The Complicated Legacy of Jameis Winston

After five roller-coaster seasons, the former No. 1 overall pick leaves Tampa Bay for New Orleans, with more questions than answers in his wake.
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When you spend the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, there are . . . expectations.

You're the face of the franchise. 

The savior of a losing team. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft on Jameis Winston, a Heisman Trophy winner who had led Florida State to an undefeated season and a national championship.

Five years later, at 26 years old, Winston is the Bucs' all-time leader in every major passing category.

Tuesday, Winston signed a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints.

How did we get here?

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Over Winston's five seasons in Tampa Bay, there were many yards and touchdowns, tons of points and big plays. There were also far too many turnovers, and far too few victories, and too many moments that made the Bucs wonder whether or not they'd made the right choice.

The 2019 season would prove to be Winston's last one with the Bucs, and it was the prime example of his entire career so far. He led the NFL with 5,109 yards passing, becoming just the eighth player in league history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season. His 33 touchdown passes were second-most in the NFL, trailing only league MVP Lamar Jackson.

He also threw a career-high 30 interceptions, leading the league by a double-digit margin. Seven of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns, a new NFL single-season record.

Winston was drafted to lead the Bucs back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and perhaps back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2002. Winston never took the Bucs to the postseason, a 9-7 mark in 2016 the closest the Bucs would ever come to tasting playoff football during his tenure.

The problem with being the No. 1 overall pick, though, is that you're usually going to a team that's not exactly built for immediate success. There are those who will argue that Tampa Bay never gave Winston enough help to be successful. There were coaching changes, poor defense, a lackluster rushing attack and sub-par offensive line play throughout Winston's five seasons with the Bucs. 

They're not wrong.

But there are also those who would say that the great quarterbacks are the ones who bring the rest of their team up to another level, and don't require an all-star cast to turn a franchise into a winner. 

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Off the field, Winston's legacy is just as frustrating as it is on the gridiron.

In 2012, while still at Florida State, Winston was accused of sexual assault by fellow FSU student Erica Kinsman. Winston was never formally charged with a crime, and the state attorney's office declined to pursue a criminal case against him. In 2016, Winston settled a federal lawsuit with Kinsman over the charges. 

Despite the allegations, the Bucs felt comfortable enough with Winston's character to select him with the No. 1 overall pick.  

In 2017, Winston was accused of groping a female Uber driver in March of 2016. Winston's accuser did not seek criminal charges, but an NFL investigation of the allegations resulted in a three-game suspension after the league found the accuser's account of the events to be "consistent and credible." Winston would eventually settle a lawsuit with the accuser in this case, as well.

Juxtapose that with the Winston who has also been incredibly active in the Tampa Bay community in a multitude of ways throughout his tenure with the Bucs, including his Dream Forever Foundation, which exists to "have a positive impact on the lives of financially disadvantaged children by providing encouragement, opportunities, and resources which enable the discovery, development, and eventually the achievement of their dreams."

As a teammate, Winston is universally acknowledged by both players and coaches as a tireless worker and a passionate leader.

What do you do with that?

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The highs and the lows, the Bucs knew what they were getting when they drafted Winston.

After his remarkable freshman season at FSU, Winston regressed in his sophomore season, dropping from 40 touchdown passes to just 25, and throwing 18 interceptions instead of 10. When they drafted him, the Bucs knew they were getting a quarterback who was known just as much for his flair for the big play as his penchant for making head-scratching decisions that led to turnovers.

The positives and negatives that accompanied Winston in college, both on and off the field, came with him to the NFL. 

His first pass as a Buccaneer was a pick-six. 

His last pass as a Buccaneer was a pick-six. 

In between, there was "so much good, so much outright terrible," as Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said following that walk-off, overtime loss that sealed another losing season in Tampa Bay.

Such is the legacy Winston leaves behind in Tampa Bay.