The Bruce Arians era is underway in Tampa. With the combine finally here and the Draft about two months away, the Bucs have a lot of work cut out for them.
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there are a lot of areas to improve upon this offseason but the majority of the talk will surround quarterback Jameis Winston. Heading into the fifth year of his rookie deal, Winston needs to perform right away. This means general manager Jason Licht needs to surround Winston with talent while also fixing a defense that was the worst in the NFL.
Fixing the offensive line might be the biggest need for the Buccaneers. They invested big money on the interior of the line by signing center Ryan Jensen to a four-year $42 million contract and extending guard Ali Marpet for $55 million till 2023. The rest of the line is a mystery.
Caleb Benenoch was thrown into the starting lineup at the other guard spot and the results were bad. According to Pro Football Focus, Benenoch ranked as the fourth worst among 88 qualified guards. He won’t be there for long though. During his press conference at the combine, Licht laid out his plan moving forward.
The Bucs drafted Alex Cappa in the third round in 2018 and will get first shot at taking over at right guard.
The book-ends on the offensive line are the biggest question marks among the unit. Veteran Demar Dotson will turn 34 later this year and hasn’t played an entire year since 2014. This upcoming season also marks the end of the Dotson’s contract. The Buccaneers need to figure out a long-term solution at the right tackle spot.
Donovan Smith might be the second-most talked about Buccaneer on offense. Coaches have touted how much they love him, but fans and the media have raised issues with his level of play. Yes, Smith has played every single game of his career but the results leave a lot to be desired. Smith has never posted a rating of over 67 according to Pro Football Focus. He’s also allowed at least 42 pressures every season.
If allowed to hit free agency, Smith is expected to make between $14-$16 million a year. However, the Bucs are expected to franchise tag him which will pay Smith around $14 million. He’ll be on the roster in 2019 and take home a lot of money, but the front office will have to determine if Smith will be worth the big money after next season.
The linebacking unit is in a bit of an unknown stage at this point. Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander have anchored the middle of the field for a number of years but now their futures’ in Tampa are in question.
Alexander suffered a season-ending injury after six games and is set to become a free agent. At the combine Wednesday, Licht talked about what the team wants to do with Alexander.
Video: Bucs GM Jason Licht talks about free agent LB Kwon Alexander as the “heartbeat” of his defense and someone they hope they can re-sign in the next few weeks. pic.twitter.com/B63dD5YH9d
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) February 27, 2019
If Alexander is not back in a Bucs uniform, expect this team to prioritize linebacker early in the draft.
David’s name being brought up as someone on the way out is very surprising. Local Tampa sports radio host Tom Krasniqi hinted that a big name could be on their way out and then brought up David’s name. First off, that’s absurd. David is arguably the most talented player on the Bucs defense. He’s a leader and there isn’t anything he can’t do. While I don’t believe this rumor, it’s something to keep an eye on just in case.
Interior Defensive Line
The Buccaneers invested a lot of money into the defensive line. On the interior, their goal was to take some pressure off of Gerald McCoy. They signed Beau Allen from the Eagles and drafted Vita Vea with the 11th overall pick in the draft. After coming back from injury Vea come back slowly but eventually flashed the talent that warranted such a high draft pick.
Rumors have been swirling that McCoy might not be back. He’s on an expensive contract and is getting up there in age. However, last week, fans thought they had answers. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times stated that McCoy would be back and would have a role in Todd Bowles new defense. Fast forward to Wednesday, again at the combine, Licht sounded less than convinced that McCoy would be back.
Licht specifically declines to say Gerald McCoy definitely will be back for 2019. Says he likes McCoy, that he’s under contract.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) February 27, 2019
Even if McCoy is back in 2019, this question of his production/age worth the money he’s making. In such a deep defensive line class, the Bucs could pick another interior lineman to pair with Vea for the long term.
As part of their efforts to improve in the trenches, the Bucs went out and traded for Jason Pierre-Paul from the Giants. Immediately the team reaped the benefits of having an edge rusher that’s wreaked havoc for a long time. Pierre-Paul recorded 12.5 sacks, the first Buccaneer since Simeon Rice in 2005 to have double-digit sacks.
Carl Nassib was probably the most pleasant surprise on the team. After being cut from the Browns, Nassib found his way to Tampa and into the starting lineup. Over nine starts and 15 games overall, Nassib picked up 6.5 sacks, which was second on the team.
So why is edge a need? Well, I just don’t think that level of production from both Pierre-Paul and especially Nassib is sustainable. JPP just turned 30 and Nassib has 12.5 sacks over three seasons. It would be in the best interest of the Bucs to find an edge rusher to help out possibly take over in the near future if the situation calls for it. And there’s no such thing as too many pass rushers.
This is another unit the Bucs need to take a hard look at this offseason. The defense has a whole left a lot to be desired but the secondary was the worst of them all. Brent Grimes didn’t play like up to the standard he built for himself, Vernon Hargreaves showed early promise but was lost early with an injury, and two rookie corners were thrown into action.
After some comments criticizing the coaching staff, it’s probably safe to say Grimes won’t be back. The hope is Hargreaves can come back and play the slot, where is a lot better playing than the outside.
Carlton Davis and M.J Stewart were both selected in the second round and thrown into starting action early and often. They had their struggles but should be in the plans long term for the new coaching staff.
Licht did mention that Stewart would be moved to safety this offseason, which should take advantage of his skill set a little more. Davis should be the favorite to be CB1 on the team but that’s not set in stone. The Bucs will need to find another corner on the outside to pair with Davis. There are a lot of big names in the top of the draft but be careful, this class isn’t particularly deep.
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