A three-game suspension for Jameis Winston has been confirmed, but could he stay on the bench after that?
A week after the news first surfaced, the NFL confirmed a three-game suspension for Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston after an alleged incident with a female Uber driver in 2016. After a disappointing 2017 season, 2018 is not off to a good start for the Buccaneers or Winston.
Tampa Bay’s first three games this year are historically tough. After a road game against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers will come to Raymond James Stadium. So no matter who is under center, an 0-3 start is more likely than any other scenario over those three games.
Winston will be eligible to return in Week 4. But after the Monday night game against the Steelers in Week 3, it will be a short week for the Buccaneers going into a game against the Chicago Bears. Returning to the team on the Tuesday of a short week is not necessarily ideal for Winston to hit the ground running, and Tampa Bay has their bye in Week 5.
Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk has laid out the aforementioned scenario where Winston sits out Week 4 too. But is there a chance the Buccaneers choose to go without him after that?
Ryan Fitzpatrick went 2-1 in three starts last when Winston was injured, averaging 248 passing yards per game. Add in a fourth game of extensive action, when Winston first suffered his shoulder injury, and Fitzpatrick averaged just under 259 yards per game in those contests with 275 or more yards three times.
If Fitzpatrick is playing well and the Buccaneers somehow go at least 2-1 to start the season, a change back to Winston will be difficult. If a short week is deemed to not be the right time for Winston to take his job back, and then Tampa Bay is 3-1 or even 2-2 going into the bye week, the case to remove Fitzpatrick gets even more flimsy.
There is a financial element the Buccaneers may also have to consider. Winston is due to make $20.9 million in 2019, on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. But that is fully guaranteed for injury only, and we’ve seen two different courses taken in similar, notable situations.
The Jacksonville Jaguars embraced that risk with Blake Bortles last year, and essentially got what they hoped for with a division title and a trip to the AFC Championship as Bortles was reduced to being a game manager. In 2015 the Washington Redskins deactivated Robert Griffin III all season, once they deemed him not to be guy, in order to avoid a significant commitment the following year if he were to suffer another serious injury.
The situations with Bortles and Griffin were tied, at least mostly in the latter case, to on-field concerns tied into embracing some risk. There are off-field layers with Winston that make his situation different, and the Buccaneers’ view of him as the face of the franchise has to be diminished.
But after failing to pay off last year’s “Hard Knocks” hype at all, and a rumored flirtation with Jon Gruden after the season, Buccaneers’ head coach Dirk Koetter is firmly on the hot seat. General manager Jason Licht should also be feeling some heat, as the architect of an underachieving roster. So when it comes down to it, for better or worse no matter how well Fitzpatrick plays in his place, Winston will probably be back under center as soon as he can be in Week 4.