Well, the 2018 season is now over and it ended in a way that we all have come to expect. In a battle for the basement of the NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons (loser claims last place in the division), the Bucs pulled out to a 17-0 first half lead only to blow it in the second half and lose 34-32. Proving yet again that this team is incapable of putting together four quarters of solid football. The loss gives them a final record of 5-11 for the second straight season under Dirk Koetter and earned them the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. After starting the season 2-0, this team went 3-11 in their final 14 games losing their last four which ultimately cost Koetter his job. He was “relieved of his duties” just a few hours after the game ended on Sunday and general manager Jason Licht is now in charge of finding his replacement. So now that the Buccaneers season is officially over, I wanted to take a good look at the “state of this franchise” from top to bottom. Let’s get started.
Since the Glazers have saddled Jason Licht with the task of finding their new head coach, it’s a given that he will remain in Tampa as the Buccaneers general manager despite going 27-53 over the past five seasons, which is a game worse than Mark Dominik’s record during his five years in Tampa (and he was fired). At least for now. Some fans are happy about that. Some fans are not. I personally think that Licht has done a decent job at collecting talent on this roster through both the draft and free agency, but he’s had his misses here and there like any other GM. This time though, the Bucs are also using a “search firm” to assist in finding a new head coach. This same firm is credited with placing Bill O’Brien with the Texans, Andy Reid with the Chiefs, Dan Quinn with the Falcons, Doug Marrone with the Jaguars and Pete Carroll with the Seahawks. Not a bad track record. Hopefully, they can do the same for the Bucs.
I’ve seen a number of Bucs fans who’d like to see the organization hire a “football guy” as a “Team President” to oversee the every day “football decisions” for this team. I was under the assumption that was the job of the general manager, but I could be wrong. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, but I also don’t see the need to make up a position for the sake of having a position. I’ve seen fans mention former Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks name a lot for this job, as well as former Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy. Again I like the idea and even understand the concept, but I’m not sure I really see the point.
As I stated earlier, Dirk Koetter was given his pink slip before I could even get home from the game and take a shower. Now the search begins for his replacement and there’s already some big names being thrown around the rumor mill. Former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was one of those names, but he’s apparently being linked with the Cleveland Browns coaching vacancy. Both Harbaugh brothers have been mentioned by people, but it looks as though the Ravens are hanging on to John as of right now (even though there’s rumors they’d consider trade offers for him) and Jim is probably not leaving his “dream job” at Michigan. There was speculation that the Steelers could be parting ways with Mike Tomlin and if so, he could land in Tampa. However, Pittsburgh has only had three head coaches since 1969 (Chuck Knoll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin) so it’s not likely that they’re going to make a change there so he’s not a realistic option.
One interesting name that one source has said is at the top of the Bucs wish list is former Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians. He does have a connection to GM Jason Lich from his Arizona days, as well as DL coach Brentson Buckner and it’s no secret that the QB guru is a huge Jameis Winston fan. I read somewhere that he has said in the past that the only job that he would consider returning to coaching for was the Browns job. But has he changed his mind? Now, there is an article out that’s saying he would consider a return to the sidelines to any team under the right circumstances. He’s even said he’d “listen” if the Bucs called him up. The biggest obstacle for an Arians return might be his wife though who has said she doesn’t want him coaching again due to “health concerns”. However, I did hear Arians on a radio show saying that he’s received a “clean bill of health” in his last few physicals so maybe those “concerns” aren’t as “concerning” as we’ve been led to believe. He also said that if he does return to the sidelines, he will leave the playcalling to someone else which would relieve a lot of the stresses that he endured before while coaching. We’ll see what happens there.
There are other names being thrown around like former Jags head coach Jack Del Rio, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard among others. My personal opinion is that this team needs a big name head coach with a proven track record and not an offensive or defensive coordinator with head coaching “potential”. For me, Arians makes the most sense for this team. If they can bring him in as head coach, hire either former Jets head coach and Arians former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles or Kris Richard in as the new DC and keep Todd Monken as the OC then this team would be starting 2019 off on the right foot. There are some position coaches that I’d like to see replaced (mainly OL coach George Warhop and his assistant coach Butch Barry) but those changes will likely come when the new head coach implants his new staff.
2019 SALARY CAP SITUATION
The Buccaneers enter the 2019 offseason with the fourth lowest amount of cap space in the league at just $15 million. The only teams with less available money are the Vikings, Jaguars and Eagles. Now the league is projecting that the cap should go up around $10 million from the 2018 cap of $177 million to around the $190 million mark. Should that happen, the Bucs would have around $25 million in cap space before making any roster moves. The league average as of right now is around $42 million. The Bucs will be able to create quite a bit more cap space by releasing some players and simply restructuring a contract or two so it will be interesting to see how Jason Licht and Mike Greenberg are able to play with these numbers over the next couple of months.
