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How should the Buccaneers handle Jameis Winston now that it’s clear he’s a lost cause?

The Buccaneers need to decide right now if they still want Winston around in 2019.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not worth it anymore for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to keep waiting for Jameis Winston to figure things out. The first pick of the 2015 NFL Draft is making the same mistakes he’s made his entire career and there’s not much reason to believe he’s anywhere near becoming an upper echelon starter.

If anything, he’s going in the opposite direction.

Winston was sent to the bench Sunday after throwing four interceptions against the Cincinnati Bengals. In his place, Ryan Fitzpatrick recreated the FitzMagic of the beginning of this season and threw for 194 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Buccaneers back from an 18-point deficit. His second touchdown tied the game, 34-34, but the Bengals drove for a game-winning field goal to spoil the comeback.

Winston’s going to stay on the bench too. Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter announced Monday that Fitzpatrick will be the team’s starter for a Week 9 game against the Panthers.

On the year, Winston has just six touchdowns and a league-leading 10 interceptions, despite playing just 13 quarters of football in 2018. His 74.7 passer rating is the lowest of his career and, unless he supplants Fitzpatrick again, it’ll stay right there.

It’d also be a lot easier to be patient with his struggles if he wasn’t a problem off the field too. He missed the first three games of the year due to a suspension for touching an Uber driver inappropriately — the latest transgression for a player who’s had several.

It isn’t quite as simple as deciding Fitzpatrick gives the Buccaneers the best chance at beating the Carolina Panthers in Week 9. It’s time right now for the Buccaneers to decide if Winston has a future in Tampa Bay.

If he doesn’t, it’s in the team’s best interest to keep him off the field altogether:

Winston’s contract is guaranteed in 2019 if he’s hurt

When Washington decided in August 2015 that Kirk Cousins would be the starter instead of Robert Griffin III, it meant the latter would never suit up for the team again. He was inactive the entire season and dropped to third on the depth chart for one reason: Washington couldn’t afford risking Griffin getting injured.

Washington had already picked up the fifth-year option on Griffin’s contract for the 2016 season, but were able to part ways with it at no cost in the offseason. However, if he was injured and unable to pass a physical in the spring — Washington would’ve been on the hook for a fully guaranteed $16.155 million.

The Buccaneers now find themselves in the same position. Winston’s fifth-year option was picked up in April, which means Tampa Bay is on the hook for $20.922 million if he’s kept on the roster for the 2019 season.

So the Buccaneers need to decide sooner rather than later if they want Winston around next year.

If they do, Winston needs to be on the field so the Buccaneers can continue to look for growth and decide if he’s worth a long-term extension.

If they don’t — which the benching indicates — Winston needs to be shut down so the Buccaneers can keep him healthy and safely part ways without paying him the nearly $21 million he’s due to make in 2019.

Does Dirk Koetter even care about 2019?

The loss Sunday dropped the Buccaneers to 3-4 on the year — a disappointing record for a team that opened the year with impressive wins against the Saints and Eagles in the first two weeks.

It’s Koetter’s third year at the helm, and is well on the way toward becoming an 11th consecutive season for the Buccaneers that doesn’t end with a trip to the playoffs. That’s why he’s one of the NFL coaches most in danger of getting fired. He needs results right now.

That means that he decided Fitzpatrick is the guy under center in Week 9. But does Koetter care enough about the Buccaneers’ long-term viability to make Winston inactive for the last nine games of the season? Would he be inclined to throw Winston back in to the lineup if the FitzMagic wore off the way it did earlier in the year?

If Winston does get shut down entirely, the backup for Fitzpatrick will likely be Ryan Griffin — a sixth-year quarterback who spent two years with the Saints before joining the Buccaneers in 2015. To date, he’s never taken a snap in the NFL.

Jay Gruden was only in his second season in Washington and not much in danger of losing his job. Cousins also made things easy by putting together a great year that earned Washington a spot in the playoffs.

Fitzpatrick probably won’t do that. Winston probably wouldn’t either. But Koetter doesn’t really have the luxury to do anything other than try to win each game and get the Buccaneers in the playoff hunt.

Everything would be much easier for Koetter and the Buccaneers if Winston finally performed like a No. 1 pick, but he feels like a lost cause now. His inconsistency and egregious brain farts are hallmarks of his play, and there’s a very real chance it means his time playing quarterback for the Buccaneers ended Sunday.