The 2018 season was filled with disappointment for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had high hopes and expectations heading into the year. Ownership, along with the fans, could not be more eager to move on and focus their attention on the 2019 season, especially after the train wreck that was Dirk Koetter’s last year with the team.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need help. After all, the team finished 5-11 for the second consecutive year, and with poor coaching decisions, personnel usage, and a quarterback pinball machine, it was the final nail in Koetter’s coffin. Even with a very productive offense that finished 3rd in the NFL in yards and 1st in passing yards, it still only managed to finish 12th in points scored. Couple that with one of the worst defenses in the league (29th PPG), and it was a recipe for disaster.
Many wonder how general manager Jason Licht stuck around, but that was all but put to rest once the Buccaneers announced Bruce Arians as the new head coach. Without Licht and the prior connection with Arians from their Arizona Cardinals’ days, Arians wouldn’t have had Tampa Bay on his list of teams. Licht used Arians to keep his job in the past and is going to need him to save his job for next year as well.
For Licht, 2019 is a make-or-break-year, as it is the last on his contract. He will have one last shot to prove he assembled the right team. He finally feels as though he found the right leader and coaching staff to put it all together. With that said, this is a crucial offseason not only for Licht but for this franchise moving forward. Due to starting the offseason with just $7-million in cap space, significant decisions have to be made. Especially with a new coaching staff and a change of philosophy on defense, this will be a bustling team come free agency and the draft.
Key Free Agents
Left Tackle, Donovan Smith
By far, Smith is the most prominent free agent for Tampa Bay, both figuratively and literally. The blind-spot protector for quarterback Jameis Winston has been an iron-man since he was drafted 34th overall in 2015. Smith has logged 64 consecutive starts since coming into the league from Penn State. However, he has been an average left tackle in the league. Lucky for Smith, average still gets you paid big bucks on the open market. And this is true, especially when you play a position that only a handful of teams can say they are set at. The franchise tag would set the Buccaneers back $14-million, while a long-term deal would possibly be in the $12-million range for Smith. However, LT Nate Solder commanded a $15-million a year average in free agency last year, showing anything can happen once someone hits the market.
Middle Linebacker, Kwon Alexander
Unfortunately for Alexander, he tore his ACL in October and missed much of his ever-so-important contract year. Alexander has been the soul and emotional leader of the defense, but coming off an ACL injury, he presents significant question marks. Before the injury, his market value was somewhere in the $8-$10 million per year range. However a one year “prove it” deal may be what is best for the team moving forward. Along with a new defensive scheme and Todd Bowles taking over the defense, a decision would have to be made if they view him as part of that change and if Alexander would take a lesser deal.
Wide Receiver, Adam Humphries
Mr. Reliable is one of Winston’s favorite targets and someone I am sure he is hoping comes back. Humphries had a career season in his contract year posting 76 receptions, 816 yards, and 5 touchdowns. One of the most underappreciated receivers in the league is set to hit the open market and will finally get the recognition he deserves with a huge contract. His value is somewhere in the $8 million a year range for a top slot receiver at just 25 years old. The biggest question would be if the Buccaneers can afford to pay someone who would mainly be their 4th option on offense that type of money with their cap situation the way it is.
Free Agency Targets
Outside Linebacker, Anthony Barr
Barr is a perfect fit for Bowles and would be an immediate upgrade to anyone on the current roster as a 3-4 OLB. Barr will be 27 this season and will give the Tampa Bay defense a proven star, as he has made the Pro Bowl each of the last four years. Many believe Barr moving to a 3-4 would also allow him to use his athleticism and produce even more than he has.
Cornerback, Morris Claiborne
The veteran corner who was on Bowles’ defense the last two years, Claiborne would help out a struggling secondary and also help in implementing Bowles’ scheme. Claiborne has been on the field for over 80% of the defensive snaps each of the last two years and had more interceptions last year (2) than the entire Tampa Bay defensive backfield. This proved he could be productive, and most importantly, available after injuries took over the Buccaneers secondary last year.
Kicker, Matt Bryant
Yes kickers are people too, and the Buccaneers have had the worst time finding a stable kicker since releasing Bryant 10 years ago. Since then, Tampa Bay has had seven different kickers come in and try to take his place which has resulted in the Tampa known“kicker curse.” Licht can reverse the curse once and for all by bringing back Bryant.
