This one will be brief.
Quarterback is undeniably the most important position on an NFL team. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it also happens to be the lightest one (outside of the kickers), or at least it will be when the new league year begins on March 13. The Buccaneers ended the 2018 campaign with three quarterbacks on the roster, and two of those three are headed towards free agency.
The Buccaneers do have their starter in place, and new Head Coach Bruce Arians has made it clear that he is committed to Winston in 2019 and believes he can experience great and immediate success. Regardless of how seamlessly the Arians-Winston connection is made, the Bucs still have work to do at the position because both Ryans, Fitzpatrick and Griffin, are pending unrestricted free agents.
That leaves Tampa Bay with two quarterbacks who have contracts for 2019: Winston, in the final year of his original rookie deal, and Joe Callahan, who signed a reserve/futures contract in January. Callahan, formerly an undrafted free agent out of Wesley College, has thrown seven regular-season NFL passes, all for Green Bay in the 2017 season finale.
So, like we said, this particular chapter in the Burning Questions series will be quick, but every player on the roster faces questions head into 2019 and quarterbacks are no different. In the weeks leading up to the new league year, we are going position by position and proposing one burning questions for each player on the 2019 roster. So far we've covered everything else on offense: tight ends, wide receivers, running backs and the offensive line. Now we finally turn our attention to the position that makes that offense go.
As will be the case at every position, we are only including players who are currently under contract for 2019, or could have tender offers as restricted and exclusive rights free agents. For the pending unrestricted free agents, obviously, the burning question that must be answered first is, 'Will they be back?'
View the top photos of QB Jameis Winston from the 2018 season
One Burning Question for Each Buccaneer: Quarterbacks
Players under contract for 2019: 2 (Joe Callahan, Jameis Winston)
Potential unrestricted free agents: 2 (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin)
Potential restricted free agents: None.
Potential exclusive rights free agents: None.
Joe Callahan: How many more quarterbacks will the Buccaneers add to the roster between now and training camp?
That's an important question for Callahan, who is probably not considered the front-runner to be Winston's primary backup. Expect the team to sign (or re-sign) a quarterback with more regular-season experience to fill that role.
That's not a knock on Callahan, who clearly has talent that intrigues NFL pro scouts. He didn't appear on an NFL roster last year after being released by Philadelphia in the final cuts, but he did spend the fall crisscrossing the country for tryouts with six different NFL teams. That included the Buccaneers, who tried him out in October and then quickly signed him for 2019 when the season came to an end.
In his final year at Wesley College in Dover, Delaware, Callahan became the first Division III quarterback to top 5,000 passing yards in a season, earning the Division III version of the Heisman trophy. He latched on first with the Packers and beat the odds to make the active roster as a rookie. When the Packers waived him at midseason the Saints pounced with a waiver claim, and when the Saints waived him a week later the Browns put in a claim. Still, Callahan found himself back with the Packers by the end of the season.
The Packers brought him back in 2017 and promoted him from the practice squad in October, making him the primary backup to Brett Hundley while Aaron Rodgers was on injured reserve. Hundley got a chance to direct Green Bay's final drive of the season, completing five of seven passes against Detroit for 11 yards.
Given the amount of interest he has drawn in three years of trying to stick in the NFL, Callahan doesn’t appear to be just an arm for the spring or training camp fodder. He was signed before Arians and his staff were hired in January, but Arians' former team, the Arizona Cardinals, notably put in a waiver claim for Callahan in 2016. Still, the Buccaneers will have several opportunities to add arms this spring through free agency and the draft, and by necessity will sign at least one more. Arians was the head coach for five years in Arizona and took at least four quarterbacks to training camp every year. The Cardinals also carried three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster for most of that five-year period.
So Callahan has already broken one camp as a third quarterback on the active roster and finished another season as the second QB on the active roster. He looks like he'll get a shot at competing for a similar spot in Tampa, but the size of that opportunity could change depending upon who and how many quarterbacks the team adds before camp.
Jameis Winston: Will Bruce Arians and his staff draw out the best possible version of Winston in 2019?
There's no question that Winston, the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft, has talent. Since his arrival in Tampa, Winston has thrown for the exact same number of yards per game (261.2) as Green Bay superstar Aaron Rodgers, with a slightly lower completion percentage (61.6 to 63.2) and a slightly higher average yards per attempt (7.6 to 7.1). The main difference, of course, is that Rodgers also has a 112-23 TD-INT ratio, compared to 88 and 58 for Winston.
That's an incredibly high bar set by Rodgers, but Winston doesn't need to clear it in order to from a quarterback with a mix of gaudy and concerning numbers to a quarterback who helps his team win on a regular basis. Arians will first try to put the still-young quarterback (he turned 25 in January) in a better situation, surrounded by a more effective running game and a much stingier defense, and then he'll work on smoothing out Winston's game and removing as many of the mistakes as possible. And Winston will still get to play his preferred style of aggressive football, as Arians doesn't plan to deviate from his "no risk-it, no biscuit" philosophy.
Upon returning to the lineup midway through the Buccaneers' Week 11 game in New York last season, and then starting the final six contests, Winston showed that he can be both productive and efficient at the same time. He completed 64.3% of his passes in that span, averaged 7.9 yards per pass attempt and had a 13-4 TD-INT ratio. That all added up to a fine 100.1 passer rating down the stretch. The Buccaneers only won two of those games, and it's fair and accurate to call that the bottom line, but only one of their losses in that span was by more than a single score.
Winston already owns the Buccaneers' all-time record for touchdown passes and he'll have the yardage mark not far into 2019, too. He has two 4,000-yard passing seasons under his belt and his 28 touchdown tosses in 2016 were a single-season record for the franchise. His completion percentage has risen every year, and last season he pushed that up to a career-best 64.6% without losing an inch off his average of 7.9 yards per pass attempt. In other words, these gains in completion percentage have not come from a shift in offensive philosophy to shorter, safer throws. That isn't likely to happen under the aggressive Arians either.
Arians, who has written a book with the words, "Quarterback Whisperer," in the title and who has helped develop such passers as Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Not only is he confident in his own ability to draw the best out of a talented passer, but he believes that Winston will also benefit greatly from working with new Quarterbacks Coach Clyde Christensen and new Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich.
Arians believes in and is committed to Winston, but in a strictly contractual sense, the team and the QB are only tied together for one more year. If Arians succeeding in producing Winston's best self, both sides may be motivated to make that a much longer commitment.