GERALD & JAMEIS
Two of the most popular and important players on this team might be headed in different directions this offseason. The Bucs already announced earlier this year that they were picking up the fifth year option on Jameis Winston’s rookie contract at a price tag of nearly $21 million. After starting the season suspended for 3 games then struggling with turnovers in his return to the field, there was speculation that the team could decided to move on from their former #1 pick. Just prior to the game on Sunday, the team put those rumors to rest stating that Winston would in fact be back as their starting franchise QB for the 2019 season. Now that that situation is seemingly decided the next question is, what about Gerald McCoy?
Despite what some fans think, G-Mac is still one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in the NFL. His numbers may not always reflect that, but that’s what happens when a player is playing in a system that doesn’t utilize his skill set and natural abilities. That being said, he’s about to be 31 years old and is set to make $13 million next season. With the lack of cap space and the emergence of Vita Vea in the second half of the season, suddenly it looks like McCoy could end up as a “cap casualty”. Sources inside the locker room on Sunday said that he was visually upset and seemed emotional after the game. Another source close to McCoy told me that he understands that this is a business and doesn’t expect to back in Tampa next season even though he would love to finish his career here. I would love to see the Bucs work some magic and restructure his contract to a more cap friendly, bonus laden, backloaded deal to somehow to keep him around, but I don’t think it’ll happen. In his press conference on Monday, Jason Licht was asked point blank about the McCoy situation. His reply…“We have a bunch of tough decisions to make this offseason”. That doesn’t sound good for Gerald.
Apparently, the ever disgruntled wide receiver DeSean Jackson knew that he wasn’t going to be back in Tampa before anyone else did. Even before he was listed as “inactive” for their final game against the Falcons, he had already sold his Tampa home and cleaned out his locker at One Buc. With allegations that he got into verbal conflicts with both Mike Evans and Dirk Koetter and his outspoken negative opinion about Jameis Winston’s deep ball accuracy, it seems as though Jackson’s negatives in the locker room far outweighed his positives on the field. With the emergence of second year wide receiver Chris Godwin, the sure hands and steady production of Adam Humphries and the promising development of young players like rookie Justin Watson and second year player Bobo Wilson it doesn’t appear that the Bucs are in need of Jackson’s services any longer. His release would also clear up another $10 million in cap space, which the team sorely needs going into next season.
The Buccaneers will have some hard decisions to make about a number of players that are still under contract besides Gerald McCoy. With limited cap space, the team may have to part ways with a few guys in order to create some more of it. That list could include Vinny Curry ($8M), Cam Brate ($7M), Beau Allen ($5M), Demar Dotson ($4.85M), Will Gholston ($3.75M), Mitch Unrein ($3.75M), Bryan Anger ($3M), Evan Smith ($2M) and Noah Spence ($1.9M). That’s nearly $40 million in cap space that the Bucs could potentially free up by either releasing these players or restructuring some of their deals. Now I’m not saying that all of these guys will be gone, but these are the most expensive contracts/ least productive players on the roster so some of them will likely fall victim to the salary cap.
Unrestricted free agents are players that are no longer under contract with their current teams and are free to speak and/or sign with whatever team they choose. The Bucs have 13 of these types of free agents, some could be back with the team and some will not. The most notable names on this list are LT Donovan Smith, MLB Kwon Alexander, WR Adam Humphries, CB Brent Grimes and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Other players in this category are QB Ryan Griffin, K Cairo Santos, S Chris Conte, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, LB Adarius Taylor, LS Garrison Sanborn, LB Kevin Minter and CB Josh Shaw.
Grimes will not be back. With the way he played for most of this season, he should be contemplating retirement. I also don’t see Ryan Fitzpatrick returning either. Despite playing lights out to start the season, he’s still 36 years old and in the twilight of his journeyman career. The Bucs may finally be ready to let Ryan Griffin take the reigns as Winston’s backup so I do think that Fitz will be back. I think Adarius Taylor and Cairo Santos have done enough this year to be brought back unless another team offers them too much money. Chris Conte and Jacquizz Rodgers are on the fence. With Koetter gone, the appeal for Rodgers may be gone as well. And if a new DC comes in with a new defensive scheme, Conte may be out of time here as well.
