PHOENIX — The Bucs have stuck with Jameis Winston through thick and thin and now thick again.
Only this time, the Bucs quarterback is adding muscle and wants to play at 250-pounds this season. That would make him the heaviest player at his position in the NFL.
"I’m going to play bigger this year,'' Winston said Saturday following his round at the Bruce Arians Celebrity Golf Tournament. "I’m about 250. Yeah. A solid 250. It’s just about hydration and being at the peak body, too.''
Winston is listed at 6-foot-4, 231 pounds, meaning he could play nearly 20 pounds heavier than that in 2019.
Can bigger be better?
“He looks lean,’’ Arians said before the start of the NFL league meetings Saturday.
Arians is right. Unless Winston had volunteered it, only his bathroom scale may have known the difference.
And Winston has never been afraid of work. In the off-season, he enlists the help of trainer Tim Grover to mold his body back into playing shape. This isn’t a guy who is one Big Mac shy of becoming Jamarcus Russell.
But you have to wonder what is going on here?
The Panthers’ Cam Newton (6-5) and the Ravens’ Joe Flacco (6-6) were the heaviest quarterbacks in the league last season, both with a listed weight of 245 pounds. Both are taller than Winston. The Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger (6-5) is 245 pounds, and he’s Big Ben.
“He might have been up to (255) one year, but now he’s way down there,’’ Arians said of Roethlisberger. “Now he’s into the (240’s).’’
The Colts’ Andrew Luck and the Bills’ Josh Allen go about 240-pounds. The Eagles’ Carson Wentz is 237.
This is a big year for Winston, but why does he need to biggest quarterback in the league?
Taken at his word, Winston says it’s about hydration, which can be a problem playing most of the season in the humid hell of Raymond James Stadium. Maybe his body functions better and feels stronger the closer he gets to 250.
Whatever the reason, Arians doesn’t seem concerned.
“No, I mean whatever he feels comfortable at without bad weight, stuff that will hurt your scrambling or hurts your mobility,’’ Arians said. “It sure helps when they try to sack you.’’
If there’s one concern, that would be it. Winston is among the best quarterbacks in the league when under duress. His ability to extend plays and throwing accurately outside the pocket is a strength.
According to Pro Football Focus, Winston completed 56.6 percent of his passes when under pressure last season with five touchdowns and four interceptions for an 84.9 rating. That ranked sixth among quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts. In fact, his passer rating when throwing from a clean pocket is only seven points higher.
If there is even a chance being heavier may limit Winston’s mobility, it’s uncertain why he would want to be heavier.
Unless it has something to do with creating more armor knowing he will face more pressure this season.
Arians has a reputation for getting his quarterbacks hit – hard and often. Part of the reason is he likes to get all five eligible receivers into pass routes. His offense isn’t prone to leave running backs or tight ends in as extra blockers for pass protection.
As a result, his teams can give up some sacks.
The Cardinals in 2017 allowed 52 sacks, the third most in the league. In 2016, it was 41, which ranked eighth. But when they were really on their game, the pocket was clean. In 2013 they allowed only 27 and in 2014, it was 28.
Heck, last season Bucs quarterbacks were sacked 41 times. That may have had as much to do with the offensive line and lack of a running game as it did with Dirk Koetter’s scheme.
Arians doesn’t necessarily agree that his offense makes the quarterback more vulnerable with a lack of protection.
“Yes and no,’’ Arians said. “You just have to know the protections and see where (there) possibly could be a hot (route). Most all young guys when you spread it out, they see it better. When you’re all bunched up, you might be faking and ‘Oh, (shoot), I missed a safety.’ Yeah, when you spread it. Unless you got hellacious blockers, the more you keep in to block the more you’re getting double-covered. You know what I mean?’’
This reminds me a little bit of the time Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp was coming off a breakout season in 1997 in which he had 12.5 sacks as Tampa Bay made the post-season but lost at Green Bay in the NFC divisional playoff round.
Sapp went from a listed 303-pounds to about 313 or more. He clearly was a half-step slower and wound up finishing the year with seven sacks. Sapp said he wanted to bulk up a bit to handle the double teams and play the run. Coach Tony Dungy said he wished Sapp had stayed at 303.
The next two seasons, playing at his original weight, Sapp had 12.5 and a career-high 16.5 sacks and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Okay, so Winston most likely won’t be a first ballot Hall of Fame player.
“It’s good weight, first of all,’’ general manager Jason Licht said. “And in Bruce’s offense, sitting in the pocket, you’re going to take some hits. Ben Roethlisberger still does and Carson (Palmer) did. So you want to put some armor on. I still think that he’s going to be mobile. It’s not like he was a 4.4 (in the 40-yard dash) guy to being with. But he’s got his own unique athleticism to shed guys. I think it actually could be helpful in that way.’’
At the very least, if this quarterback thing doesn’t work out, the Bucs could use an edge rusher.
Winston shares thoughts on start of Arians regime
After finishing his round in the Bruce Arians Celebrity Golf Tournament Saturday, Winston talked about the feeling he gets about Arians after spending a few days around many of his former Cardinals players.
"I think it’s great man, you get to see people who have been supporting him, basically toward the end of his career but you get a chance to hang around his guys,'' Winston said. "And you get a good feeling to know you’re going to have some good guys coming to Tampa with him.''
Most of Arians coaching staff from Arizona is now working for him with the Bucs, including defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.
"They just tell me I’m just going to be excited and that’s always a great thing,'' Winston said. "Larry (Fitzgerald) said that he’s a coach that definitely helped his career. And anytime you hear a Hall of Fame guy talk about his coach and you see the support that he gives Bruce, it’s always a good thing.''
Winston said hated that the Bucs had to lose key players from his 2015 draft class such as linebacker Kwon Alexander and Adam Humphries, who was signed by Tampa Bay in a tryout camp as an undrafted free agent. Alexander signed a 4-year, $54-million contract with the 49ers while Humphries signed a three-year, $36-million deal with the Titans.
"It was challenging,'' Winston said. "Those were two guys that I really admired. And those were two guys that were well deserving of what they got. So I’m definitely happy for them. But I wish we had that few extra dollars to keep them here. But I’m excited for Hump and I’m excited for Kwon because they were two game changers and it just shows how strong our class really was.''
Winston said he was anxious to work with some of the new Bucs players, including Central Florida receiver Breshad Perriman.
"I know he’s a Miami boy and I remember him, the great things he did at UCF. And I know he’s excited, he’s excited to be back close to home and I talked to him a few times. So we’re going to get together this season and get some workouts in.''
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud.