The reported forth-coming suspension for Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston does more than put a damper on the start of 2018 in Tampa Bay. With a 20-28 record across his first three seasons, Winston’s role in the long-term future likely wasn’t very secure to begin with. Now add in a legitimate off-field incident, that appears to be keeping him from 3-games in 2018, and the future seems even bleaker.
The 24-year-old has been “OK” since his #1 overall selection back in 2015. To date, he’s averaging just under 260 yards, around 1.5 TDs and 1 INT per game in 45 starts, with a completion percentage just over 60%. His numbers did improve in 2017, at a 270 yards, 19/11, 64% clip in 13 games. But the overall issue here may be the inability for Winston to translate his talents in wins.
Yes, this is a Tampa Bay team that posted the worst defense in football last season, and Winston’s weapons haven’t exactly been consistent in his first three seasons. But at some point the team will need to decide if a change at the most important position is the underlying answer. And that decision will be coming very soon.
While Winston is set to earn $3.89M in 2018 (including a $3.1M roster bonus on the 5th day of training camp), his 5th-year option for 2019 jumps up to $20.922M. This 2019 salary doesn’t become fully guaranteed until the first league day of the 2019 year, however it is guaranteed for injury as of now. This could make 2018 very interesting for Winston and the Bucs, especially if Tampa gets off to a rough start, and the season begins to break down. If the plan is to move on from Winston after 2018, it’s very possible he sees little to no playing time this season, as Ryan Fitzpatrick has proven to be a viable game-managing starter in the league for years, and Tampa won’t want to risk an injury to Winston that may damage their financial plans going forward.
This of course, is all speculation at this point. It’s very likely that the Bucs still have belief in Winston and his ability to be a franchise QB for their immediate future. It seems fair though to assume that Winston is fighting for his job this season., The Bucs 2019 salary cap doesn’t offer much space or flexibility, and it will be tough to swallow $20.9M into Winston with hopes of him pushing through his current ceiling.
In using the above stats to project where Winston’s value currently stands, we find that he falls in right around the Andy Dalton & Ryan Tannehill range in terms of production. Financially speaking this means a valuation of around $20.5M, almost identical to his 5th-year option for 2019. Obviously any and all of this relies on Winston's ability to regain his starting role and flourish through 2018, and likely 2019 as well. The Bucs won't be motivated to extend Jameis anytime soon based on production plus recent events.