The biggest question marks in this group to me are Donovan Smith, Kwon Alexander and Adam Humphries but all for different reasons. I’m not sure that Smith has shown enough consistency to warrant the “franchise left tackle” kind of contract that he’s wanting. Even if he does stay in Tampa, I’m not so sure it’s at his same position. If the Bucs end up releasing Demar Dotson, they’ll need a new right tackle. If they can find a solid left tackle, either in free agency or the draft, they could move Smith to the right side where he may have a little more luck. If Kwon hits the open market, some team could end up offering him a king’s ransom that the Bucs just wouldn’t be able to compete with. I think he’ll be Licht’s top priority this offseason to keep that from happening and allows the Bucs to keep the quarterback of their defense in Tampa. As for Hump, some team with tons of cap space and a need for a sure handed slot receiver could end up making him an offer he just can’t refuse and he’d be gone. Despite entering the league as an undrafted free agent, he has the fourth most catches of all the receivers in his entire draft class. He’s a weapon that could be in high demand IF the Bucs let him hit the open market. Sanborn will most likely not be back. He’s 33 years old plus the Bucs are already working out a new longsnapper. Shaw didn’t see much action this season and probably isn’t on the team’s priority list. Minter could be a wildcard. IF the Bucs do hire Bruce Arians as their head coach, then Minter could end up sticking around since he played under him with the Cardinals.
Restricted free agents are a bit different. Without getting too in depth, an RFA can speak to other teams but their original team has the option of matching any offers. If the original team matches an offer, that player stays with said team. That’s the simplified version anyway. There are 8 players who fall under this category including LB Cameron Lynch, RB Peyton Barber, S Andrew Adams, LB Devante Bond, CB Devante Harris, CB Javien Elliott, TE Alan Cross and T Leonard Wester. I can see everyone in this group getting re-signed with the exception of maybe Bond. I think Barber proved that he could be a productive back if he can get a consistent o-line in front of him and the rest of the guys all add solid depth to their respective positions.
Exclusive rights free agents aren’t actually “free agents”. The team has “exclusive rights” to offer them a contract and they are not allowed to talk to other teams unless the original team gives permission and releases them to do so. There are 6 of these on the Bucs current roster. They are DE Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DT Jeremiah Leadbetter, CB David Rivers III, S Isaiah Johnson, WR Bobo Wilson and G Mike Liedtke. With the exception of Wilson and Liedtke, I’m not sure anyone else gets an offer from the Bucs. Johnson had an up and down year at safety filling in for Chris Conte and I’m not so sure that he did enough to earn a roster spot next season.
FREE AGENCY NEEDS
It’s difficult to predict exactly what the Bucs will be looking for once free agency begins in March without knowing which of their own free agents they’re going to re-sign first. However, just from looking at this year’s team and who is likely not returning to the team, I’ve put together a list of positions of interest for the 2019 Buccaneers. I won’t get into which players I’d like to see them try to sign for these positions just yet because I’ll save that for my free agency article later this offseason. The Bucs passing offense was one of the best in the league, but the run game was lackluster all season. They need to have a more balanced attack next season which means getting the run game going more consistently. That starts up front with the “big uglies”. Donovan Smith still didn’t take that next step towards being this team’s franchise left tackle despite being in a contract year. Rookie Alex Cappa didn’t develop as fast as the team would’ve liked. Demar Dotson had a down year coming off of his injury. For reasons still beyond my comprehension, they once again tried to rotate guards between Caleb Benenoch and Evan Smith on the right side. Ali Marpet was the best and most consistent offensive lineman for the Bucs this season despite playing his third position in three years. And Ryan Jensen was okay but didn’t quite play up to his “highest paid center in the league” title. Guard has to be a top priority this offseason. And depending on what happens with Dotson and Smith, tackle could be too.
Peyton Barber finished with 871 yards averaging nearly 4 yards per carry. He only had one 100 yard rushing game this year, but never touched the ball more than 19 times in any game. Had he gotten the touches, he could’ve possibly been a 1,000 yard rusher despite running behind that inconsistent o-line. I think he proved that he can be a feature back in the NFL, but with the verdict still out on rookie Ronald Jones and Jacquizz Rodgers becoming an unrestricted free agent this team is in need of a running back. Whether they sign one in free agency or look for one in the draft again remains to be seen.
If the Bucs do in fact let go of Gerald McCoy then suddenly defensive tackle becomes a big priority this offseason. And they could be looking at a defensive line overhaul if they release Will Gholston, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein as well. Needless to say, d-line could be on the Bucs wish list over the next few months.
SAM linebacker could end up being a need as well. Even though the Bucs say that Kendell Beckwith’s ankle injury is not “career threatening”, it kept him on the IR all season long for some reason. Depending on what happens with Kwon’s contract, middle linebacker could be on the list as well. However, the ideal scenario would be both of those guys returning to Tampa next season.
The Bucs secondary will need some help too. With Brent Grimes not coming back, this team needs another starting cornerback. Even though rookie Carlton Davis had a pretty good year, it would be nice to replace Grimes with another veteran corner since the rest of the secondary is so young and inexperienced. Justin Evans and Jordan Whitehead could be the Bucs safety duo of the future, but there is a real lack of depth at that position. Andrew Adams may have earned himself a new contract with his play, but Chris Conte is an unrestricted free agent and Isaiah Johnson was too inconsistent. So safety could be a priority in free agency as well.
