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Let the history show, Jameis Winston is not the first QB quandary in Tampa Bay

John Romano | Revisiting stories and fallout from previous generations of divorces between the Bucs and their franchise quarterbacks.
Published Mar. 11, 2020
Updated Mar. 11, 2020

TAMPA — Settle down for a minute. The old folks have some stories to tell.

All this business about quarterbacks and contracts? The angst over Jameis Winston staying or leaving?

Ain’t nothing new around here. Before Winston came along, the Bucs had drafted four quarterbacks in the first round and none of them ever lasted more than six seasons. Throw in Steve Young, who was the first pick in a supplemental draft, and the futility only intensifies.

Do you know who is Tampa Bay’s leader in all-time victories at quarterback? Trent Dilfer. He went 38-38 over parts of six seasons. To put that in perspective, Tom Brady is 30-11. And that’s just in the playoffs.

So maybe you’re hoping the Bucs say goodbye to Winston this week. Or maybe you’re praying they sign him to a long-term deal. Either way, it might do you some good to learn from Tampa Bay’s previous mistakes with so-called franchise quarterbacks.

Doug Williams

In this July 1983 file photo, a group of Doug Williams supporters picket in front of One Buc Place in Tampa. Williams did not re-sign with the Bucs.
In this July 1983 file photo, a group of Doug Williams supporters picket in front of One Buc Place in Tampa. Williams did not re-sign with the Bucs. [ WALLES, JOE | St. Petersburg Times ]

Years: 1978-82

Starting record: 33-33

How he left: Jumped to the USFL

Reason he left: It’s tempting to say the Bucs were either stupid or cheap. I prefer to believe they were both. Williams was not a great quarterback, but he led Tampa Bay to the playoffs in three of his first five seasons. When it came time for a raise, owner Hugh Culverhouse played hardball. When Williams did not accept a five-year, $2.3 million offer (he was looking for $3 million) the Bucs traded a first-round draft pick for Bengals backup quarterback Jack Thompson. Weeks later, Williams signed with the Oklahoma Outlaws.

Worst prediction: “We’ve got two good quarterbacks (Thompson and Jerry Golsteyn) and I think we’ll be a good team,’’ left tackle Dave Reavis said.

Best prediction: “I hope him not being here won’t hurt the team as much as I think it might,’’ receiver Kevin House said.

Fallout: Williams’ last game with Tampa Bay was a playoff loss in Dallas. After he left, the Bucs would go 15 years before reaching the playoffs again. Williams’ career in the USFL was short-lived but he returned to the NFL and won a Super Bowl in Washington.

Steve Young

Steve Young was a supplemental draft pick of the Bucs in 1984 and started 19 games for Tampa Bay in 1985 and 1986 before he was traded to the 49ers for a pair of draft picks in 1987.
Steve Young was a supplemental draft pick of the Bucs in 1984 and started 19 games for Tampa Bay in 1985 and 1986 before he was traded to the 49ers for a pair of draft picks in 1987. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
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Years: 1985-86

Starting record: 3-16

How he left: Traded to the 49ers for second- and fourth-round picks and cash.

Reason he left: The Bucs had the No. 1 pick in the draft and, under the direction of new coach Ray Perkins, agreed to terms with quarterback Vinny Testaverde weeks ahead of time.

Worst rationale: “I’ve got a lot of respect for Steve Young. Not that he’s a great quarterback because he hasn’t proved that yet. But I think he’s a great person,’’ Perkins said after trading a future Hall of Famer.

Best prediction: “Laugh it up, coach (Bill Walsh) … you just closed the deal of the century,’’ Times columnist Tom Zucco.

Fallout: By the end of the 1990 season, Perkins was fired and was never again a head coach in the NFL. Four years later, Young won a Super Bowl as the 49ers quarterback and 11 years later entered the Hall of Fame.

Epilogue: Remember the contract dispute Culverhouse had with Doug Williams? Well two years after refusing Williams’ contract demand of five years for $3 million (and wasting a No. 1 pick on Jack Thompson), the Bucs gave Young a six-year, $4.9-million deal. And two years after that, gave Testaverde a six-year, $8.2-million deal.

