TAMPA — Jameis Winston wants to get paid. Nothing wrong with that.
His rookie contract is up. He is only 26 with five years as a starting quarterback. This season, he led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards and threw 33 touchdowns.
We’ll skip the 30 interceptions for now.
But Winston and his representatives believe now is the time for him to secure generational wealth. That’s cool. Get your chicken, as Marshawn Lynch would say.
The problem may be that Winston is asking for too much. Reported estimates have been in the $30 million per year range, fully guaranteed.
Crazy, you say? The Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, now 31, was guaranteed $84 million on a three-year contract in 2018. His playoff record in Washington and Minnesota is 1-2.
Winston is 28-42-0 with one winning season and has never sniffed the playoffs. The Bucs need to determine whether they want Winston to be their quarterback in 2020 or beyond.
If the answer is yes, they then need to decide if they want to apply the franchise tag of about $27 million on a one-year deal or dive headfirst into a multi-year pact approaching at least the same range as the top five highest-paid quarterbacks in the league.
If the answer is no, well, money may only be part of the story.
What would make the Bucs confident enough in Winston to sign him to anything longer than a one-year franchise player tender?
Sure, the Bucs can afford to do more with an estimated $94 million under the projected 2020 salary cap.
But how much better would the Bucs be if they are unable to also lock up free agents like NFL sack leader Shaquil Barrett, outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Karl Nassib or defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh?
Coach Bruce Arians has said keeping the defense together is a priority. So is extending the contract of receiver Chris Godwin.
So where does that leave Winston?
It only takes one team to fall in love with you as a free agent and big money will follow. But how many teams would really be in the market for a quarterback like Winston if he were to make it to free agency?
You can bet the Bucs have done that calculus.
The Panthers can move on from oft-injured quarterback Cam Newton with only absorbing $2 million on their the salary cap. Winston is 4-5 in his career against Carolina, including the six-turnover debacle in London.
New owner David Tepper has a new coach in Matt Rhule, who also could address the position with the No. 7 overall pick in the draft. The Panthers also have Kyle Allen, who could be a bridge quarterback to a young, developing draft pick. They could have about $44 million under the salary cap by cutting Newton.
The Chargers could move on from Phillip Rivers after 16 seasons as he’s set to become a free agent. They own the No. 6 overall pick and could use Tyrod Taylor as a bridge to a young quarterback. Rivers threw 20 interceptions this season, second only to Winston.
The Dolphins pick fifth and could be in a good position to get the second-best quarterback in the draft after LSU’s Joe Burrow. There’s no guarantee of that, however, and veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick nor Josh Rosen appear to be the long-term answer in Miami. Like the Bucs, they have $94 million in salary cap room.
The Bears? They seem committed to Mitch Trubisky for another year. The Patriots? Maybe if Tom Brady leaves, but Bill Belichick doesn’t tolerate turnovers.
There may be a few more, but that’s not a lot of teams and all of them have other options.
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder,
That’s why when the NFL Draft Network reported Winston wanted $30 million per year and would be “extremely unhappy’’ with a franchise player tag, nobody in the camp of the Bucs quarterback disputed it.
The Bucs have yet to begin any dialogue on a new contract for Winston with his agent, Joel Segal. Nor have his representatives refuted the salary demand when given the chance.
Before the Bucs can do anything, they have to determine if there is a better — and not just cheaper ― option at quarterback.
A lot of quarterbacks could have success throwing to Mike Evans, Godwin, Breshad Perriman, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.
How many of them would throw 30 interceptions, including six returned for touchdowns and four on the first pass attempt of the game?
Remove the emotional baggage from the situation and it begins to look more like an accounting problem.
Want Jameis Winston back for 2020? If so, for how long and at what price?
It seems as if the game of chicken has begun.