TAMPA — Jameis Winston’s eyesight has improved but the Bucs have no more clarity on their quarterback situation.
Coach Bruce Arians remains undecided about whether to keep Winston or move on from the Bucs’ former No. 1 draft pick.
In fact, Arians said Thursday that the Bucs probably won’t know the direction they will go at that position until the start of the three-day legal free-agent tampering period March 16-18.
“Really nothing has changed,” Arians said. “What’s Door No. 2? You know? Can we make the one we have better? All those things you go through right now.”
The deadline for NFL teams to designate a franchise or transition player is 4 p.m. March 10, nearly a week prior to the tampering period. If the Bucs use a franchise player tag on Winston, they would have to guarantee him about $27-million on a one-year deal for 2020.
Arians, who spoke Thursday at an NFL coaches academy in Tampa, said the Bucs have been just going through different scenarios based on which quarterbacks may become free agents or made available for trade.
But right now, Arians said, it’s hard to make a decision not knowing which quarterbacks actually make it to free agency.
The Saints’ Drew Brees and the Patriots’ Tom Brady are scheduled to become free agents in March. The Chargers have already announced they will not re-sign Philip Rivers.
Said Arians: "You’re just sitting there waiting to see is there someone available? ... Is he a better option?
“And then, that’s the problem, you get about three days to decide. The legal tampering period. Is somebody going to get let go? What’s the trade values? It’s really monotonous right now because you don’t have any answers.”
Arians said the Bucs have been preparing for various scenarios, which include retaining Winston for at least the 2020 season.
“I don’t think there’s that many guys involved,” Arians said. “Until the (franchise/transition player) tags come out and everything else, I’d be shocked if it’s two (free agent quarterbacks).”
Winston earned nearly $21 million last season playing under the club’s fifth-year option and led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards while re-setting his club record with 33 touchdown passes. But he also threw 30 interceptions and lost five fumbles, enabling opponents to score 112 points off his turnovers.
Arians declined to comment on the recent revelation that Winston underwent Lasik surgery to repair his near-sightedness.
“I don’t talk about guys’ personal stuff,” Arians said.
One thing Arians is certain of is his desire to retain as many defensive starters as possible, beginning with linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who led the NFL with 19.5 sacks and will become a free agent.
The list of 19 players from 2019 team who could become unrestricted free agents includes linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and linebacker Carl Nassib.
“To me, it’s the whole defense,” Arians said. “We can’t get them all, but we’ve got to get (most of them). This team right now, the last eight games our defensive statistics ... those young guys grew. We can’t let that go. I don’t care who is playing quarterback, we’re going to have a defense.”
Does it matter who plays quarterback if the Bucs don’t retain a good defense?
“No. We’re back to square one,” Arians said.