The local backlash for Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has begun.
With a three-game suspension looming for violation of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy in connection with a March 2016 incident involving an Uber driver, a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times urges the team to take the next step and release Winston.
“[W]hat did he do?” Tom Jones of the Times writes of Winston. “He allegedly grabbed a woman’s crotch against her will. That’s disgusting and reprehensible. This was more than partying that got a little out of hand. We need to call it what it was: sexual assault. And this isn’t the first time those awful two words have been associated with Winston. . . .
“The Bucs should send a message to the community that they do not accept, condone nor tolerate this kind of conduct. Not from anybody, but especially not from the starting quarterback and the face of the franchise. They should say that who they are and what they stand for as an organization means more than winning football games at any cost, including its integrity.”
If the Buccaneers decide to take extreme action against Winston, it would cost them nothing. His compensation of nearly $3.9 million for 2018 was fully guaranteed when Winston’s contract was signed, but the suspension most likely will void the guarantee. And his $20.9 million salary for 2019 is guaranteed for injury only until March of next year; if he’s released before then, the payment is avoided.
But the money isn’t the issue. The issue is whether the Buccaneers will be willing or able to tolerate keeping in their employment a franchise quarterback with a history of off-field incidents (including a rape allegation at Florida State) and a suspension for committing what indeed amounts to a sexual assault of a stranger who was being paid to give him a ride in a car.
What the Buccaneers ultimately do will be driven in large part by the local reaction to the suspension. Which could be why Winston’s camp hand picked a Jameis-friendly radio host in Tallahassee to leak the notion that Winston was being suspended simply for failing to report an allegation and not for the underlying behavior.
Winston and his team know that much more than three games ultimately rides on how this news is received and processed in Tampa. The same societal dynamics that prompted the Uber driver to come forward could cause this incident to take on a life of its own, possibly ending Winston’s career as a Buccaneer.
Where this goes may depend on the contents of the traditional letter informing Winston of his suspension. That letter likely will spell out in detail the basis for the punishment. It also will provide the starting point for what could become a viable push to pressure the Buccaneers to part ways with a player who has the potential to become a short-list franchise quarterback.