Is Jameis Winston’s NFL Future in Doubt?

Is Jameis Winston’s NFL Future in Doubt?

Jameis Winston’s future with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—and in the NFL—may be very much in doubt. The 2015 first overall pick is still serving a 3-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, which stems from an incident in 2016 where Winston was accused of groping a female Uber driver in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Of course, this is far from Jameis Winston’s first off-the-field incident.

During Winston’s absence, Ryan Fitzpatrick has led the league in Total QBR, with a blistering 95.7, as well as in passing yards, where he has posted 819 passing yards in two games. Fitzpatrick also ranks third in completion percentage, behind Drew Brees and Derek Carr, and is second in touchdowns, ranking behind only Patrick Mahomes, who is on a historical run himself. More importantly, Fitzpatrick—or FitzMagic, as he is sometimes lovingly referred to as—has shown the Buccaneers what a quarterback who is capable of taking advantage of their arsenal of weapons looks like.

It’s not just how Ryan Fitzpatrick has played, however, that has captured the hearts of many of his teammates and coaches. It’s who the journeyman quarterback has played against that has many wondering if we’ll see Jameis Winston as the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the rest of the 2018 season.

In Week 1, Ryan Fitzpatrick outdueled divisional rival Drew Brees, widely regarded as a top 3 quarterback in the NFL, and not only took home a W against an explosive divisional foe but a potential Super Bowl contender. Fitzpatrick did this in New Orleans, where the Saints rarely lose.

Week 2 saw Fitzpatrick lead Tampa Bay over the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, in which he surgically picked apart a defense that is expected to be in the top 5 by season’s end.

Yes, the Saints have historically had a bad defense, but this is the defense that boasts Defensive Rookie of the Year, Marcus Lattimore, on what was a much-improved defense last season. Remember, the Saints were one tackle away from reaching the NFC Championship during the 2017-18 campaign.

Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles are still regaining their health, with Carson Wentz not expected to make his first start until next Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, and their top wide-out, Alshon Jeffrey, still inactive after undergoing shoulder surgery in February.

Yet, after their surprising 2-0 start, Fitzpatrick came to his post-game interview in Desean Jackson’s clothes, bearing a striking resemblance to UFC star Conor McGregor. He’s having fun. The Bucs are having fun. Why shouldn’t they be?

Ryan Fitzpatrick Postgame

“Our team’s playing well. Our team’s doing something that not many thought they could,” Coach Dirk Koetter stated in his press conference with the media on Monday. “We have a good locker room. Our guys believe in each other right now. Any player that’s playing well — he’s backing it up with his play — you get what you deserve.”

Since then, Desean Jackson has also come out and said that the Buccaneers “can’t” take Fitzpatrick out until the “fire is out”.

“With the way the team is rallying behind him and just playing lights-out football, you have to kind of honor it. You know what I’m saying? You can’t take the hot man out,” said Jackson.

Those aren’t exactly the type of statements you want to be hearing from your teammates if you’re Jameis Winston.

Maybe even more damning to Jameis Winston is that Fitzpatrick is widely regarded as a slightly-above-average, backup quarterback, whom you don’t want to start more than a few games when absolutely needed. After all, Fitzpatrick has never made the playoffs in the 3 full seasons he was the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. Furthermore, Fitzpatrick has a career quarterback rating of 81.1, which is pretty pedestrian.

In Fitzpatrick’s previous best year, Fitzpatrick posted a 95.3 quarterback rating for the New York Jets in 2015, which is a far cry from his current 151.5 quarterback rating, and slightly below what is considered league average. Fitzpatrick also threw 3 interceptions and posted an atrocious quarterback rating of 42.7 against the Buffalo Bills in that season’s finale, which kept the Jets from making the playoffs.

Now, you can draw your own conclusions. Obviously, there is no doubt that Fitzpatrick is playing well above the level that he has for the rest of his career. What that says to me, though, is that maybe Jameis Winston isn’t the Bucs’ quarterback of the future. If Jameis Winston really is Tampa Bay’s franchise quarterback, why couldn’t he take advantage of Desean Jackson’s explosive downfield ability last season? Why couldn’t he score more touchdowns in the red-zone with Mike Evans and O.J. Howard? How is it that a journeyman quarterback looks like a Hall of Famer when given the same weapons that Winston has previously failed to utilize?

Consider that Tampa Bay has already recorded 4 plays of 50 yards or more this season, which is two more than they had all of last season.

Stats like these bring into focus the question of whether Jameis Winston truly is a franchise quarterback. What’s worse is that this doesn’t even take into account his inability to stay out of trouble off-the-field; it simply considers the problems Winston has had on the field.

Perhaps, Fitzpatrick will regress back to the mean. Perhaps, we will still see Jameis Winston regain his starting position when he comes back from his 3-game suspension in Week 4 against the Chicago Bears.

In the meantime, I’d be very nervous if I were Jameis Winston. Especially considering that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play a primetime game against a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that just gave up 6 touchdown passes to Patrick Mahomes. All eyes will be on Fitzpatrick come Monday Night when the Bucs and Steelers take center stage.

If Fitzpatrick can continue to capture the magic he’s brought to Tampa Bay early this season, that could spell doom for Jameis Winston’s future with the Buccaneers—and in the NFL.

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Photo Sources: sbnation.com, factnew.com, WSJ.com, Deadspin.com

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