“We all know. C’mon… You look at my numbers, I’m ballin’. I gotta stop giving the ball to the other team.” — Jameis Winston following Tampa Bay’s Week 17 loss to Atlanta
There hasn’t been a bigger roller coaster of a season than the ride Jameis Winston took us on in 2019. PFF predicted he would lead the league in passing yards (as he did), but we certainly didn’t expect him to eclipse 30 interceptions on the year or throw more pick-sixes (seven) than the following quarterbacks threw interceptions: Lamar Jackson, Ryan Tannehill, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins.
Winston did this in his first season with Bruce “Quarterback Whisperer” Arians as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach. It might be his only year under Arians, as Winston will hit the open market as a free agent when the clock strikes 4 p.m. EST on March 18. Arians has been critical of Winston’s play since the latter half of the 2019 season. At the NFL Scouting Combine a few weeks ago, Arians called Winston “an unknown quantity” and said he has to ask himself, “Is there a better option?”
One of the big rumors coming out of Indianapolis post-Combine was that free agent Teddy Bridgewater would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' primary target in free agency to replace Winston. One NFL general manager told Mike Sando that the Buccaneers are “hot on Bridgewater.” But, as Arians wondered himself, we must ask if moving on to Bridgewater is really a better option.
Bridgewater started the 2014 and 2015 seasons for the Minnesota Vikings and put up average numbers compared to his counterparts (but good considering his age), ranking 13th and 17th in PFF passing grade. But a horrible knee injury prior to the 2016 season almost ended Bridgewater's career, leading him to take only 30 dropbacks from 2016 through 2018, during which time he bounced around from the Vikings, Jets and Saints.
Last year, Bridgewater defied the odds and got an opportunity to fill in for Drew Brees, starting from Weeks 3-7 and posting a respectable 78.9 passing grade in that stretch. But, considering he owned the lowest average depth of target (6.1), had the lowest rate of pass attempts travel 10 or more yards (21%, lowest by 4 percentage points) and the highest percentage of completions coming from underneath targets (49%), how much of his success was the scheme and the playmakers around him?
PFF's Sam Monson made a case for Teddy Bridgewater to be a long-term starting quarterback in the NFL last week, concluding that it could work provided he plays a conservative role. When under center for New Orleans in 2019, Bridgewater completed only seven passes of 20-plus yards, and all but one was to an open receiver. He’s not going to make plays downfield with his arm and — as Sam noted — that typically leads to a backup role in the NFL.
However, there are exceptions, and Bridgewater's decision-making ability gives him a chance to succeed. He rarely gave the defense an opportunity to make a play on the ball last season, owning the seventh-lowest negatively graded play rate in his starts. He's the embodiment of a “game manager.”
“I live my life and call plays the same way. No risk it, no biscuit.” — Bruce Arians following his retirement as the Arizona Cardinals head coach in January 2018
Arians made a comeback to the NFL in 2019. And while he brought the “no risk it, no biscuit” mentality to Tampa Bay, he gave up his play-calling duties to Byron Leftwich — who had gotten his first opportunity to coach in the NFL as an intern back in 2016 from Arians. There were some bumps in the road throughout the year and times where Arians had to nudge Leftwich to take a deep shot, but Leftwich called the passing attack similarly to Arians’ downfield attack mentality: