As expected, the Buccaneers made quarterback Jameis Winston the first pick in the 2015 NFL draft. As assumed, it appears he’ll be installed right away as the starter.
“It’s pretty difficult to say with a straight face that we’re not going to give Jameis that opportunity to win it right away,” G.M. Jason Licht told PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio on Friday. “He’s the first overall pick. We think he’s very advanced in terms of his ability to play and pick up schemes and concepts and learn the playbook relative to most rookies, or any rookie we’ve scouted in recent history. So he’s gonna have every opportunity.”
The team’s willingness to make him the Week One starter (against the Titans and, most likely, No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota) becomes even more obvious when considering the strong conviction Licht and coach Lovie Smith developed regarding Winston. Peter King of TheMMQB.com recently detailed the team’s thought processes regarding the former Florida State quarterback.
Licht had his eyes on Winston a year ago, when the draft-day quarterback debate focused on Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. By the Rose Bowl, even though Oregon blew out Florida State and Winston had a Garo Yepremian moment, Licht and Smith knew Winston was their guy.
And so they embarked on doing their homework regarding Winston’s off-field issues, a process that potentially was skewed by the joint desire of Licht and Smith to select Winston with the first overall pick that was secured over Tennessee in part by the decision to bench key players during the second half of a Week 17 game against the Saints.
King raised the question of potential confirmation bias with Licht, who denied that the team found what it wanted to find and ultimately concluded what it wanted to conclude with Winston
“This was a thorough investigation,” Licht said. “We were not going to mistake charisma for character.”
While most of Winston’s incidents that can be attributed to being young and rambunctious (at best) or entitled (at worst), the sexual assault allegation carries the greatest concern. But the Bucs didn’t interview his accuser, Erica Kinsman. Last month, she filed a civil lawsuit against Winston.
“That was investigated three times,” Smith told King. “No charges were filed. I understand something happened. But when do you get to the point where you say, ‘We have to let the courts decide, and we abide by their ruling?’ They did not charge Jameis with anything. And at that point, I am going to make the judgment that I am not going to hold this incident against him.”
There’s another ruling to be made, however. And this one will turn on a much lower standard of proof. Ultimately, if a jury accepts Kinsman’s story over Winston’s, her version will prevail.
Regarding the question of getting the facts/allegations directly from Kinsman before the draft, the Bucs were in a no-win situation. If they’d interviewed her and drafted Winston anyway, her lawyers undoubtedly would have issued a press release on Friday morning expressing confusion and outrage at the team’s decision to disregard her explanation.
Either way, that portion of Winston’s off-field portfolio has a long way to go, with Kinsman and Winston inevitably giving depositions with starkly conflicting versions of the events and — barring a settlement — both of them testifying in open court at a trial.
Absent a settlement that Winston’s camp vows won’t happen, the process will be at times a distraction for Winston and the Buccaneers. The outcome could potentially end up being a major distraction for the player and the team, especially if Winston loses and is required to pay a seven-figure judgment to Kinsman.