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Analysis: Make a fresh start in NFL, Jameis, show up for the draft

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston warms up before the national championship game against Auburn in January 2014. Winston plans to watch the NFL draft at home with his family instead of attending in Chicago. [Associated Press]
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston warms up before the national championship game against Auburn in January 2014. Winston plans to watch the NFL draft at home with his family instead of attending in Chicago. [Associated Press]
Published Mar. 24, 2015

PHOENIX — Jameis Winston wants to stay home with his family rather than attend the NFL draft in Chicago.

He's made worse decisions.

It's not like he put out Chief Osceola's flaming spear with a kitten or went Bo Jackson and told the Bucs he's playing baseball if they pick him. No crabs were even harmed in this announcement.

Winston just wants to celebrate his entrance into the NFL with some of the people who are the most responsible for it.

"I don't see what the big deal is," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said Monday during a break at the NFL owners' meeting. "(Browns tackle) Joe Thomas went fishing (on draft day) and he was a pretty good player."

For the record, Thomas went third in 2007 to the Browns. It's been 21 years since a player selected first overall did not attend the draft — the Bengals' ''Big Daddy'' Dan Wilkinson stayed away in 1994.

"Yeah, but who's to say Jameis is first overall?' Licht said. "If a player wants to be with his family, that's fine. It's not going to affect our decision whether or not to take a player based on where he is draft day."

So why does something that sounds right to Winston feel so wrong?

Winston informed Roger Goodell of his draft day plans during a meeting with the commissioner in New York several weeks ago.

"It was a meeting at his request," Goodell told Sports Illustrated. "We had several people affiliated with our office that met with him. It was a good opportunity for us to make sure that he understood the expectations that we have of him as a player in the NFL, for him to ask questions of us, and to make sure that there is clarity about the importance of the personal conduct policy and the expectations we have of everyone —whether you're a player, whether you're a first-round draft choice, or whether you're the commissioner. We have a responsibility to live up to them."

Since then, there have been reports that Goodell, or maybe his staff on Park Avenue, encouraged Winston, who was accused of rape but never charged, to, you know, stay away from the NFL's biggest night this side of the Super Bowl.

And therein lies one of the problems.

Winston's character has come under enough scrutiny without giving detractors more reason to look for grassy knolls. It may appear as though he's hiding from the bright, accusatory lights that will shine down in Chi-town.

If family is a concern, he can bring them along to Chicago. The NFL once accommodated an entourage of more than 20 people for one draft invitee. Just a guess, but the last 20 No. 1 picks loved their families, too.

Look at this as an opportunity for Winston to tighten his circle, which probably needs to happen before he gets to Tampa.

One network executive said Monday he believes Winston will change his mind. Moving the draft out of New York to Chicago is a big deal for the NFL, and Chris Berman throwing it to Sweet Home Alabama isn't the how they want to kick it off.

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You know the best way to start fresh in the NFL? Put on a suit, walk across the stage, have your picture taken with the character commish, put on a Bucs hat, hold the jersey and flash that $25 million smile. Sitting on a couch in FSU warmups with your girlfriend doesn't leave the same impression.

What's more, Bucs fans waited 28 years for this. They suffered through 2-14 for this.

"We have more important things to worry about than where a player is at on draft day," Licht said. "We know where he's at. I don't think anybody is hiding."

But it sure feels like a quarterback sneak.

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