Jameis Winston needed two interceptions in his final game of the season to cap off a truly historic season, and he managed to do it in remarkable style.
Winston threw one interception in regulation, but the Falcons forced overtime with a late field goal. That gave Winston a chance to make history by becoming the first quarterback to throw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same season. He did so in memorable and fitting fashion with a game-ending pick six on the first drive of overtime.
Jamies Winston pulled it off, thank you giving the people what they wanted.pic.twitter.com/zBCRZVfZIf
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 29, 2019
Winston’s stat line in 2019 is bonkers. He threw for 5,109 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 30 interceptions. The first two are elite. The last one is historically awful. The Buccaneers have a decision to make with Winston facing free agency, and they claim they haven’t made it yet. It won’t be an easy one.
Have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a decision on the future of Jameis Winston? It depends on who you ask.
A Saturday morning report from NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport suggested that the Buccaneers have decided to bring Winston back in 2020. The quarterback is currently playing out the final year of his deal, and there have been questions about his future all season.
After Saturday’s loss, however, coach Bruce Arians denied that the team had made a decision on Winston’s future.
Bruce Arians on the NFL Network report that Jameis Winston is returning next season: "There's been no decision on any player. We don't make those decisions until the end of the season."
— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) December 21, 2019
This may just be coach-speak. Arians has been a firm Winston backer all season, and all signs have been that the team wants to keep Winston. It’s unlikely that Saturday’s dreadful four interception performance changed any minds, but Arians might not have wanted to confirm a Winston return after such a showing.
Few NFL quarterbacks divide opinion quite like Jameis Winston does. Some see him as a one-of-a-kind athletic freak of nature who piles up stats and makes bold throws that few others are willing to even attempt. Others regard him as a turnover machine who makes bad decisions and never seems to improve.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are clearly part of the former camp. On Sunday, NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported that Winston, currently in the final year of his contract, will be brought back next year, and coach Bruce Arians has essentially confirmed that as well. The Bucs clearly feel that Winston has improved under Arians, and can continue doing so given more time to work with the coach.
Mere hours after the report broke, Winston threw four interceptions in a 23-20 loss to the Houston Texans. Two of his first three passes were picked off. The first was returned for a touchdown, and the only reason the second wasn’t was because there was a Houston penalty on the return. The first and fourth picks were basically the same — a defensive back jumping a route, hopping in front of the receiver, and grabbing the pass. This doesn’t even include other passes that could have been intercepted, including a dropped pick on the goal line that almost looked intended for Texans defensive back Gareon Conley.
Winston now has 28 interceptions in 15 games this season. That’s ten more than Phillip Rivers, who is second in the league. It’s more than any NFL quarterback since 2005. If Winston throws two picks in Week 17 — and he’s done that in eight of his 15 games so far — he’ll hit 30 interceptions in one season, a feat that has not been accomplished since Vinny Testaverde threw 35 picks in 1988.
Does this sound like a winning quarterback? It shouldn’t. Winston’s defenders will point to many things, but few of them hold water. It’s no secret that he’s playing with a thumb injury, but that was also the case when he crushed the Detroit Lions a week ago, and it didn’t seem like an issue then. Tampa Bay’s pass defense has been poor for much of the season, costing the team games. While that’s partially true, it doesn’t explain everything, and the Bucs’ defense was much better Saturday and the team still lost. They’ll argue that he was without Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, his two best receivers, but Winston was turning the ball over at an alarming rate even with them in the lineup.
The biggest case Winston’s defenders make in his favor are the big numbers he puts up. Winston has now thrown for 31 touchdowns and 4,908 yards this season. Among quarterbacks in NFL history, only Peyton Manning has more yards than Winston in his first five seasons. Both of these things may be true, but how much does that matter when he’s getting picked off twice per game? Winston’s interceptions Saturday led directly to ten Houston points in a game the Buccaneers lost by three, and the Texans don’t boast an elite defense, either.
Arians’ system has undoubtedly helped Winston, just as it helped Carson Palmer when Arians took over in Arizona. Winston backers could point to Palmer as an Arians success story that Winston may replicate. In Palmer’s first season with Arizona, he threw for 4,274 yards, but 22 interceptions. He threw just 11 and 14 picks in 31 total games in 2015 and 2016 while surpassing 4,000 yards in both campaigns. That’s a guy who was prone to being picked off for much of his career.
But Winston isn’t Palmer. Palmer had started to show significant improvement in Arians’ offense by the end of year one. In 2013, the first year of the Palmer-Arians partnership, 15 of the quarterback’s 22 interceptions came in his first nine games of the year, and he threw only seven in his last seven, with four of them coming in one game. Winston has not shown that improvement; if anything, he’s getting worse as time goes on. After throwing 12 picks in his first eight games under Arians, he’s gone on to throw 16 in his next seven. His numbers are trending in the wrong direction.
