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Bucs-Giants: What if Jameis Winston is Vinny Testaverde?

Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston (3) attempts a pass in the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. The Vikings won, 34-17. (Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)
Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston (3) attempts a pass in the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. The Vikings won, 34-17. (Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)
Published Sep. 30, 2017

TAMPA — Is Jameis Winston a franchise quarterback?

The answer is easy: No.

Why not? Well, that answer is not so easy.

For starters, we need to settle on what it means to be a franchise quarterback.

For some, a franchise quarterback is a quarterback you plan on starting for the foreseeable future and have no plan to replace. By that limited definition, Winston qualifies as Tampa Bay's franchise quarterback.

But most people consider a franchise quarterback to be … well, uh, you see, uh. Put this way: I can't define it, but I know one when I see one.

And Winston isn't one. Not now.

He hasn't won enough. He hasn't done enough. He hasn't shown enough.

He needs to get to the playoffs. He needs to win in the playoffs. He needs to engineer more fourth-quarter comebacks. He needs to produce a few miracles. He needs to single-handedly win games and divisions and conferences.

He needs to do more.

Maybe that day will come and we can put him on the franchise quarterback list, which includes the likes of Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. But he's not there yet.

"He needs to take that next step,'' CBS analyst Tony Romo said during Thursday Night Football.

It's way too early to declare that Winston will never be that guy. He's only 23, a baby in this league. Today he makes his 35th NFL start.

He has shown flashes of greatness. He appears to have the emotional, physical and mental tools required for success in the NFL. The Bucs have every confidence in him. More than half the teams in the league would take Winston as their starter right now.

Then again, as Romo pointed out, this is about the time when a young quarterback starts to take the next step toward greatness.

That means doing the things great quarterbacks do: comebacks, playoffs, miracles. It also means Winston needs to stop doing the dumb things young quarterbacks do: turning the ball over and turning victories into losses.

And as much as the Bucs might believe he is the one they've been looking for since pretty much forever, the franchise's history is full of guys who were supposed to be franchise quarterbacks and never panned out. At least not here.

Doug Williams had his greatest success in Washington. Trent Dilfer never worked out. Steve Young was a franchise quarterback, but that franchise was San Francisco. For a split second, it looked as if Josh Freeman might be elite. Brad Johnson won a Super Bowl, but was he really a franchise QB?

But there's one quarterback who was supposed to rescue the Bucs, just like Winston is.

Vinny.

Remember Vinny Testaverde? What if Jameis is Vinny?

That's not necessarily a knock. Just like Winston, Testaverde was a Heisman Trophy winner. Just like Winston, he was the first overall pick of his draft.

And he had a heck of an NFL career, playing 21 seasons, though spreading that out over six teams. He's still the Bucs' all-time passing leader. Looking back, Testaverde was a good NFL quarterback. Plenty would take his career in a heartbeat.

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But he was never a franchise quarterback. He never delivered what a franchise quarterback is supposed to deliver, most notably a championship.

Winston is surrounded by better talent and coaching than Vinny ever had in Tampa Bay. And my gut tells me that Winston is better than Vinny.

But the time has come when the Bucs need to see more out of Winston. He needs to make major strides toward becoming what they need him to become: a franchise quarterback.

Because he's not there yet.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones