24 photos for the 24 year old QB, Jameis Winston.
For the second straight year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face what appears to be a fairly easy decision regarding the contract of one of their key performers.
Specifically, the key performer is quarterback Jameis Winston, who is heading into his fourth season in 2018. Since the new collective bargaining agreement was implemented in 2011, all contracts for first-round draft picks have been structured as four-year deals with a team option for a fifth year. The team must decide before the player's fourth year if they want to exercise or decline that fifth-year option.
Winston was the first-overall pick in 2015, which means he's heading into his fourth season. The window for the Buccaneers to pick up the fifth year in his original deal began as soon as the 2017 season ended, and it extends until May 2. As such, there is no hurry for the Buccaneers to act. That said, it would be surprising if the team did not pick up Winston's option, given how promising his first three seasons have been. A year ago, Tampa Bay had a similarly easy choice when it came to 2014 first-round pick Mike Evans, who had a streak of three straight 1,000-yard seasons that he has now extended to four.
Any former first-round pick whose fifth-year option is not exercised will be on course to become an unrestricted free agent after his fourth campaign. If the option is exercised, the player's fifth-year salary is based upon average salaries in the NFL at his position and is also dependent upon exactly where he was selected in the first round. As a quarterback and the first pick in the 2015 draft, Winston's 2019 option-year salary would be calculated by taking the average of the top 10 quarterback salaries in the league.
Teams also may begin discussing a contract extension with their former first-round picks after their third seasons. That window opened at the same time as the option-year window but it is a separate issue; even after picking up the option year, teams can still continue working on an extension.
Through his first three seasons, Winston has shown the potential to become a long-term franchise quarterback, the most coveted of NFL assets and something that has eluded the Buccaneers for most of their four-decade history. A starter since the opening week of his rookie campaign, Winston has already thrown for 11,636 yards, the third-most through a player's first three seasons in league history. Only Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning threw for more. Winston's 69 touchdown passes are also the seventh-most by an NFL quarterback through his first three seasons.
Winston did miss time due to injury for the first time in his career in 2017, sitting out three games and parts of two others due to a right shoulder ailment. However, he returned from the injury to finish the season on a hot streak, in the process setting Buccaneer single-season records in yards per pass attempt (7.93) and 300-yard passing games (six). Winston's completion percentage, passer rating, and yards per game have gone up every season; even more impressively, Winston raised his completion rate from 60.8 in 2016 to 63.8 last year while also increasing his yards per attempt from 7.2 to 7.9.
The Buccaneers picked up Evans' option last offseason, of course, the first time the team had done so with one of its first-round picks since that contract format was introduced. Their first opportunity was with 2011 first-round pick Adrian Clayborn, but the former Iowa defensive end had seen two of his first four seasons cut very short by injuries. The Buccaneers did not pick up the options on either of their first-round picks in 2012 – Mark Barron and Doug Martin – though Martin did subsequently re-sign with the team after his fourth year. Tampa Bay did not have a first-round pick in 2013 after sending it to the New York Jets in the Darrelle Revis trade. The following year, the Buccaneers selected Evans at pick number seven in the first round.
Last year, with teams facing decisions on their 2014 first-rounder, most chose to pick up the fifth-year option. Twenty-three of the 32 players taken in that round got the fifth year; nine did not, including a couple players, such as Johnny Manziel, who were no longer with the teams that selected them. Collectively, that's a fairly good testament to the Class of 2014, with nearly three quarters of its first-rounders performing well enough to warrant that fifth year. In contrast, 17 of the 32 first-round selections in 2013 had their options exercised.
However, there were some notably misses high in the 2014 draft, as the #2 (Rams tackle Greg Robinson), #4 (Buffalo wide receiver Sammy Watkins) and #8 (Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert) all picks all failed to get the fifth-year option. Of course, top-10 picks require a larger salary commitment for that fifth year. Players selected with picks 11 through 32 have their fifth-year number calculated by the average of the third through 25 top salaries at their positions.