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Jones and Roger Goodell, among others, might still have some smoldering embers from the Elliott battle that aren’t likely to be tamped out anytime soon. But the question now is whether Winston will be the next big target of the NFL. The league has sent a clear, unmistakable message the past two years that no star player is above reproach and no matter the circumstances. Remember, as the Elliott case taught us — or reminded us, for those old enough to remember Ben Roethlisberger’s Milledgeville, Ga. incident — there do not need to be formal criminal charges filed in a case for a player to be suspended. Winston took three sentences and 57 words before he got to the point of actually denying the allegations from the 22-year old woman. The clunky statement read as follows: “A news organization [Buzzfeed] has published a story about me regarding an alleged incident involving a female Uber driver from approximately two years ago. The story falsely accuses me of making inappropriate contact with this driver. I believe the driver was confused as to the number of passengers in the car and who was sitting next to her. The accusation is false, and given the nature of the allegation and increased awareness and consideration of these types of matters, I am addressing this false report immediately. At the time of the alleged incident, I denied the allegations to Uber, yet they still decided to suspend my account. “I am supportive of the national movement to raise awareness and develop better responses to the concerns of parties who find themselves in these types of situations, but this accusation is false. While I am certain that I did not make any inappropriate contact, I don’t want to engage in a battle with the driver and I regret if my demeanor or presence made her uncomfortable in any way.”

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If the league chooses to do the same with Winston, they’ll be going after a franchise that’s about as apolitical as they come. The Buccaneers are owned by the Glazer family, following the death of Malcolm Glazer in 2014, and have nothing close to a Jones-like figure in the NFL. Co-chairman Bryan Glazer is said to have a good working relationship with Goodell and the league office, and Tampa is set to host the Super Bowl in 2021, but beyond that there’s little in the way of a strong connection or tension between the team and the league at large. This could be viewed one of two ways. On the one hand, going after Winston and perhaps disciplining him might not fit in with the league’s pattern of sending a message to powerful franchise owners such as Jones or the New England Patriots’ Robert Kraft, a one-time Goodell ally who was faced with defending his team’s and his star quarterback’s honor in the wake of the Deflategate controversy with Tom Brady. It remains to be seen whether the league would be willing to take as thorough of measures to go after Winston, a high-profile player at the sport's most visible position but one who happens to play for one of the NFL's lower-profile franchises. On the other, the Buccaneers and Winston could be viewed as easy targets. Given that the team or its owners yield very little in terms of league power and that Winston has a notable and disturbing past, the NFL could go in hard for what could be a relatively indefensible attack and be less subject to public scorn the way the fan bases of the Cowboys and Patriots have reacted. When we reached out to a member of the Buccaneers’ management — who asked to remain anonymous — to ask what the team’s scale of concern is, from one to 10, on whether the league will go after Winston, his response was clear: “One.”

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