No Margin For Error Left For Jameis Winston

NFL officially suspends Buccaneers QB Winston and adds a critical ultimatum

The next time Jameis Winston takes the field for a regular season NFL game, it will be the beginning of his last chance.

The National Football League made their reported three game suspension of Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston official on Thursday afternoon.  Winston will miss the first three games of the 2018 NFL season, including a week three Monday Night Football contest at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The wording of the NFL’s statement is staggering, as it includes the following paragraph:

“As part of the discipline, Winston is also required to obtain a clinical evaluation and fully cooperate in any recommended program of therapeutic intervention.  A failure either to obtain the evaluation or to cooperate with treatment will result in further discipline.  In addition, a future violation of the Personal Conduct Policy will result in more substantial discipline, including a potential ban from the NFL.”

Something, and we do not yet know what, has come up in the Winston investigation that has the NFL threatening to ban him for the rest of his life if he acts up again.  That seems more severe than any suspension the NFL is handing down at the moment.

The NFL fully believes Winston grabbed the crotch of an Uber driver in March of 2016.  That is the specific violation for which he is being suspended for three games.  Winston said he was disappointed by the findings, but at the same time curiously apologized to the driver for being placed in this position by his actions.

Reports last week that Winston may have struck a deal with the NFL appear at least somewhat accurate.  There will be no appeal.  There will be no scene in a courtroom for the NFL itself, though a possible lawsuit against Winston is still theoretically possible.  Jameis Winston will not fight this suspension.  Ryan Fitzpatrick will start the first three games for the Buccaneers.

The Buccaneers’ statement can be best described as terse.  The ideal way to read it is imagining an angry person saying it through their teeth.

If the Bucs were frustrated months ago while the investigation dragged on, accepting the league’s findings must be devastating.  While the team never fully backed Winston as he denied the allegations, so much of the current squad’s identity is wrapped up in Jameis Winston.  There is no way around it:  This incident will loom over the Buccaneers as long as Winston plays for the team and likely beyond it.

Although I am disappointed in the NFL’s decision, I understand the NFL’s process, and I embrace this as an opportunity to take advantage of the resources available to help me achieve the goals that I have for myself.

Jameis Winston’s statement on Thursday did anything but clarify matters.  He apologized to the driver who the NFL agrees was groped by the quarterback, but expressed disappointment in the NFL’s ruling as though he had done nothing wrong.  Winston then went on to mention treatment for alcohol issues.

Whether alcohol was or was not the cause of what happened, Winston is undoubtedly responsible for the choice to have too many drinks.  This is why it is worrisome that the statement appears to, in some ways, blame the incident on alcohol.

Alcoholism is a serious disease.  It kills people slowly, in a way that is particularly hard on everybody around the afflicted.  Many people across America are currently fighting their very hardest to keep this disease at bay, knowing full well that it could eventually kill them if they do not.  If alcohol is truly Jameis Winston’s problem, getting well should be his main priority.

Recovery in this sense is not like recovering from a broken bone.  Winston could be in for difficult work he has never had to do before, and there is a reason there are so many support systems out there for people fighting alcoholism.  By week four of the NFL season, it’s not as though Winston’s problems with alcohol can have been cured in any real way.

Jameis Winston can play as many as thirteen games this season. His contract, thanks to a fifth year extension, runs through the 2019 season.

What long seemed to be a given—that Jameis Winston would be the first quarterback in Buccaneers history to be signed to a second contract—is now in some serious doubt.  It is not a stretch to say he is going to be playing for his job in those thirteen weeks.

If Winston is playing for his job, he is certain to have no margin of error.  One more slip and he might well be out of the league entirely.  If he isn’t stellar, if he isn’t every bit the number one selection in the NFL draft, it is going to be very hard for the Buccaneers to get fully behind him after that.

Erik Kuselias asked on Thursday morning if Jameis Winston would still be with the Buccaneers if he played any other position.  At the time, it seemed like he would have been, that we were still waiting on more information as a public.  Now it seems increasingly clear that the scarcity of good NFL quarterbacks saved Jameis Winston’s NFL position.

It is worth wondering if Winston’s play on the field can save his job.

When Ray Rice was suspended for the brutal and public beating of his girlfriend, it ended his career.  Rice has not played a down of NFL football since, and it did not matter what shape he was in.  Before the suspension, he was one of the premier backs of the NFL, one of the finest players in the league.  Once the video came out, his career was over.

Jameis Winston’s transgressions were not caught on video, but the NFL is convinced.  Much of the public is upset, wondering why the suspension wasn’t the same six games that Ezekiel Elliott received and that the rules seem to call for.

Keep in mind, as well, that the threat of a ban does not just apply to Winston’s behavior moving forward.

The Uber incident did not come to the NFL’s attention until well over a year after it happened.  Any event from Winston’s recent past that leads to another investigation would likely be enough to get him sent away from the league entirely.

It is going to be hard for Jason Licht and Dirk Koetter to get rid of Winston in full.

Koetter was hired to develop Jameis Winston.  Jason Licht made the decision to draft the player.  If Winston does not continue on with the Buccaneers, both Dirk Koetter and Jason Licht go with him.  It’s likely, then, that he will start up to thirteen games for the Buccaneers with a chance to redeem himself.  Doing anything else might mean the front office going down with their quarterback.

After all, character issues were an issue with Winston before he was drafted.  When Licht selected Jameis Winston, he did so with the knowledge that misbehavior could be a problem.  If poor character leads to wasted potential, the Buccaneers’ front office and coaching staff is likely to be held accountable.  Licht would likely not be around to select Winston’s replacement, and Dirk Koetter could easily meet the same fate.

Serious questions need to be asked about the Buccaneers’ scouting of Winston.  They believed his problems were exaggerated, and he would put them in the rear view mirror.  He has proven them wrong.

Equally serious questions need to be asked about the Buccaneers’ handling of their quarterback once he had been selected in the NFL Draft.  There is only so much they could have done to try and prevent Winston from getting into this kind of trouble, but whether they exhausted all their options is a question that people internally will have to answer.

Once a college baseball pitcher, Jameis Winston’s NFL career is down to its last strike.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.