Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Quarterback calculus

So now Jameis Winston is over another hurdle, and yet the doubts linger. His arm, pocket presence and on-field intelligence in reading coverages are beyond dispute. And his Wonderlic score, sketchy barometer that it is, was 27, which puts him in company with Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson (28).

And yet.

And yet, this being 2015, half of America still thinks he's the Next Big Bust.

They think he's the Next Big Bust because of the crab legs thing and the cussing-in-the-student-center thing and the running-around-campus-shooting-BB-guns thing. Most of all, and more darkly, they think he's the NBB because of the accusation of sexual assault made against him by a young woman -- a charge that lingers and will continue to linger even though he was cleared.

It is the legacy of playing for a football school in a football town that's inclined to look the other way when one of their valuable commodities goes off the rails. If Tallahassee and FSU didn't do that in this case, they certainly made a good show of it. And so  no one's ever going to quite believe Winston didn't get away with it.

Thus he comes to the draft with expectations of failure that never would have been there 30 or 40 years ago. But the NFL was not the industry then that it is now, and quarterbacks were not the investments they were then. Missing on one back in the day was an embarrassment; missing on one now is the next thing to catastrophic.

The position, and what it can do either for or to a franchise, demands a standard that didn't exist perhaps as recently as 15 years ago. Witness what's happening in Cleveland now, where Johnny Manziel just spent 10 weeks in rehab for issues that remain undisclosed, but which we can reliably assume are tied to his Good Time Charlie rep. That Manziel likely doesn't have the skill set to become a franchise quarterback is one thing; that he'll never approach it without a massive injection of maturity is quite another.

The first you can't do much about. The second you can. And so off he went, essentially, to recover from being 22 years old.

Imagine for a moment the Jets doing that with Joe Namath, back when Broadway Joe was the seminal Good Time Charlie. Or the Lions doing it with Bobby Layne, who caroused on Saturday night and carved up defenses on Sunday afternoon. Or the Packers doing it with the most famous Good Time Charlie of all, wide receiver Max McGee, who partied until the wee hours the night before Super Bowl I because he didn't expect to play that much.

Then he did, catching seven passes for 138 yards and two scores in the Pack's 35-10 win over Kansas City.

McGee likely would never have gotten that chance in 2015. He'd have come in at 4 a.m. and been cut by 6. Quirky and free-spirited are no longer a roll of the dice NFL teams can afford in an era of big-money contracts and choke-a-horse TV deals.

That's especially true with quarterbacks. You do not have to be a monk to play the position these days, but it helps. Winston is hardly that. And so the doubts will never quite go away, even if he proves all the doubters wrong.

Welcome to today's NFL, Jameis. Where your shortcomings will always cast the longest shadows.


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