Thursday, February 20, 2014

2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offseason Plan

Congratulations Seahawks!  I thought they were the better team going into the game (my breakdown showed them having the edge on both sides of the ball), but I certainly didn’t expect to see it get that out of hand.  Seattle gets their first NFL championship, joining their ’76 brethren Buccaneers as one-time winners of it all.  Interestingly, that Super Bowl saw the Bucs dominant defense destroy Oakland’s offensive machine.  Speaking of Seattle’s expansion companion, I thought I’d take an early look at some decisions the Bucs may need to make this offseason. 

The Bucs pick 7th in the first round, where they’ll look to add to a talented, albeit shallow roster.  That pick must be spent on an impact player, whether it is a QB, receiver, or pass rusher; all areas of need for the Bucs.  Here are the positions I believe they need to address in free agency and/or the draft:

QB – I’m not sold on Mike Glennon as a guy who is going to win a meaningful January or February game for this team.  I also don’t see how he fits new OC Jeff Tedford’s style of passers who can move in the pocket.  The free agent pool is empty, so do they ride with Glennon or pull the trigger on a passer in the first round or two? 

WR – Like a broken record, I keep begging year after year for speed and elusiveness at the receiver position.  It’s still lacking.  Vincent Jackson has been a fine #1 given the team’s QB play, but there are questions about Mike Williams’ commitment.  At a minimum, they need to difference-making slot guy to play with these two.  Worst case scenario has them looking for someone to start in place of Williams. 

TE – Tim Wright was a nice pass catcher, but he can’t block.  Tom Crabtree is a back up, and Luke Stocker has to be a huge afterthought at this point.  

OL – When the Bucs signed Carl Nicks, they thought they’d have quite a formidable line, but it just never materialized.  They have no idea what they’ll get from Nicks, if anything, and Joseph’s play has taken a nosedive.  Moving Jeremy Zuttah to guard and finding a new center could be a possibility.  Donald Penn has his detractors, but left tackle is far from the team’s biggest weakness.  Right tackle Demar Dotson had a fabulous year and may be the most certain thing they’ve got going up front.  . 

DL – Adrian Clayborn has been ok, but the Bucs need more pass rushers.  Da’Quan Bowers has been a waste, but on a positive note, William Gholston looks like a building block.  That’s only two, possibly, reliable rushers.  I expect this to be the Bucs priority in free agency.  Gerald McCoy should only excel under Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier, and Akeem Spence should benefit from the coaching change as well.  They’re shallow inside, so they’ll add a tackle or two.    

LB – Lavonte David is a stud, but I continue to believe they need to get better than Mason Foster in the middle.  I’m guessing the new regime will look to do that.  Every other Bucs linebacker with a name you’d recognize is a free agent.  Of that bunch, it would be best to bring back Dekoda Watson on the strong side.

CB – Darrelle Revis is back, but there’s a steep drop off in talent after him.  Johnthan Banks didn’t exactly shine as a rookie, and Leonard Johnson should be lower on the depth chart.  Ideally, they get new starters opposite Revis and in the slot, and Banks and Johnson develop as backups. 

I believe the Bucs currently sit at about $12mil under the ’14 cap after the round of releases that included Derek Landri.  Where can they find more cap space?  They can free up about $5mil by cutting both Connor Barth and Michael Koenen.  Aside from that, there’s not a ton of fat to trim from this cap aside from two obvious targets –

Davin Joseph - $6mil
As I mentioned above, Joseph’s play has fallen off significantly, and I don’t see any way he’s back for anything close to that amount.  It’s probably best for the team to move on from  him altogether and pay someone else less to do a better job. 

Donald Penn - $7.4mil
Yes, I know.  I just mentioned that Penn isn’t one of the team’s bigger problems.  I’m not advocating releasing Penn, but maybe he’d be open to extending his deal that currently is set to expire after the ’15 season at a lower annual rate.  It wouldn’t be a $7.4mil cap savings, but they could conceivably get a couple of million to go towards another position by restructuring Penn’s contract.

