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BucmaniacSteiner

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: December 29, 2008, 12:48:38 PM

Just something I threw together...would love to hear everyone's opinions...please no bashing like what goes on at the Buccaneers.com message boards, which is sheer stupidity!

Another year, and yet another post-Super Bowl disappointment for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For the last few seasons, Bruce Allen has wisely avoided wasting money on overpriced players in free agency, and has amassed tons of cap room. Bruce, this is the year to start spending!

Offense

The quarterback position is arguably Tampa’s biggest offensive need this off-season. I cannot remember the last time Tampa Bay has had a “franchise” signal caller, and it is time for the Bucs to go after a stud quarterback. Matt Cassel will obviously be the most sought after quarterback this off-season, pending a franchise tag by the Patriots (which would cost them tons). Cassel is going to get a ton of money thrown at him (I project around Aaron Rodgers type deal- 6 years for $65 million) and there is no reason for Tampa to refrain from making a huge offer. I do not see any other possibilities at quarterback for next year. Jeff Garcia has had two solid years with the team; however, his health, age, and lack of big plays are concerns. Garcia gets tons of media credit for being tough as nails (which he is) and for not turning the ball over, yet the fact of the matter is that Garcia is nothing more than a manager at QB. He is always scrambling around frantically, and avoids taking shots downfield. The red-zone offense, which ranked bottom 3 in the league this season, is evidence of this. Unfortunately, Garcia is taking this team nowhere, McCown has shown he is not ready to be the starter of this team, and other UFA’s like J.P. Losman are not legitimate threats. The Bucs could use their 19th overall pick to draft a quarterback like Tim Tebow, but there are many questions concerning his ability as an NFL quarterback.

The running back position is another concern heading into the 2009 campaign. Earnest Graham is a very solid back; however, his health is a concern after finishing the season on the IR. Cadillac Williams finally showed some flashes of “vintage Caddy” during Tampa’s week 17 finale against the Raiders, but his status is unknown for next season, after injuring his other patellar tendon. Warrick Dunn proved to be a valuable addition to this team, especially on passing downs, but he is a third-down back at best, especially at his age. Clifton Smith has shown potential, but has got to stop fumbling the ball. Some attractive free agents at the running back position include speedsters Derrick Ward and Darren Sproles. Speed kills in the NFL these days, and Ward will be a hot commodity come free agency, especially with the recent success of similar backs like Chris Johnson and Pierre Thomas. The question is whether or not Ward can be a feature back? Even if he can’t, it would be nice to see him in a three-headed-monster attack with Graham and Dunn. Sproles is an elusive but undersized back at 5’6-181, but could also be a worthwhile acquisition in a running back by committee backfield. So far, Ladainian Tomlinson’s backups have found success outside of San Diego (see Michael Turner). Overall, I don’t see Tampa throwing a ton of money at either of these free agents, but that will surely depend on the health of Earnest Graham, and the progression of Clifton Smith. B.J. Askew has proven to be an above average fullback. While he doesn’t necessarily make plays in the passing game, or get goal-line carries, he is a solid run blocker and should keep his job next season.

The Bucs’ trio of tight ends had a decent year, and was probably the most consistent set on the offense. While his hands are sometimes suspect, Jerramy Stevens showed moments of brilliance in the passing game, using his big frame and deceptive speed to make plays. The Bucs need to use him more in the vertical passing game next season. John Gilmore was brought in to be the primary blocking tight end, and did so effectively. It has been four years now and Alex Smith has yet to develop into the athletic pass catching tight-end most expected him to be. While not entirely a bust, Smith needs to step up his game. Due to Smith’s inconsistency, the Bucs may bring in a low draft pick or backup tight end, but I don’t see much change at this position.

Tampa Bay’s offensive MVP this season was without a doubt Antonio Bryant, who was worth every penny of the league minimum 660k he signed for this off-season. While some think Bryant will lose his work ethic once he signs a big deal, I think Tampa Bay should do all they can to re-sign him. When is the last time a Bucs receiver put together such an explosive stretch of games like Bryant did the last 3-4 weeks? He runs crisp routes, gets yards after the catch, and his physical. Not to boot, he is still relatively young at 27 years old. The Bucs should let Mike Clayton sign somewhere else, and part ways with Joey Galloway. They also need to really evaluate Maurice Stovall, who has been a disappointment after talking so much about him during last year’s training camp. Hilliard has proven to be Mr. Reliable on third downs, and deserves a spot as the slot man next year. So who is the #2 wideout? In a highly unlikely scenario, the Bucs could make a move to deal for Tory Holt, but I can’t see that happening. TJ Houshmandzadeh is a free agent, but his price tag might be too high for a 31 year old. Other attractive options include Hank Baskett and Jabar Gaffney, who have shown the ability to make big plays in limited action. The Bucs could also target a wide receiver like Darius Heyward-Bey or Percy Harvin in the upcoming draft.

Overall, Tampa Bay’s offensive line had a solid year. Quite a few sacks allowed (around 35), but many were due to Garcia’s scrambling style. Short yardage situations are a concern, as it seems Tampa was never able to pick up the big 3rd and short. What will it take for this offensive line to become an elite one (like Denver giving up 12 sacks or Minnesota’s run blocking)? Time. This is one of the league’s youngest offensive lines, who will surely need a couple seasons to mesh and build some chemistry. The pieces are in place at the guard and center positions, and while Penn and Trueblood aren’t household names, they have gotten the job done (Trueblood just needs to cut down on penalties, Penn needs to improve run block). The Bucs may bring in a veteran lineman for depth, but the starters look set for next season. If this line can successfully gel, they could be a force to be wrecking with for years to come.



