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Tuesday, Dec 11, 2018
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The Bucs are starting a journeyman over Jameis Winston. Here’s what that means

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter didn't take long to figure out who his starting quarterback will be this week. Less than 24 hours, to be exact.

Fairly soon after the Bucs limped off the field following Sunday's embarrassingly futile 16-3 loss to Washington, Koetter went back to a quarterback whose offense produced more turnovers than points.

He is turning to an almost-36-year-old journeyman who is on his seventh team in 14 years. He is turning to a quarterback who has a career record of 50-74-1. That includes 2-4 this season. That includes 0-4 in his past four starts. That includes eight interceptions and a fumble in those four starts.

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Think about this for a second. Koetter is desperately fighting to keep his dream job, using all his might to hold on to a job that he always wanted and will never have again when this one is over. And the guy he is turning to to salvage whatever sliver of a coaching career he has left is … not Jameis Winston.

Koetter's career, Jason Licht's tenure as general manager, dozens of other jobs, the hopes of the fans and the future of the Bucs are all on the line and Ryan Fitzpatrick, picked up off the street, is considered a better option than the guy you took with the first overall pick in the draft.

What a mess.

Nothing has ever said more about what the Bucs think of Winston than what happened when Koetter walked to the podium Monday and said:

"We're going with Fitz this week. That's how it's going to stay.''

Wow.

This season certainly has been something else. And there are several fascinating layers to the Bucs' 2018 story so far. Ownership's wishes. The general manager's choices. The head coach's capabilities. Who is calling the plays? Curse of the kicker. A high-profile firing of the defensive coordinator. Soap operas involving DeSean Jackson and captains' votes.

But nothing is more compelling than realizing the Bucs are seemingly giving up on the quarterback who was supposed to lead the Bucs out of the abyss.

The Bucs no longer trust Winston.

Man, that's a heck of a thing to say when you consider how much the Bucs have invested in him.

Koetter can say all he wants about believing Winston still has a bright future and that he will still be a good quarterback in this league. But actions speak louder than words and no action speaks louder than saying you think Fitzpatrick gives you a better chance to win than Winston.

Fitzpatrick > Winston. That equation is not supposed to compute.

Sure, there's this business — emphasis on the word business — about the Bucs being scared to play Winston because if he gets hurt, they owe him nearly $21 million next season.

But that has nothing to do with why Winston isn't playing. It's all about Koetter believing Fitzpatrick gives him a better chance to win this Sunday. And if the Glazers and Licht vehemently disagreed with that decision, they would've twisted Koetter's arm into playing Winston.

Besides, if the Bucs truly had faith in Winston to win this Sunday and be the long-term answer at quarterback, they wouldn't care about risking Winston's health and next year's contract. It wouldn't even be a factor in the decision.

If you have a first-overall pick on your roster then the decision about who should start this week should be a no-brainer, shouldn't it?

Look at it this way: If I had told you two years ago or a year ago or even a month ago that Winston would have lost his job because he wasn't playing well, would you have believed it? And whether you believe it or not, wouldn't you have to agree that Winston losing his job would have to be considered an unmitigated debacle?

Something has gone completely awry here. Either the Bucs messed up by taking Winston in the first place or they haven't coached him up right or Winston isn't doing what it takes to be a successful quarterback or they are making a mistake by not playing him now.

Maybe it's all of the above.

But, clearly, if you take a quarterback with the first overall pick and he's in his fourth season and he's benched in favor of a quarterback who has been in the league a decade-and-a-half and has never stuck with one team and has never played in the playoff game then something is completely wrong. Right?

There's no telling whether Winston will be here next year or not. What happens in the final seven games this season will determine whether Koetter and Licht return and that could impact whether or not  Winston returns.

If I'm Winston, I probably wouldn't mind going somewhere else. A fresh start in a new city with a new team might be just what he needs. If I'm Winston, I might want to go to a place that believes in me.

Because, clearly at the moment, Tampa Bay isn't that place.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones

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