2017 NFL Offseason: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last Year: 9-7)

2017 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR DeSean Jackson, DT Chris Baker, S J.J. Wilcox, K Nick Folk.
Early Draft Picks:
TE O.J. Howard, S Justin Evans, WR Chris Godwin, LB Kendall Beckwith, RB Jeremy McNichols. Buccaneers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Mike Glennon, WR Vincent Jackson, OT Gosder Cherilus, DE Jacquies Smith, DT Akeem Spence, OLB Daryl Smith, CB Alterraun Verner, S Bradley McDougald.

2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offense:
Jameis Winston progressed in his sophomore campaign, but was still very inconsistent. He threw three or more touchdowns in four games, yet was responsible for two or more turnovers in a single contest six times. Part of the reason for this has been Winston’s inexperience, but there was another factor, and that was Winston’s lacking offensive arsenal. Mike Evans, of course, is one of the most dominant receivers in the NFL, while Cameron Brate served as a dependable target in the end zone. However, the Buccaneers didn’t have much else, so they put their energy into upgrading Winston’s supporting cast this offseason.

The Buccaneers began by signing DeSean Jackson in free agency. Jackson has always been overrated, as he’s an inefficient receiver and a one-trick pony, but there’s no doubt that opposing defenses pay attention to him because of his game-breaking ability. Jackson’s presence will shift some of the attention away from Evans, so the young wideout could have a career year. Tampa wasn’t done after signing Jackson, as it spent the No. 19 overall pick on O.J. Howard. Brate is a decent tight end, but Howard is on another level. He has the athleticism to perhaps eventually emerge as one of the top tight ends in the NFL. Meanwhile, third-rounder Chris Godwin was added to be the team’s No. 3 receiver.

Tampa Bay’s front office didn’t expect Howard to fall to No. 19, as its original plan, according to Charlie Campbell, was to select Dalvin Cook. This wasn’t a surprise, as the Buccaneers had major issues at running back the previous season, as Doug Martin was out of shape after signing a big contract last spring. The good news for the Buccaneers is that Martin appears to be in good shape. The bad news is that he’s suspended for the first three weeks of the season, so they’ll have to rely on Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers and fifth-round rookie Jeremy McNichols to carry the workload in September.

If Martin is indeed in good shape, the only worry the Buccaneers have on offense is their front line. There are a couple of holes, namely at left tackle, where Donovan Smith has struggled. Smith was a second-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, so he still has potential, but he hasn’t even come close to living up to it yet as a pro. He’ll need to improve, while left guard J.R. Sweezy will need to prove himself. Sweezy signed a $32.5 million contract last spring, but didn’t even play in 2016 because of a back issue. He’ll have to live up to the money to help the Buccaneers finally reach the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the right side of the offensive line is in much better shape. Guard Ali Marpet, who was also chosen in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, has been excellent as a pro thus far. He’s sandwiched by talented center Joe Hawley and the veteran of the group, right tackle Demar Dotson, who is still performing on a high level despite his age (32 in October). It should be noted that Marpet could be moved to center. If so, either Evan Smith or Kevin Pamphile would start at guard.

2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense:
With Jameis Winston evolving into one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, and the offense improving with more talent added to that side of the ball, the defense will have to keep up for the team to finally reach the playoffs. There weren’t many additions, but the Buccaneers managed to pick up a few key talents to perhaps get them over the hump.

The best player Tampa Bay added in free agency was defensive tackle Chris Baker, who was a force against the run and an adequate pass-rusher for the Redskins. The Buccaneers have needed a viable partner for the elite Gerald McCoy ever since the star defensive tackle was drafted third overall, and it appears as though they finally have one. If Baker lives up to expectations, Tampa Bay could have the top one-two punch at defensive tackle in the NFL.

Elsewhere on the defensive line, the Buccaneers have a quartet of edge players who will rotate. Robert Ayers has been the best of the bunch; he has logged 15.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Ayers, however, turns 32 in September, so he could be surpassed by 2016 second-rounder Noah Spence, who tallied 5.5 sacks as a rookie. McCoy told the media that he expects Spence to have a breakout year. Ayers and Spence are joined by run-stuffer William Gholston and Jacquies Smith, who played just one snap last season because of a torn ACL. Smith, who notched seven sacks in 12 games the year before, was a big loss. He’s expected to be ready for Week 1.

