Smoke Screen or Reality? Sources Say Bucs Are Wavering on Winston

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterApril 20, 2015

USA Today

This is what I know for certain: One member of the Buccaneers ownership group is increasingly nervous with the notion of Jameis Winston as the face of the franchise.    

Now, I want to be clear: It remains likely that Tampa Bay takes Winston first overall in the draft. But according to several team officials familiar with the Buccaneers' thinking, they aren't nearly as sold on Winston as they're saying publicly. Part owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz—the daughter of late owner Malcolm Glazer—in particular is not sold and might never be.

Charles Robinson of Yahoo reported Kassewitz's concerns weeks ago. Those concerns have yet to be abated, a team source says.

One official from another team, who has been in contact with the Buccaneers about the possibility of trading picks, told me the Tampa Bay front office has gone from "gung-ho on Winston to we're going to hold our nose and take him."

Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

This is the part of the story where I warn you about the preponderance of odious draft BS. This might all be a smoke screen.

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But again, what is certain is that a segment of Bucs ownership is not as sold on Winston as the team is stating privately and publicly.

When the lawsuit against Winston was filed last week, the Buccaneers said nothing has changed in terms of their desire to draft him.

The team knew the suit was coming, one league official said, but added that as far as it not changing the Bucs' draft plans, "They are far more nervous than they're saying."

Again, a cautionary note. This is the time of year when everyone lies. Lovie Smith, the head coach of the Bucs, who is an honorable man, nonetheless has a history of saying one thing and doing another.

Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

But my reporting, combined with Newsday's Bob Glauber's reporting that Tampa is willing to trade the first pick, shows a team whose feelings are more in flux about Winston than it says.

What these team officials say about the Buccaneers makes total sense. It's impossible not to be extremely nervous about taking someone like Winston No. 1 overall. Winston would make a sort of history if he were to go No. 1. No player picked in that spot, in the history of the draft, has ever been suspended by two different coaches. Winston was suspended by both his football and baseball coaches.

The incident at the cafeteria and the sexual assault allegation are among the issues. It always struck league officials as odd that the Buccaneers have always been vocally supportive of Winston. Officials took the team's public confidence in Winston as bravado, while some in the media took it as gospel.

Here's what part owner Joel Glazer told JoeBucsFan.com:

You know, we spent a lot of time with Jameis. We spent a lot of time with Marcus Mariota. There are other potential players that could be up there with the first pick. But yes, we as an organization are comfortable. We're comfortable with Jameis.

We found both Jameis and Marcus to be impressive young men when we spent our time with them. Great success in college. Both academically very successful. Unbelievable amount of work on both players and other potential players in this draft. We as an organization are comfortable.

One team official defended the Buccaneers, saying, "Peyton Manning had his moment of immaturity in college and he turned out OK."

I've heard that Manning comparison repeatedly from Winston defenders across the league. They say you gamble on Winston maturing as Manning did. The question is: Are the Bucs the team that wants to make that gamble?

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.