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Bucs should put Jameis Winston in bubble wrap

The Falcons and Buccaneers don't have anything to play for in Week 17, but Jameis Winston could show Tampa Bay whether he should be in its future plans or not.

The Dolphins are rolling the dice with DeVante Parker’s $9.37 million fifth-year option. The Bucs will be doing the same, with more than twice as much money at risk.

Quarterback Jameis Winston continues to be the starter in Tampa, even as he enters the last year of a season that has attached to it an injury guarantee for 2019 of $20.9 million. This means that, if he emerges from 2018 with any injury that keeps him from passing a physical in March, the salary converts to a full guarantee for 2019 and the Bucs will be stuck with Winston or, at a minimum, stuck with paying him.

It makes no sense to take that risk. Even if the Bucs plan to keep Winston for 2019, why risk losing the leverage that would come from being able to tell him that, for example, if he doesn’t accept a team-friendly extension offer, he could be released before the 2019 salary becomes fully guaranteed? If, as it appears, the Bucs are planning to fire coach Dirk Koetter after the season, what value comes from trotting out Winston for a regular-season finale that will be played before a sparse crowd at best?

Teams make business decisions all the time. In this case, maybe the Bucs have made the decision to consciously assume the risk that Winston will be injured. If so, what’s the reward? What more can Winston do in one meaningless game to get closer to a ceiling he may have already reached?

Maybe the Bucs simply don’t want to admit error. Maybe the current coaching staff and front office will continue to be permitted to make these decisions until the moment they’re relieved of their duties. Regardless, this would seem to be one of those rare situations where the right move would be for ownership to mandate directly to Koetter and/or G.M. Jason Licht that Winston should be eating nachos in street clothes while Ryan Fitzpatrick and/or Ryan Griffin try to eat the empty calories of a worthless W.