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Bruce Arians Is Back, and Now He’s Charged With Righting the Jameis Winston Ship

After a one-year hiatus, the former Cardinals coach is returning to the NFL to try to sort out the Buccaneers’ offensive woes

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Bruce Arians may not be a young, unproven offensive mind in the mold of the recently hired Matt LaFleur or Kliff Kingsbury, but when the Buccaneers hired him as their new head coach on Tuesday, they gave him the same mission as those other guys: Fix the quarterback. Tampa Bay passer Jameis Winston had another up-and-down year in 2018, throwing for his highest average passing yards per game (272.0) but also putting up a sky-high interception rate (3.7 percent). After the team went 5-11 this season, the Bucs fired head coach Dirk Koetter, and now they’re looking to Arians to jump-start the franchise’s next chapter.

The 66-year-old Arians is coming off a one-year hiatus from football. He retired from the Cardinals after the 2017 season, citing health problems that were exacerbated by coaching. Before that retirement, Arians coached in Arizona from 2013 to 2017, during which he went 49-30-1 and fielded top-10 offenses (by both yards and points) in 2015 and 2016. That 2015 season was Arians’s crowning achievement, as the Cardinals went 13-3 and Carson Palmer played like an MVP candidate, throwing for 4,671 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Palmer led the league in adjusted net yards per attempt (8.41) and recorded a career-high passer rating (104.6), and the Cardinals made it to all the way to the NFC championship game before getting blown out by the Panthers, 49-15.

Arians, who called his own plays in Arizona, runs a complex and aggressive offensive scheme. He loves to push the ball downfield, and that edict should track well with his new QB:

The challenge will be encouraging those types of aggressive throws from Winston while also cutting down on the QB’s penchant for ugly turnovers—Winston has been intercepted on 3.0 percent of his passes in his four-year career, tied for seventh highest among active players. Finding that balance may prove difficult: Over Arians’s five seasons with the Cardinals, Arizona quarterbacks threw 82 interceptions, the sixth most in the league in that span. But he’ll also have a bevy of playmakers in Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate, and O.J. Howard that are fully capable of propelling this offense.

It also helps that Arians (sort of) has a history with Winston: Arians coached the QB at a football camp when Winston was just 12 years old. The two spoke about that connection before a Cardinals-Bucs game in 2016, and Arians had glowing things to say about Winston:

Jaboo’s [Winston’s nickname] been a legend since he was in the ninth grade. … He was probably throwing 90 mile-an-hour fastballs back then in the ninth, 10th grade.

Winston’s development is officially on the clock. In December, the Bucs stated that they were bringing Winston back for 2019—even after his poor performance and the fact that he was suspended for three games in 2018 after a female Uber driver said he’d groped her years before. Winston will play on his fifth-year option this season, so he could hit free agency at the end of 2019 if the Bucs don’t extend him before then. This will be a “prove it” year for Winston, when he could earn the role as the team’s passer of the future, or be released by year’s end. Either Arians will turn Winston into the quarterback the Bucs envisioned when they made him the no. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, or Tuesday marks the beginning of the end of Winston’s tenure in Tampa Bay.