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Bucs want Jameis Winston to chill; Titans turn up heat on Marcus Mariota

Which is approach is right?
Former Titans quarterback Blaine Gabbert will competed for a backup spot with the Bucs, but to be clear, this is Jameis Winston's team. [AP Photo/Mark Zaleski]
Former Titans quarterback Blaine Gabbert will competed for a backup spot with the Bucs, but to be clear, this is Jameis Winston's team. [AP Photo/Mark Zaleski]
Published Mar. 25, 2019
Updated Mar. 25, 2019

PHOENIX — Here at the intersection of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, there is a fork in the field.

Both quarterbacks are in the fifth and final year of their rookie deals. Winston, picked No. 1 by the Bucs in 2015, has been told by his third head coach, Bruce Arians, that this is his team and he does not want Winston looking over his shoulder.

Mariota, picked No. 2 overall by the Titans the same year and with one playoff win to his credit, has trouble staying healthy and has been served notice that there is competition in the building.

The Titans traded for Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

“It does bring competition at the quarterback position,” Titans general manager Jon Robinson said. “I think that’s what you want at every position. Guys to compete, and to me, that makes you better.”

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To make room for Tannehill, 30, the Titans released quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

As fate would have it, on Monday the Bucs were closing in on an agreement with Gabbert to compete for the No. 2 spot behind Winston.

The Titans seem worried about Mariota’s fragile physique. The Bucs seem pre-occupied with Winston’s fragile psyche.

So which approach is correct?

From the time Winston and Mariota were drafted, comparisons were inevitable.

Neither has exactly fulfilled expectations.

Mariota has yet to play all 16 games in the regular season due to injury. Winston has struggled with turnovers and was suspended for the first three games last season for violating the NFL’s player conduct policy.

The Bucs felt Ryan Fitzpatrick and his magic act might be too much again for Winston. Fitz has taken Tannehill’s job as a starter for the Dolphins.

So in this, the most critical years for both, who do the Bucs and Titans have as a safety net?

In Tannehill, 30, the Titans have a backup with 88 starts who has completed 62.8 percent of his passes for 20,434 yards with 123 touchdowns and 75 interceptions. His record is 42-46.

In Gabbert, 29, the Bucs could also have a backup with pedigree. He was the 10th overall pick of the Jaguars in 2011 and has made 48 starts, completed 56.2 percent of his passes for only 9,063 yards with 48 touchdowns and 47 interceptions. But his record is 13-35.

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To be clear, like Winston, Mariota has been told the Titans are still his team.

“Marcus is the starter,” Robinson said. “I had a press conference right after (Tannehill signed) and I said Marcus is our starting quarterback. I explained that to Ryan about the situation. I called Marcus and said, ‘Hey, dude, you’re our starter, be sure you’re ready to roll by mid-April and come back here, it’s your football team. Let’s roll.’ They know.”

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But clearly, the Titans don’t mind turning up the thermostat on Mariota. The Bucs are handling Winston with furry mittens.

What also makes sense is that Tannehill is a good fit for the Titans’ spread offense.

“He’s guy that’s started games in this league, that’s won games in this league, that stylistically was similar to Marcus,” Robinson said. “He has some athleticism. Can run. Can still do some of the (run-pass-option) stuff. He can analyze. He’s a smart guy. So that if Marcus is dinged, or can’t go, you don’t really have to reboot the whole game plan and tailor it to a different quarterback’s skills set.

“If you have a pocket passer and the backup is an athletic guy, you have to tweak some stuff. Conceptually, we’ll be able to plug him in and roll.”

Likewise, Gabbert already has proven to be a good fit for Arians’ offense.

“Oh, I love Blaine,” Arians said Monday. “He won two big, big games for us. He’s got a talented, talented arm. He can run. I mean, I’ve always wondered why he hasn’t started for a long time and he did such a great job for us. I have a ton of confidence when he started for us.

“We were so lucky (in Arizona) because we had two great backups in Drew Stanton and him. When Drew got healthy, he went back in. But no, the guy can make every throw. He’s mobile. Your backup guy you want to be mobile. You know, because he can make plays for you and he’s really smart and he’ll be great for Jameis.”

Gabbert has won four of his past eight starts and went 2-3 for the Cardinals. Last season, he was 2-1 in relief of Mariota, completing 61-of-101 passes for 626 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions.

Of course, the Bucs also re-signed Ryan Griffin, who returns to Tampa Bay for a fifth season despite having never thrown a pass in a game that counted.

The past four seasons, the Bucs have carried three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. They could add a fourth for training camp.

“I would never say we’re done with it,” general manager Jason Licht said. “That’s a very important position, whether it’s the starter or the backup. I wouldn’t say we’re done with it. We do like Ryan Griffin a lot. But we’re always going to be looking for some competition and the draft is one avenue.”

Two approaches, two very different quarterbacks, both trying to find their street of dreams.