How to fix a problem like Tampa…
Black Monday has been and gone, Dirk Koetter has lost his job and Tampa Bay are going into the new season looking to start again. However its not all doom and gloom, I for one think that the team doesn’t need a complete rebuild like many do. This team has some talent on it and to paraphrase an ancient proverb, the team were lions led by sheep. I think this team is salvageable however some work is needed if they’re going to compete in the 2019 season. I’m not going to talk about schematic changes that need to happen, as the entire coaching staff is currently up in the air. Here is what I think needs to happen to make the Bucs competitive again from a personnel standpoint.
Replace the right side of the Offensive line
Possibly the biggest problem the Bucs offense has is their offensive line. Watching Caleb Benenoch perform a season long artistic performance piece entitled ‘can a turnstile play guard’ has been intriguing to the artistic community, but to those who enjoy watching football its been infuriating. Demar Dotson has been a stalwart at right tackle for many years, however his decline is obvious for all to see. The right side of the line isn’t the only place where the o-line suffered. In a contract year Donnavon Smith tried his very best to be on the waiver wire by giving up sack after sack or penalties in key spots.
So, we have three offensive linemen that need replacing. Free agency is unlikely to yield any results for the tackle position as the best Free Agent tackle is likely to be Donnavon Smith. The draft however does have some good tackle prospects, including two from Alabama. Tampa Bay are picking sixth in the draft so high enough to be able to get one of the top Tackle prospects in the draft. If I were Jason Licht I would resign Smith to a short term prove it contract and move him to right tackle. Smith is still a decent athlete who has all the tools to be a top tackle in the NFL, however its clear after four year that he has no business being a left tackle protecting a quarterbacks blindside. I would then draft whoever I considered the best tackle prospect was in the upcoming draft.
After ‘fixing’ the two tackle spots that leaves just the right guard to sort out. There are far more prospects in free agency currently that could plug the gap for a year or two including Roger Saffold and Mike Iupati. A free agent guard is likely to be expensive however and the bucs already have considerable assets invested in Ali Marpet and Adam Jensen. However I don’t think Benenochs replacement is currently on the roster. Benenoch needs to be replaced as a starter and from the few snaps that 3rdround rookie Alex Kappa got this season, he seems incredibly raw. He could come on leaps and bounds with new coaching as I doubt George Warhop is going to have a job here in Tampa. I think the team will have to bring in a veteran starter to shore up the offensive line.
An improved offensive line should immediately lift the offense by improving the run game to compliment the aggressive passing game.
Tell Winston that he is on a one year prove it deal
We still don’t know if Jameis Winston is the answer at Quarterback. However, after coming back from being benched Jameis has looked like a different quarterback. He threw 13 touchdowns to 4 interceptions in 6 and a half games (and having watched those throws, I can forgive 2 of the INTs. One was a tipped pass on a perfectly thrown ball and the other was attempting to push the ball to the endzone at the end of the game). Winston completed 64% of his passes since coming back, which could have been even higher had his receivers not suffered a bad case of the drops. He played much more conservatively than previously and was much more careful with the ball. This version of Jameis can definitely be a viable starting quarterback in the NFL.
However we cannot ignore Jameis current body of work where only Blake Bortles has thrown more interceptions during their short careers. Jameis is also fortunate that both the free agent crop of Quarterbacks and the Quarterbacks coming into the draft are not of a calibre where the Bucs can feel comfortable about cutting Winston. The Buccaneers have already picked up Winston’s fifth year option for the 2019 season. I would tell Winston that he has the rest of his contract to prove he is worthy of a contract extension. If Jameis continues to be ‘Good Jameis’ then all is right with the world and the number one pick has panned out. If Jameis reverts back to ‘Bad Jameis’ then the Bucs can cut him and look to the future. This won’t just apply to his on the field activities, but his off the field activities too. Jameis needs to keep a squeaky clean image off the field as well.
I truly believe Winston is lucky that the rest of the options at Quarterback don’t look as good as he does.
Jettison some big contracts
Tampa currently have a lot of cap money tied up in veteran contracts on marginal starters or players who don’t want to be in Tampa any more. Desean Jackson is set to make 10 million dollars next season and has stated openly that he wants out. Lets give him what he wants and cut him. Tampa Bay has one truly deep position on the team and its pass catchers so we can cut him with no dead money. The offense is much more dynamic with Jackson on the field and his deep threat opens up so much underneath, however I feel that his cap hit is far too high, especially for a player who doesn’t want to be there.
Tampa have a few other players who haven’t really contributed to the team who can be cut with no dead cap money. Mitch Unrien, Vinny Curry, William Gholston and Evan Smith can all be cut with no dead money. All these players have been replaced by other cheaper players who are playing more downs. Adding the savings from cutting these four players, along with cutting Jackson means that the Bucs will save 28.75 million against their cap for the next season. This can be used to resign people currently on the roster and attract other free agents
Restructure McCoys deal
Gerald McCoy has been the best player the Buccaneers have had on their roster for nearly 8 years. However in the past two seasons, McCoys production has not been at the level it has been in the past. McCoy was legitimately one of the 3 best Defensive Tackles in the league during his second contract. Now however he is nowhere near that level. McCoy is set to make 13 million next year and his production doesn’t match the salary he’s set to make. However Gerald McCoy is still a good defensive tackle. While he is no longer one of the best in the league, his play is still good enough to warrant a starting roster spot. Just not being paid 13 million a year.
I really want Gerald McCoy back next season. He’s been my favourite Buccaneer for a while and I want him to be on the Buccaneers for his whole career. I understand however that you can’t pay a player for sentimental reasons, so I would attempt to restructure his current contract to allow him to remain on the team and cost less against the cap.
Keep some unrestricted free agents
There are two main free agents I feel the Bucs need to retain, however they have to retain them in ‘team friendly’ ways. Overspending on either would be disastrous because these players are decent role players but not mega stars and need to be paid accordingly. The first of these players is Adam Humphreys. Humphreys has been a quality slot receiver during his time in Tampa. PFF currently ranks him as the #30 best receiver in the league, which isn’t bad for a slot receiver. He’s been a quality safety blanket and is coming off the best season of his career. 861 yards and 6 touchdowns is decent production from the slot position. If we can keep him on a team friendly deal we certainly should.
The second free agent Tampa should look to retain is Kwon Alexander. The Alexander deal isn’t as clear cut as Adam Humphries as Alexander isn’t as obviously productive. Since being drafted in the fourth round, Alexander has been very up and down. He’s an incredible athlete and has made some amazing plays, equally he has made some completely boneheaded plays. However he has shown enough ball hunting ability and his athletic gifts are good enough to warrant a second contract. Again this has to be a team friendly deal.
I think if the Buccaneers make all of these roster moves then the team will be in a much better spot going into the Free Agency and Draft periods. Periods I’m very much looking forward to as they’ve got to be better than the majority of Buccaneers games this season.
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