Two other key players the Buccaneers added this offseason were a pair of safeties. J.J. Wilcox was brought in from the Cowboys through free agency, while a second-round pick was used on the extremely athletic Justin Evans. Wilcox is coming off a career year, but still has a lot to prove because his contract is worth only $8.5 million.

The cornerback group remained largely untouched this spring, which wasn’t terribly surprising. Brent Grimes was one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL this past season, but it remains to be seen if he can maintain his high level of play as a 34-year-old in 2017. On the other end of the spectrum, 2016 first-rounder Vernon Hargreaves will need to improve from an inconsistent rookie campaign. Tampa Bay doesn’t have much depth behind those two players.

Rounding out the defense, the linebacking corps has a couple of strong players in Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. The Buccaneers needed a third linebacker with the decrepit Daryl Smith gone, so they spent a third-round pick on Kendell Beckwith. The LSU product is obviously inexperienced, but he can’t possibly be worse than Smith was this past season.

2017 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 21-42 at the New Sombrero dating back to 2009. They were 4-4 this past season, but were better on the road (5-3).

Tampa made what one general manager called “the worst draft pick ever” when they traded up into the second round for kicker Roberto Aguyao a year ago. Aguyao was awful as a rookie, going 22-of-31. He whiffed on his only 50-yard attempt. Nick Folk was added for competition.

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 22nd in net yardage in 2015, but improved to fourth 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 as well.

Tampa Bay has a chance to get off to a quick start, as the Dolphins, Bears, Vikings and Giants are the first four opponents. Things get more difficult later, with the Patriots, Packers and Falcons (twice) on the horizon, but there are other easy foes as well.

2017 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.

2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Analysis: The Buccaneers appear to be a playoff team. Jameis Winston is entering his third season; his supporting cast has improved; and the defense has picked up some talented players. However, with some big names in the mix, expectations are high, and that could be harmful. Young teams with no playoff success typically fail to live up to their billing if much is expected of them. Then again, the Raiders were in the same situation last year, and they certainly came through before injuries destroyed them.

Projection: 10-6 (2nd in NFC South)

2016 Projection: 7-9. 2016 Actual Result: 9-7.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: The Buccaneers are on the cusp of making the playoffs. They just have to fill out some of their glaring needs. These include running back, defensive end and safety. Otherwise, they should be taking the best players available.

2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Buccaneers obtained one of the greatest steals of the draft when O.J. Howard fell into their laps at No. 19 overall. Howard was a consensus top-10 prospect, with two teams even telling us that they believed the Jaguars would select him with the fourth-overall pick. Thanks to stupid teams doing stupid things, Tampa Bay was able to obtain the talented tight end to improve Jameis Winston’s supporting cast.

Winston would end up being happier as he weekend progressed. The Buccaneers used a third-day selection on Chris Godwin, who was seen as a second-round prospect. He’ll be a nice third receiver, joining Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. Jeremy McNichols, meanwhile, was a strong fifth-round choice to potentially take over as the team’s starting running back at some point.

Tampa Bay had to upgrade its defense as well, so it used its second-rounder on Justin Evans. The athletic safety should offer an upgrade at the position, though the same probably can’t be said about fourth-round linebacker Kendell Beckwith, who is coming off a torn ACL.

The Buccaneers did a great job of putting together a strong draft class. Of the six picks they made, only one scored worse than a “B.” The front office obtained quality players, all while filling needs, so a high grade is in order.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

19. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: A+ Grade
I thought the Buccaneers would select Dalvin Cook, but I never would’ve imagined that O.J. Howard would still be on the board. With that in mind, this is a no-brainer. The Buccaneers are getting a prospect many thought would be chosen either fourth or sixth overall, making this a crazy value pick. Howard was the best player available, and he’ll fill a need for Tampa. Cameron Brate played well last year, but he’s limited athletically. Howard will provide Jameis Winston with a matchup nightmare weapon, and Winston will improve because of Howard’s presence. This is an easy A+.

50. Justin Evans, S, Texas A&M: B Grade
See what I mean about talented safeties being available. Both Justin Evans and Obi Melifonwu make a ton of sense for the Buccaneers, who desperately needed to fill a hole at safety. Both are also extremely athletic, which fits what Tampa looks for. Evans makes sense in this range, and this appears to be a solid pick.

84. Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State: A Grade
The Buccaneers are having a terrific draft thus far. They’ve added a second offensive weapon (O.J. Howard) to go along with Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, and Chris Godwin certainly was needed. The Buccaneers had to acquire a third receiver, and Godwin provides very good value, as he could’ve been chosen in the second round. Godwin was one of the top testers at the combine, and he has the production to match it, so I don’t know how he lasted until the middle of the third round.

107. Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU: C Grade
Had the Buccaneers just made the pick here, I would’ve given it a “B.” However, the Buccaneers traded up to take Kendell Beckwith. I doubt many teams were dying to select him around this range, given that he’s coming off a torn ACL and may not be able to play until 2018. I don’t know why a team would trade up for someone like that, but Beckwith could be a decent contributor for Tampa in 2018 and beyond.

162. Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State: A- Grade
Doug Martin really struggled last year, so the Buccaneers had to find a new running back. There was speculation that they’d choose Dalvin Cook, but Jeremy McNichols makes sense on Day 3. McNichols is a strong receiver and thrives in pass protection. His injury concerns are the only issue.

223. Steve Tu’ikolovatu, DT, USC: B Grade
The downside with Steve Tu’ikolovatu is that he turns 26 soon, and he’s also extremely unathletic. However, the latter part isn’t very important because his role, if he makes the pros, will be to stuff the run, which is the only thing he’s very good at doing. The seventh round is the time to select specific specialists like that, even if they’re going to need adult diapers in the near future.

Season Summary:
The Buccaneers had a chance to make the playoffs this past season, but couldn’t quite get past the Saints in a crucial game. However, they took some major steps, so now it seems as though Jameis Winston is ready to lead this team into postseason play in his third year.

Offseason Moves:
  • Buccaneers sign QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
  • Buccaneers sign K Nick Folk
  • Buccaneers re-sign C Joe Hawley
  • Buccaneers re-sign CB Josh Robinson
  • Buccaneers sign S J.J. Wilcox
  • Buccaneers sign DT Chris Baker
  • Buccaneers re-sign S Chris Conte
  • Buccaneers sign WR DeSean Jackson
  • Buccaneers re-sign RB Jacquizz Rodgers
  • Buccaneers re-sign DE William Gholston
  • Buccaneers cut CB Alterraun Verner

    Team Needs:
    1. Safety: Tampa had trouble in coverage this past season, thanks to some poor safety play. Things will only get worse with Bradley McDouglad heading for free agency. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, they almost certainly won’t have a shot at the top two safeties in the 2017 NFL Draft. Signed J.J. Wilcox; re-signed Chris Conte

    2. Running Back: Doug Martin has entered rehab, while Charles Sims has struggled to stay healthy. The Buccaneers could spend an early-round choice on a new backfield mate for Jameis Winston. Re-signed Jacquizz Rodgers

    3. Wide Receiver: Vincent Jackson is on his last legs, and he happens to be a free agent anyway. Tampa could use one of its initial draft picks on a new wideout. Signed DeSean Jackson

    4. Defensive Tackle: Gerald McCoy is one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL, but the Buccaneers have seldom had a strong presence next to him. This is an area they’ve needed to upgrade for a while. Signed Chris Baker

    5. Cornerback: Brent Grimes had a terrific year for the Buccaneers, but he turns 34 in July and may not be very effective much longer. Re-signed Josh Robinson

    6. Defensive End: Tampa Bay will be getting Jacquies Smith back from injury, but another defensive end will have to be obtained if William Gholston heads elsewhere in free agency. Re-signed William Gholston

    7. Left Tackle: The Buccaneers won’t be giving up on Donovan Smith just yet, but they seriously need to start thinking about it. Smith has been awful through two seasons thus far.

    8. Center: The other issue with Tampa’s offensive line is that Joe Hawley happens to be an impending free agent. Re=signed Joe Hawley

    9. Outside Linebacker: Daryl Smith is heading for free agency as well. The Buccaneers will have to pick up a third linebacker to go along with Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David.

