Short Leash And A Strong Understudy

January 14th, 2020

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The Bucs would be wise to take a lesson from a former employee.

Jason Licht’s former right-hand man faced his moment of truth 10 months ago. That’s when Titans GM Jon Robinson decided to trade for Ryan Tannehill and give coach Mike Vrabel a viable option behind Marcus Mariota.

So when the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft behind Jameis Winston struggled in Week 6 at Denver, Tennessee benched Mariota in the third quarter of an eventual 16-0 setback that dropped the Titans to 2-4.

Ira was busy talking to the former right-hand man of Bucs GM Jason Licht (pictured).

Mariota never got his job back.

Three months later, Tannehill is still standing under center as the surging Titans prepare for Sunday’s AFC title game at Kansas City.

If the Bucs decide to stick with Winston in 2020, and there’s no certainty that they will, it’s imperative that Bruce Arians has a viable option if Winston falters.

I caught up with Robinson before Saturday night’s divisional-round matchup in Baltimore and asked him what motivated him to acquire Tannehill from Miami in a March 16 trade.

“We had a chance to add a veteran quarterback, a guy who had started a lot of games and played pretty darned good,” Robinson said. “Ryan came in as a backup. He knew what his role was and he kept working and working. Opportunity presented itself and he’s done a great job. I’m proud of the way he’s led the offense.”

Why shouldn’t he be?


From the time Tannehill took over for good until the end of the regular season, the Titans averaged 30 points, behind only the Ravens and Saints. Tennessee’s 406 yards per game during that closing 10-game stretch also ranked No. 3, behind the Cowboys and Buccaneers.

The Bucs should learn from the second winning season of Ryan Tannehill’s career, writes Ira Kaufman.

On the day before Robinson traded for Tannehill, he signed Adam Humphries from Tampa Bay as a free agent. Once Tannehill was secured, Robinson released prior backup Blaine Gabbert, who signed with the Bucs two weeks later.

Tannehill might have worn out his welcome with the Dolphins, but he is 9-3 in Tennessee and likely in line for a nice payday as a potential free agent. There will be mounting pressure for the Titans to keep him.

“Do I believe in a change of scenery? Sure I do,” Robinson said.

“It’s a different locker room, different players, different coaches. It’s just different, a chance to reboot and get back to neutral and go from there. That’s Ryan Tannehill.”

Heading into 2019 training camp, the Bucs went out of their way to ease Winston’s mind about his status. Gabbert was no credible threat and Ryan Griffin had never thrown an NFL pass that counted.

That mindset needs to change — right now. The days of coddling No. 3 are over. Listen to what the man said.

“Depth at quarterback is paramount,” Robinson said. “That’s my charge, to get the best 53 guys at the end of training camp and see where we stack up. It’s all about competition. It’s the National Football League and it’s my job to put the most competitive roster together and let them sort it out.”

Bold Moves

Tennessee’s offense is led by NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry, but Tannehill has made key completions during this improbable playoff run. As for Mariota, he’ll hit free agency in March with a once-promising career at the crossroads.

That could be Winston’s fate if the Bucs decide to move on. Even if he stays, Winston should no longer be assured of a 16-game slate to prove his worth.

The Bucs need their own version of Ryan Tannehill to provide Arians with a heightened degree of confidence behind his Game 1 starter.

“Ryan prepared like he was a starter,” said Robinson. “He stayed late, he was into the game and he was ready when called upon. You roll the ball out there and see what happens.”

The Marcus Mariota era is toast in Nashville, yet the Titans are one win away from the Super Bowl because Jon Robinson made a bold move last March.

Let’s hope Arians and Licht took notice.

Click through and shop now at Tampa’s first family of Ford, Bill Currie Ford.

Ira Kaufman launched his professional NFL beat coverage in 1979, back when Earl Campbell was the toast of the league and Lee Roy Selmon was defensive player of the year. After a lifetime at The Tampa Tribune, “The Sage of Tampa Bay Sports” joined in July of 2016. His twice-weekly podcast and three columns per week appear here year-round and are presented by Bill Currie Ford. Tampa Bay’s only Hall of Fame voter is a regular on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio and a part of the FOX-13 Tailgate Sunday show, in addition to his other appearances. 

