C Ryan Jensen, DE Vinny Curry, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Beau Allen, K Chandler Catanzaro.
Early Draft Picks:
NT Vita Vea, RB Ronald Jones, CB M.J. Stewart, CB Carlton Davis, G/OT Alex Cappa, S Jordan Whitehead, WR Justin Watson. Buccaneers Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
RB Doug Martin, RB Charles Sims, DE Robert Ayers, DT Chris Baker, DT Clinton McDonald, CB Robert McClain.
2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offense:
Jameis Winston progressed from his first to his second season, but took a step backward in 2017. Much was expected of Winston entering this past year, but he disappointed, as his touchdown count dropped from 28 to 19. His completion percentage and YPA both rose (60.8 to 63.8 and 7.2 to 7.9), but the Tampa quarterback was wildly inconsistent, thriving in several games, yet looking completely lost in others.
Winston has the talent to have a tremendous 2018 campaign, but will he be focused enough to take the next step? Based on various reports, it doesn't seem to be the case, as Winston is having too much fun and not taking his career seriously enough. There have been many young, promising careers ruined by the crazy Tampa party environment, and Winston's trajectory isn't trending well. He'll be suspended for the first three games of the season because of a 2016 incident involving an Uber driver. The sub-par, but viable Ryan Fitzpatrick will hold down the fort against the Saints, Eagles and Steelers.
If the Buccaneers don't make the playoffs this year, Winston will get a chunk of the blame, but the supporting cast will need to be criticized as well. Mike Evans is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the NFL, but there have been dubious reports about his work ethic. He saw his reception total dropped from 96 to 71 last year, yet the Buccaneers still rewarded him with a 5-year, $82.5 million extension. The entire organization will be in trouble if Evans becomes fat and happy with this new deal. Evans will start across from DeSean Jackson once again, which doesn't bode well. Jackson is a perennially overrated commodity who makes every team he's been on worse, thanks to his inefficiency. Jackson was a predictable bust last year, catching just 50 passes for 668 yards.
Tampa has some other young weapons who must step up. Chris Godwin, a third-round pick from the 2017 NFL Draft, certainly has a high level of promise, as evidenced by his seven-catch, 111-yard performance in the season finale versus New Orleans. Tight end O.J. Howard, meanwhile, will take on a full-time role in his sophomore campaign, and he could be a tremendous end-zone target for Winston.
Ronald Jones also qualifies as a young offensive play-maker who could improve the unit. Drafted in the second round this past April, Jones is the most talented running back on the roster at the moment, so it would be a huge disappointment if he didn't win the job over incumbent Peyton Barber. Jones can go the distance every time he touches the ball, so he'll add a new dynamic to this offense that it didn't possess the past couple of seasons.
While the focus of some of the young players is a worry, the main concern with Tampa's offense is the offensive line. The left tackle spot, in particular, is a mess. Donovan Smith has struggled mightily there, and it was a mistake not to upgrade him this offseason. Right guard J.R. Sweezy also struggled last year, so he was released. Rookie Alex Cappa will likely take his place.
The Buccaneers made one upgrade to the front, and that was center Ryan Jensen, formerly of the Ravens. Jensen isn't a great blocker, but he's not a liability, which is something Tampa will gladly take after last year. Jensen's presence will allow the solid Ali Marpet to move to left guard. Demar Dotson, meanwhile, will reprise his role at right tackle, and he should be the best lineman on the unit once again.
2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense:
While the Buccaneers failed to make the appropriate upgrades on the offensive line, they definitely focused on bolstering their defense. They signed several key free agents and spent their first-round pick trying to improve the stop unit.
All of these acquisitions, oddly enough, were for defensive linemen. The aforementioned first-rounder was Vita Vea, a monstrous nose tackle from Washington. The fit is questionable, as Vea will be just a two-down player, but he'll be a terror versus the run who will apply some pressure on opposing passers. He'll be a nice complement for perennial All-Pro Gerald McCoy. Newly obtained Beau Allen will be a nice rotational piece at the position.
The Buccaneers have two new edge rushers as well. Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul, formerly of the Eagles and Giants, respectively, were both signed in free agency. They'll breathe much-needed life into a dormant pass rush that finished last in the NFL in sacks. The two will rotate with 2016 second-rounder Noah Spence, who has great potential, but hasn't been able to stay healthy as a pro.
The front office was expected to upgrade the secondary, but that didn't occur in free agency. The Buccaneers were expected to use their first-round pick on safety Derwin James, who would've provided a huge upgrade next to second-year Justin Evans. Instead, Tampa will have to use the pedestrian Chris Conte or Keith Tandy again, hoping that the improved pass rush will improve their play.