Defense


It is clear that following Monte Kiffin’s announcement that he will not return next season, the defense gave up on him. The defense’s performance over the last four games of the season was appalling. The Bucs now turn to Raheem Morris to lead their defensive unit, a unit which has always been their pride and joy.

Tampa’s problems on the defensive side of the ball start upfront, in the trenches. Remember the good old days? Constant pressure on the defensive line from Rice, Sapp, and McFarland. Pressure leads to turnovers, which leads to success in the NFL. Tampa must make their defensive line issues a priority this off-season. While he has only completed two seasons in the NFL, Gaines Adams did not take the second year leap that most fans expected (6.5 sacks). I still think that he has tremendous speed and talent, but Adams needs some help around him. Jovan Haye is a free agent, and he should be brought back, as long as the price is moderate. Chris Hovan was unimpressive this season, and I would keep him only for depth as a third DT. Tampa Bay should take a large look at possible defensive player of the year Albert Haynesworth, who is a nightmare for offensive lineman. He clogs up the middle, and can put pressure on opposing quarterbacks (8.5 sacks in 14 games this season). But can Haynesworth stay health? There is no point of signing the guy to a lucrative deal if he never plays at 100% ( a la Booger McFarland). That being said, when healthy, Haynesworth might be the best defensive player in the league, and worth a gamble. The Bucs should also think about using a high draft pick on a defensive tackle. B.J. Raji (Boston College) is a big body and disturbing force, but has some commitment issues. Peria Jerry (Mississipi) could also be of help, but is coming off knee surgery. Regardless, the defensive tackle position must be addressed. Kevin Carter did an admirable job this season, and while his work ethic and toughness are valuable, he should not be starting next season. I would love to see more of Greg White, but he must improve in stopping the run. Jimmy Wilkerson had a surprisingly great season, finishing with 5 sacks, and his play could lead to a rotation opposite Adams this season. If anyone is brought in, it should be Chris Canty, who is a proven run stopper.

Over the course of the last few weeks of the 2008 campaign, it was clear that Derrick Brooks was playing hurt. Will Derrick hang ‘em up, or does he have one more season left in him? Either way, the Bucs need some depth at linebacker, If Brooks departs, Cato June will slide back to his original position at the ROLB spot, and Tampa will need to fill June’s void at the LOLB position. Even if Brooks stays, the Bucs need to bring in a top outside linebacker. I don’t think that there is any way the Bucs start next season with Quincy Black or Geno Hayes starting. There are several realistic options to fill this void, including Michael Boley, Angelo Crowell, and Leroy Hill. Terrell Suggs would be nice, but it is a long shot. While Boley had a disappointing contract year, he is still young and has potential. Crowell will be highly sought after, but is coming off season ending surgery. Hill is a decent ‘backer, and could be signed for some depth. Barrett Ruud has proven to be an outstanding player in the middle, and should be a centerpiece of this defense for years to come.

The secondary will be a key focus for the Buccaneers this off-season. The priority is clearly re-signing Jermaine Phillips, but his health has to be a concern. If Phillips’ price tag is too high, I would be content with starting Sabby Piscitelli and letting him develop. I think Piscitelli was a great value pick when the Bucs selected him two seasons ago and that with time he can develop into an above average safety. Tanard Jackson was thrown into the starter’s slot as a rookie, and has done a fantastic job adjusting to the NFL. The cornerback position is what worries me the most. It is impossible to list everything that Ronde Barber has done for this team over his tenure. Unfortunately, Ronde’s play has decreased significantly, to the point where he is getting torched by receivers week in-week out. He was embarrassed trying to tackle Carolina’s running backs, and is clearly not playing at his old level. Who is going to start at corner for the Bucs next season? Phillip Buchanon should be re-signed. He seems to have found a home in Tampa, and some the potential that scouts saw when he was a first round pick in 2003 has been unleashed. At worst, he should be the #3 corner next season. Aqib Talib has a successful first season, nabbing 4 interceptions in only limited playing time. He is a future starter on this team, but needs someone to start opposite him. It could be Phillip Buchanon, but it would be nice to have someone else, and have Buchanon as a top nickel corner. While it would be outstanding to see the Buccaneers go after a stud like Nnamdi Asomugha, it is unlikely that they will be able to sign so many high priced free agents. Asomugha is without a doubt the best cornerback in the league. Quarterbacks do not throw to his side, and coaches run to the side opposite him. It would be a dream to land such a young and talented player. Chris Gamble and Dunta Robinson are attractive free agents, who the Bucs could make a play for, especially with Ronde’s subpar season.

All in all, the Buccaneers need to start spending some money this off-season. Whether Gruden is around or not, the quarterback, defensive line, and secondary are key concerns, which must be addressed. It has been years since the Bucs signed a top tier free agent, and this might be the year Bruce Allen has been saving up for. Cassel, Haynesworth, Suggs, and Asomugha are just some of the many prominent unrestricted free agents this season. If the Buccaneers truly address these needs and draft wisely, they should be able to rebound nicely next season.
Go Bucs!
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