68 Responses to “Short Leash And A Strong Understudy”

  1. Kobe Faker Says:

    “Wouldn’t this be true to every team in the NFL

    A good backup QB is critical when the starter goes down because of injury, lack of production, not a franchise projected QB….

    Water is wet

    I hope people finally understand that stubborn BA doesnt ever change

    Because it would make him look like he was wrong

    And the Narc us never wrong”

    Kobe Faker

  2. H8JWLVEBUCS Says:

    I have been saying this all along, take a page out of the book of the Titans please!!!!

  3. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    There could be an argument made to bring Fitz back…..and, of course….there could be an argument made not to…..

  4. Buccnbeliever Says:

    So, go get a Henry clone, beef up the O-line, sign Mariotta, Bridgewater, or Andy Dalton, and tag Jameis. Then resign the front 5 or six of the defense and draft for the future in the trenches. Oh, and sign/trade for a reliable kicker.

    Instant contender. Should be a make or break year for Licht.

  5. Dewey Selmon Says:

    We had a viable backup, his name is Ryan Fitzpatrick. But we had to get rid of him because Winston is insecure and feels threatened bu a little competition.

  6. Defense Rules Says:

    Best GM quote I’ve read in years …

    “Depth at quarterback is paramount,” Robinson said. “That’s my charge, to get the best 53 guys at the end of training camp and see where we stack up. It’s all about competition. It’s the National Football League and it’s my job to put the most competitive roster together and let them sort it out.”

    All JBFers should get together, have that chiseled in stone, then mount it on Jason Licht’s office door.

  7. Scotty in Fat Antonio Says:

    Great article Ira

  8. El Buco Realisto Says:

    @ defense rules

    Would it not just be easier to replace the GM??????

  9. Defense Rules Says:

    TBBF … Would love to have Fitz back also, but alas Miami has him under contract this year for $8 mil. I bet THAT’S one decision BA & JL wish they had a mulligan on.

  10. Defense Rules Says:

    Realist … IF it’d been me, I would’ve kept Jon Robinson and released what’s his name.

  11. LordCornelius Says:

    Fitz had more INTs than TDs over his last 6 starts with us…

    No thank you…

  12. Bruce Blahak Says:

    Fitzpatrick kept and the Bucs are still playing…WinSTUNNED is problem #1, the reason for losing. Wake up folks!!!

  13. Dapostman Says:

    Derrick Henry ran for 1500 yards vs 700 for RoJo.

    Titans 448 passes
    Titans 445 rushes

    Bucs 630 passes
    Bucs 409 rushes

    The backup QB isn’t the issue for either team. More like the play callers.

  14. Defense Rules Says:

    Buccnbeliever … I like your approach, but IF we tag Jameis (say $27 mil) we’d be hard-pressed to accomplish all those other things (after re-signing the defense FAs) UNLESS we did it through the draft. Funny thing is that we’ll end up doing it through the draft anyways … Draft OLineman (actually 2), Draft DLineman & Draft RB with our Top-4 picks.

    BTW, I still think that Matt Gay will turn into a very reliable kicker. Yes he did REALLY poorly in the Falcons game, but BEFORE that he was 27 for 32 on FGs (84.4%). That’s better than the NFL average in all but 4 years since they started keeping that record in 1937 (and the 4 years that were better had averages of 86.5%, 84.7%, 84.5% and 84.5% … pretty much the same as what Gay would’ve had). IOW, up until that last game, Gay was doing quite well IMO … for a rookie. Unfortunately, he missed key kicks in 2 losses. Not good; not good at all. But he’ll recover.

  15. Danny Says:

    Let’s not pretend Ryan Fitzpatrick was good except for 2 games because he wasn’t.

  16. Jim Says:

    Good job, Ira…

  17. Smashsquatch Says:

    Too bad BA chose to coddle JW this season. I understand why, in an effort to rebuild Jameis’ confidence. How’d that work out? If the Bucs keep JW, and that’s a big if, you can bank on a competition for the starting job. Looking over his shoulder in 2020 and more criticism from BA awaits JW.

