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Making the Case for the Bucs to Cut Jameis Winston

Max Freedman
NFL Draft Pro Contributor
Published: July 8, 2018

    The Golden State Warriors have dominated the NBA for the past few years, winning three of the last four titles, as well as taking the last two from Lebron's Cavaliers. They've seemed virtually unstoppable, and this past week they acquired four-time NBA All-Star Demarcus Cousins. What the Warriors have done to the NBA is essentially force General Managers to either make moves to create a super team or take a step back and rebuild. While the common fan will make the argument that this is ruining the NBA, it is actually exactly what should be happening across all the major sports leagues.

    Too many teams in the NFL are settling for mediocrity. The Ravens, Redskins, Lions, Texans, Bengals, Chiefs and Bucs are all perennially average. Generally these teams are labelled as darkhorses coming into the year, and they always have a shot at the playoffs; two or three of them will make it on an annual basis prior to being knocked out before the Conference Championship Game. Unfortunately, settling for mediocrity is what keeps the fans happy; 10-6 seasons with a playoff appearance is pretty good by most standards. Fans will banter relentlessly about how a couple free agent signings will slingshot them into the Super Bowl and it may do so, but unless you have one of the elite passers in the game you won't see your team finish 12-4 or better year after year, because that's a luxury that only the Pats, Packers, Saints and Steelers get to experience.

    Avoid those four teams and look at the last decade of Super Bowls, only two other teams have made repeat appearances, one of them being the Broncos, who had a historically great quarterback in Manning and the other is the Seahawks, who had a historically great defense. While those seven teams are average year after year, and barring injuries to the elite quarterbacks the four teams mentioned afterwards are perennial powerhouses, the rest of the league is on one big wave. Simply put, a couple other teams will join those four teams as powerhouses each year, but they're not there to stay for a decade, or likely even half a decade. The Rams of 2017 are in that category, so are the Cowboys of 2016,  the Panthers of 2015 and so on. The Rams following season is yet to be seen, but the other two teams mentioned fell back down to reality the following season.

    Where this comes into play, and especially with the Bucs and Jameis Winston is that these teams that ride the wave to superb seasons are usually beneficiaries of team friendly quarterback salaries. The teams that have elite quarterbacks can manage to pay them a rather large salary because they can win with what they're given around them. For proof, just look at what happened to the Packers last year when Rodgers went down with injury; 4-1 with a healthy Rodgers, 3-8 with Hundley at the helm. Otherwise, the 2017 Rams had Goff on a rookie contract, and the 2016 Cowboys had Prescott on a rookie contract, as well as the Panthers in 2015 having Newton on a modest contract that ranked 15th of all quarterbacks in the league. Going even further back, 2014 and 2013 Seahawks had Wilson on a rookie contract, and the same goes for the Colts and Andrew Luck. It goes without saying that when the signal caller is on a team friendly contract, the money is available to allocate to other players.

    In the past decade, the quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl go as follows: Tom Brady with two, and then Eli Manning, Roethlisberger, Brees, Rodgers, Flacco, Wilson, Peyton Manning and Foles each with one. Now excluding those who have been deemed elite, the remaining quarterbacks are Eli Manning, Flacco, Wilson and Foles. Not to take away from Foles' accomplishment, because to win the Super Bowl, nevermind beating the almighty Patriots is a hell of an feat, but the reason the Eagles were as talented as they were elsewhere was due to Wentz's rookie contract. The 2014 Super Bowl, where the Seahawks beat down on the Broncos, Wilson was also on a rookie contract. Flacco, for his 2013 Super Bowl win was the 15th highest paid quarterback in the league, and he went on an absolute tear, playing at historically great levels for the four playoff games. This leaves us with the one outlier, Eli Manning. Eli Manning definitely does not qualify as an elite quarterback, nor was he a comparatively modestly paid quarterback. Here's the main difference though, over the past few seasons, the quarterback market has seen massive amounts of inflation. In the 2011 season where the Giants won the Super Bowl, the largest quarterback cap hit was Mark Sanchez at 14.3% of the salary cap; in the upcoming 2018 season, the largest cap hit is Garoppolo at 20.8%. While Manning in the 2011 season may have been the fifth highest paid quarterback, he still only occupied 11.7% of the team's salary cap, whereas Winston, depending on what the salary cap is set at, will occupy around 11% in 2019, even though it's only going to be the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. Basically, as the past decade shows, the best chance at winning a championship is to have either an elite quarterback, or a good quarterback on a rookie contract, and when they don't fall within those parameters, they should be modestly paid regardless to ensure spending money elsewhere. Winston though shows no signs of developing into an elite signal caller, and he's likely to command a large salary when his contract expires in 2020.

    Winston and the Bucs have failed to qualify for the playoffs so far in his three year career, and it will be an uphill battle this year due to his suspension, should he have a roster spot to return to. In the new age of sports there is only truly two measures of successful seasons; championship titles and a clear-cut future contender. That would leave the Eagles, the Rams, the Jaguars, the Vikings and arguably, by quite the stretch, the 49ers, as the only seriously successful teams from 2017. Unfortunately for the Bucs, with Winston under center, not only have they yet to qualify for the playoffs, he has not shown his ability as a leader or a player. He's far from the elite caliber quarterbacks that command large salaries on great teams, and he is also yet to take significant strides as a player, ultimately holding the team back from doing so. On that note though, he is a formidable starting quarterback in this league even with his flaws. The turnovers are still prevalent as ever and his play processing is average at best, but this isn't to say that he doesn't deserve a roster spot in the NFL, but rather that the Bucs must make the correct business decision and cut ties with the former first overall pick.

    The Bucs can look at this in two business perspectives. The first of which is to hold onto Winston, keeping the fan base happy with a well known face and consistent average seasons, and the second is to release Winston to rebuild with the hopes of reaching the pinnacle of football success; a Super Bowl title. This applies to a good portion of the league, although the off-field problems make it a deal breaker because carrying the baggage that accompanies Winston is not worth the results he's putting out on the field. Winston just simply does not show the traits or the leadership qualities necessary to being in contention year after year like Brady and Rodgers, and with Winston's fifth-year option being costly, they've missed their window of success with his rookie contract. This choice may cause scrutiny and very well may backfire, but teams are doomed if they don't take chances, and this is a chance the Bucs must take.

    With every trade and every release in any major sport we hear about the cutthroat competition in the NFL, and the nature of the business and this, while being a bold one, is nothing more than a necessary business decision in order to give the franchise a chance to blossom once again with another highly touted quarterback draft pick, who subsequently will be on a significantly lesser contract than what Winston will command. On the other side of things, Winston, still being 24, will have the chance to learn from his mistakes and experiences and he would have the opportunity to take his talents to a quarterback needy team to have the chance to start. While the Bucs should release Winston, by no means is his career in jeopardy; he made mistakes and he'll pay for them but he is talented enough to find a spot on another team easily. From a business perspective though, it's a no brainer for the Bucs to release Winston because of the unlikeliness of a championship with him under center, and he'll have the Warriors to thank for making North American sports championship title or bust.