Buccaneers GM: Jameis Winston not a bust, has bright future in NFL

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have parted ways with Jameis Winston, who remains unsigned as a free agent, but general manager Jason Licht believes the quarterback still has a bright future in the NFL.

Licht was asked during his pre-draft news conference Thursday if he believes the Heisman Trophy winner, whom Licht selected first overall in the 2015 NFL draft, "was a hit or a miss."

"We have a lot of respect for Jameis. Jameis was still part of our plan if things went a different route," Licht said. "We've got a lot of respect for him. I thought he did a lot of great things, and anybody in our office or building would say the same thing. He did some spectacular things for us. I would never say that, personally -- and I think I speak on behalf of the organization -- that he's a bust. I think he's got a bright future ahead of him."

Instead of bringing Winston back on a long-term contract -- which Tampa Bay has never done with a quarterback draft pick -- or a short-term deal, the Bucs signed their top free-agent choice, Tom Brady, to a two-year deal. Brady, a six-time Super Bowl champion, had a familiarity with Licht from when they both were with the New England Patriots.

Had that fallen through, the Bucs were interested in Teddy Bridgewater, who signed with the Carolina Panthers. Winston was in the mix, although there was significant concern over his turnovers, an issue that has plagued him since college and only worsened in his first year under Bucs coach Bruce Arians. Winston threw an NFL-high 30 interceptions in 2019.

"[It] really comes down to we had a chance to get Tom Brady, and Tom Brady is a hell of a player, and we're very excited about that," Licht said. "I'm very confident that Jameis is gonna go on and get an opportunity. That's not the last you're gonna hear from Jameis."

Winston appeared on Fox News on Wednesday and described it as an honor to be replaced by Brady, whom he met in 2017 when the Bucs faced the Patriots and who has been a source of inspiration.

"One thing about Tom Brady is it's understood that he is the GOAT," Winston said. "For you to get replaced by Tom Brady in a city that you love so much, I guess that's kudos to me."

Winston continues to train daily in Tampa, utilizing strength training, field work and pool work, even during social distancing restrictions. His efforts to rehabilitate a surgically repaired torn meniscus have gone well.

"I'm going to have to play the Tom Bradys, the Patrick Mahomes and all the other great quarterbacks eventually," Winston said Wednesday. "That's how you win Super Bowls, and that's what I want."