But it wasn’t just a case of Winston trying to avoid bulletin board material.
One of the things that has stood out most since the Buccaneers replaced Winston with Tom Brady in March 2020 is how positive and optimistic, humble and reflective he has been instead of angry or bitter toward the organization that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2015.
Winston’s coaches and teammates insist he has been the same way behind closed doors. Left tackle Terron Armstead said those same mannerisms you see from Winston in interviews -- the animated voice, hands and facial expressions -- are the same you might see from Winston talking about “a pingpong tournament.”
“Honestly it’s amazing being around Jameis. I love the guy to death. That positivity and energy he brings; he’s not trying to. It’s just genuinely him,” Armstead said. “Jameis is a 100% genuine person. You really would never get a chance to fully understand or acknowledge him being so genuine unless you have a chance to be around him, and it’s great.”
Saints coach Sean Payton has mentioned Winston’s leadership skills in the same breath as his arm talent almost every time he has discussed his quarterback over the past year and a half.
“He’s definitely a glass-half-full guy,” Payton said. “And Drew Brees was that way, and I think I am to some degree.”
When Winston, 27, insists Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay is big for him because every game is big as he tries to revive his career, those inside the building believe that’s true.
“I don’t think he sees it as a chip on his shoulder. I think he realizes the situation that he’s in, and he’s trying to take full advantage of it,” quarterbacks coach Ronald Curry said. “I think he sees it as a blessing. He’s a spiritual guy. And I think he looks at it on a positive side to where he’s getting another opportunity to prove himself.
“You’re not gonna be around anybody who works harder, who studies harder, who tries to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.”
ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Brian Griese, who spent time talking with Winston and the Saints last week before calling their 13-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks, said he has covered Winston since he was at Florida State when he won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship.
“He has been consistent. That’s who he is. He is an uber-positive individual,” Griese said. “I don’t know what he says to his family behind closed doors. I don’t know what he said for the months after he was dumped in Tampa. I don’t know that he would’ve had an argument. He had a hill to climb. And I give him credit. He humbled himself, which he had to do first, and realized that the way he was playing the game was flawed.
“His demeanor’s not for everybody -- I get that -- and some people don’t buy it, some people do. But as long as he buys it, and as long as he humbled himself, and as long as his teammates believe in him, I think that’s all that matters.”
Winston’s longtime trainer and friend, Otis Leverette, explained Winston has had the same approach since he was a highly recruited teenager. And even though they traveled the country together this past offseason to work with different trainers and glean new ideas, “I don’t want to sell to the world like he’s just revamped himself -- where he was this synthetic human being up until last year when he got humble.”
Winston has fully acknowledged his shortcomings in Tampa -- turnovers being the most notorious. Winston infamously became the first player in NFL history to throw at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same season in 2019 while also leading the league with 5,109 passing yards.
He has worked diligently to fix that, saying the No. 1 thing he learned as Brees’ backup was to focus on making the right decision every time instead of trying to force home runs.
Winston has thrown three interceptions with one lost fumble through six games. However, as Griese said, Winston is a “work in progress” in New Orleans’ offense, where he has basically served as a supporting cast member next to the run game and defense. The Saints have attempted the fewest passes in the NFL (25.8), partly because they have played in so many lopsided games.
Winston has flashed his usual big play ability with 13 touchdown passes and four completions of 49-plus yards. His passer rating of 102.4 is a career best. But his completion percentage of 58.9% is his lowest since his rookie year.
Part of that is because New Orleans is woefully short on proven receiver talent because of injuries and the salary cap. But Winston admittedly needs to get better at short and intermediate passes.
“Throwing the ball a foot in front of his [receivers’] numbers was one of the things I tried to call out on the broadcast. He missed a couple of those, especially on crossing routes,” Griese said, while acknowledging those are some of the hardest throws to make, especially in the wet and windy conditions in Seattle. “He needs to be better at that, he knows that, Sean knows that. But the big one was turning the ball over. And he’s protecting the ball, he’s not taking the shot when it’s not warranted.
“Jameis has the right head coach. And probably more important than that, he has the right mindset. It’s about learning the offense and being a part of that team and winning games. And that’s a good place for him to be.”