Photo by New York Post
Written by Joe Carlino and Cody Manning
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming up on their fifth season since drafting Jameis Winston out of Florida State. Since then, the team has experienced one season in which their record was over .500, going 9-7 in his second year. However, poor on-field performance and off-field incidents have caused his reputation to take a hit, leading the team to fire head coach Dirk Koetter and hire Bruce Arians, who now takes over in the most important season for the young signal-caller’s career. In this article, Blitzalytics’ NFC South reporters Cody Manning and Joe Carlino take a look at some important questions lingering over the organization heading into training camp:
Jameis is coming up on a contract year but clearly hasn’t lived up to expectations. Is this a make-or-break season for him and the Bucs?
CM: Yes. This not only a make-or-break season for him in Tampa, but his future in the league is in question as his performance could either lead to another starting opportunity, backup job, or out of the league. If he cuts down on his turnovers and poor decision making, then he could earn an extension with Tampa. If he can do that plus improve his play while taking the Bucs to the playoffs then he could see that big payday that the organization was hoping to give him when they spent the #1 pick on him in 2015.
JC: In short, the answer here is yes. Jameis needs to fix his turnover problem which has plagued him since the start of his career, and he also has to work on his decision making while on the field. Former head coach Dirk Koetter said it best when the Bucs were on “Hard Knocks” a few seasons ago when he told Jameis on the sideline “You’re a good talent, but your greed will be your downfall”. It’s unfortunate that in the Bucs’ history, all of the quarterbacks they’ve taken have never received a second contract from the team. If Jameis can’t figure it out this year, especially with quarterback guru Bruce Arians at the helm, he’s going to join that infamous list in Tampa Bay.
Which location of Jameis’ game needs to improve the most for him to compete in a loaded NFC South quarterback class?
CM: I think everyone knows this answer: turnovers. Whether it’s making a terrible decision and trying to force a throw which results in an interception or holding the ball loosely which leads to easy fumble, he needs to fix it. Another thing that would help is fixing his accuracy on deep balls. He needs to find that touch to connect with his receivers which could lead to more touchdowns instead of picks.
JC: The turnover ratio. Jameis has consistently made ridiculous passes or tried to do too much with the football that it gives opposing defenses a chance to make a play on the ball and give it back to their offense. I need more fingers to count the number of times he’s forced a pass into double/triple coverage or overthrew a receiver and into the hands of an opposing secondary player. The thing about veteran quarterbacks is they learn from their mistakes and find out how to prevent this from becoming a recurring problem, which is why guys like Matt Ryan and Drew Brees are the cream of the crop in this division. If Jameis wants to stick around, he must limit the bad turnovers. And I mean Stephen A. Smith describing Aaron Rodgers “baddddddddddd”.
Based on past year totals and a receiving core that features Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and OJ Howard, will Jameis get another 4,000 passing yards?
CM: Yes, there are a lot of factors that favor the Bucs offense getting over 4,000 passing yards. Jamies has reached the 4,000 marks in the two seasons he played 16 games, so assuming he stays healthy that helps. Bruce Arians loves to get the ball down the field through the air so his weaponry helps make his offense dangerous. The backfield won’t dominate a lot of touches, so this could be a pass-heavy offense in 2019. Lastly, if the Bucs defense isn’t great, they could find themselves in a lot of shootouts, which will help inflate Winston’s numbers.
JC: It’s possible Jameis can, especially with how the league is evolving. Quarterbacks have more leverage and protection, so one false move by a defense prolongs a drive and gives him more opportunities. I’ve been sold on Godwin since he was drafted by the Bucs, and now with a clear chance as a No.2 receiver to Evans, he’s going to make an impact. OJ’s still a very impressive tight end in this league, so for those short third-down situations, Jameis should primarily look his way. If everything works out in their favor, and the Bucs play from behind in their games, it’ll be a no-brainer for Winston to make 4,000 again.
With the Bucs getting rid of “Fitzmagic” in the offseason and hiring Arians, it’s clear they’re putting all their eggs in his basket. If Jameis doesn’t have the Bucs contending, do they cut their losses and enter the “Tank for Tua” conversation?
CM: No, because as good as Tua is, he isn’t even the consensus top quarterback in the 2020 class. Plus, this depends on how tied to the hip Bruce Arians is to General Manager, Jason Licht. Licht’s tenure has been very up and down, there could be a case that if the team doesn’t show any improvement this season, he could be shown the exit door. But, the report was that Licht and Arians’ friendship was a key factor in the hiring. Because of this, I believe the Bucs coaching staff will do their best to win as many games as they can in 2019.
JC: While I’d like to give Tua the edge here because he’s left-handed and the league desperately needs his kind under center again, I’d go a different direction and look at Justin Herbert out of Oregon. Something about his skillset and wanting to stay in college for his senior season gives me Andrew Luck-esque feels, and it’s safe to say Indianapolis made the right choice after moving on from Peyton. Of course, nothing’s set in stone yet because we haven’t seen any improvements or declines yet in meaningful games. But I wouldn’t try to go after Tua in this class because I just don’t know if he’d be the answer Tampa’s been looking for.
What can be made of general manager Jason Licht, the man who selected Winston first overall in 2015? Will he survive another year if the Bucs finish below .500 again?
CM: That’s hard to say, the team could show improvement while playing within one of the deepest divisions in the NFL, but finish with a 7-9 record. In that case, I think he stays. If the overall roster doesn’t show any growth from the previous season and the Bucs finish with less than 6 wins, then I say yes. I think his tenure is tied with his #1 pick, Jameis Winston. There will be a lot of jobs riding on their hopeful franchise quarterback’s season.
JC: Licht’s been hit or miss throughout his time in Tampa Bay, and it’s interesting to see how much faith the Bucs brass has in him. That said, arguably his worst decision as GM was the selection of Roberto Aguayo in the second round of the 2016 draft, and everyone knows how that experiment ended. However, Licht has proven he wants to win in this league, recruiting Desean Jackson to Tampa to spice up the offense and hiring Bruce Arians to man the ship. If Tampa finishes anywhere near .500 or below, everyone’s been removed from the organization but him, so there’s really nobody else to get rid of besides him.
Overall, will the Bucs have any chance at winning the NFC South this year, or is
there still areas they need to improve to enter that conversation?
CM: I do believe the Bucs always have a chance to win the division underneath the leadership of Bruce Arians. He will make this team more competitive than in the previous seasons and will surprise teams throughout the 2019 season. I do think it will be difficult for Tampa to win the division because the defense needs improvement in the secondary and they will be missing the pass rush from JPP. That unit has too many question marks for me to say comfortably say that the Bucs will win this division, but if they were to find a way to climb on top of the NFC South, then I wouldn’t be surprised because of their coaching staff.
JC: The NFC South is a loaded division, arguably the best in the NFL by a country mile. The division has two former NFL MVPs (Cam and Matt Ryan), a Super Bowl MVP in Drew Brees, and playmakers galore on both sides of the ball. Tampa hasn’t seen much success in this division since 2007, finishing last or second-to-last in all but one season (they finished 9-7 in 2016). It’s hard to see that trend-bucking in this division with the level of talent their rivals have, so for at least one more season, I see the Bucs finishing somewhere between 6-10 and 8-8.