Being drafted at the top of the board can represent validation for years of hard work and sacrifice. The latter can be the consequence of notoriety as childhood aspirations give way to future pursuits. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterback Jameis Winston faces the realization of his goals with finality after Peter King of NBC Sports reports that his baseball career has come to an end after his NFL contract includes provisions preventing him from partaking in the sport.
In addition to his Heisman winning success on the football gridiron, Winston spent two seasons in the Florida State bullpen collecting 9 saves, while pitching to a 1.95 Earned Run Average in 41 combined appearances. Winston’s baseball acumen prior to attending Florida State propelled the Texas Rangers to select him in the 15th round in the 2012 amateur draft. Baseball had been Winston’s first love but his offseason hobby sitting under center for the Florida State Seminoles produced a Heisman Trophy, BCS Championship, and a 26-1 record as a starting quarterback, leading him to becoming the most polarizing top 5 draft pick since Ryan Leaf in 1998.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hoping Winston can be the savior for a franchise which has been unable to escape the shadow of John Lynch, Ronde Barber, and the “Tampa 2” defense which resulted in a Super Bowl championship following the 2002 season. Head Coaches Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano suffered from the scrutiny and empty results, which arise from replacing a Super Bowl winning head coach in John Gruden. The inability to find a franchise quarterback after rummaging through the likes of Jeff Garcia, Josh Johnson, Josh Freeman and Mike Glennon, forced the Bucs to look to the past and hire their former Linebackers Coach Lovie Smith, who in his second season at helm hopes Jameis Winston is the answer to the woes plaguing the Bucs since their last Super Bowl title.
Similar to Major League Baseball, the NFL Draft can best be classified by its randomness and unpredictability when it comes to player selection. For every Peyton Manning there is a Ryan Leaf providing false hope and squandered ability to a franchise reeling from past disappointment and failed glory. Advances in scouting and player development hope to minimize risk but even in an era of prolific offense statistics and relaxed passing rules more quarterbacks fail than succeed. Since the 2005 NFL Draft, first round signal callers have combined for a 1-7 record in postseason play with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton collecting the lone victory this past season against the uninspired Ryan Lindley of the Arizona Cardinals. These factors and potential injury risk suppress the Buccaneers from permitting Winston to follow in the footsteps of his idol Bo Jackson and pursue a two sport career.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will pay Winston $24.4 million over the course of four years to play football exclusively. “This is the first offseason I’ve ever had where I can focus totally on football. I am loving this, being a quarterback every day. Anything that keeps me busy helps me. I love baseball. I love football. Playing both was the best of both worlds.”, Winston said in an interview with Peter King. Dreams can alter from initial course as external factors clear a path for identity and stability.
The days of seeing Deion Sanders return punts for the Atlanta Falcons on the afternoon before he plays for the Atlanta Braves hours later in the League Championship Series are over. Even drafting a prospect such as Drew Henson, with lingering aspirations to pursue football are less common in the current landscape of baseball. Specialization and a single focus push athletes in a direction where lucrative factors determine their destiny. For Jameis Winston and many youngsters, the memories of wearing their first glove or hitting their first home run create a connection between the humble beginnings of the sport and the gifts it bestows. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson continues to establish the bond between his childhood and passion, attending Texas Rangers spring training each March and re-living his memories on the diamond. Though Winston’s future is clearly in the National Football League, his heart for the game of baseball remains even a few yards short of a first down.