/Bucs GM: New coach must accept Winston as QB

Bucs GM: New coach must accept Winston as QB

TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht doesn’t care if his head coaching candidates are offensive-minded or defensive-minded. He isn’t worried what scheme they’ll use, or even if the Bucs have to wait until after the playoffs to make a hire.

One thing is for certain, however: Whomever replaces Dirk Koetter must accept Jameis Winston as his quarterback.

The Bucs will be picking up Winston’s fifth-year option, worth $20.9 million. That becomes fully guaranteed at 4 p.m. ET on March 13.

“Jameis is someone we hold in high regard here,” Licht said Monday. “… There’s a lot to like about Jameis. He will be here next year. Based on the texts and phone calls and emails I’ve been getting since roughly 8 o’clock last night, I don’t think that’s gonna be an issue.”

Licht said Winston won’t be part of the hiring process or helping vet candidates, but sources within the organization felt and even advocated for a coaching change because they believed it was needed to help Winston take his game to the next level.

Winston and Koetter weren’t always on the same page in their four years together — three of which Koetter was the head coach. There was a reported rift last season when Winston suffered a shoulder injury, but both denied the feud publicly.

Licht and ownership stuck by Winston despite an NFL investigation that resulted in a three-game suspension in 2018 for allegedly groping a female Uber driver — his second sexual assault allegation.

Winston struggled in his return from the suspension, throwing 10 interceptions in four games, resulting in a three-game benching. Since Winston regained his starting job in Week 12, he threw 11 touchdowns and three interceptions — the league’s eighth-best touchdown-to-interception ratio (3.67).

“He’s done some amazing things for a young 24-turns 25 in a week quarterback,” said Licht, who believed Winston’s performance in the second half of the season is what warranted his return. “He accomplished more than most of the elite quarterbacks at his age.

“Obviously, we went through a lot at the beginning of this season [with the] the suspension. There was a lot going on in this organization that was tough for a lot of people to overcome. I saw him bounce back at the end of the year and play very, very good in my eyes and a lot people’s eyes for the condition that he was in. We have a lot of faith in him.”

Licht did not voice the same level of commitment when asked about defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. A six-time Pro Bowler, McCoy is due $13 million next season, none of which is guaranteed.

“We have a lot of tough decisions to make,” Licht said when asked about McCoy specifically. “A lot of people have a lot of tough decisions to make. That’s moving forward here into the offseason. Right now, it’s about finding that head coach.”

Licht said the Bucs will not be making the hire from within, like they did with Koetter, and that the search would take “however long it takes to get the right guy.” Offensive coordinator Todd Monken has already reportedly garnered interest from other teams.

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