If they start over at kicker and punter, cut Joseph and either restructure Penn or make a couple of other small moves, they would be looking at more $25mil in cap space heading into the offseason. 

Here are the specific free agents I’d key on:

Everson Griffen (DE, Vikings)
Willie Young (DE, Lions)
Corey Wootton (DE, Bears)
Here’s where I’m struggling.  They almost sure to add a free agent, but on what side will they put him?  Jared Allen plays the same side as Clayborn, and it doesn’t make sense to either bench our best pass rusher or weaken the run defense by playing Allen on the strong side.  He’d be the big name veteran I’d be interested in giving a short term deal.  I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving Julius Peppers or Just Tuck a lot of money, Greg Hardy isn’t coming here, and Michael Bennett isn’t coming back.  I’d prefer to see the Bucs go the younger route.  Young isn’t terribly likely given that he’d be on the same side as Clayborn, but I mention him because I’ve always been a fan of his talent.  I like the idea of pairing Griffen with Gholston on the left side.  He’s not going to cost a lot and is someone who has shown steady, albeit slow development as a pass rusher.  If he doesn’t perform up to expectations, the Bucs won’t be in the huge financial hole like they would if they went the Peppers or Tuck route.  Assuming I’m not completely underestimating his market, Griffen is a low risk high reward option. 

Vance Walker (DT, Raiders)
Henry Melton (DT, Bears)
I’ll be shocked if the Bucs commit much to DT this offseason.  Maybe Melton finds a soft market coming off his injury.  Walker continues to be a reliable rotational piece on the defensive line wherever he plays and would bolster the run defense.  

Alex Mack (C, Browns)
Geoff Schwartz (G, Chiefs)
Anthony Collins (T, Bengals)
I don’t want to get rid of Zuttah, but it’s possible for them to upgrade two positions with one signing.  Early reports on Nicks are positive, so maybe he’ll be a factor after all.  There should still be one vacant guard position.  Zuttah has seen most of his time away from center at left guard, but he has played a handful of games at right guard.  Could he handle that switch and play next to Mack, an attractive free agent with new Tampa ties?  Mack is arguably the game’s best center and would go a long way in helping this new coaching staff implement their offense.  Ultimately, I think he’ll be out of the Bucs price range.  I don’t know if the Bucs will look to free agency to solve their guard situation, but Schwartz would be a steal and nice plug in on the right side.  He was a big factor in Kansas City’s success on offense and made just $700k last year.  Collins isn’t really an option as a back up, but he’s the only free agent tackle I’d consider. 

Sam Shields (CB, Packers)
Alterraun Verner (CB, Titans)
Corey Graham (CB, Ravens)
Corner play opposite Revis wasn’t pretty in ’13, and I’ll be disappointed if they don’t bring in a legit starter this offseason.  If we were playing with monopoly money and no salary cap, Brent Grimes would be my preferred target.  Since we aren’t, maybe Shields and Verner will be affordable.  They’re both young corners with a lot of experience and are sure to attract a bit of attention, but the corner market didn’t exactly go crazy last offseason.  Maybe they’ll be affordable after all.  I’d slot Graham behind Shields and Verner, but he would be a solid sneaky addition, in my opinion.  He could start in Tampa; something he won’t do next year in Baltimore.  Charles Tillman would be a fall-back and a shorter term option, but he may be the most likely of the names I’ve mentioned. 

