The path to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers snapping their 10-year postseason drought grew immensely tougher when the NFL announced quarterback Jameis Winston‘s suspension at the end of June. The Buccaneers will be without their signal caller for the first three games of the 2018 season.
That would be a difficult blow for any team (Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles perhaps being the lone recent exception), but it’s particularly problematic for coach Dirk Koetter and the Buccaneers because, in their first three games, they will face the New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, and Pittsburgh Steelers. Those three opponents all made the playoffs last season and combined to post a record of 37-11 (.771).
But despite the strong possibility of starting 0-3, which would put the Buccaneers on their way to another year without a postseason berth, the Buccaneers cannot simply chalk up this season to a lost year simply because of Winston’s suspension. Whether the Buccaneers play in January or not, Koetter still must prove he is the right man to develop a franchise quarterback in Tampa Bay.
Dirk Koetter Running Short on Time in Tampa Bay
Koetter earned a reputation as one of the best NFL offensive minds as offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons. During his first season with the Falcons in 2012, his offense finished top 10 in both yards and points.
Furthermore, in his three seasons in Atlanta, Matt Ryan became one of the premier passers in the league. Under Koetter from 2012-14, Ryan averaged 4,643 passing yards per season and threw 86 touchdowns.
That reputation led to the Buccaneers hiring Koetter as offensive coordinator in 2015 after selecting Winston first overall. There wasn’t a better quarterback developer on the market that off-season and the thought was that the talented Winston would blossom just as Ryan did under Koetter. The Buccaneers stayed so steadfast in their belief Koetter was the right teacher for Winston that the organization pushed out long-time NFL coach Lovie Smith at the end of 2015 and promoted Koetter.
But that plan hasn’t worked as initially hoped. Winston took a step backward early last season and hasn’t developed as quickly as other quarterbacks in his class or younger — i.e. Marcus Mariota, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, and Deshaun Watson.
Jameis Winston’s Performance Under Dirk Koetter
During his third season, Winston saw his touchdown-to-interception ratio decrease and sack percentage rise. He still makes far too many mental mistakes to be considered a franchise quarterback and earned a record of just 3-10 as a starter last season.
Fair or not, the Buccaneers will blame Koetter for Winston’s shortcomings. The organization was wise not to fire Koetter this past off-season because the Buccaneers have gone through far too many coaching changes over the last decade.
But that doesn’t mean patience isn’t running thin in Tampa. The upcoming season, which is already off on the wrong foot, is going to be a big one for Koetter. The Buccaneers might have to make the playoffs to save Koetter’s job.
At the very least, Winston has to show improvement under the offensive-minded head coach. If the end of last season is any indication of what could come, Winston may finally be ready to succeed under Koetter.
In the final five games last season after returning from injury, Winston completed 67.2 percent of his passes for an average of 8.66 yards per attempt. He averaged 316.8 yards per game in December and threw nine touchdowns versus five interceptions.
Winston’s suspension makes this off-season very difficult for Koetter. He must continue to develop the former number one overall pick while also giving veteran signal caller Ryan Fitzpatrick enough repetitions, so he’s ready for Week One. Failing to do the latter could put the Buccaneers in a hole at the end of September, but if Koetter isn’t able to achieve the former, he may be done in Tampa.
Even if the playoffs are out of reach after an 0-3 start, Winston building off his success at the end of last season is essential for Koetter remaining the Buccaneers coach in 2019.