    10. Backup Quarterback: Mike Glennon will be hitting the market in March, so a new No. 2 signal-caller is needed. Signed Ryan Fitzpatrick

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2017 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Chris Baker, DE/DT, Redskins. Age: 29.
      Signed with Buccaneers (3 years, $15.75 million)

      Chris Baker was the lone bright spot on the Redskins’ dismal defensive line this past year. He was a force against the run and also generated a good amount of pressure on the quarterback, collecting 4.5 sacks, which is a solid number for a player at his position. The downside is that Baker turns 30 in October, but he should be able to play on a high level for at least two more years.

    2. DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins. Age: 30.
      Signed with Buccaneers

      DeSean Jackson produced the fifth 1,000-yard season of his 9-year pro career in 2016, but turned 30 in the process. Jackson will continue to be a downfield threat in 2017, but he’ll lose his deep speed soon enough, so he shouldn’t be signed to a long-term deal. The scuttlebutt is that Jackson is headed back to Philadelphia.

    3. Nick Folk, K, Jets. Age: 32.
      Signed with Buccaneers

      Nick Folk has hit at least 82.1 percent of his field goals over the past four years, and he’s missed just two extra points since the rule was changed. He’s 10-of-15 from 50-plus since 2013.

    4. J.J. Wilcox, S, Cowboys. Age: 26.
      Signed with Buccaneers (2 years)

      J.J. Wilcox played well after struggling for several seasons, though he missed four games with a thigh injury. He missed some tackles, but did well in coverage. Wilcox is just 26 in February and could continue to play well.

    Tampa Bay Bucs Free Agents:

    Salary Cap Space: $84.2M.
    1. Joe Hawley, C, Buccaneers. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Buccaneers (2 years)

      Joe Hawley had a rocky start to his career in Atlanta, but has since improved. He was solid for the Buccaneers this past season, though slightly toward the end of the year, perhaps because of a knee injury he suffered in Week 9.

    2. Bradley McDouglad, S, Buccaneers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Seahawks

      Bradley McDouglad is solid in run support, but could stand to improve in coverage. Still, he’s not a liability, and he makes for a fine starting safety.

    3. Jacquies Smith (RFA), DE, Buccaneers. Age: 27.
      Jacquies Smith collected 13.5 combined sacks in 2014 and 2015, but missed all but one snap this past season because of a torn ACL. Given that the injury happened in Week 1, Smith should be at full strength by the start of the 2017 campaign.

    4. Alterraun Verner, CB, Buccaneers. Age: 28.
      Alterraun Verner signed a $25.5 million contract three years ago, but has struggled mightily the past two seasons. He’s talented enough to rebound, but it’s difficult to ignore how bad he’s been for the Buccaneers.

    5. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Buccaneers. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Buccaneers

      Jacquizz Rodgers was perhaps Tampa’s best running back in 2016. He took over for the ailing Doug Martin and Charles Sims, and he managed to rush for 100 yards in two games. He gained 4.3 yards per carry and caught 13 passes.

    6. Mike Glennon, QB, Buccaneers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Bears (3 years, $45 million)

      Adam Schefter reported that Mike Glennon could receive $13-$15 million per year on his next contract, which is just insane. Glennon has a career completion percentage of 59.4 and a YPA of 6.5. Neither are good marks. He’s thrown 30 touchdowns compared to only 15 interceptions, but as we’ve seen from Nick Foles’ 27:2 2013 campaign, those sorts of figures can be fluky.

    7. William Gholston, DE, Buccaneers. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Buccaneers
    8. Daryl Smith, OLB, Buccaneers. Age: 35.
    9. Russell Shepard, WR, Buccaneers. Age: 26. — Signed with Panthers (3 years)
    10. Vincent Jackson, WR, Buccaneers. Age: 34.
    11. Chris Conte, S, Buccaneers. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Buccaneers (2 years)
    12. Akeem Spence, DT, Buccaneers. Age: 25. — Signed with Lions
    13. Gosder Cherilus, OT, Buccaneers. Age: 33. — Announced retirement
    14. Adarius Glanton (RFA), OLB, Buccaneers. Age: 26.
    15. Cecil Shorts, WR, Buccaneers. Age: 29.
    16. Josh Robinson, CB, Buccaneers. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Buccaneers (2 years, $6.5 million)
    17. Brandon Myers, TE, Buccaneers. Age: 31.
    18. Austin Johnson (RFA), FB, Buccaneers. Age: 28.


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