Buccaneers' Jameis Winston suspended first three games of 2018

Woody on Jameis Winston: 'I would cut him' (1:23)

Damien Woody says "hard decisions" have to be made about Jameis Winston after the Buccaneers QB received a three-game suspension for allegedly groping an Uber driver. (1:23)

TAMPA, Fla. -- Jameis Winston was suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season on Thursday, as the NFL said its investigation found the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback inappropriately touched a female Uber driver in March 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

In a statement, the NFL said Winston violated the league's personal conduct policy "by touching the driver in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent."

"Disciplinary action was necessary and appropriate," the statement said.

Winston's suspension is without pay and he won't appeal.

The NFL said in its statement that Winston is required to obtain a clinical evaluation and fully cooperate with any recommended therapeutic intervention program. The league said if Winston doesn't comply, it could result in further discipline. The NFL also said another violation of the personal conduct policy will result in more substantial discipline, including a potential ban.

"First and foremost, I would like to say I'm sorry to the Uber driver for the position I put you in. It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize," Winston said in a statement. "I apologize to my teammates, the Buccaneers organization and fans for letting them down and for not being able to be out there for the first three games of the season.

"Although I am disappointed in the NFL's decision, I understand the NFL's process, and I embrace this as an opportunity to take advantage of the resources available to help me achieve the goals that I have for myself."

Winston also said in his statement that he has to "hold myself to a higher standard on and off the field," and added that he has "eliminated" drinking alcohol.

The Buccaneers said in a statement they are "disappointed that Jameis put himself in a position that has been found to violate the policy."

Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick will start in Winston's place. The Bucs open the season on the road against the New Orleans Saints, followed by two home games, against the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and on Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Fitzpatrick won two of three starts for the Bucs last season when Winston had a shoulder injury.

The league began its investigation in November 2017 when a woman, who identified herself as "Kate," told BuzzFeed that Winston reached over and grabbed her crotch while waiting at a drive-thru at Los Betos Mexican Food at 2 a.m. Restaurant management told ESPN that they did not have security footage of the drive-thru.

No police charges were filed but the driver did file a formal complaint with Uber. She told BuzzFeed that she wanted to tell the truth "about a powerful man who felt entitled to my body when all I wanted to do was my job." Uber confirmed to ESPN that Winston's riding privileges were revoked, but Winston did not notify the league of the complaint.

Winston denied the allegations and said he believed the woman was mistaken as to the number of passengers in the car and his location in the vehicle. Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby, a former Florida State teammate, said he was also a passenger in the vehicle and corroborated Winston's account that he and Winston were in the back seat and that a third person was in the passenger seat. Darby did not identify the name of the third passenger publicly.

Attorney Mark Scruggs told Outside the Lines last week that his client, former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks, had been with Darby and Winston throughout the night until the Uber showed up for Winston. Scruggs said any implication that Banks was the front-seat passenger is false.

The Uber driver's attorney, John Clune, disputed Darby's account, saying that Winston was the only passenger in the vehicle.

Clune also represented Erica Kinsman, who accused Winston of sexual assault at Florida State in 2012. The accusation was investigated by Tallahassee police, who were widely criticized for their handling of the case. Charges were never filed, and Winston was not suspended from the school or disciplined by the football team.

Winston was disciplined in a separate incident, in September 2014, for standing on a table inside the university's student union, shouting a sexually explicit internet meme.

The student at Florida State filed a civil suit against him, and he countersued. The suits were settled out of court in 2016 and specifics were not released. Florida State, was, however, found culpable in a Title IX lawsuit filed by Kinsman for its handling of her complaint. In January 2016, the school agreed to pay her $950,000 but did not admit liability as part of the settlement.

The league had been criticized for its pace in the Uber investigation, with Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer, general manager Jason Licht and coach Dirk Koetter all saying they were "frustrated" by the lack of movement. By mid-April, five months into the investigation, Winston still had not been interviewed by the league, but the team was cautiously optimistic he would not miss playing time.