We could be looking at one of the biggest free agency periods in recent memory if some of the notable names actually hit the open market. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Derrick Henry are just a few of the big names set to hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year opens on March 18th. One or more stands a good chance of signing a contract with their current team before then, but there is a chance one or more is taking calls when the tampering period opens on March 16th.
2019 in review
Many viewed the 2019 season as a make or break year for Jameis Winston, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback was entering the final year of his rookie contract. A new system was being put in place under head coach Bruce Arians and had no competition for the starting job with Ryan Fitzpatrick out the door. This was his shot to prove he deserves franchise player money, and he fell short of that goal after leading the Bucs to a 7-9 record.
Winston led the league with a career high 5,109 passing yards. He also notched a career best in touchdown passes (33). However, his decision making was questionable throughout the year, leading to a career high interception count of 30. He became the first quarterback in the history of the NFL to record at least 30 touchdowns passes and 30 interceptions in a single season. While he has the potential to put up big numbers, teams could be hesitant to trust him with leading a team through adversity in high-intensity situation. However, he did undergo LASIK eye surgery to improve his vision. Maybe that will make a difference in the upcoming season.
There are several quality quarterbacks on the market, but not every team will be able to attract high-profile targets. One team that comes to mind for Winston is the Indianapolis Colts. They have a ton of cap space and a quarterback in Jacoby Brissett that might not be full-time starter material. Indianapolis also has a sturdy running back in Marlon Mack and a clear WR1 in T.Y. Hilton. It’s No.14 pick might not be high enough to bring in a suitable rookie as a long-term solution, so maybe trying Winston out would be the better move.
Other options include the Los Angeles Chargers and Carolina Panthers. Both could draft quality quarterback prospects in the 2020, but the Chargers still have a team that is built to win now. The Panthers have two signal callers in Kyle Allen and Will Grier who aren’t close to playing at a level that would allow Carolina to compete in the division. A one-year trial of Winston could be just what the doctor ordered.
Do the Bucs want to keep him?
Tampa Bay could entertain finding a new quarterback with its mid-first round pick this year, via trade, or free agency. But it has also considered multiple ways to retain Winston. ESPN’s Dan Graziano reports that the Bucs might place a transition tag on Winston to save some money up front and give him another shot at running the show. ESPN’s Jenna Laine says a two-year deal with the first year guaranteeing a hefty sum is also an option. The Bucs would have a team option for the second year of that deal.
Winston was a top five fantasy quarterback because of his sheer volume. He had the green light in Tampa Bay and attempted more throws (626) than every quarterback in the NFL but the Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff (also 626). It’s not likely that a new team would give him the same freedom. Winston should still throw the long ball plenty, but would be part of a more balanced offense. I’d expected him to be more toward the middle of the pack in the fantasy production. If he remains in Tampa Bay, he could see similar success in 2020.
There’s plenty of speculation about what teams might benefit from bringing Winston in, but rumors haven’t really gained any traction at this point. That could change in March, but it appears like Winston is more likely to stay in Tampa Bay than leave.
Update: 3.4 — Winston had a meniscus tear for part of last season and had it repaired in the off-season. The injury likely won’t be a huge turning point for guiding what the team wants to do with him moving forward, but is a piece of the puzzle.
Update: 3.11 — Bruce Arians reportedly wants to go all in on acquiring Tom Brady in free agency with Teddy Bridgewater and Phillip Rivers behind Brady on the list of Arians’ most wanted quarterbacks, per Tampa Bay Times’ Rick Stroud.