  18. Hodad Says:

    When Robinson took over Tenn they had just won a playoff game with Mariota, at QB, and Murlarky as HC. That didn’t stop him from finding a better coach, and QB. We for sure kept the wrong GM, but it’s what we should come to expect from the Glazers.

  19. Tye Says:

    I’m not one that would be thrilled if the Bucs brought Mariota to Tampa but if it turns the Bucs into a winner like Tannehill did Titans then I would get on board…

    Not sure if it is even a possibility of maybe I misunderstood the article but Marcus did have several different system changes and if Arians is really a good qb whisperer then maybe seeing what he could do with MM would not interesting…

  20. TOM Says:

    I still say the Bucs should have given RG a chance starting the last game to see what they had. But instead Winston throws a pick 6 to lose the game & gets his infamous 30-30. And now this mess. I hope JL & BA do the right thing offer no more than 20mil or let him test the waters.

  21. 813bucboi Says:

    what happened to all the,”its a passing league” folks?….lol….

    5k yards dont mean diddly if you have 30+ turnovers…..

    GO BUCS!!!!!

  22. 813bucboi Says:


    early TOs lead to being pass happy….

    hard to run the ball when you’re down by 14 in the first quarter…..

    GO BUCS!!!!!

  23. Mitch Says:

    I would love to see us draft AJ Epenesa and then go after a S/RB/OT. That means I hope Jamies stays one more year and is successful.

  24. Says:

    Ever heard of the living legend, the guy who already has his jersey in Canton… Ryan Fitzpatrick? Oh yeah, now he’s making magic with the tanking talentless dolphins. Only 2 fewer wins than bucs and didn’t even start the whole season. Sheesh.

  25. Says:

    Bucs trade for Josh Rosen and the world implodes in perfect motion.

  26. Mitch Says:

    99.97 – HA, that’s hilarious.

  27. Buc'n Enough Says:

    Licht is an idiot..end of story.
    Three blown drafts;
    14..only Mike Evans survives
    17..Chris Godwin only major contributor. Howard..we do not use…Justin Evans ( Who ) always hurt.

    The only people dumber than Licht are the Glazers Boys for keeping the Moron! Until he is fired..we are doomed. He could not find water sitting in the middle of bay on a boat.

  28. pelbuc Says:

    If the Bucs were a competent franchise, they would have kept John Robinson and made him the GM or John Lynch instead of the moron who keeps drafting bad kickers.

  29. Bobby M. Says:

    Titans recognized it wasn’t working and made a bold move. I believe Tannehill has less then 200 passing yds in total in the playoffs right now which reminds me of the Jags making their playoff push. They simply needed Bortles to not screw the games up and they could contend. That’s exactly where the Bucs are, if Winston could simply not bury the team with turnovers that lead to TDs, FGs, bad field position and time of possession….we could probably do something crazy like have a winning season or actually be in the playoff hunt in December.

    Winston is talented….he’s simply not effective and at the pay he wants, he never will be. It takes too many resources to overcome all his inconsistencies.

  30. Buddhaboy19 Says:

    Bucs should Bring in Marcus Mariota and have him and Jameis fight it out for the starting QB role and ‘who really is the best QB” from that crappy draft class.

    It would be must watch tv or at least training camp. Bring HIM IN NOW>>>>


  31. BrianBucs Says:

    Winston needs to go. Period.

    That being said, the Titans just have given Licht an excuse to keep Winston.
    Arians so much as said in his presser that Winston wasn’t benched this year because once Gabbert was injured there was noviable option.
    The Bucs didn’t sign a capable backup because of Winston’s weak, fragile psyche then paid for it.
    If the Bucs do make the unpopular, bad decision to bring Winston back, I expect to see what happened with the Titans happen here (when Winston starts being Winston, turning the ball over and costing his team games) then the Winston saga here will be mercifully over

  32. Iron Wombat Says:

    The titans offensive philosophy is almost the exact opposite of the Bucs. Look at Tannenhill’s stats, they win games where he’s throwing less than 22 times a game. He was 7/14 with 88 yards against the Ravens.

