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What are Buccaneers options with QB Jameis Winston?

Florida Football Insiders

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Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a tumultuous past few days for the Buccaneers organization, as they now know that they will be without QB Jameis Winston for the first three games of the year for his NFL suspension.

There has been a lot of speculation as to what the franchise will do in the short and long term.

Here are their options:

Cut Winston now

If the Glazers, who own the team, choose to make a statement to their organization, the fans and the NFL in general, one would think it will come quickly.

First, the financial hit is not that significant, as Winston is scheduled to make $3.8 million in actual salary and the “dead cap” hit from the remainder of his signing bonus being applied is $4.9 million.

So, it’s not as if there are large ramifications ($10-15 million) for his release.

If you are wondering if the Glazers have done something like this before? The answer is yes.

In 2013, they allowed coach Greg Schiano to not only bench but outright release QB Josh Freeman during the season, while they still owed him $6 million guaranteed for remainder of the season.

Allow Winston to come back to play after the suspension

This is most likely the short term plan. Yes, Winston will be a distraction during training camp and the preseason, but ultimately the Bucs best chance to win 7, 8 or more games is with Winston at the controls.

And if the Glazers have to pay Winston the actual $3.8 million in salary, the strong argument is have him “play for it” or earn the money.

The risk is that the Bucs could be on the hook for the fifth year guarantee of his rookie contract. If Winston were to be injured, and unable to pass a physical in March, the Bucs would have no choice, because his $20.9 million option year would then be guaranteed.

Release Winston after the season before the March deadline to guarantee his 2019 salary

This scenario also makes sense for the owners, especially if Winston plays poorly after the suspension. At that point, no one would fault them for not wanting to guarantee the almost $21 million for  2019.

Further, if they have decided now, that they won’t be paying Winston a mega deal in the future, then he’s living on “borrowed time” for 2018. To that end, if the Bucs season is bad and Winston is not playing well, there very easily could bench him to avoid the injury guaranteeing his deal (the Redskins did this with RGIII a couple of years ago).

Play Winston-he succeeds, puts the past behind him and gets long term deal later

This is obviously the biggest “long shot” of all the scenarios, but it’s still possible that Winston could play well, or even exceptionally well. And if he’s not injured, then the Bucs could take the almost $21 million risk for 2019 and work towards a long term deal.

Again, the Glazers with GM Jason Licht have short and long term options.

And, if they are deleting Winston, you have to think that happens, shortly.

Otherwise, it’s one of the other options above.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Should RT Jack Conklin be on Bucs free agent radar?

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As NFL teams continue to do their due diligence on not only their own potential free agents, but what others might be out there too, an interesting name has emerged that could give the Bucs, and other teams, some offensive line help.

It appears that the Titans, fresh off a tremendous playoff run into the AFC Championship game may be willing to part with former number 1 pick, starting right tackle Jack Conklin. And if they’re going to let the former Michigan State star test free agency, Tampa Bay may have a real interest.

First, the Bucs are looking at options on their line, as the senior member of their roster, right tackle Demar Dotson, who’s played his entire 11 year career in Tampa and will be 35 years old this fall, is slated to be a free agent, as well.

And while Dotson has been a mainstay over the course of the last decade on the Bucs offensive line, GM Jason lick and Coach Bruce Arians maybe looking to get younger and some better play out of that position.

Tennessee elected not to pick up Conklin’s fifth year option on his rookie deal and there are some concerns about his ability to pass block. However, there’s no doubting that with power back Derrick Henry, Conklin was part of the unit on offense that played “smash mouth football” throughout the postseason. And, they scored upsets of the Patriots and the Ravens in part behind their tough ground game before falling at Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game.

Next, earlier this week, NFL.com’s reporter/writer Nick Shook, matched Conklin as a possible free agent fit with Tampa Bay, as free agency begins in March.

