Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' coach Koetter unlikely to give up play-calling duties

TAMPA — When Dirk Koetter dropped a bit of a stunner in his season-ending news conference by saying he was considering giving up the Bucs' play-calling duties, I suggested the head coach might have been just talking out loud.

It was an emotional time, and while he might have regretted not being able to spend as much time in the quarterback meeting room this season, Koetter excels at play-calling and truly loves that aspect of the game. That's how he became head coach.

Koetter has two assistants who could take over the play sheet: offensive coordinator/receivers coach Todd Monken and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian.

And Koetter made it clear he didn't have to make a final decision for a while. "Until Sept. 10 next year," Koetter said. "I have that long."

But if past is prologue, Koetter would do well to reconsider. Head coaches Andy Reid, Bill O'Brien, Mike McCarthy and Sean Payton all abandoned their play-calling responsibilities only to take them back.

The belief at One Buc Place is Koetter is pretty sure what he is going to do. The safe bet is he will call plays again in 2017.

"I made plenty of mistakes, and I'm going to do better next year, I promise you," Koetter said.

There's no reason to doubt him or to think he would give up the thing he loves best about the game.

FREE AGENT APPROACH: William Gholston was the team's best run-stuffer this season, and he was sorely missed the last two games of the season after dislocating his elbow in Dallas.

The Saints capitalized in Week 16 with Mark Ingram rushing for 90 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries in a 31-24 loss by the Bucs, one that essentially prevented them from making the playoffs.

"They ran down hill on us," GM Jason Licht said.

So if you're making a priority list of the Bucs' own free agents they should want to re-sign, Gholston probably should be at the top.

Gholston finished with 49 tackles (37 solo) to lead all defensive linemen and, he added three sacks. He is only 25 and has grown as a player and a person since the team selected him in the fourth round in 2013.

Of course, defensive linemen who can play tend to hit the lottery if they make it to free agency, even ones such as Gholston, who has only 10 career sacks.

The Bucs' defensive line already lacks depth. DE Jacquies Smith tore his ACL in the season opener at Atlanta, and the Bucs should have interest in bringing him back when the time is right. Smith had 13½ sacks in 18 starts from 2014-15.

"I want to keep our top contributors around, and we have a track record of rewarding our players that produce, keeping key players that thrive in the system, and we have the salary cap flexibility to make it happen," Licht said. "It's a matter of two sides agreeing, and I'm encouraged it will work."

Licht wouldn't speculate on any free agents. Koetter already has said he would like the team to reach an agreement with RB Jacquizz Rodgers, who led the team in rushing. It's also clear the team would like to get back WR Russell Shepard and CB Josh Robinson, one of the best in special teams coverage.

A smart thing would be to lock up WR Mike Evans, who will be entering his fourth season. At minimum, the Bucs will pick up his fifth-year option while working on an extension. Evans has lived up to expectations with 238 receptions for 3,570 yards and 27 touchdowns.

But it would likely be an enormous deal. In 2015, the Falcons secured WR Julio Jones with a five-year, $71.25 million deal. Dez Bryant received $70 million for five years with $45 million guaranteed from the Cowboys.

Shepard had a career-high 23 catches for 341 yards and two touchdowns while excelling in kick coverage. He also is one of the most vocal and spirited leaders on the team.

Robinson, a backup cornerback, had a lot to do with the success of punter Bryan Anger, who signed a five-year, $17 million extension on New Year's Eve. His kick coverage is worth investing in.

Two players who are exclusive-rights free agents could be in for big paydays — TE Cameron Brate and WR Adam Humphries. Both were undrafted free agents and have outperformed their contracts, especially Brate who led all tight ends with eight TD catches last year.

The Bucs have control of both players for at least two more seasons, but in a game where injury could derail or end your career, they might be willing to do something contractually sometime before training camp.

V-JAX FUTURE: One player who hasn't been heard from since he was placed on injured reserve is WR Vincent Jackson, who turned 34 last week. He lived up to his five-year, $55.5 million contract with the Bucs. Injuries have limited him to 15 games over the past two seasons. Jackson might have some football left in him, but my gut tells me with the roots he has put down in Tampa Bay, he will retire. Stay tuned.

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