Jeremy Maclin (WR, Eagles)
Andre Roberts (WR, Cardinals)
Jacoby Jones (WR, Ravens)
Dexter McCluster (WR, Chiefs)
I’ve always been a Maclin fan, and he’ll probably be had on a cheap prove-it deal.  Jones is still big in the punt return game, and while he’s never reached his potential as a receiver, he’d instantly be #3 on the depth chart and give Glennon a deep threat.  McCluster would provide some of the increased quickness I’m seeking, but he’s not a solution to anything.  Of all available free agent receivers, Doug Baldwin would be my preference, but he’s a restricted free agent and isn’t getting out of Seattle.  Since I can’t get Baldwin, I’ll focus on a similar receiver in Roberts; a guy who can play both inside and out and make some plays for you in the middle and deep parts of the secondary.  Roberts has been a consistent, reliable target and was productive when called upon as a starter; something that’s not easy to do given the presence of Larry Fitzgerald and the sloppy pre-Palmer QB play.  There isn’t a TE I’m interested in, especially since Fred Davis was just handed an indefinite ban. 

I’m sure I won’t be close, but here’s my attempt to blend my wishes and expectations –
Everson Griffen (DE, Vikings)
Charles Tillman (CB, Bears)
Andre Roberts (WR, Cardinals)
Geoff Schwartz (G, Chiefs)
Vance Walker (DT, Raiders)
Dekoda Watson (LB, re-sign)
Eric Lorig (FB, re-sign)

I think that’s pretty doable with a guesstimated $25mil in cap space, even with $5mil allocated to the draft.  There should be plenty of cap room for the Bucs to pull off these moves considering the salary cap for ’14 was just increased from $123mil to $130mil.

Transitioning to the draft, here are my early thoughts on the first 7 selections.  The NFL Combine starts Saturday, so I’m sure a lot of this will change in the coming weeks. 

1) Houston Texans
Key Needs – QB, OL, LB, CB
The Texans won’t take an offensive lineman or cornerback with the first pick.  For me, this one is down to Jadeveon Clowney or a QB, and if we’re supposed to believe reports that the owner is pushing for a passer, I’m siding with the guy who writes the checks.  Which QB is still uncertain, but knowing what I know about Bill O’Brien and his connections to the UCF staff.  They’ll upset a lot of folks in Texas by passing on Johnny Manziel, but I’m going to go with…..Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)

2) Cleveland Browns (via STL)
Key Needs – QB, RB, LB, WR
This pick is an obvious trade spot, so I’ll go ahead and predict that one happens.  Right or wrong the Rams remain committed to Sam Bradford, so they won’t be taking a QB this year.  There isn’t a team that couldn’t use Clowney, but if I’m a Rams fan I’d rather they address a true area of weakness rather than allocating more assets to the one thing they do right.  I could see Cleveland’s new regime taking an aggressive approach to securing their (hopeful) franchise QB, and they have the draft picks to do pull it off…..Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville) 

3) Jacksonville Jaguars
Key Needs – QB, DE, RB, OL
Take a QB right?  Neither Blaine Gabbert nor Chad Henne belongs taking a regular season snap, but I don’t think the Jags are an absolute lock to take a passer with their first pick, even if Cleveland doesn’t trade ahead of them.  Everyone knows they need a QB, but more importantly, they need a sure thing.  To many, this guy is the surest thing in the draft, and he also fills a huge need for the Jags…..Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)

4) St. Louis Rams (via CLE)
Key Needs – OT, WR, S, CB
This is where I think the Watkins watch could start.  Pairing him with Tavon Austin could lead to some highlights in St. Louis, but whether it’s Bradford or someone else handling the football, they’ve got to get him some protection.  Jake Long is coming off a torn ACL, and RT Rodger Saffold is a free agent.  Greg Robinson might have the higher ceiling, but I believe this guy will have a quicker assimilation period, has experience at both left and right tackle, and has a father with ties to the head coach…..Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)

5) Oakland Raiders
Key Needs – QB, DE, CB, RB
Oakland’s roster is a mess.  I know, what a surprise.  I can’t see a scenario that has Clowney still on the board, and it’s too early for a corner or running back.  Watkins is an option, but I’m going to think Oakland seizes the opportunity to take a true starting QB.  And come on.  What non-JFF/Texan fan wouldn’t want to see this guy in a Raider uniform?…..Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)

