INDIANAPOLIS — The Bucs had one of the highest paid offensive lines in the NFL last season, but new coach Lovie Smith said it didn't play that way.
With RG Davin Joseph coming off knee surgery and LG Carl Nicks limited to only two games because of complications from MRSA, Tampa Bay struggled to find consistency and ranked last in the league in total offense and 30th in points per game.
"Offensive linewise, we didn't play as well as we need to," Smith said. "The way we paid at the position said we should've been the best team in the league almost, and that wasn't the case."
The Bucs starting offensive line is scheduled to earn about $28 million in 2014, led by Nicks ($7 million), LT Donald Penn ($6.75 million), Joseph ($6 million), C Jeremy Zuttah ($4.5 million) and RT Demar Dotson ($2 million).
"Part of our evaluation, yeah, money does come into play," Smith said. "But it's the play of our group that wasn't good enough. We say we're evaluating it. We are. But you have to first compare it with the first step, free agency, what's out there, whether we have a legitimate shot with certain guys. I'll just say we need to upgrade our offensive line play."
Smith said Nicks, who is recovering from foot surgery, is making progress and hopes to play this season.
"I think that's still up in the air," Smith said.
He added that both Penn and Joseph could have bounce-back years.
"I'll just say both guys will tell you they didn't play as well as they're capable of playing last year," Smith said. "But I don't think there's anything that says they can't play back up to that.
"Davin is a little different because he had an injury, and I don't think he was fully healed last year when he played, so you're hoping another year out from surgery will make it better for him. And Donald, sometimes you don't play as well for whatever reason."
Keeping MCCOY: Look for the Bucs to approach two-time Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy about a contract extension. He is in the final year of his deal.
"It's safe to say Gerald McCoy is going to be around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a while," Smith said. "I don't like talking specifics on players, but it's safe to say we're going to build around Gerald, whose an inside guy as good as there is out there but we need to get him help."
MORE CAP ROOM: Several NFL executives say, and several media reports agree, the salary cap will increase to $130 million in 2014 from $123 million last season. That means Tampa Bay's salary cap space will grow from about $12 million to more than $19 million, according to general manager Jason Licht.
The figure is higher than teams were expecting, which will provide some relief for several cap-strapped clubs. Teams have until March 11 to get under the cap.