Written by Cody Manning, @CodyTalksNFL
Jameis Winston is coming off a season to remember, for better or for worse, depending on what side you want to look at it. He is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same season. He also got that 30th interception on his last throw of 2019, which resulted in a pick-6 that ended the Bucs season in overtime. Now that his rookie contract has ended and he is entering free agency Jason Licht and Bruce Arians have a big decision to make. Do they want to commit to him long-term, slap the Franchise Tag on him, or move on to a different option in free agency or the upcoming NFL Draft? Only time will tell, but they will have to show their hand by March 10th, the deadline to designate which player they may intend to slap the tag on. Until that happens, I take a look at the options that Tampa have to be their starter in 2020.
Stick with Jameis Winston
The first piece of the puzzle and could answer the question very quickly is what do the Bucs do with Jameis Winston? If Licht and Arians decide he is their man, do they commit to him long-term, do they try to work out a team-friendly short-term contract, or do they slap the franchise tag and see if one more season under BA will fix his turnover issues? If they give him a long-term contract then they must feel that he will take the next step as a quarterback and they can go on a deep run with him. A short-term deal can give the team flexibility to get out of the contract if it doesn’t work out and can help the team fit other players under the cap. The franchise tag does seem like the best option if they decide to stick with Winston for one more season. It doesn’t offer any type of commitment and they could even bring in younger quarterback as competition.
While I can see them sticking with the former #1 overall pick, I can also see Arians wanting to win with a quarterback that won’t turn the ball over as much as Winston. Only time will tell when we will get the answer to this question.
A Veteran Quarterback
If Licht and Arians decide to move on from Winston, then it is more likely that they will go after a veteran quarterback to be their new starter since BA is ready to win now, not later. It is safe to assume quarterbacks like Dak Prescott, Drew Brees, and Ryan Tannehill will be back with their current teams. But, here are some guys that they could bring in if they decide to go on the veteran route:
One of the most compelling free agents to be is Brady. Will he resign with the New England Patriots or will he actually test the market? It has been reported that Brady wants to be surrounded by weapons. Well, Tampa can offer that to him. He can play with guys like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Plus, he would be in a pass-happy offense that can help him show people that he still has it. The one thing that could be a turn-off is the offensive line and he may not have as much time to throw as he would want. If Licht and BA can convince him to come to the Bucs, they may have to promise him they will address the unit in free agency and the draft. This seems unlikely in my opinion, but you never know in the NFL.
It appears that the Los Angeles Chargers are set on moving on from Rivers and with him entering his 17th season, coming off one of his worst years, most wonder what does he have left in the tank? If Rivers decides to not retire and wants to give it a go for another season or two, then he will want to go somewhere he wants to win. Tampa does give him that option and after permanently moving his family to Florida, it seems like a destination for him to land this offseason. There are some rumors swirling that the Bucs would welcome the vet to be their starting quarterback in 2020, but he would have to be okay with mentoring his eventual replacement (Jacob Eason) in that scenario. I just wonder if this is a great fit, Rivers’ arm strength wasn’t there last year and Arians loves to push the ball down the field. But, BA does love him as a football player, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see #17 in a Bucs uniform.
Bridgewater is one of the more interesting options that will be hitting the market this year. He will more than likely want to sign a deal that supplants him as the starter wherever he goes. Some may view him as a bridge quarterback option, while some may see him as a quality starter that can help teams win games and they won’t have to fork over a bunch of money compared to most starting quarterbacks. Bridgewater isn’t the best fit for Arians’ scheme, similar to Rivers, he doesn’t push the ball down the field much and they would have to change the offense to fit his mold of play. But it could be possible he is seen as a winner and wouldn’t turn over the ball as much like Winston. He is probably the safest option out there, but if BA doesn’t want a game-manager then he will look elsewhere on the market.
Assuming that the Cincinnati Bengals follow through with the much-expected plan of using the #1 overall pick on Joe Burrow, that will make Dalton expendable. Dalton is on the final year of his contract and is only owed $17.7M with $0 dead money per OverTheCap. He could offer Tampa a bridge quarterback route while giving BA a player that he could win with right now. Dalton won’t be the most popular choice among Bucs fans but he has won in the past, offers a veteran presence, and Arians has had success with a castaway Bengals quarterback in the past. It will be interesting to see if Dalton would be ok with that or if he will want a short-term extension wherever he gets traded to this offseason.
