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The best answer to the Winston-Mariota debate

DIRK SHADD | Times Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) shakes hands with Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) at the end of a 42 to 14 Bucs loss at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday afternoon (09/13/15).
Published Aug. 16, 2018

Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota? The great debate of Tampa Bay football.

Who would you rather have? That is and always will be the burning question of Tampa Bay football fans.

Winston and Mariota will be forever linked. For as long as they play, we will dissect which one is better, which one is worse and which team — Winston's Bucs or Mariota's Titans — got the best of the deal.

Winston or Mariota? Who ya got?

They were the first two picks of the 2015 NFL Draft.

The Bucs had the first pick. They had their choice. Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State. Or Mariota, the Heisman Trophy winner from Oregon.

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There was no easy answer. Both had their strengths. Both had their flaws. Neither was a slam-dunk.

And now here we are, three years later as they prepare to meet again Saturday in Nashville, and you could still make a case for and against both. It's still not a slam dunk.

If it was up to me, I honestly don't know which one I would pick. And it's not because both have been so good.

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I don't know which one to pick because I've come to the conclusion that I don't like either.

Seriously, neither is exciting. Neither has proven they will be dependable. Neither is a top-tier quarterback.

Let's be honest, both have just … meh.

Not bad. But not really that good either. Just okay. Middle of the pack, at best. And I don't know that either will get much better.

They're both better than the quarterbacks they replaced. Winston replaced Josh McCown, who was a dreadful 1-10 as a Bucs starter. You could have put pretty much anyone (even Mike Glennon, for crying out loud) behind center in 2015 and it would have been better than McCown.

Mariota joined a team that had more starting quarterbacks (three) than wins (two) the year before he arrived. Again, anyone would have been an improvement.

But, don't be fooled, just because Winston and Mariota were better options than what the Bucs and Titans previously had doesn't meant either is that good.

Football is a team game, but still, it's all about the quarterback.

In three years, Winston is 18-27 as a starter with only one win in his past 10 starts. In 45 games, he has thrown 44 interceptions and lost 15 fumbles. That's awful. And no one can be sure he won't always be a turnover machine.

As we sit here right, we still can't say for certain that Winston is going to be a reliable and winning quarterback in the NFL. Some days he is good. Some days he is not. He has shown enough flashes to say he's not a bust. But he also has made enough bone-headed mistakes to still question whether the Bucs made the right call.

And, sorry, but we cannot completely forget that he's going to miss the first three games this season, and, more importantly, we cannot dismiss why. He got drunk and acted like a creepy dolt in an Uber. That's just the latest in a series of questionable decisions he has made in the past several years that certainly bring his character into question.

Put it this way: there are enough red flags that you can see how a team would pick a bag of footballs before going anywhere near Winston. There are certainly enough warning signs that you can bet the Titans were more than happy that the Bucs took Winston and left them with Mariota.

Then again, it's not like Mariota is looking like a future Hall of Famer either.

He has a slightly better record than Winston: 20-22. He also has more turnovers (34 interceptions, 12 lost fumbles) than games played (42). Mariota has led his team to the playoffs once, but he had the help of being in a crummy division. He looks more like a game-manger than a game-changer.

Now, to be fair, both have played only three seasons and they did join bottom-feeders. Both have endured coaching changes and neither can be completely blamed for the lack of success they or their teams have had. And, really, the Bucs and Titans had no choice but to take the quarterbacks with those picks.

Still, the jury remains very much out on what their futures hold.

That's why that in the great debate of Winston or Mariota, my answer is …

None of the above.

Contact Tom Jones at Follow @tomwjones