Defining 'franchise quarterback': Is Jameis Winston one?

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston (3) leaves the field following the game. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston (3) leaves the field following the game. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published Sept. 29, 2017

TAMPA — After winning the Heisman Trophy and national title at Florida State, Jameis Winston received what he considers one of the greatest privileges —- an invitation to work the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana.

"Archie, Peyton and Eli. You think about what his family has meant to the quarterback position in the NFL," Winston said. "I just have tremendous respect for Eli.

"The guy is amazing. Winning Super Bowls. He leads his team. He's a Manning. He's born to do it."

The development of such passers may have as much to do with nature as nurture. But after leading the Giants to two Super Bowl wins — and being named MVP in both — Manning can be described as a "franchise quarterback."

It's almost an undefinable term, but one thrown around so much in the NFL that the qualifiers have been lost.

Exactly what is a franchise quarterback? Is it a declaration or destination?

This much is certain: The Bucs face two in the next five days, and more are on the way.

Eli Manning and the New York Giants arrive at Raymond James Stadium for a 4:05 p.m game Sunday. On Thursday night, Tampa Bay will host New England and five-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady, who would have two more championship rings had Eli not slipped them off his finger.

The Bucs will face Aaron Rodgers Dec. 3 in Green Bay and make their annual tour of two games each against the NFC South's franchise quarterbacks — Atlanta's Matt Ryan, Carolina's Cam Newton and New Orleans' Drew Brees — starting Oct. 29 against the Panthers.

Everyone knows a franchise quarterback is the most prized currency in the NFL. There are two kinds of teams in the league - those few that have one, and those looking for one.

There may be as many benchmarks to determining a franchise quarterback as there are hash marks on a football field. Here are just a few:

He gives your team a chance to win every week, regardless of the opponent or venue.

He is durable. Injuries have derailed many careers, but the elite at this position don't miss many — or in the case of Brett Favre any — games. Durability leads to longevity. Brady is in his 18th season. Eli Manning is in his 14th.

He is the face of the franchise.

He is the stable force on a rotating roster in a transient league. The salary cap creates roster instability. The franchise quarterback adjusts to his roster and makes the players better around him.

Consider that only five times in 16 years has a quarterback not named Brady, Manning or Roethlisberger won a Super Bowl.

Those lords of the rings are in a class by themselves and all will be reunited in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But what about the rest?

Lately, it seems as soon as a signal caller is drafted in the first round, he is branded as a franchise quarterback.

With one winning season to his resume, Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in 2015, was assigned that label. But what does it mean?

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"Someone that the team, that the whole organization trusts to run (things)," said Winston, the product of the Bucs' four-decade pursuit of a franchise quarterback, a quest that has seen three of their first-round quarterbacks (Doug Williams, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer) hoisting Super Bowl trophies for other franchises.

"Quarterbacks are kind of like CEOs of their team. ... You're definitely judged off your Super Bowls. Stats are something. But winning to me, statistically, outweighs stats. You win, it don't matter what your stats are. No one cares. You're a winner. I would rather be a winner. I'd rather be considered a winner than a stat junkie.''

Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken sees a franchise quarterback as someone who consistently leads his team to playoffs and "gives you a chance to win the Super Bowl.

"I think that's the ultimate goal," Monken said. "I think you're looking for someone you can build your team around and you're not really thinking in the draft that, hey, we need to address this. We got our guy.

"Now with that being said, you've got to surround him with the right personnel on both sides of the ball. Because I think Drew Brees is a franchise quarterback, and yet, it's not always an end all that you keep moving forward. I think there's a lot of guys like that.

"Matt Ryan is considered a franchise quarterback, but not up until last year do I think he got his due," Monken said. " There were other times where they thought, 'well, I don't know. Matt is really not…' well no, he's a fantastic player. So it's not only you have to have the God-given skill set, you've worked at it, you've also got to have the pieces around you that allow you to not only succeed offensively."

Here's how you know the Bucs have never had a franchise quarterback. They've never signed a player at the position to a long-term extension. Williams went to the USFL amid a contract dispute. Young was traded to the 49ers for a second- and fourth-round pick and had a Hall of Fame career. Vinny Testaverde and Dilfer played out their rookie deals and left. Josh Freeman was released.

"In my opinion, franchise quarterback is tossed around a lot,'' coach Dirk Koetter said. "But, a franchise quarterback is probably considered widely the guy that is the face of your franchise and that most people would say is going to be your quarterback for 10 years plus."

Which brings us to Winston, the only NFL player to pass for 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons and the youngest to throw 50 touchdown passes. He has one winning season and no playoff appearances yet. His overall record is 16-18. So far his career is full of promise but pockmarked with risky throws and turnovers.

Winston says he doesn't get caught up in labels.

"I really just want to play ball,'' Winston said. "If someone says that I'm a franchise quarterback, thank you. And if they don't, as long as I still have the privilege to play in this league, with the great teammates. … I don't really care about the tags. I just care about my team being successful and winning football games.''

At 36, Manning has not been able to pull his team from a 0-3 spiral this season. His offensive line is a sieve. The Giants are last in rushing. Yet, there will be a franchise quarterback under center at RJS today. It just won't be Winston. Not yet, anyway.

"No, because a true franchise quarterback is the reason the team is in position to win every week,'' Young said. "Franchise quarterbacks develop and you know it when you have consistency through the regular season and playoffs. Obviously, my definition doesn't have as many franchise tags as others but certainly Jameis is not there yet. But he has the bones of someone who can get there.''

Contact Rick Stroud at Follow @NFLStroud