    The Bucs can’t run block, they can’t run the ball. They don’t want to run the ball. Koetter didn’t like to run the ball here, he doesn’t run the ball in Atlanta. BA doesn’t care if they run the ball.

    If the Titans get forced to drop back and pass they’ll lose, same way the Raven’s lost. It’s not how they’re built.

    So to help anyone out that thinks Mariota can come here and right the ship, that guy was a liability on a team that who’s offense was built around Derrick Henry. Mariota physically can not operate BA’s offense.

  33. LordCornelius Says:

    Mariota sucks lol. He’s like Winston but without the TDs/yards and just the suckage

  34. Kobe Faker Says:

    Kobe Faker Says:
    December 14th, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    BA nonstop BSing

    Bucs are irrelevant

    beating bad teams when they are tanking while we are losing draft position!

    The day Jon Robinson left 1 buc place we have gone backwards

    congrats to GM Jon Robinson and the Tennesee Titans 2019 Superbowl Champions”

  35. Lavonte 1of1 Says:

    I thought Jameis melts at the first sign of serious competition at his position? That he doesn’t do well looking over his shoulders. This season proved that premise is wrong because Jameis doesn’t need an excuse. He’s certainly capable of melting away on his own without pressure from a backup QB.

  36. SB Says:

    813bucboi Says:
    January 14th, 2020 at 1:32 pm

    early TOs lead to being pass happy….

    hard to run the ball when you’re down by 14 in the first quarter…..

    GO BUCS!!!!!


    Stop being so rational before you are labeled a ‘hater’

  37. Defense Rules Says:

    Danny … FitzMagic was very short-lived, but this year in a starting role (13 games) he threw for 20 TDs and over 3,500 yards … against 13 INTs … on what was a bad Dolphins team that was supposedly trying hard to win the #1 draft position.

    And oh BTW, Miami’s defense was #32 (494 Points Allowed) and his running game was also #32 (with 1,156 rushing yards). Oh and Fitz’s 2 top receivers were the internationally well-known WR DeVante Parker (1202 yards on 128 targets 56.3% catch %) and his TE sidekick Mike Gesicki (570 yards on 89 targets with a 57.3 catch %). Oh and the Dolphins top rusher? Yup Ryan Fitzpatrick with 254 rushing yards.

    Hmmm. He won 5 games with THAT to support him. Wonder if he could’ve won at least 2 more games with all the ‘Weapons for Winston’ at his disposal.

  38. Buc1987 Says:

    Buddhaboy19 ….except no one cares about that crap anymore…

    Well there is one fan…

  39. Kobe Faker Says:

    “January 14, 2016

    the worst day in Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise history

    Today is the 4 year anniversary

    We let the future HOFer leave 1 Buc place and it has been never the same

    15 years from now, He will be considered the greatest GM in the history of the NFL

    Can we have a moment of silence

    Kobe Faker

  40. LordCornelius Says:

    It’s like people forget Fitzpatrick played for the Bucs in 2018, and went 2-6 with Mike Evans / Chris Godwin/ Desean Jackson / OJ Howard / Cam Brate / etc; while posting more INT’s than TD’s in his final 6 games after a fluke freak 2 game opening stretch.

    It’s like they forget the pick 6s’s & turnobers because of that 2 game stretch, but I remember the redskins game where he turned it over basically ever possession in which we had a chance to score, or the pick 6 to bury us against the Steelers early, or the 3 early interceptions vs a bad Giants team, etc

    Gonna keep posting until people remember lol

  41. miken Says:

    The fact that we couldn’t have another qb on the roster that could play at an NFL level to make it so #3 didn’t have to worry about anything was when I knew for sure #3 would never be great.

  42. miken Says:

    @lord… now were those turnover the recievers fault or the D’s fault like they are when Jameis throws them? Did Fitz have those bad games because of lack of run game and bad D or was it Dirk’s fault? I like Fitz but he is no more than a back up… although he did look good in Miami.

  43. Jeebs the Honey Bear Says:

    Having a solid veteran backup is smart, but how about we first focus on getting a decent starting QB?

