There are a multitude of decisions Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht and his staff will be making in the near future. One he clarified on Monday was the decision to retain quarterback Jameis Winston.
The soon-to-be 25-year-old quarterback was in the fourth year of his rookie contract in 2018 with a fifth-year option that the Bucs picked up before the season started. The option, however, was only guaranteed against injury and whether or not Winston would be in red and pewter next year hung in the balance until Licht's press conference on Monday.
"Jameis Winston will be here – we have him under contract for a year," Licht said. "[He] has accomplished more than most of the elite quarterbacks have at his age through that time span [in their careers]. There's a lot to like about Jameis."
Winston is already a fixture in the Bucs' record books after his first four seasons with the franchise. Just this past Sunday, Winston broke the Bucs' record for most games with four or more touchdown passes when he had his fourth such game, surpassing Brad Johnson's previous record of three. Winston also sits in the league's top ten for most passing yards and most touchdowns by a player through his first four seasons, amassing 14,628 total yards and 88 touchdowns in that span.
He helped pilot a 2018 offense that set single-season franchise records left and right. Or in this case, vertically. This past year's Buccaneers rank first in:
· Most points (396)
· Most yards (6,648)
· Most passing yards (5,125)
· Most touchdowns (49)
· Most passing touchdowns (36)
· Most first downs (388)
· Most passing first downs (265)
· Highest third-down conversion rate (46.0%)
· Highest yards-per-play (6.30)
· Highest net yards per pass (7.70)
While there were the aforementioned highs, the team struggled to turn close games into wins this season, finishing with a 5-11 record. Winston, himself, was suspended for the first three games and was benched in favor of backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick towards the middle of the year. However, it's what Winston has done following the benching that has given Licht and his team confidence in the still-young signal caller.
"I saw a lot in the second half of this season," Licht said of Winston's performance. "Obviously, we went through a lot at the beginning of this season – the suspension. There was a lot going on in this organization that was a tough for a lot of people to overcome. I saw him bounce back at the end of the year and play very, very good in my eyes and a lot people's eyes for the condition that he was in. We have a lot of faith in him."
His stats down the stretch show the improvement Licht spoke of. From Weeks 12 to 17, Winston threw for 11 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He had an overall quarterback rating of 97.7 in that span, passing for 1,617 yards and completing 136 of 214 passing attempts. Winston finished 2018 with 2,992 yards and 19 touchdowns, matching his previous year's total after appearing in 11 games.
One particular area Winston took a step forward in this year (literally) was his ability to scramble, amassing nearly double the amount of rushing yards from the previous year and surpassing his career-high by more than 60 yards. Winston often kept drives alive with his legs, tallying 19 rushing first downs on the season. It led to a total of 281 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown, too. More than that, he was accurate outside the pocket when scrambling, posting the best completion percentage in the league, connecting on 67.9 percent of his passes for an overall rating of 141.7. The next closest passer is Seahawks' quarterback Russell Wilson at 115.5, for reference.
Winston makes one piece of the puzzle that is 2019 in place. The question mark now remains who will be calling the plays Winston will be executing as Licht and his staff embark on a search for the Bucs' new head coach.
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