Ex-Jets exec Mike Tannenbaum compares Jameis Winston to Vinny Testaverde

Jameis Winston wouldn’t be the first quarterback to turn his career around after a change of scenery. One example would be Vinny Testaverde, who former New York Jets executive Mike Tannenbaum compared to the New Orleans Saints contender.

Like Winston, Testaverde started over from scratch after washing out with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both players were former first overall picks for Tampa Bay, but Testaverde’s road ran a while longer before he landed on his feet again. He didn’t cut it in Cleveland or Baltimore before landing with Tannenbaum’s Jets in 1998.

In six years and 76 games with the Bucs, Testaverde completed just 52% of his passes while lobbing just 77 touchdowns against 112 interceptions — compare that to Winston’s 72-game run in five years, which saw him complete 61% of his targets for 121 touchdowns, giving away 88 interceptions. Obviously the different eras introduce different standards of quarterback play, but the point remains that both passers had boom-or-bust reputations.

And Tannenbaum sees more similarities, writing at the 33rd Team:

“I saw it firsthand: Here was a guy who was in world-class shape. He was a great teammate, had tremendous ability, and he just needed a little more experience.

He didn’t start the first two games that season, but then he came in and took us to the AFC Championship Game. And we had the lead at halftime against Denver. Here was a guy who threw more interceptions than touchdowns in seven of his first eight seasons, and he had a breakout season in 1998, throwing 29 TDs and 7 INTs, with a career-best passer rating of 101.6.

I see remarkable parallels between Testaverde going to the Jets in ‘98 and Winston now having a chance to start in New Orleans. I think Winston can be the breakout player of 2021.”

Saints fans have been inundated with workout videos from Winston’s offseason training, including plenty of weight-lifting, agility drills, and passing sessions with his teammates in the receiving corps. It’s the same sort of groundwork Testaverde put in to make a strong impression over the summer with the Jets. If Winston puts up a similar statline in his first year with New Orleans, it’s tough to see how the Saints don’t point to him as a long-term heir to Drew Brees.

Here’s the rub, though. Testaverde couldn’t sustain that success after earning Pro Bowl recognition in 1998, posting his best record as a starter (12-1). He floundered in subsequent years, winning just 23 of his 48 remaining games with the Jets. He did hang around the NFL as a backup, playing his last game in 2007 at age 44.

Maybe Winston can find more consistency. As Tannenbaum pointed out, he’s just 27 years old (Testaverde was 35 in his breakout year with New York) and has plenty of time to turn his career around. But Testaverde’s story also shows how Winston might have plenty of time left in the NFL, just not as a high-profile starter. If he can’t defeat Taysom Hill for the gig in training camp, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll never play again.


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