A month before free agency and two-and-a-half months before the 2015 NFL Draft, Bucs fans should be worried about the direction of the team at the most important position on the field.
Are the Buccaneers about to make a major mistake? Is Tampa Bay destined to draft an immature quarterback?
For a bit of context, let's follow the bouncing ball over the last 15 months in Tampa ...
Two Decembers ago, following the completion of a 4-12 season, the Bucs fired Greg Schiano. Shortly thereafter, Tampa Bay brought in Schiano's polar opposite, Lovie Smith. Players love Lovie, some reportedly loathed Schiano -- so the move had to work, right? Tampa was incredibly aggressive in free agency, signing a bunch of notable players, including quarterback Josh McCown, who was fresh off a career year in Chicago. Lovie immediately gave McCown the starting job without any type of competition against second-year pro Mike Glennon. The Bucs let everyone know -- through their actions and their words -- that 2014 would not be a rebuilding year. This team was expected to be in the thick of the playoff race.
And round and round we go.
In late November of 2013, I argued that the Bucs should stay the course with Glennon, Schiano and GM Mark Dominik in 2014. That, of course, didn't happen. In addition to canning Schiano, Tampa Bay told Dominik to hit the road. And Lovie, for some odd reason, refused to give Glennon a true chance to be the guy. I contacted five NFL team executives for this column, and all five are convinced that the Bucs will trade Glennon this offseason and draft a quarterback with the top pick. I think that course of action would be a big mistake.
On Thursday, McCown came on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," for his first interview since being cut by Tampa Bay. In a wide-ranging conversation, I asked the former Buc about his former teammate, Mr. Glennon. His assessment: "I think Mike can play. I think he has a chance to be really good."
I'm with you, Josh. I think the Bucs have a quarterback in Glennon, and thus, they should spend the No. 1 overall pick on the best defensive player in the draft -- quite possibly USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Can you imagine that guy lining up next to Gerald McCoy? Talk about a disruptive duo ...
But, as mentioned above, Lovie just doesn't seem to believe in Glennon as a long-term solution at the position. So, if the Bucs simply feel like they have to grab a QB at No. 1, I think the choice is crystal clear:
Take Marcus Mariota.
Mariota's off-the-field reputation is sterling. He's exactly the kind of individual you'd want as the face of your franchise, the leader of your team. Of course, on the field, there are questions about how he will adapt to an NFL offense, having spent his college days in Oregon's up-tempo, spread offense. Personally, I think he's going to be great. NFL Media draft guru Mike Mayock likens Mariota to San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick. I think that take is spot on -- and it's an instructive comparison, as Kaepernick is a guy with all the tools to succeed, but a guy who remains a little rough around the edges. More to that point: All five NFL execs that I polled for this column like Mariota, though three of them think he needs the right system and time to develop. That last part is crucial, especially as it pertains to the team holding the No. 1 pick. Time to develop. Well, that's something that the Buccaneers could provide -- so long as they don't trade Glennon. Draft Mariota and let him marinate while giving Glennon the ball. The former third-round pick isn't chopped liver. In 19 NFL games, he's thrown 29 touchdown passes against 15 picks. He has 12 multi-TD games. Want a guy to form a bridge to Mariota? You could do a lot worse than Glennon. And I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Glennon were to enhance his trade value, potentially drawing more assets for Tampa Bay down the line, when the Bucs are ready to hand the offense to Mariota.
OK, enough beating around the bush -- let's address the elephant in this war room: Jameis Winston. I just don't think the Florida State product is right for Tampa Bay. The Bucs can't take a chance on a quarterback who lacks maturity. Remember first-round pick Josh Freeman? Yeah, the Buccaneers grew tired of his act ... as did the rest of the NFL, apparently -- Freeman's been out of the league since being cut by the New York Giants last May. Banking on another mercurial talent at quarterback could set the two-win Bucs back even more.
Please understand, I acknowledge the sheer brilliance that Winston displayed on the field in the clutch at Florida State. He won a lot of close games and made huge throws when it mattered. Winston's game translates to the NFL. His act does not.
Winston was accused of sexual assault by a Florida State student on Dec. 7, 2012. A year later, it was announced that no charges would be filed. This past December, he was cleared of potentially violating Florida State's student conduct code. Last April, the New York Times published an investigative piece claiming flaws by both law enforcement and FSU officials in the handling of the case.
The entire situation, though no charges were filed, remains unsettling. And while this was definitely the most concerning incident of Winston's college career, it wasn't the only time the quarterback found himself in the limelight for the wrong reasons.
Is this the kind of behavior you want to see from a potential No. 1 overall pick? Can you hand him the keys to your franchise?
I don't believe so.
Tampa isn't right for Winston. Winston isn't right for Tampa.
This franchise has experienced enough detrimental zaniness in the past few years. By selecting Jameis, the Bucs would risk adding more fuel to the fire.
And the cycle would continue.