  44. unbelievable Says:

    And what would their record be without that dominating offensive line and ferocious run game?

    Maybe someone can tell Licht to keep upgrading the trenches, since that is where football games are won and lost.

    But I agree about getting a very capable backup if Winston is back. Fk his feelings, put the pressure on him. If he can’t deal with a good backup, he’s not an NFL starter. Simple as that!

  45. tmaxcon Says:

    travis henry would make Bonzi look good behind center…. you give winston travis henry and they are in playoffs…. winston haters are equally as laughable as the United States Congress and that takes a lot.

  46. tmaxcon Says:

    anyone bringing a journey man garbage player like fritz to the argument needs to stick to gymnastics and synchronized swimming…. fritz is garbage as a backup or a starter there is 15 years of on filed failure to prove that….

  47. D-Rome Says:

    Titans fans sounded an awful lot like the Jameis Winston fans (many of whom are not Bucs fans) where they blamed the offensive line and lack of an effective running game for Mariota’s failures. Look at Titans boards in September and it’s filled with nonsense saying the Titans O-Line is the worst in the NFL which is a similar song sung by the mouth breathers around here. Derrick Henry was averaging 69.3 yards per game when Mariota was starting. Once Tannehill became the starter he averaged 112.4 yards per game. All of the sudden that same offensive line and run game that was so bad according to Titans fans turned into a great unit.

    Mariota was the problem just like Jay-Miss is the problem. The Titans had the guts to make the right decision and they didn’t care about the Hawaiian Prince’s feelings about having to look over his shoulder.

  48. AlteredEgo Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation. Says:

    Get a properly trained dog that doesn’t need a leash and draft a QB early for house training…spend the cap savings on in house players and FA’s

  49. LordCornelius Says:

    The problem with the Mariota / Jameis comparison’s is that Jameis lead the 3rd highest scoring offense in the NFL last year while Mariota’s offense averaged 16.3 points per game before he was benched – which would have ranked dead last in the league.

    It’s a bad comparison. Totally different QB’s and Mariota’s problem wasn’t turnovers as much as it was just sucking / not leading offenses to score points.

    Mariota = mike glennon captain check down QB with added mobility + injury prone

    Jameis Winston = gunslinging psychopath of a QB that leads leagues in all statistics good and bad

  50. SteveK Says:

    How does Fitzmagic outperform a Jameis? Price vs Productij: Fitzmagic > Jameis

  51. Defense Rules Says:

    Lord C … Again, look at what Fitz did THIS year in the Dolphins system with less talented receivers. MAYBE it’s the Bucs’ offensive SYSTEM that prompted so many INTs on Fitz’s part. MAYBE on Jameis’ part too. IDK.

  52. miken Says:

    The luckof the Bucs… Some years Teams chose between MM or JW and you lose either way and some its Eli or Rivers or Tua or Burrow and you win either way.

  53. Ndog Says:

    So D-Rome you think ROJO is our Derrick Henry? You think we are going to drop back to pass in this offense 14-20 times a game?

    Last question did you actually watch any of our games?

  54. LordCornelius Says:

    “Maybe someone can tell Licht to keep upgrading the trenches, since that is where football games are won and lost.”

    If that bum read this damn website he’d see that’s exactly what we all have collectively pounded the table about for years.

    I don’t even know who runs the drafts though. It seems clear the coaching staffs have huge influences…

    Lovie Smith – matt forte / charles sims. Dumping Revis for system players/etc.
    Dirk Koetter – Licht literally quoted Koetter as saying “that’s what I want” or something of that regard about OJ Howard when watching him play
    Mike Smitty – loved short slow CB’s like Grimes and zone D – hence VHIII
    Bowles/Arians – seemed to run the show for the last draft between the emphasis on secondary & penciling Devin White at 5 if he was there and emphasizing LB play in the defensive system

    Basically Licht has been a lapdog to bad coaches hired bad by owners IMO.

    That’s not a pass for him that’s just me saying what a stupid organization without transparency / true accountability. Until the owners figure out how to emulate other succesful franchises and legit front offices we are basically praying to god they actually luck out and hire a good head coach that can also guide the GM well. BA seems like the best hope so far but his Cardinals drafts weren’t that great either.

