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18 Oct 2019, Edition - 1557, Friday

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Sports

Jameis Winston: from the future of the NFL to a problem on and off the field

The Guardian

Jameis Winston hasn’t developed on the field and there’s little evidence he’s grown up off it.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Winston first overall out of Florida State in 2015 he was considered a remarkable if flawed talent: a risk taker with a great arm, a PhD-level understanding of the game, and the strength to make plays with defenders draped all over his body.

His performance this Sunday in Cincinnati should be the final straw though. Winston completed just 18 of his 35 pass attempts, throwing one touchdown to four picks – matching his career high. Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Winston late in the third quarter and instantly turbo-charged the Bucs’ flagging offense, tossing for 194 yards on 11 of 15 passing, with two touchdowns to zero interceptions.

If that doesn’t scream quarterback controversy, nothing does.

“I don’t have any problems making decisions, and I will make it when the time is right, head coach Dirk Koetter said postgame. “Now is probably not the right time to make it.” It doesn’t seem that hard.

Winston entered Week Eight 21st in quarterback DYAR, a measure of the quarterback’s overall value. In other words: he’s stunk, even with an abundance of weapons surrounding him. For what it’s worth, Ryan Fitzpatrick was eighth on the list, ahead of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger. Winston was terrible on Sunday while Fitzpatrick was immense.

In mitigation, Winston’s offensive line and run-game have struggled ever since he rolled into town, but too many of Winston’s mistakes are of his own making: overshooting receivers downfield and forcing throws to spots he needn’t. His is a boom-or-bust game, lacking any efficiency. That doesn’t work in 2018, where explosive quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers are also among the most efficient in the sport. If Winston had shown something – anything – that suggested his game was evolving, it would be a different story. But he hasn’t, whether that’s because he’s unwilling or unable.

Add all this to the fact that Winston served a three-game suspension to open the season for allegedly groping a female Uber driver in March of 2016 (Winston was never charged over the incident but did apologise to the driver). Winston’s history with off-the-field concerns is well-documented, ranging from the theft of crab legs to the alleged sexual assault of another student while at Florida State (again, Winston was not charged over the allegations but did reach a settlement with the woman). It’s understandable to think those reasons alone should end his run in Tampa. Is the juice worth that toxic squeeze?

The Bucs picked up Winston’s fifth-year option last offseason but the $21m he’s owed is only guaranteed through injury. The Bucs could move on from him this offseason without owing Winston a cent although the more likely option is that the team will seek to trade him.

If the Bucs do move on, the 2019 draft class isn’t loaded with talent. The best-eligible quarterback in the country, Oregon’s Justin Herbert, is reported to be considering returning to school for an extra year. That gives Tampa some leverage in negations.

Moving on from the first overall pick is painful. It’s an admission of failure, from the top to the bottom of an organization but that shouldn’t stop the team moving on at the earliest possible opportunity (the trade deadline isn’t until Tuesday, guys). It’s a sunk cost at this point. Fitzpatrick gives them the best chance to win games in 2018, although he is far from a perfect player himself.

Winston will, of course, have suitors. An NFL coach will convince himself he can fix Winston, they always do. A franchise will give up more than we expect for him, be it via trade or in free-agent dollars, they always do. But Winston is who he is: a net-negative at quarterback with a troubling pattern of off-the-field behavior.

MVP of the week

It’s gone a little under-the-radar but Cam Newton is back to apex-Cam form. Newton torched the Ravens defense on Sunday, completing 21 of his 29 passes for 219 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s even more impressive when you consider Baltimore’s defense entered the day third in the league in defensive DVOA, the best measure of defensive success.

Newton was efficient in the passing game, showing a rhythm and command of the offense that has been lacking since the team’s Super Bowl run in the 2015 season. And Newton, as always, did extra damage on the ground, rushing for 50 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

Through eight games, Newton has completed almost 66% of his passes while throwing for the lowest interception percentage of his career. He’s been efficient while maintaining the explosive elements of his game that helped make him a league MVP. And remember: he’s doing this with a beat-up offensive line.

Stat of the week

Nobody picked up a better value-for-money free agent this offseason than Washington. Adrian Peterson isn’t quite peak-AP, but he’s still really, really good. On Sunday Peterson became the oldest player (33) in the Super Bowl era to have 100+ yards rushing, as well as receiving and rushing touchdowns in a single game.

Peterson is humming in Washington’s offense. Jay Gruden has prioritized the run game this season more than any time during his tenure, and it’s paid off. Peterson has shown his ever-present vision and still has plenty of wiggle: he’s making guys miss for fun and running powerfully.

Video of the week

And now for your weekly dose of Kareem Hunt Is Excellent At Football:

For those keeping score at home: that’s five defenders unable to bring down a lone runner. Hunt’s individual excellence on the ground, and in the passing game, is what pushes the Chiefs offense from brilliant to near-unstoppable.

Quote of the week

“Yeah, I’ve got big balls. They call me Big Balls Dickson” – Seahawks rookie punter Michael Dickson might already be the best at his craft in the league. He’s also unapologetically brash, a bold step for a punter.

Dickson decided to involve himself in the running game this week. Seattle called for an intentional safety: Dickson was supposed to run around the end zone, drain some time off the clock, gift the Lions two points, then hoof the ball out of harm’s way. But he did things his own way: the Aussie spotted a gap in the defense while he dawdled around in the backfield and darted for a first down, sealing the victory for the Seahawks.

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