The Tampa Bay Buccaneers started the 2018 NFL season with a win against the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s not a stab at their 5-11 record form 2017 but a pat on the back as they won both games against playoffs teams with Ryan Fitzpatrick. As Jameis Winston is set to return after his 3-game suspension, the Bucs will face-off against the Chicago Bears looking to improve to 3-1.
No one outside of Tampa Bay figured they could beat the Saints or the Eagles with Fitzpatrick at the helm, Although they would lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night, thanks to Fitzpatrick, they were in it to the end. While some hasty fans have called for his benching, thanks to three interceptions against the Steelers, they must be careful what they ask for.
With Winston due back this week, head coach Dirk Koetter has a tough decision to make in terms of who the starter is moving forward. Does he go with the hot Ryan or the cold Winston? After the Steelers’ game, Koetter had this to say to the media.
“Let’s see what the injury comes back. Anytime we have these games, you know it’s not always obvious how the guys are going to come in the next day and come in on Wednesday. Let’s see what happens. I’d love to get a chance to talk to Jameis face to face before I tell the rest of the world.”
His mention of wanting to talk to Winston is a clear indication that he plans to go forward with Fitzpatrick as the starter. And why shoudn’t he? Despite the loss Monday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still tied for first place in the NFC South with the Carolina Panthers and the Saints. The question on many minds is would they be there with Winston?
Now, what makes this intriguing is that this is not the same issue the Eagles had with Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. Despite Foles guiding the Eagles to their first-ever championship, there was never any doubt who the starter was. The mistake that Koetter made was not saying his peace up front. For a team who has struggled with Winston at the helm, they finally have some magic going with Fitz. There is no need to mess up the chemistry he has with DeSean Jackson, OJ Howard, and Mike Evans.
Throwing Winston into the flames now could easily destroy what they have built. But let’s say the Bucs stick with Fitzpatrick. What does that mean for the future?
Fitzpatrick will be a free agent in 2019 while Winston is still on the books through 2020. Winston is only 24 years old while Fitz is 35. Even if the Bucs decided to let Fitz walk after this season, how will Winston respond knowing he was passed over for someone who was supposed to be just subbing for him? On the other side, what is Fitz continues to shine? Will the Bucs be comfortable signing him to a long-term deal with his age and sporadic history?
The running joke in NFL circles is that Fitzpatrick always plays better during a contract year and regresses after he gets his money. To be honest, he’s a backup and not a starter. It just so happens, he’s tearing the league up now. But still, how can Koetter ignore this and sit him?
If Winston was Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or Tom Brady, this would not be a discussion. But he’s not. His career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been below average at best. A QB with a career record of 18-27 really has no legs to stand on regarding where the coach puts him. While this is only his fourth year as a pro, he’s done nothing to make Bucs fans say “this is our guy for the next 15 years.” Right now, they’re calling for Fitz to be the starter and with a player’s ego, this has to sting. However, the Bucs need Winston to chalk this up like a man and not pout. Their future depends on this.
If Ryan continues to light up the scoreboard and Winston become a clipboard holder what’s to stop him from requesting a trade and what does that do for the Bucs’ future? This is why Koetter is playing it safe and the reason he needs to speak to Winston first. In private, he can tell his former starter that the team is playing well and he will be the guy when or if Fitzpatrick makes more blunders. But if that talk goes sideways and Winston storms out and wants to be traded, then the Bucs are in serious trouble.
With Fitz being 35, he’s not built for the long haul. Looking at the QB market for 2018, the Bucs will have to decide between Foles, Teddy Bridgewater, and Tyrod Taylor. Foles may be the best bet out of those three but are the Bucs willing to take that gamble? Is there a player in college they have their eye on? This is a veteran team and they may not have the time to nurture a rookie QB.
It’s safe to say that not only does the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ season comes down to this meeting, but possibly their future as well.