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The Buccaneers have signed Blaine Gabbert, the worst quarterback available

Coach Bruce Arians loves him. But why?
Since entering the NFL in 2011, Blaine Gabbert has posted a 71.7 passer rating, the worst rating in that span among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 1,000 passes. [Mark Zaleski   |   Associated Press]
Since entering the NFL in 2011, Blaine Gabbert has posted a 71.7 passer rating, the worst rating in that span among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 1,000 passes. [Mark Zaleski | Associated Press]
Published Mar. 27, 2019
Updated Mar. 27, 2019

There’s a lot of deception and misdirection in the NFL this time of year.

You really can’t believe what any front office executives or coaches say, including the ones who work for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Except for this:

There will be no quarterback controversy this season. The Bucs are Jameis Winston’s team.

The clearest sign yet that they really mean it is that they’ve signed Blaine Gabbert, the worst quarterback available.

The 2011 first-round draft pick will compete not with Winston for the starting job but with Ryan Griffin for the backup job. Though Griffin has never thrown a pass in a regular season game, one could argue he has had the better career. Yes, Gabbert has experience (eight seasons, 56 games, almost 1,500 passes), but it hasn’t been good experience.

RELATED STORY: The maddeningly inconsistent Jameis Winston

Gabbert, who turns 30 in October, played in eight games last season for the Titans as the backup to Marcus Mariota. He threw as many interceptions (four) as touchdowns and his 74.9 passer rating ranked third worst among quarterbacks who threw at least 100 passes. By one Football Outsiders measure, a generic replacement-level quarterback in the same situation would have gained 154 more yards than Gabbert.

Last season was typical. Since entering the NFL in 2011, Gabbert has never produced a season above replacement level (think Ryan Tannehill) — no matter the team, no matter the coach. Even in 2017, when he played for Arians in Arizona, he was worth 189 yards below replacement level. Simply put: He’s not a fit — for anyone’s offense.

Gabbert’s DYAR*, 2011 to 2018
Season DYAR
2011 -1,009
2012 -268
2013 -429
2014 Fewer than 10 passes
2015 -85
2016 -158
2017 -189
2018 -154

*Similar to baseball’s Wins Above Replacement, DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) takes a quarterback’s performance, adjusts it for situation and opponent, and translates it into yardage.

When asked about Gabbert this week, Arians was effusive in his praise, touting his mobility in particular. He’s mobile all right. He’s one of the few quarterbacks capable of buying just enough time to take a sack.

Highest sack rates, 2011 to 2018 (minimum 1,000 passes)
Player Sack %
1. Tyrod Taylor 9.5
2. Robert Griffin 9.2
3. Colin Kaepernick 9.2
4. Chad Henne 8.5
5. Blaine Gabbert 8.4

Arians also said that Gabbert will be great for Winston. Really? For what? To give him a pat on the back and tell him “been there” after an interception?

Highest interception rates, 2011 to 2018 (minimum 1,000 passes)
Player Interception %
1. Matt Cassel 3.9
2. Mark Sanchez 3.9
3. Josh Freeman 3.4
4. Ryan Fitzpatrick 3.4
5. Christian Ponder 3.4
6. Blaine Gabbert 3.1
7. Jameis Winston 3.0

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

Granted, the Bucs continue to rank near the bottom of the league in salary cap space, so there isn’t much they could have done even if they wanted a quality backup quarterback. Even so, they should hope Gabbert never has to throw a meaningful pass. He isn’t accurate. He turns the ball over. He struggles when under pressure. He struggles when not under pressure. Basically, the Bucs are interested in Ryan Fitzpatrick, minus the magic and the beard.

So is there any upside to this deal? There is, but you have to squint (go on, a little more) to see it. The Bucs, clearly, are all-in on Winston for this season. They need as large a sample as possible to evaluate him before he can become a free agent in 2020. If he is ineffective, Arians won’t hear the backup quarterback siren song that lured Dirk Koetter to his destruction last season. If Winston misses several games because of an injury, the season is likely over anyway, unless Gabbert is wearing a mask and rips it off to reveal that he is actually Nick Foles. Assuming that the playoffs are out of reach at that point, the Bucs won’t need a quarterback who is good enough to win a couple of games. A premium position in the 2020 draft will be more valuable.

Statistics in this report are from Football Outsiders and Pro Football Reference. Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.