The Buccaneers should find a way to keep Jameis Winston. They've come this far with him, on the field and off, and to walk away now doesn't make much sense. Even if it costs them one more year -- at around $28 million or so -- it's more than worth it, especially after paying him over $20M last year on his fifth-year option.
The longer I have analyzed and considered the options for Tampa at quarterback, the more I keep coming back to Winston, the first overall pick from 2015, being back there in 2020. I don't see an avenue for them to upgrade, frankly, and certainly not at this non-exclusive franchise tag price point. Sure, they have kicked around the idea of Philip Rivers internally, but I'd much prefer another year of an ascending 25-year-old versus two years of a (rapidly) descending Rivers; if the interceptions with Winston are the biggest issue, I'm not signing a guy 10 years older who has the same issues, only with a declining arm and for the same amount of money.
Otherwise, what are we talking about here? Tom Brady and Drew Brees aren't going to Tampa. The Panthers aren't trading Cam Newton in the NFC South. Derek Carr isn't enough of a downfield threat for Bruce Arians (which is part of the reason Jon Gruden is open to moving on from Carr himself). Andy Dalton isn't an upgrade. Teddy Bridgewater isn't the big-armed bomber that Arians always covets (and he will be plenty expensive himself). Ryan Tannehill is gonna get tagged. And, well, even if Arians' old buddy Andrew Luck somehow came out of his retirement (and there is zero evidence that is even a remote option), well, he'd be bound to the Colts, anyway.
So, seriously, what are the Bucs to do at quarterback outside of Winston?
Sitting at 14th overall, the run on QBs in the draft will have started way before they pick, and mortgaging everything to jump up 10 spots doesn't make much sense. Arians isn't in this for a five-year plan at this stage of his career given all his body has already been through. Taking a project in the mid-rounds is a huge risk. And going into 2020 with someone like Case Keenum or Joe Flacco as a reclamation project wouldn't make sense either.
Another year of Winston, given the construction of this roster – coming off his historic 30 touchdowns, 30 interceptions, 5,000-yards season – is the way to go. And, frankly, giving the young man a little help would be in order. Say what you will about his decision making, but Winston has never had a semblance of a running game or a defense in his five years in the league (ex coordinators like Lovie Smith and Mike Smith exited the NFL, it's worth pointing out, after struggling with the Bucs), and has always been in situation where chasing points and forcing the ball downfield were the only viable options.
It's not all on him. It's worth pointing out that Andrew Luck threw 18 picks in his first year with Arians in Indianapolis, and Carson Palmer tossed 24 picks in his first season with Arians in Arizona. And Winston did play through a broken hand last season, which may have something to do with leading the NFL in interceptions, too.
Since entering the league (2015) here is where the Bucs rank in several key metrics:
- Yards per carry – 30th (3.9)
- Rushing yards per game – 24th (103.4)
- First down % on rushes – 31st (19.9%)
- Rushing TDs – 25th
- Points Allowed – 31st (2081, only Miami – 2089 – is worse)
- Opposer Passer Rating – 31st (97.0, only Detroit – 98.6 – is worse)
- Scrimmage Yards Allowed – 25th (377.2/game)
That's an untenable situation for any quarterback, especially a one of his rookie contract who already has a lot of gunslinger in him, and who is carrying the with the weight of a first-overall selection on his shoulders. And it's not as if the run game or defense was above average for a few years, and then really bad for others. They basically haven't been able to run the ball at all or stop anyone from moving the ball on them for the entirety of Winston's career.
Perhaps with a semblance of balance on offense and defense capable of the occasional key stop, Winston will curtail his turnovers and continue to make strides. The Bucs can't afford to let this become a Drew Brees situation, where he ascended to superstardom after leaving San Diego for New Orleans at age 26.
After all they've been through to this point, the Bucs have more motivation than any team in the league to see it first-hand, in Tampa. It's time to play tag and find out. Letting him walk now is too risky, and with teams able to use a franchise and transition tag in 2020 barring a new CBA, and the Bucs sitting on $85M in space, they can tag Shaq Barrett, too. That's what I would do.
It's time to pay or tag Winston.
Ravens offseason gets off to a strong start
A year ago Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta began what would become a triumphant offseason with a contract extension for a relatively under-the-radar slot corner, in Tavon Young. This week, he kicked off the 2020 offseason in a similar fashion, locking up emerging impact strong safety Chuck Clark to a three-year extension.
After losing too many young free agents for too long, DeCosta has made reinvesting in his young talent a priority, and specifically in the secondary. It's super smart, with far more bargains to be had on the back end than up front, where even a modicum of a pass rush can get a free agent $16M a year or more. And with the AFC Championship now going through the likes of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs speedy offense, Baltimore will need all the defensive backs it can muster.
Clark made an immediate impact replacing the injured Tony Jefferson, becoming the central nervous system for the defense, keeping it aligned, making heady calls and making plays all over the field in a hybrid role. He proved to be the perfect extension of aggressive coordinator Wink Martindale, and it was no coincidence that Baltimore's defense went from horrible to among the NFL's best once Clark, a former sixth-round pick, began playing regularly and the team traded for corner Marcus Peters from the Rams (who DeCosta also already resigned).
"I feel like I was preparing myself for this opportunity through this whole past offseason," Clark told me at the Ravens facility on Tuesday after signing his new deal. "Even during the season (when Clark wasn't starting), when I would hear plays, when I would hear the coaches call in something from the sidelines I would say it to myself, just so I was used to saying them in case I got in that position. So I wouldn't be afraid of the responsibility, but take it and run with it. I also think the position I was put in was set up for me, so if I fail it was like that was what was expected of you. But I knew in my mind what I was capable of and wanted to run with it."
The Ravens will face Super Bowl pressure in 2020 after their 14-2 finish, and DeCosta has more work to do. Keeping free agent Jimmy Smith, or picking up veteran corner Brandon Carr's option would be exceptional for depth in the secondary. Jefferson will not be back in 2020, saving about $7M in cap space and the Ravens will almost certainly put the franchise tag on linebacker Matt Judon, the only proven pass rusher on the roster.
They need another legit outside receiving target for Lamar Jackson, and even with Judon, more help on the edge as well (I'd give a call to the Chargers and inquire about Melvin Ingram's availability if I were them). Figuring out inside linebacker is also high on the checklist, but I wouldn't bet against DeCosta and he's already off to the strong start by securing Clark (and he is pushing to get stud left tackle Ronnie Stanley extended as well, I'm told).
Don't expect elite pass rushers to reach free agency
Speaking of Judon, expect franchise tag for passing rushers to be a growing trend as we get closer to the March deadline to apply tags. The more execs I talk to, the less expectation there is that any of the elite free-agent rushers actually hits the market.
Teams figure Judon, Barrett, Jordan Phillips (Bills), Yannick Ngakoue (Jaguars) get tagged for sure, and despite some cap and contractual issues, it's not out of the question the Steelers (Bud Dupree) and 49ers (Arik Armstead) do the same on their pass rushers. Chris Jones may be too steep for the Chiefs to retain – he would get a mega-deal in that instance – but otherwise expect it to be tweeners and quasi-busts like Vic Beasley and Dante Fowler, Jr. who highlight the edge market.
The reality is this -- the actual group who hits unrestricted free agency will be far weaker come March than it appears on paper right now.