The NFL is a better place when Bruce Arians is coaching in it. But Arians should consider treading more lightly with his public comments regarding quarterback Jameis Winston.
It’s clear what Arians is trying to do. It’s a given that coaches and General Managers shouldn’t publicly heap praise on a player who is due to be paid, or they’ll end up paying the player even more. Arians seems to be taking that mindset to the next level, expressing indifference in an effort to further enhance the team’s bargaining position, whenever negotiations begin on a new deal. (As PFT reported over the weekend, no talks have commenced between the Buccaneers and the first overall pick in the 2015 draft.)
“If we can win with this one, we can definitely win with another one, too,” Arians said Monday regarding the team’s current quarterback. Arians previously assessed Winston’s historic 30-and-30 season as “so much good and so much outright terrible.”
The Buccaneers hope that their ambivalence regarding a guy who has taken Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” mantra to the extreme will keep other teams from developing an interest in Winston, who generated the eighth best passing yardage performance in league history, with 5,109. The top 20 all-time passing yardage seasons consists of a who’s who of Hall of Famers, MVPs, and franchise quarterbacks. Although Winston may never be any of those, he deserves more respect than what he’s currently getting from the Buccaneers.
What if Winston decides that he wants to play for a team that embraces the good and tolerates the “outright terrible”? Or, even better, what if there’s a team that has an effective plan for minimizing the mistakes? Again, he threw for 5,109 yards this season. In a pass-happy league, there’s considerable merit in that.
Ideally (from the Buccaneers’ perspective), Winston will have no other options, allowing the Bucs to keep him around for something far closer to $20 million than $35 million per year. If a team like (spitballing) the Dolphins or the Bengals or the Chargers or the Raiders or the Panthers (if they move on from Cam Newton) or the Saints (if Drew Brees retires) develops an interest in Winston, the Bucs may have to apply the franchise tag or the transition tag, if they want to keep him.
And that’s when things could get even more interesting. Typically, franchise-tagged quarterbacks don’t exercise their right to boycott all offseason and preseason activities, showing up and signing the tender just before the start of the regular season. What if Winston decides to fight hardball with hardball, saying “see you in September” if the Bucs tag him in March?
That’s why the Buccaneers need to be careful on this one. If they want Winston, they should work out a fair contract for keeping him in place, without delay or gamesmanship. If they don’t want him, then they should let him walk away — or, if they can pull it off, tag him and trade him. Either way, publicly assuming a glass-half-empty posture with a guy who just threw for more passing yards than anyone not named Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, or Ben Roethlisberger could be the kind of “risk it” that definitely keeps the Bucs from getting their biscuit.