Inside our Sound-Smarter-Than-Your-Friends Guide to the Buccaneers’ Offseason:
• A ranking of the steps the Bucs need to take to look better on the field, performance-wise and aesthetics-wise.
• A look at Tampa Bay’s payroll and players on the roster bubble.
• A free-agency primer starring DeMarcus Lawrence, Trumaine Johnson and Le’Veon Bell.
• A rundown of potential first-round draft picks.
The first step in solving any problem is to identify that it is one. That’s easy enough. The Bucs were bad in 2017. Done.
The second step is to define a goal. Simple: Win more games.
The next step is to brainstorm solutions. And with that, let’s outline Tampa Bay’s areas of need heading into the offseason.
What are the Bucs’ priorities?
1. Acquire edge rushers.
You know it. They know it. Anyone who watched a quarter of football this season knows it.
The lack of a pass rush was Tampa Bay’s No. 1 issue. Not Jameis Winston’s injury. Or the lack of a run game. Or coach Dirk Koetter’s play-calling.
The Bucs recorded a league-low 22 sacks, but don’t get too wrapped up in that number. The goal is to disrupt the quarterback. Sacks are just one way to quantify that disruption.
Consistent pressure, whether it results in a sack or not, is more meaningful. Tampa Bay struggled to generate that pressure all season long, even when it blitzed. The Bucs generated pressure on three out of every 10 blitzes, the lowest rate in the NFL.
2. Acquire more edge rushers.
Sign them. Draft them. Trade for them.
Do whatever it takes.
If that means obtaining a vial of Lee Roy Selmon’s stem cells and injecting them into Will Gholston, you do it and don’t think twice.
3. Acquire cornerbacks.
The Bucs went into this season hoping that Brent Grimes, 34, would defy time and that Vernon Hargreaves would be not as bad as he was during his rookie season.
How’d that work out?
Grimes turned in another solid season, intercepting three passes and breaking up 11 others. Quarterbacks earned a 73.8 rating when targeting receivers in his coverage. He missed three games, however, because of a shoulder injury.
As for Hargreaves, the Bucs moved their 2016 first-round pick from outside cornerback to nickel cornerback. His replacement, Ryan Smith, was no less of a liability. Quarterbacks earned a 127.1 rating when targeting receivers in his coverage, highest in the NFL.
4. Bolster the offensive line.
Koetter might disagree. “I know our O-line is heavily criticized,” he said Monday at his end-of-season news conference. “I think our O-line is in the upper half of the league. I don’t know where the line is because I can’t rank them all, but when I’m looking at tapes of other teams, I see some bad offensive line play.”
He’s choosing his words carefully. He’s not going to trash his linemen. They played hurt. Some of them will be back next season.
It’s not as if he heaped praised upon the line, either. He didn’t call it a top 10 unit. He placed it in the upper half.
It’s a stronger pass blocking unit than it is a run blocking unit. The Bucs need the most help at guard, a weakness since Logan Mankins retired after the 2015 season. They rotated Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith at left guard throughout the season, which tells you neither seized the job. After missing all of 2016 because of back surgery, right guard J.R. Sweezy drew positive reviews during training camp but was an inconsistent run blocker during the season.
5. Bulk up Dirk Koetter.
You want a badass football team? Time to start acting like a badass football coach. No more apologies for savage tweets. No more compliments for coaches who slap you around.
If Saints coach Sean Payton wants to get weird after a game, get weirder. When Payton goes for a handshake, shift into Mortal Kombat mode. Reach under his arms, lift him off his feet and slam him to the ground, Johnny Cage-style. If his head falls off, his head falls off. Walk over, swipe his visor and wear it like a crown.
6. Acquire a running back.
For the second straight season, Tampa Bay finished among the bottom six teams in yards per carry. Part of that is on the offensive line, which struggled to consistently push defenses off the ball. The running backs weren’t an elusive bunch, either.
What’s ahead for Doug Martin, Charles Sims and Peyton Barber? Martin has played his last snaps in a Bucs uniform, so soon he’ll be far enough away that you won’t have to worry about him overhearing you say “Muscle Hamster.” Sims, the third-down and lateral-fumble specialist, is an unrestricted free agent. Barber, 23, emerged as the team’s best back and is an exclusive-rights free agent, which is the most oxymoronic designation in sports labor relations. He can’t negotiate with other teams, so he’ll return in 2018.
Tampa Bay could use a back who can force more missed tackles and also doesn’t have to come off the field on passing downs. Should it sign a free agent or wait until the draft and take one early?
The more cost-effective route might be free agency. In some cases, teams end up paying first-round backs more guaranteed money. Take Leonard Fournette, for instance. The Jaguars guaranteed their 2017 fourth-overall pick more than $27 million. Devonta Freeman received $22 million in guarantees from the Falcons when he agreed to an extension last offseason.
7. Fix the uniforms.
Time hasn’t made them any easier on the eyes.
What was the inspiration for this color scheme anyway? The food that collects in your sink before you push it down the garbage disposal?
Red, pewter, black, orange, chrome — it’s an obnoxious mish-mash.
As for the design of the uniforms, they look as if Nike tried to satisfy everyone who has ever had an opinion. You’ve had those office meetings where no one wants to dismiss the obviously bad idea. Striving for consensus — that’s how you get uniforms as ugly as these.
Because of NFL rules, the Bucs have to wear the same costumes one more season. But let’s get the ball rolling on prototypes so that we don’t have to see these things in 2019.
How would you rank Tampa Bay’s needs? Let us know in the comment section below.
Statistics in this report are from Pro Football Focus. Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected]. Follow @tometrics.
Other installments of the Sound-Smarter-Than-Your-Friends Guide to the Buccaneers’ Offseason: