“He had LASIK. And he didn’t want to count out any options that he had that could possibly help him with the game he loves so much,” Winston’s publicist, Denise White, said (via ESPN). “He doesn’t want to miss out on an opportunity that presents itself. This is the game he loves and he wants to be the best at it, and if there are any options that can improve his game, he is willing to do it.”
That emphasis on Winston’s options could almost serve as a reference to the fact that he is entering free agency, with no apparent assurance that he is far more likely to stay in Tampa Bay than wind up elsewhere. Adding to the uncertainty is that this offseason has the potential to be chockablock with high-profile free agent quarterbacks.
So Winston is going to want to head into that fray with as encouraging an outlook as he can muster for NFL front offices, and providing hope that he will actually be able to see better this season certainly can’t hurt. If nothing else, it could provide a bit of a counterweight to teams’ fears that he will continue with his generosity to opponents.
Since entering the NFL as the No. 1 draft pick in 2015, Winston has thrown by far the most interceptions (88, to Philip Rivers’s second-place total of 76) and the most pick-sixes (11). Rather than becoming more careful with the ball over time, he set career highs last season in interceptions (a league-leading 30, eight more than any other quarterback has thrown in a single season since he entered the league) and interception rate (4.8).
The 2019 campaign ended in ludicrous fashion, as Winston, needing just one more interception to reach 30, waited until the Buccaneers’ finale against the Atlanta Falcons went to overtime before tossing a season-ending pick-six. He thus became the first NFL quarterback in the dubious 30-30 club — at least 30 interceptions to go with 30-plus touchdown passes — but at least he could lay claim to those 33 touchdown passes, second most in the NFL.
Winston also threw for a league-leading 5,109 yards, and since 2015 he ranks seventh in total passing yards (19,737) and 10th in touchdown passes (121). Given that résumé, there could well be an NFL coach out there tantalized by the prospect of obtaining Winston’s big-play ability while ironing out some of his mistakes.
In that light, the idea that his improved vision might help his downfield accuracy and decision-making could be intriguing. By contrast, Arians’s assessment of Winston at a news conference in December — “He can’t read the scoreboard, but he can see the guys in front of him, so he’s fine” — had to have been far less encouraging.
Winston, who was known for occasionally squinting while on the sidelines, recently posted an image of himself wearing optometry shades with the caption, “They know!!!!”
It is unclear if the Bucs asked Winston to get the surgery or if he did it on his own. It is also unclear if Tampa Bay actually wants him back, especially with the options expected to be available and an attractive situation that includes a pair of Pro Bowl wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, as well as a talented tight end in O.J. Howard.
Of course, now more than ever, Winston can probably see himself back in Tampa Bay. But whatever decision he makes in free agency, presumably it won’t be a myopic one.