Bucs' QB plan: Secure backup before spending big on Jameis Winston

The Bucs are likely interested in keeping Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick together in 2018. Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla. -- With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the quarterback position on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

2018 cap hits of top returnees:

Jameis Winston -- $8.06 million

Ryan Griffin -- $1.1 million

Pending free agents: Ryan Fitzpatrick

Key stat: Winston has thrown the second-most interceptions in the league (44) since 2015 and has turned the ball over 59 times in 45 games.

Money matters: It's not about how much the Bucs are currently spending on quarterbacks, but how much they will be spending soon. Winston is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal. The Bucs will pick up his fifth-year option and work toward an extension that will pay him in excess of $100 million, the going rate for today's young quarterbacks.

The San Francisco 49ers awarded Jimmy Garoppolo a $137.5 million contract. The Detroit Lions gave Matthew Stafford a five-year deal worth $135 million. The Oakland Raiders gave Derek Carr a five-year deal worth $125 million. All of those deals were signed in 2017. Even Blake Bortles, who is getting a bridge contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars for three years and $54 million, is still averaging $18 million a year. Keep in mind, wide receiver Mike Evans will be getting his deal done first.

Big picture: The Bucs believe they have the right guy in Winston. After his shoulder injury healed, in Weeks 13-17, he led the league with 1,584 passing yards and was tied for third with nine touchdown passes.

The backup quarterback spot is particularly crucial for the Bucs, however, because Winston is under league investigation for an alleged groping incident involving a female Uber driver and could be subject to suspension. He also missed three games with that shoulder injury in 2017.

The Bucs liked the stability Fitzpatrick brought to the position, winning two of three starts. His even-keeled temperament was also the perfect balance for Winston, who has been inconsistent and has had some challenges controlling his emotions. Fitzpatrick and the Bucs have had discussions this offseason about returning. For him, it's not really about going where he can start, but what's best for his family. Fitzpatrick's deal with the Bucs last year was for one year and $3 million, which is a doable rate for more mentorship.

The Bucs have been happy with the development of Griffin as the third quarterback, and he actually outperformed Fitzpatrick in training camp before suffering an injury to his throwing shoulder. That's why they signed him to a one-year extension through 2018. He has yet to play in a regular-season game, but he has three years in coach Dirk Koetter's system and could serve as a long-term backup for Winston.