That said, second-round choices were used to bolster the cornerback group. Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves are the incumbent starters, but they may not hold that distinction for long. Grimes is now 35, so he's expected to regress soon. Hargreaves, meanwhile, is expected to be stationed in the slot this year, which seems like a nice fit for him. If so, one of the second-rounders, North Carolina's M.J. Stewart or Auburn's Carlton Davis, will have to compete with 2016 fourth-round choice Ryan Smith for the right to start across from Grimes.
No changes were made to the linebacking corps, but none were needed. Lavonte David is one of the top players at his position in the entire league. Kwon Alexander is a solid starter, though he endured some injury woes last year that hindered him. Kendell Beckwith was the weak link in 2017, but he was just a rookie and is expected to improve.
2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Schedule and Intangibles:
Prior to the 2009 season, the Buccaneers were 68-36 as hosts. However, they've maintained one of the worst home-field advantages in the NFL since. They're 25-46 at the New Sombrero dating back to 2009.
Tampa made what one general manager called "the worst draft pick ever" when they traded up into the second round for kicker Roberto Aguyao two years ago. Unsurprisingly, the Buccaneers were looking for a new kicker this offseason. They signed Chandler Catanzaro, who was 25-of-30 last year, hitting both tries from beyond 50.
Of course, the Jaguars' decision to take Bryan Anger in the third round - a few selections prior to Russell Wilson - may have been worse. Coincidentally, Anger is now Tampa's punter. Anger was just 26th in net average last year.
The Buccaneers were mixed on special teams. They outgained their opponents by a wide margin on punt returns, but greatly lost the yardage battle when it came to kickoffs. This was the case in 2015 and 2016 as well.
Tampa Bay has a brutal schedule to begin the year. It has to battle the Saints (road), Eagles (home), Steelers (home) - all without Jameis Winston - and then the improved Bears (road) and Falcons (road) before it finally gets an "easy" game in Week 7 when the upgraded Browns come to town.
2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rookies:
Go here for the Buccaneers Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie
will become a solid starter.
2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Analysis: The Buccaneers have been a trendy pick to sneak into the playoffs each year, but they've perennially disappointed with James Winston. That will likely be the case again this season. Given the Winston suspension, the Buccaneers are sure to get off to a slow start, which could prompt Dirk Koetter's firing. This will be a blessing in disguise, as Tampa is very poorly coached under Koetter, so a new front office will have to bring in a no-nonsense coach next offseason to make sure Winston finally gets on the right track.
Projection: 2-14 (4th in NFC South)
2017 Projection: 10-6. 2017 Actual Result: 5-11. 2016 Projection: 7-9. 2016 Actual Result: 9-7.
Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Buccaneers' coaching staff and front office will likely be fired if their team doesn't make the playoffs in 2018. Thus, the front office needs to put Jameis Winston in the best possible position to succeed, bolstering his shoddy protection and making sure the running game is much better.
2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Buccaneers really wanted Quenton Nelson, so when they saw that he was off the board, they traded down five spots with the Bills. Derwin James, a popularly mocked player to them, was still available at No. 12, but Tampa eschewed the safety upgrade in favor of Vita Vea.
Vea is a very talented nose tackle, but spending a top-12 pick on a two-down player is questionable. Still, the Buccaneers did well to acquire more assets, as they had three picks in the second round as a result. One turned out to be a major reach (M.J. Stewart), while the other two choices were just fine. Ronald Jones has game-breaking talent, but I worry about him being in Tampa's crazy party environment.
The Buccaneers finally found some offensive line help near the end of the third round, taking Alex Cappa, a very powerful blocker who should be able to spring open holes for Jones. Two of Tampa's third-day choices were solid, but the team failed to find more offensive line help for Jameis Winston, who desperately needs it.
If it wasn't for the trade, this would've been a dud of a draft for the Buccaneers. It was still mildly disappointing because Winston's blocking hasn't improved very much. However, Tampa's play in the secondary will at least be better, and that's crucial when considering all of the quarterbacking talent in their division.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
12. Vita Vea, NT, Washington B Grade
I don't hate this pick because Vita Vea is a talented player. Also, the Buccaneers traded down to get him, which was nice. However, I just don't know about taking a two-down player like Vea when a player like Derwin James is available. James, arguably a better prospect, fits a much bigger need, especially after Tampa signed Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein in free agency. Again, I don't hate this selection, but the Buccaneers could've done better.
38. Ronald Jones, RB, USC B+ Grade
We heard the Buccaneers preferred Derrius Guice, but Ronald Jones is definitely a strong option as well. The Buccaneers needed to upgrade their backfield after Doug Martin struggled so much last year. Jones is a dynamic threat who can go the distance whenever he touches the ball, so Jameis Winston will love playing with him. My one concern is how having Jones will work in Tampa's crazy party atmosphere, where many young careers have been derailed.
