The negative surprises always seem to overshadow the positive ones when it comes to Jameis Winston. It happened again on a sleepy offseason Thursday in June.
According to several media reports, the NFL is expected to suspend the Bucs’ franchise quarterback for three games in the upcoming season in the aftermath of allegations he groped an Uber driver during a late-night ride in Arizona more than two years ago.
This leaves much in doubt in terms of Winston’s credibility, his future with Tampa Bay, and the entire Bucs football plan. Winston has shown a good amount of on-field promise in three seasons (69 TD passes), but this suspension once again shows the Florida State product has reliability issues that don’t seem to dissipate. A 5-11 team with an unproven head coach can’t afford that kind of problem. Nor can it afford an 0-3 start.
Why innocence might not matter for Jameis Winston
It’s important to state that Winston may have done nothing wrong. No complaint to police was ever filed by the accuser (one was formally made to the driver’s employer). Winston always maintained his innocence, and he had help from current Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby, who said he was in the car and vouched for his college teammate. (There was a third passenger, who is still unknown to the public.)
But the fact that the NFL went with three games, instead of one or zero, indicates its investigation yielded some red flags beyond they-said, she-said.
Winston’s Uber account was reportedly suspended, and a failure to disclose the accusation to the league can be deemed a violation of the personal conduct policy: “Clubs and players are obligated to promptly report any matter that comes to their attention (through, for example, victim or witness reports, law enforcement, or media reports) that may constitute a violation of this Policy.”
He has only himself to blame, even if he is innocent of all charges. The news of the accusation, when it first surfaced in November 2017, seemed to catch the Bucs completely off-guard.
The driver told BuzzFeed that Winston shouted homophobic slurs in addition to groping her. “I started driving, and right away, Jameis behaved poorly,” she said.
The Bucs appear to be in trouble
Now the team finds itself with another PR headache on top of a rugged schedule: Tampa’s first three regular-season opponents are the New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers – all Super Bowl contenders. Winston was ridiculed last season for pregame theatrics in which he encouraged his teammates to “eat” a W. He may be watching his team chow down on three straight Ls.
Head coach Dirk Koetter got this job because of his relationship with Winston, as the Bucs discarded a defensive expert in Lovie Smith. It hasn’t worked out so far, as the team hasn’t shown a ton of improvement under Koetter. A lot of that is not on Winston, as the Bucs don’t have a top-tier offensive line or running game. But now they will start the season without a top-tier quarterback, and it’s arguable whether Winston will ever fit that label.
Quarterbacks have returned from suspensions to shine before – see Brady, Tom – but even if the Bucs make the playoffs in a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, they have to wonder how many more surprises are in store with Winston. He’s constantly compared with the man chosen a slot behind him in the 2015 draft – Marcus Mariota – and the Tennessee Titans quarterback has already won a playoff game despite having roughly the same statistical profile as Winston.
Famous Jameis’ act is worn out
Since the rape accusations he faced at Florida State, Winston has had some level of protection from the full consequences of his own poor judgment. That buffer has included everyone from teammates to college coaches to the Tallahassee Police Department. He was suspended for a key game against Clemson in 2014 for behavior separate from the rape charges, and he still went first overall in the NFL draft.
Winston’s buffer is now gone. If the Bucs do not recover fully from this suspension, the team will likely bring in a head coach (and potentially a general manager) who doesn’t have a huge investment in Winston. The job will be to win with or without “Famous Jameis.” He may be down to his last strike with the current brass, and he might not get any strikes from the executives who arrive next. Jimbo Fisher is not walking through that door.
Winston has always found room for error. Regardless of what happened that night in Arizona, he’s now squandered every last square inch of it.
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