Risks on offense and special teams earn Bucs C+ offseason grade

John Breitenbach breaks down Tampa Bay's offseason moves thus far, with a look a free agency and the draft.

| 4 months ago
(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Risks on offense and special teams earn Bucs C+ offseason grade


The Bucs took major strides on offense with rookie QB Jameis Winston, a resurgent Doug Martin and a dominant duo of wide receivers. Dirk Koetter was rewarded for developing an outstanding group of playmakers with a promotion to head coach, at the expense of Lovie Smith. Smith’s demise was in large part down to an underperforming defense, which featured only three starters with positive grades in 2015. Koetter opted to repay the favour Mike Smith paid him in Atlanta, hiring his former boss to run the stop unit. Going into the offseason, GM Jason Licht needed to find help in the trenches on both sides of the ball, as well as support for the secondary.

Offseason grade: C+

Free agency and trades

New arrivals: G JR Sweezy, DE Robert Ayers, CB Brent Grimes, LB Daryl Smith, CB Josh Robinson, P Bryan AngerD

Re-signings: HB Doug Martin, S Chris Conte, S Keith Tandy, S Bradley McDougald, FB Jovorskie Lane, WR Russell Shepard

Departures: CB Sterling Moore, HB Bobby Rainey, LB Bruce Carter, G Logan Mankins (ret), DT Da’Quan Bowers, LB Danny Lansanah, DT Henry Melton, DE Larry English, DT Tony McDaniel, CB Mike Jenkins, K Connor Barth, S Kimario McFadden

The Bucs’ prioritized replacing Logan Mankins in free agency, signing JR Sweezy to a five-year $32.5 million contract. Sweezy is a receiving a significant chunk of change up front, counting $9.5 million against the cap in the first year. The following four years are much more reasonable, dropping to an average of $5.75 million per season, but the Bucs are banking on a dramatic improvement in Sweezy’s play to make the investment worthwhile. Sweezy ranked 66th amongst guards in 2016. As much as his power enables him to make highlight reel blocks, Sweezy’s negative plays outweigh the occasional pancake. He gave up 32 combined pressures (eight knockdowns), finishing with a poor 47.7 pass protection grade. Considering Donovan Smith’s struggles on the perimeter of the line as a rookie (32.5 grade), it might have been more prudent to kick him inside and target a tackle.

In the defensive trenches, the Bucs have suffered from missing on pass rushers in the draft. Both defensive ends drafted back-to-back in the first two rounds in 2011 are now off the roster after Da’Quan Bowers’ contract expired. Tampa Bay turned to free agency to address the position, signing Robert Ayers to a contract worth only $19 million over three years, with $11.5 million guaranteed. At that price, Ayers is a bargain. He’s developed into a productive pass rusher, recording an 87.4 grade in that facet of play. Ayers posted 48 combined pressures (23 knockdowns), ranking eighth overall amongst defensive ends.

The Bucs’ secondary also needed an infusion of talent. Considering Brent Grimes put in an average 2015 — in which he gave up six touchdowns and a 103.2 QB rating when targeted — he might not be the solution. The Bucs are relying on a return to the form he showed from 2010-2013. Similarly, while Daryl Smith has had an impressive 12 year-career, he appears on the decline after a poor 2015 (46.9 overall grade, 71st).

In terms of retentions, keeping star running back Doug Martin (87.8 overall grade) was the priority. He received a significant amount of guaranteed money ($15 million), but is inexpensive at $8 million per year for five years. Martin ranked first amongst running backs in pure rushing grade, while teammate Charles Sims ranked first when also considering passing game contributions. Also-retained Chris Conte is a serviceable safety, but misses too many tackles and has graded negatively three years on the bounce.

2016 NFL draft

Round 1 (pick No.11) Vernon Hargeaves, CB, Florida
Round 2 (pick No. 39) Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
Round 2 (from KC, No. 59) Roberto Aguayo, K, FSU
Round 4 (pick No. 108) Ryan Smith, CB, NC Central
Round 5 (pick No. 148) Caleb Benenoch, OT, UCLA
Round 6 (pick No. 183) Devante Bond, OLB, Oklahoma
Round 6 (pick No. 197) Dan Vitale, FB, Northwestern 

Modest additions in free agency to the defensive line and secondary were followed up with the top two picks in the 2016 NFL draft. Vernon Hargeaves regressed a little as a junior, but has impressive ball skills and versatility to line up in any scheme. The only major concern is a propensity to be overly aggressive at times. Second-round pick Noah Spence proved his talent at the senior bowl, almost doubling his nearest competitor with seven combined pressures. Hargeaves and Spence were good value at positions of need, and both could start year one.

The five remaining picks were significantly less impressive. Trading up for a kicker in the second round is crazy. There is risk with every draft pick, including kickers. Roberto Aguayo may have bettered Alex Henery’s NCAA accuracy record, but the former third-round pick of the Eagles offers a stark reminder that accuracy in college does not always translate. Aguayo’s leg is also far from outstanding, missing five of ten attempted from 40+ yards. Even if he is a success, how valuable is the league’s top kicker?

Devante Bond is the most intriguing late-round pick. He was productive in 2015, ranking 20th amongst OLBs, and might be more suited to a standup role in the 4-3.