Other Potential Options
If Licht and BA decide to go with a bridge quarterback to go with a rookie or to bring in some competition to go along with Winston then these could be some guys they could consider:
Could they bring in Winston’s 2015 counterpart, Marcus Mariota? He doesn’t fit Arians’ scheme, but it is a possibility.
Are the Jacksonville Jaguars interested in getting rid of Nick Foles and his contract in favor of Gardner Minshew? He could be that veteran quarterback that could push to win now for BA, but I don’t think that contract would be ideal with other potential free agents that Licht will want to keep on the roster.
If the Miami Dolphins use 1 of their 3 first-round picks on a quarterback then that signals the end of Josh Rosen’s tenure in South Florida. He has the arm to push the ball down the field and hasn’t been given a fair chance since entering the league. He’s only 22 and still has plenty of talent to offer. He could be some nice competition to bring in the quarterback room.
A Rookie Quarterback
If Tampa decides to go on a short-term deal or franchise tag with Winston, then it would make sense to bring in some competition whether it is a veteran quarterback or a rookie. If they grab a Brady or Rivers or any of the older quarterbacks I previously mentioned then it makes sense for them to bring in a younger quarterback to develop behind them. With Joe Burrow being pretty much a lock to go #1 to the Bengals, we can take him out of this scenario. The Bucs currently sit at the #14 slot in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. They could sit there and take whichever quarterback that falls to them, but if they fall in love with a certain player, then they may have to be aggressive and trade up to get their guy. Here are some options that Licht could target in this year’s class:
Prior to this past college football season, it was assumed that Tua would not only be the best quarterback in this class but was expected to be the #1 overall pick. Since then Burrow had himself a sensational year which exploded him all the way up to be the assumed #1 overall pick and Tua suffered a couple of injuries which included breaking his hip which ended his season. All the signs have been positive and if he clears his medicals then can showcase his throwing ability prior to the draft, then it is expected he will still be a Top 10, if not Top 5 pick. If the Bucs want to land Tua then they will more than likely have to trade ahead of the Chargers and Dolphins to make that happen.
Herbert entered his last season at Oregon with high expectations to supplant himself as a Top 10 pick in this year’s draft. After an up-and-down year, analysts had mixed feelings on what he offers as a quarterback at the next level. But after having a great week at the Senior Bowl and reminding people of his physical talents, he is back in the discussion of going inside the Top 10. The free agency market and potential trades could alter how the quarterbacks fall in the 1st round, but as of now, it sounds like to me that he won’t fall past the Chargers at #6. While there is the potential he could fall to Tampa at #14, if they are in love with him as a prospect, they may have to trade up to get him on the roster.
Love is the biggest risk and reward quarterback of this class. After having a big 2018 campaign, he had a down year in 2019 statistically but showed off his immense talent throughout the season. He has a lot to offer as a quarterback and did showcase that during his Senior Bowl week, but he will need some coaching to help hone in his skills and cut out the inconsistency of his play. His skillset could flourish in Arians’ scheme with the proper coaching and mentoring from a veteran quarterback. He could fall to the Bucs at #14, but they will have to worry about the Oakland Raiders or Indianapolis Colts possibly snagging him right before they are on the clock. This could be another trade-up scenario that they will have to pull off if they are in “Love”.
Eason is a very raw quarterback that has the physical skills that could benefit from being in Arians’ scheme. Similar to Love, I feel like he is best to be mentored by a veteran quarterback until he is ready to take over as the guy. As I alluded to earlier, he is part of a discussed rumor that the Bucs are interested in pairing him up with Rivers and have him sit on the bench until Rivers retires. While this seems like a possible scenario if the team does move on from Winston and the previously mentioned rookie quarterbacks are all selected before Tampa is on the clock, the question is; where would they select Eason? In my personal opinion, I wouldn’t touch him until the 2nd round, but we all know how the NFL loves quarterbacks which usually propels them higher in the draft. Some mocks have them selecting him at #14. If they are truly in love with him, then they may have to use their 1st round pick on him to make it happen before someone steals him in the late 1st or before they are up in the 2nd round.
This is a pivotal moment for the franchise, do they commit to their former #1 overall pick or do they turn to other options as the team is poised to go on a deep run with the right quarterback leading the way?