of Bucs training camp, McCoy told reporters this: “Three is the franchise,” he said, referring to Winston’s number.

“Forget 93, forget 13, 11 and 1 – I don’t know what number [DeSean Jackson] is going to be on any given day – 91, 98, 54, 58. Three, 3 is the one.”

It was noble, something a selfless leader like McCoy says. But it’s not true anymore. Three is not the one. Three is just one. If the Bucs are smart, and if they want to save this iteration of the team from yet another reset, they’ll make that perfectly clear.

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