TAMPA — Shortly after completing his walk several times around the team’s practice fields Thursday morning, an anxious Bucs general manager Jason Licht compared the start of the NFL draft to his wedding day. “Without the cold feet part, of course,” he said.
Several hours later, the Bucs made good on a vow to draft Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston No. 1 overall, the result of a long courtship that began almost immediately after a 2-14 season under coach Lovie Smith.
“So excited to get a guy like Jameis to be our future,” Licht said. “He’s a champion. He’s a leader. He’s a winner. He has tremendous football character and tremendous intelligence and work ethic.”
Winston, 21, spent Thursday on a large estate near his home in Bessemer, Ala., the site of his draft day party that included at least 200 invitation-only guests who walked a red carpet in front of an oversized photo backdrop of him playing for the Seminoles.
“The reason I’m so confident is I work hard …” Winston said on a conference call. “I don’t plan on stopping.”
Winston said he was excited to join a team with receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.
“Oh my god. Two 6-5 guys that can make plays. My friend, anyone can throw to those guys,” Winston said.
The Bucs plan to formally introduce Winston at a news conference Friday tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m. at the team’s training facility.
Although the Bucs’ selection of Winston had been anticipated for months, the team did not notify him of their decision until NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walked to a podium at the NFL draft headquarters in Chicago and put them on the clock shortly after 8 p.m.
The Bucs chose Winston over Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who went with second pick to the Tennessee Titans. Perhaps not coincidentally, Tampa Bay hosts the Titans in the regular-season opener at Raymond James Stadium Sept. 13.
The Bucs went out of their way to sell the community on their choice of Winston, whose accomplishments on the field were diminished by a series of poor decisions off it.
“If he wasn’t a good guy, we wouldn’t have used the first pick on him,” Licht said.
Winston went 26-1 over two seasons and won the Heisman Trophy in 2013 and a national championship. Having operated under center in the Seminoles’ pro-style offense, he’s regarded as more pro-ready than Mariota, who ran a spread option system at Oregon in which he stood in the shotgun and rarely called plays.
Smith, Licht and the Glazer family that owns the team did exhaustive research and spent hundreds of hours doing their due diligence on Winston. More than 75 people were interviewed about Winston, from his home town, high school, college and law enforcement, including assistant state attorney Georgia Cappleman.
By the time he arrived at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in February, Smith used the word “exonerated” when discussing the 2012 allegation of sexual assault by Zephyrhills’ Erica Kinsman against Winston.
The other transgressions — stealing soda at Burger King, participating in a BB gun fight in which players shot out more than $4,000 worth of windows, shoplifting crab legs at Publix (saying he believed he had the hook-up) and getting suspended for a game after standing on a table at the student union and shouting a vulgar phrase — have been described as merely a lack of maturity.
The Bucs also had four interviews with Winston during the draft process — at the NFL scouting combine, during a visit to One Buc Place, at his pro day in Tallahassee and following a private workout at Florida State.
“I trust my instincts to know who we’re getting,” Smith said.
Twice in the past two weeks, the Bucs were instrumental in Winston appearing at two charity events in Tampa attended by either Licht, Smith or both. He played corn hole at the Mike Alstott Celebrity Outdoor Weekend and golfed at an event for Derrick Brooks’ Charities.
To fans still with doubt about Winston, Smith said: “I was in the same situation. … I would ask our fans to give him a chance.”
On how he’ll win people over, Winston said: “It’s all about working hard. Actions speak so much louder than words.”
Winston still has some legal hurdles to overcome while playing for the Bucs. Two weeks ago, Kinsman filed a civil suit against him which he plans to fight. “Jameis will not let anything distract from his goal of becoming a championship quarterback,” said Winston’s agent, Greg Genske.
“We anticipated a lot of things,” Licht. “There hasn’t been anything that surprised us. That won’t be a distraction.”
The Bucs have been a cradle of NFL quarterbacks over the years. They have used first round draft picks to acquire Doug Williams, Jack Thompson, Steve Young (supplemental), Vinny Testaverde, Chris Chandler, Trent Dilfer and Josh Freeman. Williams, Young and Dilfer won Super Bowls after leaving the Bucs. Testaverde played for 21 seasons and made it to an AFC Championship game with the Jets.
But no quarterback the Bucs have drafted in the first round ever made it to a second contract.
The Bucs believe Winston’s story will be different playing under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.