2014 Team Needs: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers often looked lost in 2013, stumbling out to an 0-8 start and finishing with a three-game losing streak that ushered Coach Greg Schiano and General Manager Mark Dominik out the door. The good news is that Tampa Bay was often more competitive than the outcome indicated, with five of their first eight losses coming by one score or less. And thanks to some solid drafting and big-money free agent signings in recent offseasons, the Buccaneers have a lot more talent than your typical 4-12 team.
The arrival of veteran coach Lovie Smith has brought newfound hope to the Buccaneers fans. Let’s run through the order of business for him and new general manager Jason Licht.
Potential Cap Casualties
The Buccaneers have been rich in cap space in recent years and used it to acquire some great players, and they are estimated to have another $10 million of room this season (per www.overthecap.com). But every team needs a budget and Tampa Bay still has some opportunity to cut some dead weight, particularly along the offensive line.
– We’ve never understood what Davin Joseph did to deserve two Pro Bowl selections or a massive contract. After he earned the worst run block grade by a guard for the second time in the last four seasons, it’s time to move on from him and his $6 million cap hit.
– Center/guard Jeremy Zuttah has been consistently average in his career, and his versatility isn’t enough to justify a $4.5 million salary.
– Donald Penn has given Tampa Bay some good years as an above average left tackle, but he’s now entering the more expensive back end of his contract. He shouldn’t be cut, but a renegotiation to ease his $8.0 million cap number makes sense.
– Only six punters are carrying a higher cap number than Michael Koenen’s $3.25 million, and that’s too much for a player who has only once finished higher than 21st in our punter rankings.
– Ditto for Connor Barth, whose $2 million is too rich for a kicker who consistently falls short of his peers.
The over $15 million of extra cap space from these moves would allow Tampa Bay to bring in fresh talent and eventually lock down two All-Pros who deserve big salaries, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David.
The Buccaneers won’t miss free agent Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, who earned the worst grade of any 4-3 defensive end in 2013. Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers were once highly-touted draft picks, but have yet to live up to the hype. Clayborn earned the fourth-worst pass rush grade of any 4-3 defensive end in 2013, and Bowers can’t manage to stay healthy. William Gholston showed some promise toward the end of his rookie season, but still had some games where he appeared virtually invisible. It’s unacceptable for Tampa Bay to enter next season without seriously upgrading this group.
Free agent fix: I’m sure the Buccaneers are kicking themselves for letting the underappreciated Michael Bennett leave last offseason. A reunion is unlikely, and Tampa Bay should take a page from his new team by going for volume over home run at defensive end. Two good value options with upside are Willie Young and Everson Griffen. Both have played their entire careers in a 4-3 system, and Smith will be familiar with them given his time in the NFC North. Both players have shown flashes of brilliance in backup roles, and were among the Top 25 at their position in Pass Rushing Productivity this season. The Buccaneers are more than one player away from fixing this position, and adding either Young or Griffen would give them a promising young end in his prime, while still allowing them to spend money to add more depth to the position.
We’ve already listed the financial incentive for parting ways with Joseph, who had our second-lowest grade by a guard this season. Carl Nicks’ +34.0 grade in 2011, his last full season, was the second-highest at his position, but it’s still uncertain how healthy he’ll be by training camp. Jamon Meredith earned a negative grade in seven of his eight starts in Nicks’ place, so there’s little reason to re-sign him.
Cutting Joseph would be addition by subtraction, but that leaves a big question mark for Tampa at right guard. Luckily, there are some quality options out there.
Free agent fix: After overpaying and overcommitting to a former first round pick in Joseph, the Buccaneers may want to switch things up with the ever-underappreciated Geoff Schwartz. The journeyman backup was never a heralded prospect, but all he’s done is excel whenever he’s been asked to step on the field. His dominant run blocking would be a good complement to the skillset of breakout right tackle Demar Dotson, who shines more as a pass protector.
If Schwartz’s price tag skyrockets from the $700,000 the Chiefs paid him this season, another intriguing option could be Chad Rinehart. The former Buffalo Bill posted a +16.9 grade in 2011, his only full season as a starter, but was derailed with injuries this season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him become this season’s Schwartz: a promising career backup who once again thrives when placed into a starting role.
The Buccaneers gave snaps to no fewer than five tight ends this season, and none of them finished the season with a positive grade. Rookie Tim Wright was overwhelmed as a run blocker but showed promise as a receiver. The same can’t be said for Tom Crabtree, who has never finished a season with double-digit receptions or a run block grade better than -6.6. Given Wright’s emergence, it makes sense to add a strong run-blocking tight end who can complement his receiving production.
Free agent fix: Ben Hartsock is turning 34 this summer and didn’t catch a single pass last season, but his +11.7 run-blocking grade was twice as high as any other tight end. If the Buccaneers are looking for a player with a better receiving resume, they could do worse than reuniting with Kellen Winslow. Seemingly pushed out by the Schiano regime, he has always been a productive target wherever he’s gone, and he’s not as much of a liability in the running game as a guy like Brandon Myers.
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