Jameis Winston is playing Sunday in Dallas. Should he?

Bucs-Cowboys: With the Bucs in the race for a top-5 draft pick and out of the playoff chase, the logic of playing Jameis Winston is worth considering.
. Jameis Winston makes his 53rd NFL start Sunday at Dallas. TAILYR IRVINE   |   Times
. Jameis Winston makes his 53rd NFL start Sunday at Dallas. TAILYR IRVINE | Times
Published December 22 2018
Updated December 22 2018

Just play him already.

The Bucs are in the homestretch of their lost 2018 season, playoff-proof again.

Is there a point in going to Dallas to play the Cowboys other than the fact that their league requires it?

And why are they bringing their quarterback, to this game or the season-ender here against Atlanta.

There are plenty of good, solid arguments to shut down Jameis Winston in the name of next season and maybe even this season. It remains the $20 million question, complicated by the fact that even if Winston is back, his head coach and GM probably won't. Leave it to the Bucs.

If ownership has already decided to push forward with Winston, it might be a good idea to sit him the last two weeks.

If Winston plays, and gets injured, it's trouble, The Bucs picked up Winston's option last April, and if he's hurt, he is still guaranteed $20.9 million in 2019. The Bucs would be on the hook.

There is madness here. It reminds us that Bucs should have either dumped Winston or restructured him into a new, more team-friendly deal as soon as they decided to keep him despite his off-field troubles, which resulted in being suspended for three games to start the season.

Instead, here we sit.

If Winston doesn't play the rest of the way this season, the Bucs might be in a better position to cut a deal with him, contract wise.

Let's be clear, again: Winston brought this all on himself through his actions. He has no one to blame but himself.

But he is the quarterback, and the Bucs don't have any real options on the horizon, and that includes the two Ryans, Fitzpatrick and Griffin.

If you're the Bucs, there's a real risk in running Winston out there. I mean, if the organization has made up its mind, what more does it need to see?

And then there is the tanking aspect to all this. If the Bucs roll over and finish 5-11, they might be able to move up a few spots in the draft. Who's to say that isn't worth it?

The Bucs have a hit-miss record with tanking. In 2014, they pulled some key starters and all but laid over and died in the season finale against Atlanta, losing easily and securing the top pick in the 2015 draft. That brought them Winston, the franchise quarterback, so called.

On the other hand, in 1988, with everything to gain by losing, Ray Perkins'  Bucs were 4-11 heading into the final game of the season against the equally 4-11 Detroit Lions.

The Bucs defeated the Lions, 21-17, thereby giving them the sixth pick of the draft and Detroit the third pick. The Bucs used the sixth pick to choose linebacker Broderick "Sandman" Thomas, who spent five nondescript years in Tampa Bay. The Lions, picking third, took a running back: Barry Sanders.

Yes, there a lot of reasons to sit Winston Sunday in Dallas. Hey, maybe everybody should sit.

Me? I'd play them, starting with Winston.

For a lot of reasons.

First, the Bucs don't need to try to tank. I have complete confidence that this team can lose its last two games without trying to lose its last two games. They'll pick the wrong guy, anyway, not matter where they pick.

Second, the very idea that the Bucs need to sit Winston underscores a central point: The Bucs think Winston gives them the best chance to win. Bucs coach Dirk Koetter knows it, too, whether that saves his job or not.

Third, as much as these games are meaningless, they were always meaningless, even before the Bucs were eliminated. This season was never anything more than a referendum on Winston's future, and him being in there is part of that.

Fourth, Winston could have been injured in any of the games since he returned. Why panic now?

Fifth, he needs the work. Look, he won't turn into Drew Brees in the final two weeks, but he needs the experience, two more games under center. If this franchise is counting on Winston coming around after being a slow learner, he could use these last two weeks.

Sixth, he has missed enough games already.

Seventh, while it is true that him going out there runs the risk of injury and that money being locked in because of it, if that seems like a gamble, well, the Bucs have already made their real gamble.

They gambled the day they drafted Winston, which I would not have done, and they gambled again when they kept him after his Uber incident, which I would not have.

But he is still here, and the Bucs own it, seeing as there is no alternative at the moment. You ride him until the end, all the way, at least through Sunday. Enough of the babying. He is a professional football player. To sit him now, while an act of fiscal acuity, would also signal a franchise living in fear. That's no way to exit a season.

You play him Sunday.

We'll reconvene to discuss the Atlanta game.

But no need to tank Sunday.

They'll lose anyway.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or 813-731-8029