Buccaneers will continue to pay for their Winston mistake

A year ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were upbeat about their future while appearing on the “Hard Knocks’’ show.

As it turned out, the optimism was premature. The team fell to 5-11, raising doubts about their future.

And things got worse when Jameis Winston was suspended for the first three games against the New Orleans Saints, defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers.

If they start off 0-3, the season could be in freefall and the jobs of general manager Jason Licht and coach Dirk Koetter could be in jeopardy.

The Tampa Bay Tribune has already reported that of the last 173 teams to start off 0-3, only five have made the playoffs.

It is now become apparent that taking Winston over Marcus Mariota with the first pick was a decision the team will regret.

The Bucs gambled that Winston would mature and overcome the problems that plagued him at Florida State. They lost that gamble.

And they are fortunate he wasn’t hit with a longer suspension for groping an Uber driver.

I am no longer surprised at anything the NFL does, no matter how illogical and idiotic  their policies sometimes appear to be.

Even by NFL standards, the three-game suspension of  Winston was bizarre, as it demonstrated the NFL really has no policies and just makes it up as it goes along.

It’s hard to figure out why Winston was suspended for just three games, even though the league supposedly has a policy of a six-game suspension for sexual assault cases. And why Winston was allowed to give an apology that didn’t say what he was apologizing for.

But the point here is not to say that once again the NFL dropped the ball. This is Roger Goodell’s NFL, and nothing is going to change on his watch.

The best I can figure is that Winston used the excuse that he was drunk and doesn’t remember what happened, as if being drunk excuses sexual assault.

And once he agreed to take a three-game suspension, the NFL figured it was better off getting the issue off the table rather than spending months fighting an appeal as it did in the Ezekiel Elliott case. The league likely would have prevailed, but it wasn’t worth keeping the issue in the news to suspend him for six games instead of three.

At least I think that may be their thinking. The NFL doesn’t give many explanations.

Still, Winston’s career is already in shambles. The Bucs have picked up his fifth-year option, but it is only guaranteed for injury. Whether they bring him back next year or not, no team is likely to give Winston one of those $100 million quarterback contracts with a huge guarantee. He just can’t be trusted.

And then there is the problem with his drunk defense. Winston said he will eliminate alcohol from his life, and the league said in a statement that he will get a “clinical evaluation’’ and will cooperate with any recommendation program of therapeutic intervention.

That sounds like he will be in the NFL’s dreaded substance-abuse program. Being in the program is bad enough, but they added that any other violation of the personal conduct policy could result in a potential ban from the NFL.

The NFL’s policy of suspending players for violations of their drug policy is good PR, but there is no evidence that it helps players overcome problems.

Relapse is virtually part of the process, and suspending them for relapse doesn’t solve their problems.

In any case, Winston can’t afford any more mistakes.

And we have to wonder if FSU giving him a pass (read the book “Champions Way’’ on the problems at the school when Winston was there) gave him a sense of entitlement and made his latest problem almost inevitable.

He was never held accountable for his actions at FSU, although it could be his character is flawed.

Then there’s the question of whether Winston is good enough to be a franchise quarterback, or if he merely benefited from all the talent around him at FSU. Tim Tebow is a straight arrow, but the talent Florida had when he was there made him look like he was better than he was.

So now it is up to Winston to avoid off-field problems and play better on the field if he is to have a future in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Bucs are paying the piper for taking a chance on Winston.

They should have remembered the old saying that if people tell you who they are, believe them.

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