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Bucs can stand pat (and be delusional) or make trades (and be smart)

The odds of making the playoffs in 2019 are virtually nil, so Tampa Bay needs to start planning for 2020.
Would it hurt the Bucs to trade Shaquil Barrett,  Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh this week? Of course. But it could also bring the Bucs some needed draft picks in 2020 for three players who are already set to be free agents in another nine weeks.
Would it hurt the Bucs to trade Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh this week? Of course. But it could also bring the Bucs some needed draft picks in 2020 for three players who are already set to be free agents in another nine weeks. [ Times Staff ]
Published Oct. 28, 2019|Updated Oct. 28, 2019

TAMPA — Confidence is a commodity. Faith and hope can be, too.

But someone has to be in charge of reality, and that means general manager Jason Licht needs to step up for the Buccaneers and their fans this week.

Now, maybe I’m reading too much into Coach Bruce Arians’ comments the past couple of days. Maybe he is simply trying to keep his players motivated when he complains about the referees, and suggests he cares more about winning in 2019 than in building a contender for 2020.

But the idea that the Bucs are one bad call or one misplay away from somehow being lumped in with the NFL’s better teams is simply delusional.

And not at all helpful.

So, with the NFL trade deadline hours away, Licht needs to be the adult in the room. He needs to recognize that the 2019 Bucs are much, much closer to elimination than contention, and the smart play is to begin plotting a course for 2020.

That process begins with a willingness to trade pending free agents.

Ndamukong Suh? Trade him.

Jason Pierre-Paul? Trade him.

Shaquil Barrett? Trade him.

Jason Pierre-Paul returned to Tampa Bay's lineup just in time against Tennessee on Sunday to show the rest of the NFL that is healthy and could be an effective pass rusher for a playoff contender.
Jason Pierre-Paul returned to Tampa Bay's lineup just in time against Tennessee on Sunday to show the rest of the NFL that is healthy and could be an effective pass rusher for a playoff contender. [ MARK ZALESKI | AP ]

The idea is, of course, distasteful. A season that has gotten off to an ugly start will almost be guaranteed to have a hideous end. But the alternative is even worse.

Ask yourself this: What can the Bucs accomplish in 2019? Even if they finish 9-7, their chances of making the playoffs would only be about 50-50. And that fantasy would require them to go 7-2 down the stretch, which seems kind of unrealistic for a team that’s 7-16 since the start of last year.

The salient point here is that striving for mediocrity is unproductive. We know that because the Bucs have been doing it for years.

They keep deluding themselves into thinking prosperity is just around the corner. And that mindset keeps them from making the kind of hard decisions that are necessary to take a giant step forward. That doesn’t mean they need to go into complete rebuild mode, but it’s just silly to pass up potential assets for the sake of going 7-9 or 6-10.

Baseball general managers have known this for a long time, and their NFL counterparts are just now starting to realize it.

There are more and more deals at the NFL’s trade deadline than ever before because it’s the logical thing to do. If you’re on the way to a losing record, and a player is on his way to free agency, what is the value in hanging on to him in November and December?

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That brings us to Barrett, Pierre-Paul and Suh. They are three of the more valuable commodities on Tampa Bay’s defense, but all three are also due to be unrestricted free agents. Whether they finish the season in Tampa Bay or Green Bay, they will still be on the open market come next March.

Of course, the Bucs need to approach this with a clear strategy in mind. The way free agency works in the NFL, teams can get compensatory draft picks beginning with the third round if they lose more valuable free agents than they sign. So simply dumping Pierre-Paul, Barrett or Suh to save a handful of millions in 2019 salary is not the way to go. The Bucs need to make sure they are getting high enough draft picks in 2020 to make up for the possible compensatory picks they would get in 2021.

(With that in mind, they need to cut Breshad Perriman this week. Perriman was one of a handful of free agents signed by the Bucs earlier this year who could end up offsetting the free agent losses of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Adam Humphries and Kwon Alexander when it comes to compensatory picks. If they cut Perriman before Week 10, as they did with Deone Bucannon recently, the Bucs could potentially add an extra draft pick next spring.)

When asked about the trade deadline after Sunday’s loss in Tennessee, Arians said he was still more worried about 2019 because there are no guarantees for 2020.

Arians has that kind of backwards.

He actually does have a guaranteed contract for 2020. Not to mention 2021 and 2022. The people who do not have guarantees are the fans who spend money every year at Raymond James Stadium. And if the Bucs want them to continue buying season tickets, the team needs to give them a better reason for hope in 2020.

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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