But the Buccaneers have been winning. Saturday’s loss broke a four-game winning streak, and Winston is fresh off becoming the first quarterback in league history to throw for 450 yards in back-to-back games. The problem is that those four wins came against the Falcons, Jaguars, Titans, and Lions, four teams out of contention whose defenses have been repeatedly blown up by more than one quarterback. Even in those wins, Winston was intercepted six times in four games.
Winston will put up flashy stats. There will be lots of yards and a good amount of touchdown passes. But the question the Buccaneers should be asking themselves is whether Winston still profiles as the franchise quarterback that they thought they were getting when they selected him first overall in 2015. Five years in, he has one winning season and a 28-41 record as a starter. He averages more than a turnover a game, and that rate has grown worse in 2019. He’s about to turn 26, and after five NFL seasons, it’s fair to wonder how much more room for growth there actually is here.
It’s Tampa Bay’s prerogative if they want to stick with him. NFL teams tend to be risk averse, and for better or worse, the Buccaneers know what they’re getting with Winston as opposed to taking a risk and finding someone new. The problem is it’s becoming more and more apparent with each passing year that he’s just too inconsistent and mistake-prone to reliably lead a contending team. He again demonstrated why on Saturday in a game where his defense played well enough to win. If the Buccaneers aspire to be contenders, they’re better off moving on now while they have the chance.
It may be hard to believe, but there are just two weeks remaining in the 2019 regular season. For some players, there is more on the line over the final two weeks than others. These last two games could be the difference between a massive contract and a one-year prove-it deal or, in some cases, the difference between playing again or being forced into retirement.
Here’s a look at five players with the most to gain over the final two weeks.
5. Garett Bolles, OT, Denver Broncos
Those in Denver appear to be at a breaking point with the former first-round pick out of Utah. Bolles has been a model for inconsistency over his first three seasons. He has frequently struggled with basic technique and, as a result, racked up a laundry list of penalties, including 12 holding penalties this season (five accepted). However, over the previous three weeks, Bolles appears to have finally broken some ground and played completely mistake-free football. It’s the first time he’s shown the Broncos he’s capable of remaining a starting tackle. If he can play well over the final two weeks, he will force Denver into a difficult decision about whether to pick up a $9-10 million fifth-year option for 2021 or not.
4. Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Buccaneers
It’s been an up-and-down season for Winston, which is a trend that seems to manifest each time he plays. At times, Winston looks like an All-Pro. At others, he looks like a guy who should be in some other line of work. As a result, there has been a lot of speculation about Winston’s future and whether or not Tampa Bay is the right fit for him. Either way, Winston needs to show up over the final two weeks of the season and show some level of consistency if he wants to sell the Buccaneers on keeping him around for 2020 (or beyond), or convincing another team to take a flier on him.
3. Vic Beasley Jr., DE, Atlanta Falcons
Beasley was rumored to be on the market ahead of the NFL trading deadline, but he drew very little interest from contending teams — for good reason. After leading the NFL in sacks in 2016 (15.5), the edge rusher has essentially fallen off the map. He recorded just five sacks in both 2017 and 2018, and entering December of this season, had logged just four sacks. However, in the last two games, Beasley has gotten hot and recorded three sacks, bringing his season total to seven. In a league that pays big money for edge rushers, Beasley stands to earn a good chunk of change if he can continue his hot streak over the final two weeks of the season and enter free agency with a double-digital total for 2019.
2. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, San Francisco 49ers
After several down years in Denver, Sanders was traded to the 49ers earlier this year amid much fanfare. He’s made the most of that opportunity, reminding those around the league that he’s still an explosive player capable of making an impact offensively, but he’s still on pace to fall short of some of his career-highs. After just a nine-yard performance against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15, Sanders now has only two games to get back on track and potentially reach the 1,000-yard mark, which will dramatically increase his value heading into free agency. And at 32 years old, this is likely Sanders’ final opportunity earn a multi-year deal with a solid salary, so he’s got two more games to earn the most amount of money possible.
1. Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears
For a moment earlier this year, the Trubisky era in Chicago appeared destined to end. He was benched at one point this season (later attributed to a hip injury), but returned a week later and has remarkably played much better since. However, Trubisky still needs to play well (if not at much higher level) over the final two weeks of the season if he wishes to convince the Bears that picking up his fifth-year option worth more than $24 million is a prudent move. Yes, Chicago could move on from him without a dead cap hit if they were to pick up his option and he later suffered an injury, but if not, they would be tied to Trubisky and his massive salary for an additional year. That’s a difficult position Chicago may wish to avoid, but if the quarterback can go out and continue his hot streak (a two-interception game against the Packers not withstanding), he may earn himself a cool $24 million-plus.
The NFL is a vicious business sometimes. More than a handful of veteran quarterbacks with a history of proven success are about to find that out firsthand.
What have you done for me lately? The answer to that question is what keeps people employed or leads to a pink slip. The good news is that one team’s trash can be another’s treasure.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five veteran quarterbacks who could be on the move in 2020, and where they might ultimately land.
