The 2016 NFL season begins now, with 32 teams scheming to knock off the reigning champion Denver Broncos. The NFL Draft is just around the corner, but the first step in any offseason plan is to assess a team’s needs. Here we look at what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers team needs are.
These reports were compiled with the help of Inside The Pylon’s writers and editors, as well as the outstanding offseason primers at OverTheCap.com, which are invaluable for understanding the salary cap and contractual obligations of each team. In addition, the depth chart data is courtesy RosterResource.com – thanks for all your support!
Tampa Bay fired head coach Lovie Smith and replaced him with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, ostensibly because Koetter was a candidate for other jobs and because his working relationship with last year’s #1 overall pick – and franchise quarterback – Jameis Winston was too valuable to lose. Under Koetter’s tutelage, the rookie quarterback had a successful NFL debut season, putting up respectable statistics and earning praise from quarterback evaluators for his improvement as he gained more experience. Inside The Pylon head writer Mark Schofield says: “While Winston did show some of decision-making concerns that were present at Florida State, his ability to work through progressions in Koetter’s offense and attack the full field stood out, especially as the season went on.”
With the departure of Smith, so goes his signature defensive system, the Tampa 2. This scheme change requires new personnel, and has made some of the existing talent poor fits in new defensive coordinator, Mike Smith’s system. The former Atlanta Falcons head coach brings a wealth of experience, both in game planning generally, and specifically countering division rivals like Drew Brees and Cam Newton. Smith spent seven seasons in charge of the Falcons, where he consistently over-performed expectations, especially on the defensive side of the ball. He spent 2015 out of football, but is deserving of this job. He is regarded as a better schemer against the run than the pass.
The shift away from the Tampa 2 scheme will hit the Buccaneers secondary the hardest, as almost all of their existing personnel is a better fit in the off man technique favored by Lovie Smith, and not to the more aggressive usage that Smith prefers. While it is unreasonable to expect a complete shift in one offseason, the signings of Brent Grimes and Josh Robinson make clear that cornerback was the biggest team need headed into the offseason. Long term, neither player is a solution and veteran Alterraun Verner will ride out another year on his expensive contract, making CB a primary need into 2017 and beyond.
Safety is a more immediate need in 2016 with just as much import into the future as CB. The Buccaneers would dearly love the versatile (and possible best player in this 2016 draft class) Jalen Ramsey to fall into their arms at #9 overall … but that is highly unlikely. Instead, look for the Bucs to target the best CB or safety available at #9 (Vernon Hargreaves III possibly) and to keep looking for secondary talent in the second and third rounds.
The other major defensive need is up front, as the Bucs could use both an Edge rusher and a defensive tackle to pair with Gerald McCoy. While the addition of Robert Ayers papers over the hole at DE, it is not a long-term solution. Looking for a player or players who can get upfield and pressure the passer will also help them transition to Mike Smith’s defensive scheme.
The Buccaneers need an influx of talent at outside linebacker. Aging veteran Daryl Smith is a nice stopgap but, like Ayers or Grimes, does nothing to address the position for more than one season. Complementing their best defender – Lavonte David – with a competent bookend would go a long way to improving this defense.
The Bucs invested in their offensive line last season, but have since had incumbent Gosder Cherilus get hurt, and Donovan Smith step in and play much more than planned as a rookie. Demar Dotson is a serviceable placeholder with limited upside who can provide replacement level performance until a longer term solution is found. Koetter will undoubtedly be looking to protect Winston as well as possible.
Complicating that plan is the retirement of former All-Pro Logan Mankins. While J.R. Sweezy was signed to pair with second year player Ali Marpet and will hold down the position in 2016, Sweezy is not a long-term solution and Koetter will be hoping to build a line worthy of a franchise QB.
The situation is similar at center, where Joe Hawley is serviceable, but not a player to build around. Look for the Buccaneers to be very active in the late rounds and UDFA market looking for prospects that offensive line coaches Butch Barry and George Warhop can groom for the future.
While Kwon Alexander is a useful player now, he is someone the team will want to upgrade, if possible, or replace when his contract expires after next season. Opposite Alexander is LaVonte David, one of the league’s upper-level ILBs.
Vincent Jackson has aged at wide receiver, and while Mike Evans is a player who Winston can grow with, the depth at this position could use an upgrade, especially with Jackson likely to depart as a cap casualty after 2016.
Set, For Better or Worse
Tampa Bay went out and secured Bryan Anger in free agency, addressing one of its biggest team needs. Anger is not a top-tier punter, but he is reliable and figures to improve an area that hurt the club in 2015.
Winston is backed up by former prospect Mike Glennon, who is not starter quality, but is perfectly capable of winning a game or two in the event of a sprained ankle.
The tight end position figures to improve greatly with a return to health of former 2nd round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who missed most of the 2015 season with an injury. Cameron Brate and Brandon Myers are capable backups, especially when asked to block, but Tampa fans can be excited about what Winston and Seferian-Jenkins can do together going forward.