6) Atlanta Falcons
Key Needs – OT, DE, DT, TE
Will they take a tackle after shelling out a lot of money for Sam Baker last year?  I’m guessing no.  They must get better up front on defense, especially considering their best pass rusher is a fading Osi Umenyiora.  They have to draft or sign someone who can get after Brees and Newton.  I think this comes down to either Anthony Barr or…..Khalil Mack (DE/OLB, Buffalo)

7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Key Needs – QB, DL, CB, WR
I’ve got the top QBs off the board at this point, but if the Bucs had a shot at either Bortles or Bridgewater, I’ve got to think they would give them a ton of consideration.  I don’t think Manziel is a Lovie or Tedford pick, and while Derek Carr has Tedford ties, I’m far from sold on him.  I’m intrigued by Mack, but I’m not sure where he’d fit in Lovie’s defense.  Right now, if I can’t get Bortles, Bridgewater, or Clowney I’ve got my eyes on three players:

Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
If he’s not the first tackle taken, he’ll be the second.  Robinson would give the Bucs a replacement for Penn at LT and free up a lot of cap space.  If I can plead Penn’s case, I’d hate to dump a guy that is in the better half of players at his position in what could be a sink or swim year for Glennon.  Still, Robinson’s upside would be pretty hard to ignore.  He’s big, strong, and can move.  That’s still a rare combination of skills for a tackle.  It’s hard for some to get excited about taking a tackle with your first choice, but Robinson could be the smartest use of the pick; high ceiling and floor.  I listed Robinson because he hadn’t been picked yet in this instance, but Matthews would warrant similar consideration.   

Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
Should the Bucs choose to go receiver here, they’ll likely have first pick at what looks to be a pretty deep class.  Watkins would give the Bucs something they don’t have – a multi-threat player with incredible vertical speed.  He isn’t just a speed guy though.  Watkins gets physical when needed, especially at the point of catch, and his strong build will help him hold up well to the hits he’ll take as a pro.  I see him being a huge red zone weapon for whoever drafts him; something the Bucs could use.  Watkins would be the explosive talent I’ve been pining for.  Just having him on the field and making the defense think about him will open things up for the rest of the offense. 

Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri)
I’ve pointed out the Bucs need for a pass rusher or two, and with Clowney off the board, I think Ealy might be the best remaining option for the Bucs.  You probably won’t find a mock that has him going this high, but I expect that to change the closer we get to May.  Ealy is an athletic pass rusher often lazily compared to former Missou Tiger, Aldon Smith.  He shows plus change of direction; impressive for his size and important for his position.  I like how Ealy uses his length and hands off the edge, but he needs to be more consistent in anchoring with his hips and legs to be more effective in both setting the edge against the run and getting to the passer.  He’s got great short area closing speed for a guy with his build, but I think he needs a bit of coaching and a lot of reps against grown men to see if he’s a really good football player or if he’s just a really good athlete.  As you see, Ealy has impressive positives but is still rather incomplete as a football player. 

Others I didn’t list –
·        Timmy Jernigan (DT, FSU) I love but don’t want to take GMC backup at #7.
·        Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M) is duplicative with Vincent Jackson.
·        Anthony Barr (DE/OLB, UCLA) see Khalil Mack.
·        CJ Mosley (LB, Alabama) don’t see him as a 4-3 MLB; already have David at WLB.
·        Marquise Lee (WR, USC) worries me when it comes to staying healthy.

In making my decision, Ealy is the first one out.  I believe the Bucs will address this position prior to the draft and will roll with Clayborn, Gholston, Bowers, and a free agent.  If they do add a pass rusher, I’m guessing it’s with a later pick. 

Deciding between Robinson and Watkins, one of the first things I have to consider is how much better the Bucs would be with Robinson instead of Penn.  The veteran has been a target for Bucs fans, but he’s still among the better left tackles in the game.  How long would it take to say the same about Robinson?  Not hating, but potential and performance are two different things.  Could the Bucs’ next left tackle currently be playing on the right side of the line?  Lovie is already talking about giving Demar Dotson reps at LT in camp. 