53. M.J. Stewart, CB, North Carolina C- Grade
This is a bit of a reach, as M.J. Stewart seemed like a third- or fourth-round prospect. The Buccaneers have the 102nd selection, and I don't think it's out of the question that Stewart could've been available then. Still, this isn't a terrible pick, as Stewart seems like a good fit, and he fills a need.
63. Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn B Grade
It should not be a surprise to anyone that the Buccaneers spent two second-round picks on cornerbacks. This is a position they absolutely had to attack, given their weakness in the secondary. Davis was either a second- or third-round prospect, depending on which team was polled, so he definitely makes sense in this range.
94. Alex Cappa, G/OT, Humboldt State B Grade
Alex Cappa was one of the least-athletic offensive linemen in this class, but that's not a big deal. Cappa is a strong blocker who should be able to open up some big holes for Ronald Jones. I thought Cappa would go in this range after a terrific Senior Bowl, so this seems like a solid selection.
117. Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh C+ Grade
Jordan Whitehead makes sense as a fourth-round prospect. He's small, but could eventually become a starter if he remains clean off the field. The problem is that Whitehead has some off-field issues, and I'm not sure the crazy Tampa party environment is the right fit for him.
144. Justin Watson, WR, Penn B Grade
Justin Watson was considered a fifth-round prospect, so he makes sense at this juncture. Watson is a highly athletic receiver, but will need to prove that he can be productive out of the Ivy League. The Buccaneers will need to replace DeSean Jackson soon, so maybe Watson can start in 2019 and beyond.
202. Jack Cichy, LB, Wisconsin A Grade
Jack Cichy would have gone in the second round if it weren't for some medical concerns. He's coming off a torn ACL, but should be ready to go at some point in 2018. This could end up being a great value choice, and he's worth the risk in the sixth frame.
The Buccaneers were a popular pick to reach the playoffs this past season, but they were a huge disappointment, winning just a handful of games. Their star players failed to perform up to expectations, they were poorly coached, and the effort didn't seem to be there in all of the games. Much needs to change for Tampa to finally live up to expectations.
Buccaneers acquire DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Buccaneers sign DE Vinny Curry
Buccaneers cut DE Robert Ayers
Buccaneers sign C Ryan Jensen
Buccaneers sign K Chandler Catanzaro
Buccaneers sign DT Beau Allen
Buccaneers cut RB Doug Martin
Buccaneers cut DT Chris Baker
Left Tackle: The Buccaneers failed to protect Jameis Winston this past season, and they paid the price when he got hurt on multiple occasions. Former second-round pick Donovan Smith has been an utter failure in his two NFL seasons, and it's time for Tampa Bay to find someone new to man the blind-side position.
Two Cornerbacks: Tampa Bay's biggest need on defense is addressing the secondary. The cornerback position is a mess right now. Vernon Hargreaves played well last year, but Brent Grimes, showing signs of regression, is a 35-year-old entering free agency. A new starting cornerback is needed across from Grimes, and the Buccaneers will also have to find a new slot corner if Robert McCain isn't re-signed. Re-signed Brent Grimes
Defensive End: Robert Ayers was the only edge player on Tampa's roster to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks last year. Ayers, 33 in September, is entering his walk year. Meanwhile, Noah Spence has yet to do much as a pro, registering just one sack in 2017 before being placed on injured reserve after six games. Signed Vinny Curry; traded for Jason Pierre-Paul
Two Guards: Left tackle isn't the only problematic area Tampa Bay has up front. Like Smith, J.R. Sweezy has been a huge disappointment. Evan Smith played well at one of the guard spots, but he's an impending free agent. If he leaves, two new guards will have to be acquired. Signed Ryan Jensen
Safety: The Buccaneers look like they have a promising safety in Justin Evans, who performed well as a second-round rookie. They thought they were going to have a great tandem with T.J. Ward, but the former Bronco was a huge disappointment in Tampa, looking completely disinterested in playing there. He'll need to be replaced.
Running Back: The Buccaneers gave Doug Martin another shot this season after he disappointed in 2016. He failed once again, so the front office will have to find someone new to shoulder the workload. Luckily, there will be tons of running back talent in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Defensive Tackle: It seemed like Tampa Bay finally found a capable starter next to Gerald McCoy, which is something they've needed for a while. Chris Baker was a promising signing, but he struggled, showing signs of regression now that he's into his 30s. Perhaps Baker will get another chance, but the Buccaneers should at least look into acquiring another defensive tackle. Signed Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein
Kicker: The Curse of Matt Bryant? The Buccaneers have needed an accurate kicker for years now. Signed Chandler Catanzaro
Backup Quarterback: Ryan Fitzpatrick is an impending free agent, so a new No. 2 quarterback will be needed if he departs.
