30 for 30: What if I Told You This is What Jameis Winston Will Always Be
In his fifth NFL season, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston made all kinds of history.
The best kinds, and the worst kinds.
Sunday's season finale was a complete and perfect example of the quarterback Winston has always been and will always be.
In a 28-22 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Winston became just the eighth quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season. At 25 years old, he's already the most prolific passer in Bucs history, owning every major single-season and career passing record for the franchise that picked him No. 1 overall in the 2015 NFL draft.
On Sunday, he showed off his playmaking ways, throwing a prayer of a touchdown to Breshad Perriman in the back of the end zone to stretch Tampa Bay's lead in the final seconds of the first half. He followed that up on the next play by scrambling out of the pocket and weaving between multiple defenders to run in the two-point conversion.
Unfortunately, the other side of Winston's gunslinging ways came out Sunday.
After the game was forced into overtime, the Bucs won the coin toss and elected to receive. On the first play, Winston's pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and returned for a touchdown to win the game for the Falcons.
That interception gave Winston 30 for the season, making him the first player in NFL history to throw 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season.
After Sunday's heartbreaking loss, I asked Winston about the strange balance between the incredible positives and the crushing negatives of his 2019 campaign.
"It just gives you ambition, a desire to continue to get better," Winston said. "I know the area that I have to fix, I know the areas that I'm highly successful in, but you've got to find a way to fix them, and find a way to eliminate them."
I also asked Bucs head coach Bruce Arians whether or not Winston's Jekyll-and-Hyde tendencies will make for a more challenging evaluation this offseason.
"That's just it," Arians said. "There's so much good, and there's so much outright terrible. So, we've got to weigh that, and see what happens.".
"Well, it doesn't help, that's for sure," Arians later said of Winston's game-ending pick-six. "There were a lot of good things. Ran a great two-minute drive just before the half. There's a lot of things to evaluate, and we'll take our time and evaluate it.
And therein lies the rub with Winston. He leads the NFL in passing yards, and trails only MVP front-runner Lamar Jackson in touchdown passes this season. But his 30 interceptions are double-digits ahead of the next highest number in the league, and seven of his have been returned for touchdowns. He's thrown interceptions on the opening drive of six different games this season, and thrown more touchdowns to his opponents than all but three of his own receivers.
No quarterback has turned the ball over more times than Winston since he entered the league in 2015. He struggled with the same turnover problems in college at Florida State, but it should be a legitimate concern to any team that puts Winston under center that five years into his NFL career, the problems are getting worse instead of better.
Winston's rookie contract expires at the end of this fifth-year option season, and the Bucs face a crossroads at the game's most important position this offseason. There are multiple options for them to take, from the franchise tag or transition tag to a short-term or long-term extension.
But any of those choices will come with the admission that the Bucs are signing up for the player they've seen for the last five seasons. A talented passer who can put up positive numbers with the best the NFL has to offer, but will also provide just as much gaudy production on the negative side of the stat sheet.
There are many reasons for Tampa Bay's lack of team success in recent years, from defensive struggles to kicking problems to coaching turnover. But after five years of Winston at the helm, the Bucs' brass will have to decide whether or not they're comfortable signing up for even one more season of arguably the most roller-coaster quarterback in NFL history.