Vinny Testaverde

Years: 1987-1992

Starting record: 24-48

How he left: Signed with the Browns as a free agent to be Bernie Kosar’s backup.

Reason he left: When his contract expired at the end of 1992, Testaverde said the Bucs talked to him about a four-year deal. Months later, the offer was a two-year deal. And then, without telling Testaverde, the Bucs signed Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O’Donnell to an offer sheet. Testaverde left a week later.

Worst prediction: “There’s no way we come out of this in trouble at quarterback,’’ coach Sam Wyche said.

Best prediction: “Yesterday I was the backup, today I’m the starter and tomorrow I’m probably released,’’ said quarterback Steve DeBerg, whose prediction wasn’t far off. He started the season opener for the Bucs and was later released.

Fallout: Despite Wyche’s boast, the Bucs did end up in trouble at quarterback. The Steelers matched O’Donnell’s offer sheet, leaving the Bucs with the 39-year-old DeBerg as their No. 1 quarterback ahead of Craig Erickson who had never started an NFL game. The Bucs talked about pursuing free-agent quarterbacks Steve Bono and Steve Beuerlein but ended up signing Mark Vlasic to a two-year deal. Vlasic never threw a regular-season pass for Tampa Bay.

Epilogue: At the time he went to Cleveland, Testaverde said no other team was offering him a starting role. And yet he went on to play another 15 years in the NFL, taking the Browns and the Jets to the playoffs and throwing for more than 46,000 yards.

Trent Dilfer

Years: 1994-1999

Starting record: 38-38

How he left: Signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Ravens as a free agent to be Tony Banks’ backup.

Reason he left: Dilfer was benched in favor of Eric Zeier after a 3-3 start in 1999, returned a week later after Zeier got hurt and then broke his collarbone. Backup quarterback Shaun King went 5-2 and took the Bucs to the NFC Championship Game. The Bucs declined to activate the final two years of Dilfer’s contract, which included a $4.6 million bonus.

Best prediction: “Few quarterbacks make it through the season healthy, which makes it imperative that you have a quality guy who can come off the bench,’’ Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. As it turns out, Banks did not get hurt in 2000 but was benched in favor of Dilfer, who went 7-1 as a starter and took Baltimore to a Super Bowl victory over the Giants.

Second-best prediction: “Maybe Dilfer becomes the latest in the Doug Williams-Steve Young-Vinny Testaverde conga line of quarterbacks who found themselves only after they got lost from One Buc Place,’’ Times columnist Gary Shelton.

Fallout: King never quite lived up to the promise of his rookie season in Tampa Bay. The Bucs went 10-6 in 2000 but lost in the first round of the playoffs. King lost his starting job to free-agent Brad Johnson in 2001, and Dungy lost his job at the end of that season.

Epilogue: Dilfer may have won a Super Bowl in Baltimore, but the Bucs won a Super Bowl themselves three years after he left town. It’s the closest thing to a happy ending the Bucs have ever had after getting rid of a franchise quarterback.

Josh Freeman

Years: 2009-2013

Starting record: 24-35

How he left: Released by the Bucs two weeks after losing his starting job to Mike Glennon.

Reason he left: The No. 17 overall pick in the 2009 draft, Freeman’s career got off to a promising start but quickly went downhill. He eventually acknowledged he was enrolled in the league’s substance abuse program and he was fined repeatedly by the Bucs for being tardy or missing appointments.

Worst prediction: “The one thing I’ve been able to do is go into very, very bad situations and turn them around. This place needs Greg Schiano. And we’re going to win,’’ Schiano said hours before Freeman’s release. Schiano was fired a couple of months later.

Fallout: Considering he only started two more games the rest of his NFL career, releasing Freeman was not the wrong move. The mistake was drafting him.

Epilogue: The Freeman debacle played a role in the Bucs going 2-14 in 2014 and thus earning the No. 1 pick which they used for — wait for it — quarterback Jameis Winston.

John Romano can be reached at Follow @romano_tbtimes.