Watkins is probably the most electrifying offensive talent in this draft, and the Bucs lack of said talent has had them behind the rest of the league for the last couple of years.  Adding Watkins makes the Bucs a better team than replacing Penn with Robinson or Matthews.  I did mention Roberts as a free agent target, but there is the Mike Williams factor.  He’s far from on firm footing with the new regime, and his contract takes a huge $4mil increase in ’15.  I can’t count on him to see anywhere close to the end of that deal.  After watching some of the “receivers” this team has run out there in recent years, I’d welcome the complaints of too many weapons and not enough footballs.

R1 pick – Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)

Buccaneer Surprise – Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
I wouldn’t do it, but I think the one pick that could surprise us is the Bucs taking UNC’s stud TE at #7.  There’s a big talent need at the position, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bucs be aggressive in addressing it. 

R2 – Lamarcus Joyner (CB, FSU)
Yeah, I know, a Nole.  Get over it.  I think Joyner is the perfect defender for what Lovie is likely to do in Tampa.  Let’s first talk about the elephant in the room – Joyner’s size.  He’s listed at 5-8, 180 which would obviously put him on the small side.  If you’ve watched more than a few minutes of FSU football you’ve noticed that Joyner plays far bigger in his size.  Joyner draws a lot of Ronde Barber comparisons, and they make sense.  He’s a dangerous blitzer, is fast and can change directions quickly, covers a ton of ground, has excellent ball anticipation, and isn’t afraid pop you.  He’s understandably a drag-down tackler, given his size, but he stays with his man to secure the tackle.  He’ll be a stud on special teams.  Lovie’s defenses have been predicated on fast guys making plays in space, and Joyner certainly fits that description and would be an immediate upgrade at the nickel corner and third safety spot. 

Other options –
Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)
Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)

R4 – CJ Fiedorowicz (TE, Iowa)
Due to a dry free agent market, I think it’s pretty likely the Bucs will spend a pick on the tight end position.  Here I’m giving them a player with great size who could be their traditional in-line tight end to pair with the flexed out Tim Wright.  Fiedorowicz would be the team’s best blocking tight end as soon as he put on a jersey and has plenty of pass catching potential as well. 

R5 – Jon Halapio (G, Florida)
It’s a tad painful to do this, but I want to get a lineman in the draft and this is a good spot for Halapio.  He’s a guy who logged a ton of starts against impressive competition and could be in the mix for early playing time depending on the situation at right guard.

R7 – Connor Shaw (QB, S Carolina)
I don’t think the Bucs will have a shot at Bortles or Bridgewater, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up on a passer.  I’d rather spend a 7th round pick on Shaw than sign a veteran back up.  Shaw is a winner.  I love the combination of his mobility and how he takes care of the football.  Simply put, he doesn’t make many mistakes.  If he gets an opportunity to play in the NFL, I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people.  I like him as a passer now, but I think he’s got plenty of room for growth there still.

With this plan, I’ve got the Bucs addressing every position of need except MLB.  It’s rare that a team is able to address every need in one offseason, and I’ll be pleased if they fill most of the gaps I mentioned.

Combined offseason acquisitions:
Everson Griffen (DE, Vikings)
Vance Walker (DT, Raiders)
Dekoda Watson (LB, re-sign)
Charles Tillman (CB, Bears)
Lamarcus Joyner (CB, FSU)
Connor Shaw (QB, S Carolina)
Eric Lorig (FB, re-sign)
Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
Andre Roberts (WR, Cardinals)
CJ Fiedorowicz (TE, Iowa)
Geoff Schwartz (G, Chiefs)
Jon Halapio (G, Florida)

Go Bucs!


  1. Nice read Talbuc.... I would be on board with this.

  2. Thanks for reading. I appreciate it.