The Tampa Bay Buccaneers confirmed Monday what had been long suspected: Jameis Winston will become a free agent.
The Bucs opted to use their franchise tag on pass rusher extraordinaire Shaquil Barrett, which means Winston is out the door and free to negotiate with any team as soon as the NFL’s free agency period opens.
Barrett is certainly a worthwhile franchise tag — he had a league-leading 19.5 sacks last season — but the decision to leave Winston’s future up to the whims of free agency still puts Tampa Bay in a precarious spot. Yes, Winston threw 30 interceptions last season, and his maddening inconsistency has frustrated Tampa Bay coaches and fans alike.
But 33-touchdown, 5,000-passing-yard quarterbacks aren’t generally hanging out looking for work, and that’s what Tampa Bay is potentially seeking walk out the door. Perhaps Tampa Bay believes it can get a deal done with Tom Brady. Perhaps the Bucs just got tired of churning through head coaches, trying to find one that could work with Winston. Perhaps they’re hoping they can get Winston at a discount.
Whatever the rationale, one of the more talented QBs ever to hit the free agent market is now in the wind. So where could Winston end up? There are a range of options, with these teams’ names coming up the most:
Tampa Bay: If the Bucs whiff on Brady, they’ll need a quarterback. And the best quarterback available outside Brady is ... Jameis Winston. It’s an easy, familiar fit, and this may be the exact scenario Tampa Bay envisioned.
Miami: There are multiple scenarios where Winston is brought in as a veteran to challenge/mentor younger QBs, and this would be one. Would the Dolphins use Winston as a bridge to, say, Tua Tagovailoa?
Chicago: Another mentor/challenge possibility, this one for Mitch Trubisky. Could the Bears bring Winston in on a short-term deal to light a fire under Trubisky?
Los Angeles Chargers: Currently lacking at the QB position due to Philip Rivers’ departure. Would a change of scenery help stabilize Winston?
New England Patriots: Not happening. Bill Belichick wouldn’t have patience for one bad interception, much less 30.
Las Vegas Raiders, Indianapolis Colts: Could a couple of QB-hungry teams take a big risk on bringing in Winston?
New Orleans Saints: The Saints’ decision to hang onto Taysom Hill kills any chance of a big contract for Winston.
When he’s at his best, Winston is one of the premier quarterbacks in the league. But when he’s at his worst, he offsets all the good he does. The problem is that both Winstons tend to show up in the same game. Wherever he lands for next season, it’ll be a fascinating story.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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