Jameis Winston knows his history, but what will he make of his future?
With Tampa Bay moving on, Winston must rebound like the quarterbacks he’s studied
Jameis Winston did it to himself. Playing under a head coach who supported him and an offensive coordinator who understood him, Winston failed to hold up his end. And with a chance to sign the most successful quarterback in NFL history, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn’t keep waiting for Winston to fulfill his immense potential.
Former New England quarterback Tom Brady, who led the Patriots to six Super Bowl championships, has reportedly agreed to terms with Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have moved on from Winston, whom they selected with the first overall pick in the 2015 draft and stuck with hoping he would justify their belief in him.
It didn’t happen.
Bottom line: Winston committed too many turnovers.
Last season, Winston led the league with 5,109 passing yards. He also had 33 touchdown passes. Talk about impressive numbers. Problem is, Winston also led the NFL with 30 interceptions. As a passer, being the NFL’s first 30-30 man is definitely not a good thing. Over five seasons with the Bucs, Winston had 88 interceptions in 72 games, including 70 starts. Sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story. Then again, sometimes they do.
Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay’s offensive-whiz head coach, has known Winston since the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner was 14 and attended Arians’ football camp. Buccaneers offensive playcaller Byron Leftwich, a former first-rounder who played quarterback for nine seasons in the league, had already walked the same football path as Winston and they quickly bonded. Together, Arians and Leftwich created a Winston-friendly environment in which they thought he would thrive. They wanted him to thrive.
Any NFL offensive coach can see that Winston has arm talent. It jumps off the film. Arians and Leftwich, however, saw the potential for Winston to lead a team in the NFL as he did in college. (Winston directed Florida State to the 2014 BCS national championship.) They saw someone who possesses all the tools, both physical and mental, to be a franchise passer. If Winston could put it all together.
During a trip to Tampa Bay in September, I quickly came to understand why Arians and Leftwich were still rolling with Winston. His work ethic, and the thoughtful approach he displayed in an effort to improve, impressed both coaches. To them, it was clear Winston cared about his craft. It’s the same approach Winston displayed in studying the game’s past.
Of all the quarterbacks I interviewed while reporting on The Year of the Black Quarterback, Winston was second to none at knowing the history of black men who have played the NFL’s most important position.
“Marlin Briscoe was the first African American [starting] quarterback in the AFL,” Winston said back in September. “Doug [Williams], what he did in the Super Bowl, that really started to change the thinking about what we could do. Warren [Moon] made it to the Hall of Fame. I know what they did.”
Winston is only 26, and he was well-versed in discussing the men who toppled barriers to help give him a chance to pursue his dreams.
He has good relationships with Williams, the first African American passer to win the Super Bowl and the game’s MVP award, and Moon, the only black signal-caller in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, whose counsel he has sought through the years. Several years ago, Winston also read the groundbreaking book by The Undefeated’s William C. Rhoden, Third and a Mile: From Fritz Pollard to Michael Vick — an Oral History of the Trials, Tears and Triumphs of the Black Quarterback. It immediately reshaped his thinking about the game and the position he plays.
“It really changed my insight about the black quarterback, and about the people that paved the way for me,” Winston said. “Not just me, but also the Cam Newtons, the Russell Wilsons, the Deshaun Watsons. Just how they were treated, and how they just kept staying focused on the prize, that’s why we’re here now. For everything they went through, we definitely owe them a lot.”
All of the pioneer black passers whom Winston reveres shared several traits, including the most important one: resiliency. Often knocked down, they got back up and fought for not only themselves, but also those behind them.
Fortunately for Winston, he doesn’t have to shoulder the potential advancement of all black signal-callers. Briscoe, James “Shack” Harris, Williams, Moon and others handled that. Winston, who is a free agent, merely has to focus on becoming the best player he can be for his next team.
Winston simply wasn’t good enough for the Buccaneers to continue standing by him. But with the dearth of competent quarterback play throughout the league, it would be stunning if no team signed him. Assuming Winston gets another chance – he isn’t expected to get a starting gig next season, according to reports – black quarterback pioneers will be watching closely to see if he makes the most of it.