5. Cam Newton, Chicago Bears
The Carolina Panthers will likely look to trade Newton this offseason, but are said to be looking for a substantial haul in return. That desire could make the former MVP difficult to move. But if Carolina is legitimately committed to moving on from the quarterback, those trade demands are bound to come down. If and when they do, the Bears are the most obvious potential destination for Newton; the two sides have been connected via rumor and speculation for a month. And while Mitchell Trubisky has played better of late, the Bears are unlikely to hitch their wagon to him long term. The possibility remains that Trubisky is merely on a hot streak, opening the door to a quarterback change in 2020. A combination of Cam Newton and a dominant defense may be too much for Chicago to pass up.
4. Marcus Mariota, Miami Dolphins
It’s clear that Mariota’s time with the Tennessee Titans is over, especially now that Ryan Tannehill is playing well and earning himself a new deal in 2020. So how ironic and fitting would it be if Mariota were to sign with the Dolphins, Tannehill’s old team, in 2020? I’m not suggesting it just to be cute, either. As odd as it would be for the two to swap places that way, it would actually make some sense. Tannehill has proven that a change of scenery can sometimes spark improved play, and with Miami having soured on Josh Rosen and unlikely to hang onto Ryan Fitzpatrick long term, a dual-threat player like Mariota may be just what the doctor ordered. Signing Mariota would also save Miami from having to invest a first-round pick into a quarterback, although they might do so anyway — and it’s likely the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner would come at a very team-friendly price.
3. Eli Manning, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Manning is in the final year of his contract with the New York Giants, and it’s no secret to anyone that he’ll be gone after the season. Whether that means Manning retires or looks to play elsewhere remains to be seen, but if it’s the latter, there will be a few suitors for the two-time Super Bowl MVP. Many assume reuniting with Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville would be the most logical step for Manning, but with Jameis Winston possible out in Tampa Bay, Manning could be an interesting potential option for Bruce Arians & Co. The team is built to compete, has a talented supporting cast, and would fit Manning’s style. It would also allow Tampa Bay to draft their future quarterback and have him learn under Manning for a year or two.
2. Philip Rivers, Carolina Panthers
Rivers’ time with the Los Angeles Chargers appears to be winding down, and retirement could be an option this offseason. If not, Rivers will be among the hottest veteran quarterback commodities. Unfortunately for Rivers, there will be an overwhelming amount of competition for just a few jobs, so he’ll need to find the right fit. And assuming the Panthers move on from Newton as expected, Carolina may ultimately prove to be his destination. With a new head coach incoming and Kyle Allen not viewed as the answer, Carolina could opt for a player with Rivers’ pedigree in hopes of putting them over the top and back into playoff contention. Not to mention, Rivers is a noted family man who played his college ball at NC State, so returning home may be an ideal scenario for him.
1. Tom Brady, Denver Broncos
No one genuinely believes the New England Patriots and Tom Brady will part ways after this season, but more and more evidence continues to pile up suggesting that a split could happen. And if there is a separation, even at the age of 42, Brady immediately becomes the No. 1 free agent target in all of football. Enter John Elway and the Broncos, who, despite having invested in rookie Drew Lock, would welcome Brady with open arms knowing that they’d become immediate Super Bowl contenders. A move to Denver would also pair Brady with Mike Munchak, who is one of the most successful offensive line coaches in football, providing Brady with all the protection he could possibly need to continue his NFL domination. I know, I know … it all sounds so crazy, but as Tom Brady Sr. recently said, even Joe Montana went on to play for the Kansas City Chiefs. Anything is possible.
Jameis Winston is on the verge of becoming the first player in NFL history to throw 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season, but he may fall short of that mark if his hand injury forces him to sit out in Week 15.
Winston suffered an injury to his throwing hand in last week’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said an X-ray revealed a tiny fracture. Winston played through the injury for much of the game, but he has not been able to throw footballs in practice this week. He was spotted throwing tennis balls on Thursday.
Progress at Bucs practice: Jameis Winston is throwing … tennis balls. Another step as he tried to play through thumb injury. pic.twitter.com/i6t8KC6tVR
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) December 12, 2019
That certainly isn’t a good sign for Winston’s availability. The Bucs are no longer in playoff contention, so there isn’t any real incentive to have Winston play. He may push to play since he is scheduled to become a free agent this winter, but he has enough trouble protecting the ball when his hand is healthy.
The Bucs already lost Mike Evans in last week’s game when he injured himself on one of his patented long touchdown catches, and they could be even more shorthanded than expected against the Detroit Lions.
Jameis Winston began the second half of Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts on the sideline, but he apparently was not benched for struggling to protect the football once again.
The Bucs announced early in the second half that Winston was questionable to return with an injury to his throwing hand. Veteran backup Ryan Griffin took his place.
There was speculation that Winston was benched by head coach Bruce Arians, which would not have been shocking. Winston threw two interceptions in the first half, one of which the Colts returned for a touchdown. That brought his total to a whopping 22 interceptions on the season.
Tampa Bay already lost wide receiver Mike Evans earlier in the game when he came up lame on a long touchdown catch. Depending upon how serious both injuries are, the Bucs could be shorthanded going forward.