Winston will face a three-game suspension after the NFL underwent a seven-month investigation into accusations that Winston groped a female Uber driver’s crotch in 2016.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, the Buccaneers will play their three toughest opponents. They’ll see the New Orleans Saints in Week 1. And they’ll lose. Tampa Bay will see the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3. And they’ll lose. When Winston returns, the Bucs will be 0-3.
That 0-3 hole is crippling. Since 1980, just 2.8 percent of teams who started 0-3 have made the playoffs. That’s five teams out of the 173 that started 0-3. Last year, five teams started 0-3, including a very impressive Los Angeles Chargers team, and none of them made the playoffs.
Even if the Buccaneers turned out to be an impressive team (and they probably won’t), they’re facing statistical improbability. It’s not like they have a friendly division with the Saints and Atlanta Falcons looking like two of the NFC’s best teams.
Winston does have an option. He can appeal.
What we’ve learned from Deflategate and Ezekiel Elliot’s suspension is that appealing a suspension doesn’t work. The NFL did a lengthy investigation. After that sort of time investment, they are unwilling to admit they were wrong. Barring an unforeseen turn of events, Winston will serve three games. But Winston might appeal anyway to drag this process along, if only so he can play those first three games and have his suspension fall on a different period during the season.
Brady’s suspension went into an entirely different season. Elliot didn’t serve his suspension until November.
That would be a savvy bit of legal gamesmanship. It makes you want to take a long shower, because of what Winston was accused of doing. It’s not the right thing to do. But an appeal would be in the best interest of the Buccaneers’ 2018 season.
That said, Winston and Bucs may want to get this in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible. Losing three games — and then their season — because of this suspension may be worthwhile considering how much of a PR disaster the appeal process might be. In all likelihood, Winston will serve his suspension in the first three games of the season. The Buccaneers will drop to 0-3 without him, and they’ll miss the playoffs.
It’s not like the Buccaneers didn’t see the writing on the wall. Winston faced accusations of sexual assault in college. On a less serious note, he also had the crab-leg-stealing fiasco. The fans may not deserve an entire season lost. But let’s be honest. Winston and the Bucs absolutely deserve this.