Safety, Tyrann Mathieu
Arians is on record calling Mathieu his favorite player. The connections and need at safety are prominent. Mathieu will only be 27 this coming year and coming off a great season where he bet on himself, and he is ready for a big contract. He recorded 89 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 interceptions while playing a whopping 98% of the defensive snaps, silencing anyone bringing up his injury history. Another perfect fit to Bowles’ system as Mathieu was also part of the Arians/Bowles tandem in Arizona where Mathieu became a household name.
Running Back, Mark Ingram
The Buccaneers MUST fix the running game next season. One way is to add a proven running back while also hurting a division rival. Ingram has been splitting carries with Alvin Kamara and also served a four-game suspension last year. The lack of carries is vital for the future tread on Ingram’s tires and still has years left to produce.
EDGE, Josh Allen | University of Kentucky
I have coined Allen the “Derwin James of the front 7” as he can do it all. He is diverse and can play in any scheme or position along the linebacking positions and on the edge. He would be the best fit for Bowles’ defense if he somehow can make it to the Buccaneers pick. An elite pass rusher, he can drop into coverage and was a game-wrecker at Kentucky last season, registering an SEC-leading 17 sacks. Allen was a leader for Kentucky and consistently got better year after year. He would be the ultimate chess piece for Bowles.
Right Guard, Chris Lindstrom | Boston College
A near-certain plug and play starter at right guard in the NFL, Lindstrom would be a dream come true for the Buccaneers. Lindstrom was a stonewall at Boston College, and it transitioned to the Senior Bowl where he stood out in the strongest position group of the week.
Running Back, Josh Jacobs | Alabama
The best running back in the 2019 draft would bring instant impact and a game changer to the Buccaneers offense. Jacobs can run between the tackles, outside, has game-breaking speed, can catch out of the backfield and pass protect. Our own Nick Zeller-Singh broke down film of Jacobs and also declared him the best running back in the draft. Winston has always played best with a threat of the run, and Jacobs would be the perfect running back for this offense.
Running Back, Darrell Henderson | Memphis
Everything that I said about Jacobs applies with Henderson, except Henderson could be available as late as the 3rd round. He s a complete back and was the focal point of the Memphis offense. I have seen Henderson play in person and he always looked like the fastest guy on the field. In fact, I think he would have a Kamara type of season in the Buccaneers offense. Although they drafted Ronald Jones in the second round last year, Jones never was a pass catcher or pass protector the way Henderson or Jacobs have been in college.
Defensive End, Charles Omenihu | Texas
Stud defensive end for Texas would be a great fit in Tampa Bay’s 3-4 switch. At 6-6 275 lbs, Oeenihu is a beast of an athlete and put it all together in his final year in college posting 18 tackles for loss and 9 1/2 sacks. With a defensive scheme that is going to be multiple and diverse, Omenihu can provide flexibility throughout the defensive line.
If I was GM Jason Licht
The first order of business would be to figure out who I am keeping. Tampa Bay is tight on cap space, but the priority would be to hold on to free agent LT Donovan Smith. I know he hasn’t played like a top left tackle, but the Buccaneers cannot afford to add more holes to an already lackluster offensive line. That’s easy, though. Now come the hard decisions.
First, I would need to restructure Gerald McCoy’s contract, as the $13-million cap hit is too high for the production the team has been getting the last couple of years. If I can’t, then I would try and trade McCoy along with WR DeSean Jackson and TE Cameron Brate. According to Pro Football Network’s exclusive Offensive Share Metric (OSM), both Brate and Jackson ranked 4th and 5th respectively among Buccaneers’ pass catchers in productivity for their offense. This takes into account their success creating separation, route-running abilities, and how easy things were for the quarterback.
For comparison, the cheaper duo of TE O.J. Howard and WR Chris Godwin finished 2nd and 3rd respectively using the same metrics. I wouldn’t pay Humphries his estimated value of $8 million per year, although he has been a great piece. However, there are areas to address in more critical positions. If I can get Humphries for more around the $5-$6 million range, then I would be more inclined to keep him. With Mike Evans, Howard, and Godwin, Tampa Bay will be just fine at the position.
I also would be cautious on Kwon Alexander and giving a one year prove it deal is the best I would do. You cannot pay both your middle linebackers $10 million a year – that is not a smart way in handling your team needs and cap space.
Executing the Plan
With my extra resources, I am signing Barr and Mathieu. These quality veterans will flourish in a 3-4 and also provide much-needed leadership. In the draft, I am targeting Allen, Lindstrom, and Henderson. These additions would help finally solidify the run game and give the defense plenty to work with. If they can make these moves, the Buccaneers have a very good chance of turning things around and being the next team to go from worst, to first.