Conklin did suffer an ACL injury in his second season but is fully healed from that now, and he could be a very cost-effective option four teams looking to solidify their offensive line. Conklin made only $2.7 million in the final year of his initial four year deal with the team declining his $12.9 million option.

As for the Bucs, they already have massive money invested in center Ryan Jensen, guard Ali Marpet and left tackle Donovan Smith on their line, but at the same time, the Bucs also have close to $85 million under the cap once free agency begins.

Clearly, their top priorities are figuring out whether to bring back QB Jameis Winston (and at what price?) and also, how many free agent to be defensive linemen out of Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre Paul and Ndamukong Suh they can also fit under their cap.

Still, you cannot have enough good lineman, and perhaps grabbing the Titans former starter off a playoff team would improve their run game, which sputtered a lot of 2019.

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Peter King- “Bridgewater to Tampa Bay makes sense”

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Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the start of another week, and speculation about “quarterback musical chairs” in NFL free agency continues. And a prominent NFL media member believes that current Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater might leave New Orleans and he sees a possible fit with the Buccaneers.

Peter King, now with Pro Football Talk, gave analysis on numerous quarterback situations and potential free agents to be in his Monday morning column. And, while he is not reporting that the Saints will allow Bridgewater to be a free agent and/or that the Buccaneers would be his destination, he does lay out a solid case for a marriage between the two:

Obviously, the Saints must first decide what to do with veteran Hall of Famer to be, Drew Brees, who is slated to become a free agent and cannot be franchise tagged. And, Bridgewater more than acquitted himself a year ago coming off the bench, when Brees was out with a fractured thumb. That included a four-touchdown performance in October in a a win at home against Tampa Bay.

King wrote in part, these thoughts Monday,

Teddy Bridgewater: Tampa Bay makes sense

I can hear it now: Bridgewater doesn’t have the deep arm Bruce Arians needs. I would dispute that. When Arians put Carson Palmer in the pilot’s chair in Arizona, his previous NFL yards per attempt in Cincinnati and Oakland was 7.2. Bridgewater’s career NFL yards per attempt: 7.2.

…..I noticed something with Arians this season. He defended almost every (Jameis) Winston miscue for the first three months of the season. In December, though, that changed. Tampa was 7-7 entering the last two games, both at home. In game 15, against Houston, Winston threw interceptions on two of the first five Buc snaps, and Tampa was down 10-0 after four minutes.

The Bucs lost by three. Next week: Overtime against Atlanta. First play, Winston somehow didn’t see lurker linebacker Deion Jones on tight end Cameron Brate. Pick six. “It smells as bad as it could possible smell,” Arians said after the game. The Bucs had a clear path to a redemptive 9-7 seasons, but six interceptions in the last two weeks ruined that. 

….. This is the story about Bridgewater I appreciate: After Drew Brees was lost with a hand injury in Week 2 and Bridgewater took over, Bridgewater hosted a dinner in Seattle—site of the next game—for all the offensive players, basically to say, All is not lost. We’ll be fine. Minus Brees, the Bridgewater-led Saints went 5-0.

Maybe the Bucs will think Winston deserves another chance with Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. But I won’t be surprised if they go after Bridgewater or Ryan Tannehill, the best free-agent quarterbacks on the market.”

Definitely a compelling argument, but, again, it still has to play out as to whether the Saints don’t re-sign Bridgewater and how, interested are the Bucs vs. other potential teams when the free agency mayhem begins?

As for Tampa Bay are obviously trying to decide what to do with their own free agent-to-be, Winston. As we wrote late last week, coach Bruce Arians remained non-committal on whether to bring back their starter of the last five seasons. This is mainly due to Winston’s inconsistent play, numerous interceptions and the fact the Bucs have had only had one winning season in his five years at the helm.

It this type of  “connect the dots” free agency talk will only continue to build until either Tampa Bay commits to Winston or free agency begins without the Bucs having signed Winston to a long term deal or given him the one year franchise tag. The clearest of indications that they’ve moved on and want a new QB.

And, everyone continues to wait on those decisions.

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