Photo: Brian Blanco (Getty)

Jameis Winston is about to be suspended by the NFL for groping an Uber driver while waiting for food at a Mexican drive-thru. And it’s a very NFL thing that the three-game suspension initially reported by Adam Schefter isn’t necessarily a gimme, because NFL officials have yet to finish inputting all their necessary data into the Roger Goodell Punishment Generator. As with virtually every disciplinary case the Ginger Hammer has presided over, the NFL is endeavoring, with hilarious amounts of time and effort, to properly match the crimes in question to an ideal term of suspension. There is the allegation that Winston grabbed the driver’s crotch. There is the allegation that he was rude in the Uber from the get-go and was shouting homophobic slurs (I can guess which one) at random pedestrians.

And then there is the possibility that Winston (gasp!) lied about all of it, which would really grind Roger’s burrs. That’s the kind of thing that turns a three-game suspension into a 12-game suspension that gets reduced back down to three upon a tertiary appeal to the United States Supreme Court. It is now NFL ritual that these cases only get messier after they’ve been supposedly resolved. But you will excuse me if my attention drifts when this happens with Winston’s case, because Jameis Winston was never worth half a shit to begin with.

No matter how much damage Winston’s coming suspension inflicts upon them, the Buccaneers brought this on themselves. They were covering for Jameis before they even drafted him, going all the way back to his pro day. In fact, prior to the draft, then-coach Lovie Smith openly mused that beating a collegiate rape allegation (with no small help from officials at FSU and local police) was a useful asset for Winston, proving he was tough enough to handle the spotlight of PLAYING QUARTERBACK IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBAW LEAGUE:

“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room,” Smith told three local reporters before addressing the national media Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine. “He’s been accused of a crime. There’s an allegation. I have faith in our court system. He went through it. He went through the school justice system, and he was cleared. He went through our court system and he was cleared, exonerated (NOTE: Though charges were dropped, Winston and his accuser reached an undisclosed civil settlement)… I think he’s told us an awful lot with how he’s handled it,” Smith said. “It’s not like he’s getting ready to go into the NFL and scrutiny is coming his way. He’s gone through it a couple years now and he’s answered the bell.”

And they’ve carried water for him ever since. If having to serve as Winston’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders ever bothered the Bucs, there’s no evidence of it. They raved about Winston’s leadership. They bragged to the media about Winston burning the midnight oil and having his playbook on him at all times. They made him the centerpiece of Hard Knocks. They named him a team captain. When Lovie Smith underperformed, his reward for all that knob-polishing was a pink slip in favor of a more offensive-minded coach to help serve Winston. Other players on the team even offered up inane platitudes about Winston’s work in “the community.”

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This was far more than your standard, automated NFL franchise PR, where every soon-to-be-cut player turns heads at minicamp and every terminally injured player feels better than he ever has. This was a concerted, ongoing effort to rebrand Winston, to build him up and make him more respectable to the viewing public. They sold Winston as someone he never was, all so that the fans and the media and the brands never had to feel like they were making any kind of moral compromise in supporting him.

For three years, the Bucs have tried to will Winston’s supposed maturity into existence, telling everyone he’s a natural leader and a football savant despite there being little evidence—on or off the field—of such growth. It’s fucking embarrassing, and what’s even more embarrassing, but hardly surprising, is that a great number of people in the NFL media actually bought it. His rape case, now resting comfortably in a box marked THE PAST and sitting in the corner of an attic somewhere in Tallahassee, was rarely mentioned on TV, and certainly never in great detail. His entreaty to little girls to be “silent, polite, and gentle” got explained away by The Undefeated, of all places.

Meanwhile, the only thing that has been consistent about Winston is that his accusers are far more credible than he has ever been. In three years of playing quarterback, he has been an average to slightly-above-average passer whose turnovers are nearly as bizarre and idiotic as his off-the-field transgressions. He’s had one winning season. Anointed as a leader, he has strained and failed in the role, as evidenced here:

Judging by the story of the Uber driver, identified only as Kate, Winston’s off-the-field development has also been one grand lie, built out of nothing. Again, there was already plenty of evidence BEFORE the draft that making Winston the face of their franchise would be a colossal mistake. The rape case. The crab legs. “Fuck her in the pussy!” “Show ne [sic] da boobies,” etc. Did the Bucs give a shit? Reader, they did not. Everyone is entitled to be young and dumb. But Winston’s transgressions at FSU suggested that he was a lousy person and not merely an immature one: a terminal dipshit enabled and emboldened by authority figures, all of whom had more interest in whitewashing his sins than actively addressing them.

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So here the Bucs are, stuck with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB to begin the 2018 season and on the hook for an extra $20.9 million if they decide to keep Winston around for 2019. The team has yet to make a statement about Winston’s case, although I can assure you that his formal punishment will come with a stern letter from Goodell and a Certificate of Badness stamped with his signature. The Bucs could divest themselves of Winston for this if they chose to. But my guess is that they won’t. My guess is that they will profess vague “disappointment” in the outcome, and then keep Winston around and try to make it work. He’s a young man, you guys. He’s learned his lesson. We think he’s still got a lot of potential. It’ll probably sound a lot like the same excuses you heard for Winston years and years ago, and it’ll prove what nearly all of these cases prove: that it’s not merely the player who needs to grow the fuck up.