It did not take long after Tom Brady’s retirement for rumors to start swirling about a possible Jameis Winston return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. To be clear, the majority of rumors linking Winston to the Buccaneers are speculation based on their previous relationship.
Winston’s free agent status has also added fuel to the fire which comes with very strong opinions from Bucs fans on both sides of the spectrum. The former No. 1 pick was last seen in a Buccaneers uniform throwing for his famed “30 for 30” season, i.e. 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in 2019. Winston largely failed to lived up to his No. 1 pick status going 28-42 during his time in Tampa as the Bucs never managed to make the postseason with the quarterback under center.
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There is some reason to believe the Bucs could explore re-signing Winston as head coach Bruce Arians admitted the team was still considering the quarterback as an option before they landed Brady. This was after the 30 interceptions, but Winston could have some appeal after spending two years learning from Sean Payton. Bleacher Report’s Joe Tansey urged the Buccaneers to avoid signing Winston.
“Jameis Winston is the best free-agent quarterback this offseason,” Tansey noted on February 16. “A reunion should not happen between the five-year starter in Tampa Bay and the NFC South champion. Winston hits the market after a season in which he tore his ACL and did not give teams a full sample size of what he can do. He threw 30 interceptions in his final season with the Bucs, and because of the injury he suffered this season, he was unable to prove that he could avoid turnovers throughout an entire campaign.
“…Replacing Brady with the quarterback he took over for would likely not go over well with the Tampa Bay fans, and it would be a significant downgrade from what the franchise expects at the position.”
Arians on Winston: ‘I Wanted to See Him Succeed’
The question is whether the Buccaneers turned away from Winston for good when they signed Brady. The Bucs also explored signing Teddy Bridgewater prior to Brady picking Tampa Bay in free agency. During a May 7, 2021 interview on The National Football Show, head coach Bruce Arians explained why the team opted to move on from Winston.
“Yeah, it was [hard],” Arians said at the time, per JoeBucsFan.com. “I wanted to see him succeed. But like you said, there’s 52 other guys on the roster. You know, you look and see what’s behind Door No. 2 at every position in the offseason. Does it make you better? Then you have to set the personal aside.
“I mean our players, our locker room still loves Jameis, [the guys] that played with him, and have all the respect in the world and wish him well. But when Tom became available, it was the missing ingredient for us to win a Super Bowl.”
Winston Threw Just 3 Interceptions During His 7 Starts With the Saints in 2021
During his final season as the Bucs QB1 in 2019, Winston threw for 5,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and a whopping 30 interceptions while completing 60.7% of his passes. While it is a small sample size, Winston became a more efficient quarterback with the Saints. Winston threw for 1,170 yards, 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions while completing 59% of his passes in his seven starts before sustaining a season-ending ACL injury in 2021.
Winston is arguably the top free-agent quarterback this offseason and does offer the Buccaneers a veteran option that will likely be affordable coming off a serious ACL injury. Pro Football Focus projects Winston will sign a one-year, $7 million contract that could be worth as much as $12 million with incentives.
‘I Really Don’t Expect Winston Back,’ Says Bucs Insider
Winston could give Kyle Trask some more time to develop, but The Athletic’s Greg Auman noted that fans should not expect a reunion this offseason.
“I really don’t expect Winston back. It makes sense from a few standpoints: He’s available as a free agent, likely to be inexpensive and not as tethered to his current team, the Saints, because head coach Sean Payton isn’t there anymore,” Auman wrote on February 9. “He also has experience in this Bucs offense, which makes him unique among all the options.
“But that experience includes throwing 30 interceptions in his only year in the offense. If the Brady years showed how well Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich can develop a scheme to match a quarterback’s strengths and weaknesses, Winston’s 2019 season was nearly the opposite. Also, does Jameis think of the Bucs as the team that drafted him and gave him five years as the face of the franchise, or the team that moved on from him two years ago? There’s no shame in being seen as less than Brady, but I think both sides would rather try something new rather than get back together and hope things have changed.”