Conclusion

Hargreaves and Grimes join Alterraun Verner and Jonathan Banks in providing the Bucs with a number of options at corner in 2016. Verner is a solid candidate for a comeback, after struggling in the Bucs’ Tampa-2, along with Jonathan Banks’ who might also be better suited to a new scheme. The linebacker position will likely remain an issue, but the defensive line will likely be much improved with the additions of Ayers and Spence. The continuity with Koetter at the helm should ensure the offense hits the ground running. The Bucs’ skill position players are incredibly exciting considering their youth, especially the trio of Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and Doug Martin. Keep an eye on Austin Seferian-Jenkins too, he finished the year with four straight positively graded games. In contrast, the offensive line is a concern, especially in pass protection. Replacing Logan Mankins with JR Sweezy is a downgrade, and Donovan Smith will likely continue to be a problem at left tackle. The Bucs’ mixed offseason earned them a C+ grade.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • Trapiconti

    Do you know who lavonte David and kwon Alexander are?…I don’t think the LB position will be an issue…no mention of Dan vitale out of northwestern in the 7th…

    • Dave

      Seriously dude. This was easily the worst evaluated article I’ve read on the TB Bucs in the 32 years I’ve been alive. I’m still shaking my head, and I read the article some 40 minutes ago. Linebacker will remain an issue lol what!!!!??? The Bucs have 2 of the best young linebackers in the league..including all pro and pro bowler Lavonte David who hasn’t even reached his peak yet. If Linebacker is an issue for TB, I’m black. And he says that TBs draft was garbage. Bononech sucks, Vitale sucks, Aguayo sucks…but our best pick outside VH3 and Spence was Bond lol….Bond was the worst pick of them all. Not mentioning Vitale at all is dumbfounding.

      • Tim Edell

        Well considering Kwon Alexander was PFFs 96th rated LB and Smith is at the back end of his career, then yes, LB is not a strength Junior!

    • Tim Edell

      Dan Vitale was a 6th rounder good to see you keep up on your team though.

  • Mike J.

    If,as I often read, the Bucs’ O-line was so horrendous in 2015, then Jameis Winston and Doug Martin/Charles Sims must have been super, as Tampa Bay ranked fifth in Total Offense last year.Joking aside, line coach Warhop told the group early & recently that they were just average last season.And from what I was able to discern, a lot of NFL clubs were hot after Sweezy, for whatever reason;hence the big contract.

  • tampa2bucsforever

    I do not buy into all the PFF negative comments about JR Sweezy. What are Sweezy’s pressures compared to Logan Mankins? Other than the hurries, hits and sacks were relatively the same? There were 10 teams interested in signing him in FA as well. If he is truly that bad at pass blocking I strongly doubt all those teams would have been after him. Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves are a major upgrade over our CB’s from last year. All of the criticism about trading up for Robert Aguayo is overblown. Aguayo was the best college prospect since Sebastian Janikowski. Jason Licht even took a look at what if Aguayo was kicking from inside the NFL hash marks? Licht said “It’s harder to kick in college because of the wider hashes and his percentage the last two years was 100% on
    field goals, if they were kicked from within NFL hashes.” The new rule on kick-offs and Aguayo’s ability with “mortar” kicks will be invaluable. Ask Bill Belichick if Gostkowski is worth a third and fourth round pick? Ryan Smith is going to make an impact at Safety. With Robert Ayers and Noah Spence lining up next to Gerold McCoy, he will have his most productive year. More than any players the number one off-season move was with the new coaches. On defense the additions of Mike Smith, Jay Hayes, Brett Maxie and Jon Hoke will make the defense much better than last year. B+

  • crosseyedlemon

    The Lightning just blew a 3-2 series lead against Pittsburgh and will be watching the NHL finals….guess they won’t be earning a grade as high as the Bucs.

  • Dave

    2 incredibly remarkably ridiculously disturbing comments in this article are reason #1 why I put absolutely ZERO stock in anything PFF has to say about anything football related…and those baffling comments are……”even if he is a success, how valuable is the best kicker in the league?” What!!!??? Ask the new New England Patriots how valuable the best kicker in the league is. They’ve been the best franchise on football the last 15 years because of having the best kicker. Without Vinateiri they would not have won the SB in 01 or in 03. That’s not opinion that’s fact. Baffling comment #2…”Linebacker will likely remain an issue” WTF!?!?!?!? Do you even know a single thing about the TB Buccaneers? They have Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander at LB. David is one of the best LB’ers in the game. And Kwon Alexander was a stud as a rookie. He would have finished in the top 3 in DROY voting had he not missed the final 4 games. But LB is an issue? Those are 2 of the dumbest comments I’ve ever heard in my life. Take your grades and shove em, because if you think LB on TB is a weakness you need to come up with a new grading system because it’s complete trash

    • crosseyedlemon

      If your going to accuse Breitenbach of ‘remarkably ridiculously disturbing comments’ you probably shouldn’t spout nonsense such as ‘They’ve been the best franchise on football the last 15 years because of having the best kicker.’ Vinateri has had a great career but even had he never played for the Patriots they would have been successful because they had Belichick and Brady.

  • HTTRer

    Weird, didn’t know the Bucs ran a Tampa 2.

  • HTTRer

    Can someone tell me how many players the Bucs have ruined the careers of? No? Thought so. Too many to count.

    • Billy Ball

      Why don’t you help us remember – give a few examples or do you always post meaningless vague posts?