The NFL’s passing leader of 2019 is somehow still a free-agent a month into the offseason. The same quarterback who won the Heisman trophy in 2013, Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year in 2015, and made the pro bowl his rookie year. Winston is the youngest player in NFL history to throw for 4000 yards and the youngest to throw 40 touchdowns.
These accolades are similar to those of other free agent quarterbacks such as Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, or even Joe Flacco. The difference is Winston is only 26 years old. That’s younger than Carson Wentz, Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Teddy Bridgewater.
Teddy Bridgewater has played more than half of a season twice in his career, both of which were his rookie and sophomore years in 2014 and 2015. He has broken 3000 yards once and has thrown 38 touchdowns and 25 interceptions in six seasons combined. This elite play has rightfully earned him a 3 year 63 million dollar contract from the Carolina Panthers.
Jimmy Garoppolo started seven games his first four years in the league. As a starter Jimmy threw for 2038 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. The only two winning teams Garoppolo had a positive TD-INT ratio was against the 10-6 Dolphins coached by Adam Gase in week two of the 2016 season, and the 10-6 Jaguars coached by Doug Marrone in week sixteen of the 2017 season. This extraordinary play earned Garoppolo a mind-boggling 5 year 137.5 million dollar extension by the San Francisco 49ers. This will keep Jimmy on the books until his 30th birthday.
So what have these two average NFL quarterbacks done to earn these contracts that Winston has not? Winston was ranked 16th in QBR and 21st in PFF rankings for this past season. While these aren’t game-changing numbers, they are those of a quality starting quarterback. Winston ranks above Philip Rivers who just earned a 1 year deal, both Mitchell Trubisky and his new replacement Nick Foles, Gardner Minshew, and Mason Rudolph. Had Teddy Bridgewater played more snaps to qualified he also would have ranked below Jameis.
There are multiple teams missing out on an upgrade from the most important position on the field, because they’re looking at the wrong stats. Wins and interceptions. Interceptions are a coach’s worst nightmare. Nothing is worse than a successful drive ending with no points because your QB threw a pick. While Winston’s 30 interceptions in 2019 were terrible, it’s hard to criticize when he led the league in yards and was second in touchdowns behind only the league MVP Lamar Jackson.
Winston’s own teammate, Chris Godwin, mentioned in an interview that Winston shouldn’t shoulder all the blame. “I think he’s a really, really talented quarterback. Obviously there are things that he does that you can’t teach, and there are plays that he made that just weren’t smart plays. But a lot of the mistakes and interceptions that he made, I would say half of them were because of a bad read on someone else’s part.”
Going back past this year, Winston has thrown his fair share of picks. But who hasn’t? In 2018, Winston was 5th worse in the league for interceptions. Behind him were Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger. The year before Winston was around league average for interceptions ahead of Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, and Matt Ryan. Before that Winston was second worst in the league, with Philip Rivers behind him.
It’s difficult to not turnover the ball when you’re down late in a game. Ten of Winston’s interceptions came in the fourth quarter of a game this past season. The Buccaneers team defense ranked 29th of 32 teams. In Winston’s time in Tampa Bay his defense on average has ranked 25th out of 32. In 2016, Winston’s second best season by TD-INT ratio, The Bucs were the 15th ranked defense in the NFL. That’s the best defense Winston has ever played with.
The other stat, wins, is a terrible way to judge a quarterback. Yet it seems that wins are what NFL executives use to evaluate players. Teddy Bridgewater is 22-12 as a starter in the NFL. The Panthers GM, Marty Hurney was sure to mention this when he was interviewed about the signing.
“He’s certainly a guy who’s overcome adversity and has, really if you look at it, he’s won everywhere he’s been, so we thought he’d be a good fit for us.”
Hurney might as well have said, “Teddy wins for them so he should win for us.”
Meanwhile Jimmy Garoppolo was 7-0 as a starter prior to his mega contract with San Francisco, with 5 of those being with the team. General Manager John Lynch said, “That’s why it was a no-brainer for us. And you know, he’s looking pretty darn good thus far. And it frees you up in the draft to go focus on building your team around him.” Garoppolo’s 1500 yards, seven touchdowns, and five interceptions, made it a “no-brainer” for the team to give him a massive extension. That or his perfect record with the team regardless of 4 of those 5 wins being against AFC South teams and a poorly coached John Fox Bears team.
Winston’s NFL record on the other hand? 28-42. Six more wins than Bridgewater with thirty more losses. This putrid record has to be the fault of someone, and it’s much easier to blame the QB who is the leader of the team. Regardless of the fact that Tampa Bay has not made the playoff’s since 2007 or that GM Jason Licht has one winning season in six years.
His own coach from this prior season, Bruce Arians has spoken out about Winston during the offseason on the Rich Eisen show.
“I talked to two teams. I think it was just to (tell them) get him on your roster and it would be a great fit.”
It’s a confusing question as to why Jameis Winston still does not have a contract, but one thing is clear. Every team with quarterback issues, are shooting themselves in the foot by not signing him.