The Indescribable, Part I: Jameis Winston

Watching Jameis Winston throw the football is one of the most bizarre sights in sports. Each dropback is simultaneously an opportunity for success and failure in a way that the NFL has not seen since the days of leather helmets.

In 2019, Winston became the first quarterback in NFL history to toss 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a season. Winston also topped 5,000 passing yards, adding his name to a list of some of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play. Winston also threw an NFL-record seven pick-sixes, including his final pass attempt of the season.

The Buccaneers went 7-9, and an argument can be made that they can win with Winston at the helm. In games that Winston threw three or fewer picks, the Bucs went 7-6. However, the catastrophic games of four or more interceptions severely cost the Buccaneers. The great play of Winston was quickly undone with five interceptions in an 11-point loss to the Panthers in London. Similarly, four interceptions against the Saints resulted in a 17-point loss. In Week 16, Winston wasted a terrific defensive effort by his defense, tossing four interceptions to push his tally a ridiculous 28 on the season. After an early pick against the Falcons, Winston tossed his 30th on the first snap of overtime, and Deion Jones ended the game.

Interceptions are a part of the game. When Winston leads the NFL in pass attempts, it is inevitable for him to throw plenty of interceptions.

However, 30 is clearly way too many for a team to function.

Reasonably speaking, if Winston threw just 15 or 20 interceptions, I would be covering a Buccaneers playoff game. The Buccaneers had six one-possession losses. In those losses, Tampa Bay had 14 turnovers, including 12 caused by Jameis Winston.

Winston is immensely talented. The Buccaneers are well-founded in their love-hate relationship with the 2013 Heisman winner as he mixes confusion, greatness, and pandemonium, unlike any quarterback the NFL has ever seen. Watching Winston is like ordering pizza delivery from the sketchy pizza joint down the road. Sometimes, the pizza is great. Sometimes, the pizza is mediocre. Sometimes, the pizza gives you food poisoning. Sometimes, the pizza kills you. Winston’s only consistency is his inconsistency.

Pizza aside, Winston has many detractors and many fans. The fans will point out Winston’s propensity for the big play and his 33 touchdowns. The detractors will point out Winston’s place among the 12 quarterbacks to throw 30 interceptions in a season. Both sides have solid arguments, but Winston likely lies closer to the positive side of takes.

What should the Buccaneers do moving forward?

Winston will be free to test the open market when the 2020 league year. Winston could be franchise-tagged to get the sixth year of control, but quarterbacks are rarely tagged. Since 2013, only Kirk Cousins (twice) has been hit with a franchise tag.

It is unlikely that the Buccaneers simply let Winston walk without an attempt at a trade or a contingency plan. The first round of the draft is loaded with quarterbacks, but the Bucs would likely prefer the sixth year with Winston instead of rolling the dice with a quarterback not named Joe Burrow.

A potential contract for Winston would likely be short to protect the organization from his volatility, but the Buccaneers could include incentives to promote ball security.

Year 2 of Bruce Arians should be intriguing as Winston had his brightest moments in Year 1. Winston will likely be accompanied by his star duo of wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Further, while heavily underutilized, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are still effective options, and the use of tight ends would unlock another wrinkle in the offense.

As cliche as it sounds, when Winston is on, he can be the best quarterbacks in the NFL. By the same token, bad Winston is one of the worst quarterbacks in NFL history.

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