Dirk Koetter isn’t really serious about playing Jameis Winston

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dirk Koetter thinks he’s keeping everyone in suspense about which quarterback he’ll start against the Bears, but it’s obvious he’s going with Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Jameis Winston is eligible to reclaim his starting spot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they travel to Chicago to play the Bears. If you listen to Dirk Koetter, that’s a distinct possibility. Yet it’s very unlikely anyone associated with the Bears is spending a lot of time preparing to play against Winston.

Despite Koetter’s best efforts to give the Bears two quarterbacks to prepare for, no one actually believes he’ll make a switch. Ryan Fitzpatrick had one bad half against the Steelers, but otherwise he’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season. Taking him out of the lineup while the team is in first place would be an astoundingly bad decision by Koetter and his staff.

In fairness to Koetter, he was very honest about his refusal to reveal his quarterback plan for this week’s game. He correctly pointed out to reporters that it would not do the Buccaneers “any good to tell our opponents what we’re going to do.” That happens to be a true statement, but this isn’t a very good opportunity to plant doubts in the minds of the Bears coaching staff.

Putting Winston right back into the starting lineup wouldn’t just be a mistake for the team’s chances of beating the Bears. It would also send a horrible message to Winston. He can’t be allowed to think that his actions don’t have consequences. In many ways, losing his job to Fitzpatrick due to his suspension might be the best thing that ever happens to the controversial quarterback. Perhaps it will spark a meaningful change in Winston’s behavior.

More than anything else, putting Fitzpatrick on the bench so soon after Winston’s return would send an awful message to the Buccaneers locker room. Every NFL player needs to know, or at least believe, that his team is a meritocracy. In other words, players need to believe that the best player will always play. The way Fitzpatrick has led this offense this season makes it obvious the starting job should be his. If Winston gets it handed to him, it could ruin the morale of the entire locker room.

Next: 5 burning questions for the Buccaneers in 2018

Koetter has his critics as an NFL head coach, but he realizes that sticking with Fitzpatrick is the only realistic choice he has against the Bears. Credit him for trying to keep his opponent guessing, but this decision is too obvious for that strategy to really bother Matt Nagy and company.

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