Thursday, April 26, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A cautionary tale: Bucs QBs have history of leaving to find success elsewhere

TAMPA — What is it about Bucs fans and how quickly they fall out of love with their quarterbacks?

No sooner had Jameis Winston thrown a second interception in his three-turnover game a week ago against the Panthers than the runaway brides put on track shoes.

"Highest-paid cheerleader at QB," one wrote on Twitter.

"Hopefully, they can trade for a starter or draft a real QB in 2018," was written in an email.

And so it went for Winston. A cooler of Haterade dumped over the head of another Bucs quarterback after a 2-5 start. Not to mention the shoulder sprain that didn’t prevent Winston’s 39th consecutive NFL start.

We’ve seen this before.

From Doug Williams to Steve Young to Vinny Testaverde to Trent Dilfer to Josh Freeman, Bucs fans have been slow to give their hearts to a franchise quarterback, and they often do with great regret.

Williams, Young and Dilfer won Super Bowls with other teams after they left.

Young is in the Hall of Fame.

Testaverde had a remarkable 22-year career and took the Jets to the AFC Championship Game. Only Freeman failed to have success after leaving Tampa Bay.

"You’re paid to perform," Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. "That can change like that. It can go from all of the sudden you are the hottest thing (to) all of the sudden no, you’re not."

Fueling some of the vitriol against Winston, 23 and in his third season, is that you can’t throw a ball without hitting a young quarterback tearing up the NFL right now.

Carson Wentz, 24, has piloted the 7-1 Eagles to the NFL’s best record. He has done it while throwing 19 touchdown passes and only five interceptions, and he has a 101.6 passer efficiency rating.

Jared Goff, 23, stunk last season as a Rams rookie. With a new coach, Sean McVay, his team is 5-2 this year and tied with Seattle atop the NFC West.

Dak Prescott, 24, was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 2016 and has the Cowboys in contention again at 4-3.

Until suffering a torn ACL in practice Thursday, Texans rookie Deshaun Watson, 22, was tied with Wentz for the NFL lead with 19 touchdown passes.

Marcus Mariota, 24, drafted one spot behind Winston at No. 2 overall in 2015, hasn’t put up huge numbers but has the Titans tied for the AFC South lead at 4-3.

Before this season, Winston was being touted by pundits as a legitimate league MVP candidate. Now he leads a team that is being called "paper champions" by Sports Illustrated writer Peter King for winning the so-called offseason championship.

Winston still is the only quarterback to have consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons to start a career and is the youngest to 50 touchdowns. But he is 17-22 as a starter and likely headed to a third straight year without a playoff appearance.

Asked about comparisons with the NFL’s other under-25 quarterbacks, Winston answered: "You really can’t compete with (anybody) when you’re losing.

"You’ve got to win, and that’s what I’m not doing right now. We’ve got to win. That’s in my blood. I’ve got to find a way to do it."

There are a host of reasons why so many quarterbacks have failed in Tampa Bay. It’s a historically bad organization. In their 41 years, the Bucs have only 10 playoff appearances and a .390 winning percentage during the regular season.

Williams, Young, Testaverde, Dilfer, Freeman and Winston were first-round picks. Testaverde and Winston were selected first overall in the NFL draft, Young in the 1984 supplemental draft of USFL and CFL players.

That means they went to the worst team in football as the savior of a franchise.

Nothing can sabotage the future of a young quarterback more than coaching changes. Whether the changes are for better or worse, they mean new assistants, a new offensive scheme, a different way of doing things.

Young played on a pair of horrible 2-14 teams under Leeman Bennett and ran for his life. The indelible image of his two years in Tampa Bay came on an extremely snowy day in Green Bay when he was flattened and had to dig the snow out of his face mask.

By the time Ray Perkins replaced Bennett in 1987, he had his eyes on Testaverde, a more traditional drop-back passer and Heisman Trophy winner at Miami. Young was traded to the 49ers for a second- and fourth-round draft picks, which the Bucs used to take linebacker Winston Moss and wide receiver Bruce Hill.

Testaverde was personally attacked for everything from admitting he was color-blind to his penchant for throwing interceptions — 35 in his first full season as a starter. He, too, got caught in coaching changes, from Perkins to Richard Williamson and finally Sam Wyche. He left as a free agent in 1993 after one season with Wyche.

Wyche drafted Dilfer, and sparks flew from the start. His young QB wouldn’t protect the ball, and by then, Wyche needed wins to keep his job. He was fired after the 1995 season.

Tony Dungy brought stability and a great defense to help Dilfer, and Dilfer made the Pro Bowl in 1997 when the Bucs returned to the playoffs.

Ultimately, the Bucs went in another direction, and Dilfer signed with the Ravens in 2000. He became Tony Banks’ backup for a while, but that was Dilfer, starting for Baltimore and hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa.

Freeman had a good year under Raheem Morris when the Bucs won 10 games in 2010 but missed the playoffs. But Morris was fired after the 2011 season, in which the Bucs went 4-12 and lost their last 10 games.

New coach Greg Schiano never wanted Freeman as his starting quarterback, but ownership said it wasn’t negotiable. After a 0-4 start in 2013, Freeman sought and was granted his release.

In his third season, Winston already has experienced a head coaching change, from Lovie Smith to Dirk Koetter.

Assuming the Bucs don’t rally and make the playoffs, it’s conceivable Winston could end up playing for a third head coach in Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, the team has to weigh whether to sign him to a $100 million contract extension. It has a fifth-year option next season. After that, the Bucs could use the franchise tag to keep him one more season at a salary no less than the average of the top five quarterbacks’ salaries.

Koetter offers a cautionary tale when evaluating quarterbacks. Without referring to them by name, he cited Robert Griffin III, who won offensive rookie of the year for Washington, and Colin Kaepernick, who appeared in three straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl for the 49ers, as examples of young quarterbacks labeled as can’t-miss too early in their careers. Neither are in the NFL now.

"I think you need to be a little bit patient and see if everybody … stands the test of time," Koetter said.

"We can’t make generalizations. There are a lot of reasons why quarterbacks are good and why they’re not. Most of it is their talent, (but) some of it is system, some of it is the defense they have playing with them, some of it is the players they have playing with them, some of it is just breaks. The best quarterbacks in this league stand the test of time, and I’m sure we can all come up with plenty of names."

How much time will Bucs fans give Winston?

If past is prologue, they may want to be a little more patient.

Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud.

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