TAMPA – Jameis Winston is heading for a big payday with the Bucs. He's played well enough to make that an easy decision.
But what impact will that have on the type of players they surround him with?
The Bucs are expected to exercise the fifth-year option on Winston's contract by the May 2 deadline.
Because Winston was the first overall pick in 2015, the salary for the fifth season in 2019 would likely cost the Bucs about $20.6 million, but that figure could go higher. It's only guaranteed against injury and doesn't impact the salary cap until the first day of the 2019 league year.
Winston is entering his fourth season, so the fifth-year option is a no-brainer. The last thing the Bucs want is for Winston to become an unrestricted free agent after 2018. There's been no talks between the Bucs and Winston's agent. But trust me, it's going to happen.
Even so, the Bucs have to plan for that and more. The more you spend on the quarterback position, the less there is to allocate for other positions.
Eventually, Winston's contract will impact the team's ability to retain their core of young players.
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That's why the Bucs priority in free agency this season will be locking up receiver Mike Evans, center Ali Marpet, tackle Donovan Smith and Pro Bowl linebacker Kwon Alexander to new contracts.
That's not to say the Bucs won't be active in free agency. They could have close to $80 million under the salary cap after releasing players Doug Martin, Chris Baker and some others. Those transactions could come within the next several weeks.
Most teams wait until right before the May 2 deadline to exercise the fifth year option. The Bucs did it with Evans' contract last April 17.
Prior to that, the Bucs had failed to add the fifth year to the contracts of former first-round picks Adrian Clayborn, Mark Barron and Martin.
Winston is a different case. He already has passed for 11,636 yards with 69 touchdowns and 44 interceptions. Only Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning passed for more yards in their first three seasons.
When the FSU basketball team rallied from 18 points down to beat No. 11 Clemson, Seminoles guard Trent Forrest celebrated in Jameis Winston's W-eating style. @Jaboowins @TB_Times #Bucs #Buccaneers #FSU @FSUHoops @MikeSherman https://t.co/R3RRjhQryy— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) February 15, 2018
But the reality is the Bucs' choices are about to become much harder because of the salary cap space Winston's contract will swallow.
49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo recently signed a 5-year, $137.5-million contract. According to Spotrac, it includes a $35 million signing bonus with $74.1 million guaranteed and an average annual salary of $27.5 million. The salary cap hit on that deal is $37 million for 2018 and about $25 million a year after that.
By the time the Bucs begin negotiating a long-term contract with Winston at the end of 2018, Garoppolo's deal won't be the highest among NFL quarterbacks.
The Saints' Drew Brees, the Falcons' Matt Ryan and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers will all be up for new contracts that could exceed Garoppolo's.
Although he went 3-10 as a starter last season, Winston improved in nearly every category, including completion percentage (63.8 from 60.8), yards per attempt (7.93 yards from 7.21) and passer rating (92.2 from 86.1).
The Eagles and Vikings showed that you can still be among the top teams in the NFL by building a great roster and having a serviceable veteran quarterback. But teams are always going to prefer to have an elite player under center to lead them.
Winston has a lot of improvement to make and his team hasn't reach the postseason. But he's about to get a big payday a year from now. The Bucs have to hope that investment eventually pays off.
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