Jameis Winston (USA Today Sports)
Jameis Winston (USA Today Sports)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston issued a statement acknowledging that he has been suspended for the first three games of the 2018 NFL season, apologizing to the Uber driver whom he was accused of groping in a March 2016 incident.

Winston, who accepted the punishment from the NFL and will not appeal, also indicated that he has stopped drinking alcohol.

“The NFL informed me today that I will be suspended for the first three games of the season," the statement reads. "First and foremost, I would like to say I’m sorry to the Uber driver for the position I put you in. It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize. In the past 2 1/2 years my life has been filled with experiences, opportunities and events that have helped me grow, mature and learn, including the fact that I have eliminated alcohol from my life."

Winston was punished for violating the league's personal conduct policy after not properly reporting the incident to the NFL. He was accused of groping a female Uber driver in Scottsdale, Arizona, in March 2016. Although no police report was filed, Uber had documented the woman's claims and suspended Winston as a customer.

The league also issued a statement Thursday, saying that the woman's claims were found to be "consistent and credible," finding that Winston "[touched] the driver in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent."

Additionally, under the terms of the punishment, Winston must "obtain a clinical evaluation and fully cooperate in any recommended program of therapeutic intervention" from the league. Failure to do so will result in further discipline. Winston also will be subject to harsher punishments if any additional incidents deemed to be conduct violations occur, including a potential ban from the NFL.

But why three games and not six? Back in 2014, the league revised and strengthened its policy as it relates to domestic violence or sexual assault. The wording in that statement appeared to make it clear that this suspension should have been longer. It reads: "A baseline suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, battery, domestic violence, dating violence, child abuse, other forms of family violence, or sexual assault, with consideration given to possible mitigating or aggravating circumstances."

It appears the league cut a deal with Winston in exchange for him not appealing the case, avoiding a situation drummed up with the court drama the NFL faced with Ezekiel Elliott last year. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero also reported that Winston's apology was part of the negotiated settlement on his reduced suspension, although Winston did not admit guilt to the conduct the NFL says violated the policy.

The Buccaneers, who soon must decide if they can trust Winston to be the continued face of the franchise, are not happy with how their star quarterback handled himself on a number of front regarding this incident.

"All members of our organization are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the Personal Conduct Policy of the NFL," a Buccaneers team statement reads. "We are disappointed that Jameis put himself in a position that has been found to violate the policy & accept today’s decision by the Commissioner."

The NFL began its investigation in November 2017, and Winston issued a statement around that time indicating that the "accusation [was] false" and claiming that he "did not make any inappropriate contact."

Winston's statement issued Thursday carried a different tone.

"I know I have to hold myself to a higher standard on and off the field and that I have a responsibility to my family, community, and teammates to live above the platform with which God has blessed me. I apologize to my teammates, the Buccaneers organization and fans for letting them down and for not being able to be out there for the first three games of the season. Although I am disappointed in the NFL’s decision, I understand the NFL’s process, and I embrace this as an opportunity to take advantage of the resources available to help me achieve the goals that I have for myself.

"I now look forward to putting this behind me and I will continue to work hard every day to be a positive influence in my community and be the best person, teammate and leader I can be.”

Winston will miss his team's games against the New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, and he will be eligible to make his regular-season debut on Sept. 30 at Chicago. Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick likely will take Winston's place as the starter for the first three games, but he can practice and play in preseason games up until that point.