So to sum it all up, the Bucs could be looking for a guard, a running back, a defensive lineman, a cornerback and a safety once free agency begins. I’m not saying that they’ll sign a free agent to fill each of those positions, but they will likely be the biggest positions of interest for this team during the offseason.
The Bucs now officially have the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and it puts them in a very good position to trade out of that spot. They sit behind four teams that have no QB needs and ahead of a couple that do in the Giants (#6) and the Jaguars (#7). If there are teams beyond the top ten who want to jump up to get a quarterback, then the Bucs could be the ones reaping the benefits. Jason Licht has shown in the past that he has no problems trading back in the draft if it makes sense, and this could end up being one of those circumstances. It should make for an interesting first round anyway.
As for what the Bucs should do if they stay with that #5 pick, it would all depend on what happens during the offseason leading up to the draft and in free agency. This team doesn’t have a lot of glaring needs, but offensive line, cornerback and running back have to be up there on their wish list. I’ll have a better idea of what positions this team could be looking at and which players would be good to fill those positions in my offseason articles so stay tuned for those.
Now that the 2018 regular season is over, the Bucs 2019 opponents are finalized as well. Next season, the Bucs will be facing the AFC South and NFC West divisions, as well as the Detroit Lions and the New York Giants in addition to their usual NFC South schedule. They will have two West Coast road trips traveling to the Rams and Seahawks, as well as a trip for a “home game” in London so the team will be accumulating quite a few frequent flyer miles over next season. They also play the Titans, Jaguars and Lions on the road. Their home schedule includes the Cardinals, Niners, Colts, Texans and Giants though it hasn’t been revealed who they will be playing overseas. In 2018, the Bucs faced 8 playoff teams from last year going 3-5 in those games with wins over the Saints, Eagles and Panthers. Next year, they have 6 games against playoff teams from this season including the Saints twice, the Rams, the Seahawks, the Colts and the Texans.
Believe it or not, it has almost been five years since the Buccaneers unveiled their alarm clock number uniforms. Most Bucs fans will be happy to hear that according to NFL rules, the Bucs would be eligible to change their uniforms this offseason if they choose to do so. With a new head coach coming in and possibly a culture change, it seems like the perfect time to start fresh with new uniforms as well. As far as I know, there are no plans to make changes as of right now. However, that could change at any point over the next few months. I’ve never had an issue with the team’s most recent jerseys, but I know some fans have always thought they were/are hideous and look like some kind of tribute to the old XFL uniforms. I wouldn’t mind seeing a cleaner, simpler red and orange version of a throwback style uniform myself. Like I said, I haven’t seen or heard anything out of One Buc saying that they are considering a uniform change for 2019, but the Bucs will have that option so keep an eye out for that possibility.
Buc Nation is frustrated. They’re growing impatient. They’re tired of watching bad football and losing teams. After just two winning seasons in the last 10 years and no playoffs since 2007, they’re ready to start winning again. That’s why Dirk had to go. After back-to-back 5-11 seasons, I don’t think the Bucs could’ve sold fans on another season of Koetter coached football. Attendance is down to the point where the team is literally giving away free tickets to try to get more fans in the stands. This offseason could go a long way towards doing just that. Hiring a big name head coach like Bruce Arians, signing a couple of good free agents and having a solid draft would peak the interests of fans and get people excited about Buccaneer football again.
IF THIS WAS MY TEAM…
I would hire Bruce Arians as my head coach. Hopefully, he would bring in Todd Bowles or Kris Richard as his defensive coordinator and retain Todd Monken as the offensive coordinator. Brentson Buckner, Mark Duffner and Skyler Fulton would also remain on the staff as well.
The Bucs had 10 players on their roster this season that were 30 years of age or older. Those included Brent Grimes, Gerald McCoy, Ryan Fitzpatrick, DeSean Jackson, Garrison Sanborn, Mitch Unrein, Vinny Curry, Bryan Anger, Evan Smith and Demar Dotson. I wouldn’t bring any of them back. I wouldn’t even sign any free agents over the age of 30 either. I would have a roster completely made up of players 29 years old or younger. I would make re-signing Adam Humphries, Kwon Alexander and Donovan Smith a top priority. But I would move Smith to right tackle to replace Dotson and look for a left tackle this offseason. I would also look for a right guard, a running back, a safety, a cornerback, maybe a couple of defensive linemen and possibly even a punter.
This is just the first week of the Buccaneers offseason and it’s already taken an interesting turn. It should be a fun one for Bucs fans to pay attention to over the next 6 months or so. I think this head coach search will end rather quickly with Arians being the choice. Once he’s hired, he’ll put his staff together which should be interesting. After that, free agency begins in March and the draft is at the end of April. I’ll be doing plenty of work on which free agents the Bucs could be interested in as well as the draft in my upcoming articles throughout the offseason so stay tuned for those coming soon.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!