Punter: Bryan Anger continues to be one of the worst punters in the NFL. Let's not forget that the Jaguars drafted him over Russell Wilson.
Vinny Curry, DE, Eagles. Age: 30. Signed with Buccaneers (3 years)
The stats don't show it, but Vinny Curry is a very talented player. He hasn't recorded more than 3.5 sacks since 2013, but he has provided a consistent pass rush. He's also very effective in run support. The one downside with him is that he turns 30 in June, but he should still be able to perform on a high level for at least two more seasons. He'll generate plenty of interest on the open market.
Chandler Catanzaro, K, Jets. Age: 27. Signed with Buccaneers
Chandler Catanzaro struggled in his final season with the Cardinals, but rebounded this past year. He drilled about 85 percent of his field goals and hit every extra point. He's 5-of-8 from 50-plus the past two years.
Ryan Jensen, C, Ravens. Age: 27. Signed with Buccaneers (4 years)
Ryan Jensen did a decent job as Baltimore's starting center in 2017, but he could stand to be upgraded.
Mitch Unrein, DE/DT, Bears. Age: 31. Signed with Buccaneers (3 years)
Mitch Unrein has never had two or more sacks in a season, but that's not his strength. He's a terrific run-stuffer as a five-technique in a 3-4 defense.
Beau Allen, NT, Eagles. Age: 26. Signed with Buccaneers
Beau Allen has been a solid rotational defensive lineman for the Eagles the past few seasons as a run-stuffing specialist.
Tampa Bay Bucs Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Robert Ayers, DE, Buccaneers. Age: 32.
Robert Ayers registered just two sacks last year, but played better than that. He's strong versus the run and decent enough as a pass-rusher, but the downside is that he turns 33 on Sept. 6.
Chris Baker, DT, Buccaneers. Age: 30. Signed with Bengals
Chris Baker had a terrific season in 2016, and he signed a 3-year, $15.75 million contract last spring. He seemed like a great addition, but he slacked off in his new home and was ineffective. Baker is very talented, however, and he could bounce back if motivated.
Brent Grimes has been a terrific cornerback over the years, but he's now in his mid-30s, and he has shown signs of regression. He played on an average level in 2017, but he turns 35 in July, so he'll likely continue to get worse.
Cameron Brate (RFA), TE, Buccaneers. Age: 27. Re-signed with Buccaneers (6 years, $41 million; $18 million guaranteed)
It was disappointing that Cameron Brate failed to produce without Jameis Winston. That said, Brate is a nice end-zone weapon for Winston, and he also blocks well. He's still young, only turning 27 in July.
Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers. Age: 29. Signed with Raiders
It's a shame what Tampa Bay's partying lifestyle did to Doug Martin's career. Martin, a first-round pick from the 2012 NFL Draft, had 1,400-yard rushing seasons in 2012 and 2015, but has been in the 400s in every other year. Martin has suffered through injuries and lethargy, and he was highly ineffective this past season, averaging a career-worst 2.9 yards per carry. Martin may have checked out forever, but I'd give him a chance with a 1-year "prove it" deal to see if he can bounce back.
Evan Smith, G/C, Buccaneers. Age: 32.
Evan Smith is a capable interior lineman capable of playing all three inside positions. He turns 32 in July, but interior blockers can play well into their mid-30s. However, he has a dubious track record with injuries, failing to play a full season since 2013.
J.R. Sweezy, G, Buccaneers. Age: 29.
J.R. Sweezy signed a $32.5 million contract two years ago, but he has dealt with back and leg injuries, and he was cut as a result. Sweezy is worth a shot, but his body could be finished.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buccaneers. Age: 35. Re-signed with Buccaneers
Ryan Fitzpatrick's days as a starting NFL quarterback are over, but he's at least a very strong backup. He quarterbacked the Buccaneers to a couple of wins in relief of Jameis Winston, throwing seven touchdowns to just three interceptions.
Clinton McDonald, DT, Buccaneers. Age: 31. -- Signed with Broncos
Adam Humphries (RFA), WR, Buccaneers. Age: 25. -- Tendered by Buccaneers (2nd round)
Robert McClain, CB, Buccaneers. Age: 30.
Charles Sims, RB, Buccaneers. Age: 27.
Keith Tandy, S, Buccaneers. Age: 29. -- Re-signed with Buccaneers (2 years)
Kevin Pamphile, OT, Buccaneers. Age: 27. -- Signed with Titans