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Why it’s open season on Jameis Winston and all available quarterbacks

The latest to pile on is former Jets and Dolphins general manager Mike Tannenbaum. Here’s what could be behind the criticism.
An ESPN analyst's recent criticism of Jameis Winston was based on what he saw as excessive delay-of-game penalties. [MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times]
An ESPN analyst's recent criticism of Jameis Winston was based on what he saw as excessive delay-of-game penalties. [MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times]

TAMPA ― It’s time to throw some flags for roughing the quarterback.

The first one is aimed at you, Mike Tannenbaum.

The former Jets and Dolphins general manager was on ESPN the other day to weigh in on the $27 million (per year) question: should the Bucs want Jameis Winston as their starter going forward?

Winston is an easy target for cynicism. He’s provided a cache of ammunition.

You can choose from 30 interceptions, five lost fumbles, 112 points scored off those turnovers, one winning season and no playoff appearances in five years.

Related: Scenarios that could decide Jameis Winston’s future in Tampa Bay

You can make jokes about his decision to have LASIK surgery, an attempt to at least rid himself of the derisive nickname Jameis Squintston.

Instead, O’ Tannenbaum went out on a limb. He adroitly picked the smallest nit he could find on Winston’s resume.

“The job description of a starting quarterback is to give your team a chance to win,’’ Tannenbaum said. “And here’s a statistic that’s really meaningful. Since he’s been in the league, guys, they have been in the top five in delay-of-game penalties. So we can talk about all the turnovers, which he’s led the league in the past five years, but the delay of game is a lack of awareness and he has not developed where he needs to be.’’

Wait. What? Delay-of-game penalties?

Ah ha! It’s the completely overlooked penalty most post-game press conferences (except the one where Matt Gay missed a game-winning field goal against the Giants because Bruce Arians said he wanted to make the kick easier from five yards back).

Since delay-of-game penalties have as much to do with the play-caller and teammates who fail to line up correctly as it does the quarterback, this was a reach.

But what Tannenbaum is participating in is the NFL’s annual smear-the-free-agent-quarterback campaign.

Tom Brady is too old. Drew Brees’ arm is too weak. Teddy Bridgewater is too much of a game manager. Phillip Rivers has too many kids. All of this is an attempt to drive the price down on one quarterback or higher on another. Tannebaum has been a contract negotiator and an agent. He knows how the game is played.

As a matter of fact, the Bucs had six delay-of-game penalties last season for a loss of 22 yards, which ranked ninth in the NFL. Do you know who was first? Green Bay, which had 10 delays for 50 yards in 18 games.

So just how are the Packers supposed to win with the lack of awareness displayed by Aaron Rodgers?

The same thing happens this time every year in the draft. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is the presumptive No. 1 overall pick. He may pull an Eli Manning and make it clear he doesn’t want to be drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, who own the first selection. Burrow has talked about having “leverage.” He is trained by Jordan Palmer, who is the brother of Carson Palmer, who quit football at one point rather than continue as the Bengals quarterback.

Sure feels like some team, maybe the Dolphins, would like Burrow to turn his back on the Queen City.

Next week, you will hear extremely good or extremely bad medical reports on Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is recovering from hip surgery. Don’t be surprised if teams that want Tagovailoa to fall in the draft become “sources” behind reports of doom and gloom confidential medical evaluations next week at the NFL Scouting Combine. Teams that want Burrow to drop may pump up the Crimson Tide quarterback as the most NFL-ready passer and the true No. 1.

For now, the game is being played in free agency. A few days ago, there was a report that Bridgewater could fetch $30 million per year. You can bet that didn’t come from anyone associated with Bridgewater. More likely, it came from an agent representing another prospective free-agent quarterback wanting to run the value up for his client. If Bridgewater is worth $30 million, what’s my guy worth?

As for Tannenbaum, he recovered regarding Winston with a more reasonable argument.

“There is a split because the front office drafted him and they see a lot of good things he can do,’’ Tannenbaum said. “But that sustained greatness, and Greeny (Get Up host Mike Greenberg), you’ve watched the Jets and Patriots for years and Tom Brady never loses a game, he always puts his team in position to have a chance. Jameis Winston keeps the other team in the game as you mentioned. You can’t have sustainable success when you have a quarterback who does that.’’

He also got push back from ESPN NFL analyst Emmanuel Acho, the brother of Bucs linebacker Sam Acho. If he were the Bucs, Acho would take Winston back. But if he were Winston, he would want to move on.

“I do, because Mike T, you said the job of a quarterback is to give the team a chance to win,’’ Acho said. “He does that. He just also gives his team a chance to lose. If you’re Jameis, you have to understand, and more importantly, if you’re Bruce Arians, football players are some of the most physically imposing and demonstratively brute force, type of men that exist, but their egos are incredibly fragile.

Related: Is Georgia’s Jake Fromm an option for Bucs on the second day of the draft?

"Bruce Arians is killing Jameis with his quotes when he says, well there has to be a better option out there. When he said, ‘Man, if I can win with Jameis, I can win with someone else’ So at this point, although I like Jameis, I don’t know if you can bring him back.’’

It’s perfectly reasonable for the Bucs to want to move on from Winston. Arians can say he gave it his best shot. A sixth year, especially at $27 million, may not dramatically improve Winston’s inability to protect the football.

On the other hand, Brees has returned to the Saints, Brady may remain with the Patriots, Cam Newton could stick with the Panthers, Rivers may prefer to play for the Colts. Winston is only 26, led the NFL in passing with 5,109 yards and reset the club record with 30 touchdowns. Is there a better option for 2020?

The deadline to designate franchise and transition players is March 10. The three-day legal tampering period to reach agreements with free agents is March 16-18.

But the silly season has already started. You can set a play clock to it.

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