    We shall see


  55. LordCornelius Says:


    I guess I just don’t see the point. There’s no extrapolations or anything needed IMO. We saw Fitz operate with these same skill players/personnel and saw that he still struggled as much and actually outside of games 1-2 he was a lot worse than Winston in 2018 overall.

    Tons of variables go into why his 2019 season may have been more efficient. 20 TDs in 15 games = more of a game manager. Maybe being asked to do more = more efficiency in his game, but less general scoring. Either way I don’t look at his season and think “man he could have killed it if only he had Tampa’s weapons” because he literally just had that in 2018 and was more error prone with them.

    Also Devnate Parker was a R1 pick, and finally lived up the billing this year. He was a legit #1 WR and making huge plays all year. Geseki is a talented TE, and Albert WIlson isn’t a bad playmaker, but yeah the weapons in Miami sucked by comparison

  56. Craig Says:

    I think that the closest thing to another Tannehill out there will be Josh Rosen. We might be better off if Griffin gets coached up and Arians takes a liking to him.

    Again, there are only three teams that foresee a need for a first round QB. That takes out Burrow, Tua, and Herbert. There are 22 other QBs still out there. Fromm, Eason and a bunch of others are going to be waiting behind door number 28.

    Grab the top QB in Round 2, coach up Griffin and yank that leash. We will not be worse off than a QB with a positive of 3 in the touchdown, interception ratio.

  57. LordCornelius Says:

    asked to do less*

  58. Craig Says:

    After paying everyone else off this year, the Bucs could probably only afford someone like Josh Rosen. He would take as much work as Jameis will.

    Better to coach up Griffin and hope Arians takes a liking to him. Then draft a QB that fits the system and understands ball security.

    There are only three teams that feel the need badly enough to draft a QB in round 1. That takes out Burrow, Tua, and Herbert, but leaves Fromm or Eason behind door number 28.

    Then invite some undrafted QBs to visit. There is almost always a gem among them.

  59. Pit of Misery Says:

    DR: nailed it!!

  60. Mister Negative Nancy Says:

    From Arians comments at the end of the season, it sounds like he viewed Gabbert as his Tannehill… but Gabbert got injured. One wonders if Winston would have gotten the hook had he not.

    If there’s one thing offensive coordinators can’t stand, it’s a quarterback messing up their great playcalling by ending a drive with a turnover. Arians as head coach must feel the same.

  61. Stanglassman Says:

    This article is ridiculous. Comparing Jameis to Mariota is a Joke. Of course having a solid backup is important regardless who’s your starter. BA doesn’t like his Qbs looking over their shoulder. He wrote about that in his book and stated it is a press conference. That’s the quote people distort to claim Jameis fears competition. There will be no short leash for whoever Qbs for Arians.

  62. Dapostman Says:


    and the other side of the coin would be to run early in the game BEFORE turnovers.

    When the other team knows you are one dimensional you are at their mercy unless you impose your will on them via running the ball.

  63. Buccaneerscotty Says:

    Winston is NOT THE ANSWER PEOPLE!!!!! wake up ……

  64. Buczilla Says:

    Amen, agreed and awesome article.

  65. BucEmUp Says:

    Tannehill wouldnt be winning a damn thing if the rb and the defemse were not each at their levels. There are a numver of qbs who can win with that team and coach.

  66. Anonymous Says:

    What’s funny is The Bucs did sign a vet back up … Blaine Gabbert. He just got hurt.

  67. Rodney Munch Says:

    Tannehill has like 120 yards his last two games with Tennessee. They’re winning because of defense and Henry, not because of Tannehill.

    It would be like saying Brad Johnson won our SB…

  68. PUGS&BUCS Says:

    Completely called Mariotta as a bust 5 years ago (it’s on my Facebook “Memories” today, coincidentally).

    What did I base my opinion on?

    President Obama and Mark Dominik both said that Mariotta had more upside than Winston and both said Mariotta should be the 1st overall pick of the Bucs.

    If there were were two people who were universally wrong about EVERYTHING, it’s those two.