Bucs get much-needed experience with backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t taking any chances this year at the quarterback position behind Jameis Winston. After losing longtime backup Mike Glennon in free agency this offseason, they signed 13-year veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal to bring more experience to their quarterback room.
The Bucs have been happy with the progress of backups Ryan Griffin and Sean Renfree. Both have two years’ experience in head coach Dirk Koetter’s offense. Griffin has been with the Bucs the last two years, including occupying a rare third quarterback spot on the active roster. He was no longer practice-squad eligible, and the Bucs believed he had potential to become Winston’s backup in 2017.
Renfree played for Koetter from 2014-2015 when both were with the Atlanta Falcons. Griffin has yet to take a regular-season snap, and Renfree has seen action in only two regular-season games. They needed more insurance behind Winston, despite Winston not missing a start in two years.
In 2016, 18 of 32 teams started multiple quarterbacks, and 33 over the last two years — the most since 2010, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The need for a backup quarterback is a very real one.
In 12 seasons, Fitzpatrick has seen action in 127 career games with 116 starts. What he lacks in system familiarity, he makes up in experience — this is his seventh NFL team.
Throughout his career, Fitzpatrick has struggled with accuracy. He has thrown a lot of interceptions. In fact, in the last two seasons, Fitzpatrick has thrown 17 interceptions, third-most in the league and one behind Winston’s 18. Fitzpatrick has a career completion percentage of 59.7 versus Winston’s 59.6.
Fitzpatrick doesn’t quite have the same abilities Winston has outside the pocket, but he’s adequate there. That wasn’t an area in which Glennon shined.
Fitzpatrick’s best season with the Jets came in 2015, when he took over the starting position for an injured Geno Smith. He set a Jets franchise record with 31 touchdown passes. The low point of the season was particularly tough, though. In Week 17, against the Buffalo Bills, he threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter. A win would have earned a playoff berth.
He was not able to replicate his performance the following year, even after a well-publicized contract dispute. He was eventually benched in favor of Bryce Petty but wound up starting again when Petty got hurt.
In Tampa though, there are no questions as to who’s starting and what Fitzpatrick’s role will be. He’ll mentor Winston, who is coming up on a critical third year of his development, which is why they brought in new weapons in DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin.
The Bucs are thrilled with Winston’s progress, but they want him to take that next step. Quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian recently raved about how Winston is becoming a “more precise, more accurate” quarterback this offseason. But that’s with receivers catching passes against air.
Fitzpatrick will serve as an extra set of eyes, and should Winston have to come out due to injury, he can step up and manage a game. And because the Bucs operate a run-first offense and have gotten much stronger on defense, he won’t have to carry the team on his back, should that situation arise.