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Good news for those looking to peruse the NFL‘s free-agent quarterback market: the league’s reigning passing yardage leader is on track to become an unrestricted free agent March 18.
Bad news for those looking to peruse the NFL’s free-agent quarterback market: that same passer, Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, also led the league with 30 interceptions.
Winston, who turned 26 in January, remains an enticing young player. But because he’s turned the ball over more than anyone since coming into the league as the No. 1 pick in 2015, some teams might stay away.
Regardless, he’ll find work somewhere in 2020, and he might earn a starting job in the right spot. Per Peter King of NBC Sports, Winston is “likely” to leave the Bucs in free agency.
Here are the top five potential destinations for the enigmatic Florida State product.
5. Los Angeles Chargers
Safe to say that if Winston signs with the Chargers, he’ll be the starter.
Yes, they’ve talked up Tyrod Taylor in L.A., but that’s probably the team setting low expectations. Winston would be much more expensive and has a significantly higher ceiling than the 30-year-old Taylor.
With the Bolts, Winston could start from scratch on the opposite coast in a new stadium. He’d be the face of a franchise that will have pressure in its new circumstances but has a small fanbase anyway. Most importantly, he’d have a lot of toys to work with.
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The Chargers offense features two reigning 1,000-yard receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, as many as three talented running backs (Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson) and a top-notch tight end in Hunter Henry, if they re-sign him. The offensive line requires some work, but they have plenty of draft capital and over $50 million in salary-cap space, per Spotrac. Plus, the defense is loaded with talent.
If Winston tanks for the Bolts, it’ll be just another chapter in the sorry recent history of that franchise. But he does share some traits with departed Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, and it’d be damn fun to see a marriage between these two talented punchlines.
4. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins might no longer be fully tanking, but they’ll admit the rebuild continues. So long as that’s the case, losses are about as good as wins.
That’s why Winston would be an intriguing bridge quarterback in South Florida. He’d at least offer more upside than 37-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick, and he’s a hell of a lot more accomplished than utter disappointment Josh Rosen.
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The Dolphins could abstain from drafting a quarterback early in 2020, opt to tank for Trevor Lawrence in 2021 or select Tua Tagovailoa and redshirt the Alabama star as he bounces back from a significant hip injury.
Under any of those circumstances, Winston would be a tremendous option. While the Dolphins lack talent pretty much everywhere, they have so many draft picks and so much cap space that they’ll likely be able to offer Winston a decent amount of support in the fall.
He’d be in a low-pressure, low-profile starting spot with a chance to prove himself to either Miami or somebody else ahead of the 2021 offseason.
3. Tennessee Titans
The Titans would be an especially enticing employer for Winston if they were to lose 2019 passer rating leader Ryan Tannehill in free agency. But even if Tannehill returns, Winston could find himself in a prime backup spot.
Tannehill suddenly broke out at the age of 31, but was his 2019 success a fluke? Considering he was never remotely as effective during his seven inconsistent, injury-impacted years in Miami, that’s possible.
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If Tannehill gets hit with the franchise tag and tanks with Winston waiting in the wings, Jameis would jump into an offense featuring one of the most talented lines in football, a promising young receiving corps and—assuming they don’t let him walk—the reigning rushing champion in Derrick Henry.
The Titans have quietly put together four consecutive winning seasons (all 9-7), and head coach Mike Vrabel made some obvious progress by taking the team on a deep playoff run in his sophomore campaign. This is a top-notch spot to play right now, and Winston would have a chance to flourish in that setting.
2. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts may or may not be ready to give up on incumbent starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett, but Indy would be a good destination for Winston regardless.
Colts owner Jim Irsay said recently that “all options are on the table” at quarterback, according to George Bremer of CNHI Sports Indiana. It probably means that even if the team gives Brissett another shot after a 2019 campaign that lacked difference-making plays, the leash will be short.
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Depending on where he’s standing when the game of musical chairs stops, Winston could be left looking for a backup job. But with his resume, he’d be one of the best backups available, and you’d have to think that would appeal to anybody with a quarterback running out of rope.
In Indianapolis, Winston could take his time learning the offense and getting acclimated to mastermind head coach Frank Reich’s scheme. And because Brissett has practically no ability to stretch the field, Winston would likely eventually get a shot.
That shot would come behind one of the game’s best offensive lines for a team that is built to contend.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The best-case scenario for Winston would be the status quo in Tampa, where he can continue to learn from one of the most brilliant offensive minds in the game, where he can continue to establish chemistry with one of the best one-two receiver duos around, and where he’ll have his best chance to feel comfort and familiarity.
It’s unclear whether the Buccaneers want him back. There have been plenty of mixed signals just in the last fortnight. But another year under the tutelage of quarterback whisperer Bruce Arians with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin serving as his top weapons would present Winston with his best opportunity to finally take off.
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Plus, the Bucs should be ready to take off themselves. Evans and Godwin were two of just four qualified players to average more than 85 receiving yards per game last season, and they’re 26 and 24, respectively. According to Spotrac, nobody in the NFC is projected to enter the offseason with more salary-cap space than the Bucs, who might even get a hometown discount from reigning sack king Shaquil Barrett. The offensive line is stable and talented, Ronald Jones II has begun to emerge at running back, and they should add talent elsewhere.
Tampa Bay went 5-3 in the second half of the 2019 campaign. The Bucs lost just one game by more than one score after Week 6 and just two in regulation after Week 8. They’re building something, and Winston should be wishing he can continue to be a part of it.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter. Or don’t. It’s entirely your choice.