So, Aaron Rodgers duped us all into thinking he was done with Green Bay. Four years, $200 million (supposedly), and one fewer team questioning their future at the quarterback position. Denver has their whole situation figured out as well I guess. Russell Wilson? That’s a big get for a team in a division with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. Still, there are several teams that don’t know what they’re going to do.
Will the Texans actually trade Watson this year? What’s Pittsburgh going to do? What about Carolina? With Rodgers back in Green Bay, should Minnesota trade away Kirk Cousins? Then there’s Washington, Philadelphia, the New York Giants, Indy, Tampa, blah blah blah blah blah.
So many teams, so few quarterbacks to go around. Yet, despite the obvious lack of elite quarterback talent across the league, most NFL rumors center around teams trading for other teams’ starters. Almost none deal with actual free agent QBs though. Sure, no team seriously wants Ryan Fitzpatrick or Andy Dalton to be their franchise quarterback, but there is someone, untethered to any one team right now who not enough people are looking at.
Jameis Winston may have only played in seven games last season, but it was arguably the most successful season of his career. Winston put up career-highs in TD percentage (8.7 percent), INT percentage (1.9 percent), TD-INT ratio (14-3, or 4.67-to-1), adjusted yards gained per pass attempt (8.2), and passer rating (102.8). He did all that while throwing to an “elite” receiving corps of Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris. There were obviously some concerns with his lack of yardage (167.1 yards per game — lowest of his career) and completion percentage (59 percent), but those issues were trivial in the face of what Winston finally did right. For years, all people could talk about was Winston’s lack of ball security. Winston was a turnover machine, who was best remembered as a meme than actual starting-caliber NFL quarterback. But when Winston finally figures out how to limit his turnover factor and leads a subpar offense to a 5-2 record, he gets tossed aside without a second thought? I don’t get it. Keep in mind that several teams seem to be interested in 49ers’ quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo because he was able to win games in the right circumstance.
Much like Winston, Garoppolo brings injury concerns to the table. The man literally had surgery performed on his throwing shoulder recently, but when placed in a perfect situation, he can win games. When given a great receiving corps, an elite outside zone run scheme, a great offensive line, a brilliant offensive-minded head coach, and a great defense, he helped lead the 49ers to two NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl.
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Winston is essentially in the same situation. He wasn’t good with Tampa Bay, but in his first year as the starter in New Orleans, he proved he was capable of winning games, even in a division with Tom Brady. Sure, Winston never reached the heights Garoppolo did, but he also brings much more to the table in terms of arm talent and could likely be signed to a much cheaper deal.
Is seven games too small a sample size to judge Winston’s success with the Saints on? Maybe, but it’s one more game (and two more games started) that Garoppolo had with the 49ers before they offered him his enormous contract extension. Garoppolo went 5-0 in all fairness, and was in a worse situation when he joined the 49ers than Winston when he joined the Saints, but the similarities are still there. Winston actually brings more to the table though.
Where Garoppolo’s early success with San Francisco can largely be attributed to a lack of game film on the former New England backup as well as a lack of expectations with him joining one of the worst teams in the league at the time, Winston didn’t have that luxury. Teams knew exactly what Winston brought to the table, yet Winston still blew expectations away with his improved decision-making and ball security. It seems his year under Drew Brees may have had a remarkable effect on him.
There will always be the caveat of “Well, doesn’t that mean that Winston needs to be in the right system to thrive?” However, that’s the same question that Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, and dozens more quarterbacks that people consider “starting-caliber” have faced. Why is it only an issue with Winston? In his final three seasons with Tampa Bay, Winston finished 10th, ninth, and 14th in Expected Points Added per play (basically a measure of a quarterback’s explosiveness and efficiency). Fine numbers, nothing flashy, but solid. In his lone year as the starter in New Orleans, he finished second.
Of course there are reasons why teams may look to avoid Winston altogether, the most obvious of which being his rape accusation while attending Florida State University. While Winston has always denied the claims from his accuser, Erica Kinsman, and ultimately no charges were pressed on the former Heisman winner due to “lack of evidence, Kinsman remains adamant that Winston did not face proper justice. The lawsuit was settled in 2016 after the case had been “resolved to the satisfaction of the parties.”
Would signing Winston with the intent of him becoming a franchise starter be risky? Hell yes, but it wouldn’t be expensive, and would, at the worst, be a one-year rental. Everyone lauded Winstons’ deep ball in Tampa Bay, and now that he has ball security seemingly under control, he could be the mother of all sleeper free agents. More QB-needy teams need to start giving Winston a look.