It’s pretty rare that we get explosive Buccaneer news in the middle of June, but here we are. Last Thursday, fan-hate target Austin Sefarian-Jenkins was kicked out of practice, and vented his frustration on Twitter afterwards by sparring with trolls. It was, needless to say, a pretty rough day for Austin.
I should disclose early on here that I’m probably a bit biased on this topic. I’m a huge believer in the talent that Sefarian-Jenkins possess. Anyone that follows me on Twitter has seen me go to bat on this subject multiple times in the past (I can’t believe that it’s controversial to like the prospects of a behemoth tightend with blocking chops and a similar physical makeup of other star tightends, but alas). I was in attendance at Radio City Music Hall when the Bucs selected ASJ in the 2nd round. In the pre-draft process I’d become familiar with his name and game, and stood up to applaud the pick. The Bucs needed a tightend, and they’d just landed the most physically imposing one in the draft. I kept thinking about how cool it would be if, five years down the road, I could say that I witnessed the Bucs draft their tightend of the future.
As I write this today, I still have hope for that idea. I hope that this isn’t just a part of the downward cycle of a talented player. Being a life-long resident of Tampa Bay I’ve seen countless talented athletes come through, fail, and then go elsewhere to flourish. While I personally would hate to see that once again play out with Sefarian-Jenkins, it seems that many Bucs fans are not only resigned to the idea but are demanding it. For many, ASJ’s outburst on Thursday was the final straw, and it may perhaps be with the Buccaneers as well.
After Thursdays debacle the Bucs are faced with a difficult decision. Do they give in to the demands of the masses, or do they continue to wait for Sefarian-Jenkins to break through? I contend, bias considered, that they should go with the latter option.
The root of most peoples frustrations is found in ASJ’s lack of production, as is the case with most players disliked by fans. Over the course of his two injury riddled seasons the tightend has only registered one game with more than 60 yards receiving and has had some crucial drops sprinkled in along with some penalties. It didn’t take much detective work to figure that out, and it’s tough to blame people for their frustration in that regard.
Often what happens when a player fails to produce is a snowball effect of criticism. People begin to hyper-analyze your every move to try and paint a narrative about your off-the-field personality. From an outside perspective they’ll take apart your tweets or try to read your body language on the sideline. They’ll say you laugh too much, or you don’t laugh enough. We saw it happen with Jameis Winston in his final year at FSU, and saw it happen with Gerald McCoy over the course of this last season. We will see it countless times in the future, and we’re seeing it presently with Sefarian-Jenkins and the analysis of his emotional outburst on Thursday.
The truth of it in my opinion is that it’s irresponsible to cut a talented player in June for the offenses that ASJ is guilty of, which can be rounded up as mostly harmless diva behavior. The call to cut ASJ is reactionary, and only serves to appease the angry lynch mob. The Bucs are a better team with Austin Sefarian-Jenkins on the roster, and simply giving up in June is a detriment to the roster. ASJ is no doubt expendable from the Bucs perspective due to the presence of Brate, Vitale, Stocker and Myers, but ASJ still remains the most talented of that group.
The wise move for the Bucs is to advise Sefarian-Jenkins on just how razor-thin the ice is that he’s skating on. Spell out to him how expendable he is. Employ a strategy to get him bought into the program, and wait it out until training camp. Make Jameis Winston his roommate, and see how it goes. If late July comes around and he’s out of shape, or still being removed from practices for “not knowing what he was doing”, drop the hammer and move on. Sefarian-Jenkins isn’t violent, or contagious with any disease; there’s no risk at all involved in hanging on till training camp.
The Bucs need only look at how the Lightning handled the Jonathan Drouin situation. The Bolts responsibly considered the upsides and downsides to keeping or moving on from Drouin, and realized that the potential he possessed was worth waiting on. Despite relentless fan and media demands to cut or trade the talented Drouin, the Lightning weathered the storm and gave the 21 year old Drouin the opportunity to learn from his mistake. The only scenario worse than a complete meltdown from ASJ is one in which the Bucs cut bait too early and watch their former second round pick prosper elsewhere.
There’s no way to predict whether Sefarian-Jenkins will go the way of mega-bust Josh Freeman or the way of promising Jonathan Drouin. Sefarian-Jenkins, like Drouin and Freeman, is ultimately responsible for his own fate. It’s on him to understand that trolling back at fans on Twitter may feel good, but it’s a terrible look, especially for someone with an already – fair or not – sullied reputation. The Bucs can do any number of things to help guide him towards success, but he has to decide whether he wants it or not. I only hope that the Bucs give him that opportunity come training camp and don’t give up too early.