Betting men: Jameis Winston presents latest, and largest, gamble by Bucs

BY foxsports • May 1, 2015

TAMPA, Fla.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have earned this situation.

They have earned the questions that come with Jameis Winston. They have earned all the wonder about if he'll remain a good enough guy off the field so he doesn't damage the significant potential he will carry into a huddle during his rookie season.

There's some irony in the fact that the Bucs will rely on a gamble to try to eliminate the memory of past failed ones. After all, they wouldn't be in this position if Josh Freeman had worked out. They wouldn't be in this position if Mike Glennon had grabbed the starting job and made it his own. They wouldn't be in this position if Josh McCown had been less of a disaster in his lone season with them, a 2-14 brush fire that prepared the foundation for a new era to grow this year.

All those misfires helped pave the path for Winston's presence and all it represents: Tantalizing possibility but also fear involved that he'll screw the whole thing up. In that way, the former Florida State star remains an enigma.

Are you 100 percent confident that Winston will do all that's necessary to be a no-drama star, one who delivers the Bucs to relevance without toting extra baggage gained as a pro?

How can you be?

"I know the type of person that I am, and I know what I hold myself to," Winston said. "And I've been under the microscope for the past two years like no one else, so I'm kind of used to that. So I'm just ready to play football, man. I'm ready to play football. I'm ready to get involved in the community, ready to just do positive things and move forward."

Sure, people move forward in their own ways. Winston will mature, but it's impossible to whitewash his past. All the transgressions from Tallahassee will follow him, and it's his duty to use lessons gained from them to make him the best possible public face for the Bucs that he can be. This goes beyond a silly picture with crab legs on draft night.

Coach Lovie Smith was correct in that Winston deserves a chance to prove himself. It's only fair, because none of us would like our legacies to be defined by actions done at 19, 20 and 21 years old. People become more refined over time.

Still, Winston better prove the doubters wrong. Otherwise, the consequences will be far-reaching for him and the men who selected him, everyone involved destined to start anew elsewhere if the marriage fails.

That's true for any high draft pick, of course, but Winston stands as a different case. There will be plenty of critical voices heard in the coming weeks, months and years as the Bucs and their new quarterback try to make this work. That's the Bucs' reality with Winston. That's what he must deal with as he enters this different phase of his life.

The former Heisman Trophy winner no longer lives within his Tallahassee cocoon. Fresh temptations await him.

"I'm pretty confident," Smith said when asked about his confidence that Winston will stay out of trouble. "We wouldn't have made the selection if we didn't feel very good about that. ... There are no guarantees in life or any of this, but I feel very comfortable, and I have had that comfort from the first time I talked, really. I think if you go back and look at my comments all along the way it was just confirmed every time I had a chance to talk with him, which was quite a few times."

In a perfect world, these doubts wouldn't exist at all. In a perfect world, the No. 1 overall pick would be a no-controversy figure who galvanizes a frustrated fan base.

Sure, Winston stands as a symbol of hope for many fans. Glance at the photos snapped Thursday at Raymond James Stadium to witness how quickly a single player, one just 21 years old, can make grown men celebrate like children.

Still, there's a faction that will cringe at the sight of him in a Bucs jersey. Those feelings are understood. Perhaps Winston will never do enough to win over those people, but he must never do more to create greater numbers like them.

He's a professional now. Youth's ignorance will no longer serve as an acceptable excuse.

Fair or not, that will be Winston's reality, too.

Fair or not, that will be the Bucs' existence with him.

"The process that we went through, there was just a lot of work, not just for Jameis, but for this entire draft, which I've said could be the biggest draft in the history of this franchise," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. "And Jameis has a lot to do with that. We're beyond excited."

Whatever the outcome of this experiment, Winston's introduction has the feeling of the start of something big. It has the feeling of something that will include no middle ground, no neutral legacy. There's no moment comparable to this one in recent memory involving Tampa Bay sports, except perhaps Wil Myers' hyped promotion to the Rays from Triple-A Durham in June 2013. This is rare.

There's excitement involved with long-awaited coronations, but as Myers' short stint with the Rays proved, promise comes with no guarantee that the production will be worthy of the early ticker tape parade. A combination of better self-awareness by Winston and a healthy environment created by the Bucs may make this partnership a lasting one. Then again, it may not.

That's why, at heart, this entire thing is a gamble, with each party owning a huge stake in the other. That's why this entire thing will be fascinating to watch on and off the field.

For now, though, it's fair to let imaginations run wild. For now, it's fair to let the best-case scenarios serve as mental cotton candy. Mostly everything about these opening hours seems sweet, but there will always be wonder if the situation will turn sour.

"Actions speak louder than words," Winston said.

But for better or worse, the Bucs and Winston have earned each other, their marriage one of consequence and necessity. There's nothing 100-percent sure about what's to come, though the results will shape the destinies for both.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.



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