General manager Jason Licht, who will lead the search for the Bucs' next head coach, made it clear on Monday that Jameis Winston is scheduled to be the starting quarterback for the Bucs next season.
"Jameis Winston will be here," Licht said, according to the Tampa Times. "We have him under contract for a year. He has done some amazing things for a young 24, turns 25 in a week, quarterback. He's accomplished more than most of the elite quarterbacks have at his age throughout that time span. There's a lot to like about Jameis. Jameis will be here next year."
Licht added that none of his coaching candidates seemed put off by the idea that Winston has been penciled in as the starter.
"Well, based on the texts and phone calls and emails that I've been getting since roughly 8 o'clock last night, I don't think that's going to be an issue," he said.
Winston had an uneven season in 2018. He completed 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,992 yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, and he was particularly effective in the Bucs' final game, throwing four touchdown passes with one interception. However, the Bucs lost that game to the Atlanta Falcons 34-32, and Winston was 3-6 as a starter this season.
Winston was suspended the first three games of the season for violating the NFL's player conduct policy. He served as the backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick when he first returned to the active roster. He made his first start of the season at Atlanta on Oct. 14.
After losing to the Falcons, he beat the Browns in overtime. But he threw four interceptions in a loss at Cincinnati and was benched for the next three games.
The Bucs have picked up the fifth-year option on Winston's contract worth $20.92 million.
"You know, I saw a lot in the second half of this season," Licht said of Winston. "Obviously, we went through a lot in the beginning of the season. Suspension. There was a lot going on in this organization that was tough for a lot of people to overcome. I saw him bounce back at the end of the year and play very good in my eyes. In a lot of people's eyes, with the conditions he was in. So we have a lot of faith in him."
Even though Koetter was fired, Licht was retained. Nonetheless, Licht admits he bears some of the responsibility for the Bucs' struggles.
"You know, right now, I'm just grateful to be here," he said. "I'm grateful to be here. I'm grateful to be standing here. I told that to Dirk last night. He told me he was happy that I was here and right now, like I said, the Glazer family put their confidence in me to find their next head coach. I'm grateful for that opportunity and we're committed to find that guy."
Koetter had been the Bucs' offensive coordinator when he was promoted to the head coaching position in 2016. But Licht said the team plans to go outside the organization this time.
"Just like last time, when I say cast a wide net, we considered many, many options," he said. "This year we're going to look outside. We're going to include (a consulting firm) Korn Ferry/Jed Hughes that I thought would help with this just to assist as a tool with the backgrounds. They have a lot of background on all these candidates that they've been compiling for many, many years. They've helped a lot of successful franchises assist them with their hiring and I felt like this would be, in terms of logistics, and knowing a lot of these candidates, this would be a great assist. But they won't be choosing a head coach."
Koetter reportedly is the leading candidate to become the Falcons' offensive coordinator.
--RB Peyton Barber was the Buccaneers' leading rusher on Sunday with 66 yards on 15 carries. He finished the season with 871 yards.
--WR Chris Godwin had his best game of the season on Sunday. He had six receptions for a season-high 114 yards and two touchdowns. He had not had more than one touchdown catch in any of the preceding games this season.
--WR Mike Evans had his eighth 100-yard receiving game of 2018 on Sunday. He had six catches for 106 yards and two scores. He ranks third in the league in receiving yards with 1,524.
--DE Jason Pierre-Paul had a sack against Atlanta on Sunday. That gave him 12.5 sacks for the season.
--S Andrew Adams collected his fourth interception of the season on Sunday. The other three came in a game against Carolina.