New Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht takes over the Buccaneers and will need to hit the ground running. Aside from quickly familiarizing himself with the new coaching staff and offensive and defensive systems, as well as the players on the current roster, Licht will have to provide the answers to five important questions over the coming weeks. PewterReport.com outlines five areas that will demand Licht’s immediate attention.1. Does Tampa Bay have the right quarterback in Glennon?
Mike Glennon is coming off a solid 2013 season in which he completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 2,608 yards and 19 touchdowns – which set Bucs rookie records – and just nine interceptions. Statistically, Glennon had a better rookie season than Philadelphia’s Nick Foles did in 2012, and he had less to work with in terms of talent due to a plethora of injuries in Tampa Bay that affected every offensive unit.
While Glennon set an NFL record for rookie passing attempts in his first four games with 181, and a rookie record for throwing multiple touchdowns in eight games, he had a 4-9 record as a starter and lacked the “it” factor that Foles displayed as a rookie that set him up to throw 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in leading the Eagles to the playoffs in Chip Kelly’s first season.
Early reports from One Buccaneer Place suggest the team believes Glennon can be a very good fit in Jeff Tedford’s scheme, and Tedford, quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo, head coach Lovie Smith and Licht will all need to arrive at the conclusion to commit to Glennon for 2014 or decide whether to sign a veteran with starting experience by March, or draft another quarterback by May. That’s a difficult assignment out of the gate with only film from 2013 in another coach’s system, and an April mini-camp to work with in terms of evaluating Glennon prior to the draft.
If the team keeps Glennon at the helm of the offense and he succeeds, the Bucs are sailing in the right direction heading into 2015. If he falters and the Bucs didn’t draft a quarterback or sign a veteran to compete with him, the franchise’s growth could be stunted by a year or more. The Bucs currently have the seventh overall selection in the NFL Draft, and will be in position to likely grab one of the top four quarterbacks.
But what happens if Tampa Bay finishes 8-8 this year based upon the supposed strength of its running game and defense? The Bucs may be picking in the upper 20s next year in the first round and may be out of position to take an elite quarterback.
There is a lot for Licht to mull over in his first year on the job in Tampa Bay, and getting the QB position right is crucial for any franchise, as the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. While Licht will certainly have some say in this call, the Glazers will also factor into the decision on which quarterback will lead the franchise, evidenced by the fact that they wanted to give Josh Freeman the 2013 season to prove himself, while former head coach Greg Schiano wanted to trade him last offseason.2. Who in Tampa Bay’s front office is worth keeping?
One of Licht’s initial responsibilities will be to evaluate the performance of Tampa Bay’s current front office members and scouts. Mike Greenberg is the Bucs’ capologist and does a lot of the contract negotiations. Dennis Hickey is Tampa Bay’s director of player personnel and oversees both free agency and the draft. Eric Stokes is the team’s director of college scouting, while Shelton Quarles, who played under Smith as a linebacker, is Tampa Bay’s director of pro personnel.
Licht will get a good look at his fellow front office members in action at the Indianapolis Scouting Combine in February and in free agency and pre-draft meetings in March and April. As a first-time general manager, Licht might want to bring in some talent evaluators from Arizona or from some other stops he’s made around the league right off the bat. He may even decide to keep some of Tampa Bay’s front office on board for continuity and performance reasons. Because of his relationship with Smith, Quarles seems like a safe bet to stick around, and that’s not uncommon. Both Hickey and Dominik survived when former general manager Bruce Allen was brought on board in 2004.
Most of the changes – if any – that occur in the college scouting department will occur after the draft in May, as that is the most common time to initiate turnover. If Licht wants to bring in his own scouts and director, he’ll have to spend some time lining up those hires this spring so those scouts can hit the ground running during the summer and begin preparations for the 2014 college football season and the 2015 NFL Draft.3. What’s the status of the Buccaneers offensive line?
Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik soured on left tackle Donald Penn and were contemplating replacing him with right tackle Demar Dotson, who has the athletic ability to play either side. Former offensive line coach Bob Bostad was disappointed in Penn’s performance in 2013, especially down the stretch as he was whipped by Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn and surrendered three sacks in a Week 16 loss at St. Louis. Penn, who will be 31 this year and is poised to make $6.4 million, might get a clean slate with Smith, Licht and new offensive line coach George Warhop, or they might draw the same conclusions as the former regime did based on evaluating Penn on tape.
While Dotson is the best and most consistent offensive lineman on the roster, what does the team think of Jeremy Zuttah? Is he better off at center or guard? Should Tampa Bay attempt to sign Browns Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who played for Tedford at Cal and Warhop in Cleveland and move Zuttah back to guard?
Is former Pro Bowler Carl Nicks healthy enough to resume playing in Tampa Bay or will two toe surgeries and a MRSA infection last year cost him his career? Will Davin Joseph’s level of play rebound in 2014 after an offseason of rest and being two years removed from a devastating knee injury that cost him the 2012 campaign? Or is it time to turn the page on Joseph, who will be 31 and make $6 million in 2014 and go with a younger, healthier guard? Licht might find that the guard position may be more influx than any other spot on the roster.
There are more questions about the Buccaneers offensive line than at any other position. Who’s healthy? Who’s worth keeping? Who’s worth the money? Licht has a multitude of things to figure out about the offensive line prior to training camp from a personnel and salary cap standpoint.4. Which free agents will be kept, which ones will be targeted?
The Buccaneers don’t have a lot of priority free agents coming up this year aside from long snapper Andrew Economos, fullback Erik Lorig and outside linebackers Jonathan Casillas, Adam Hayward and Dekoda Watson. It’s possible that a few – or none – could return to Tampa Bay. Licht will need to do his own evaluation of the tape and solicit the opinions of Hickey, Quarles and the coaching staff as to which players will be the best fits in the new offensive and defensive schemes.
Because Licht has spent time in New England and Arizona in recent years, will he want some players he has previously scouted and helped acquire and import some Patriots and Cardinals to Tampa Bay? Here is a list of available unrestricted free agents for both teams:2014 New England Unrestricted Free Agents
LS Danny Aiken
RB LeGarrette Blount
DE Andre Carter
WR Austin Collie
WR Julian Edelman
LB Dane Fletcher
TE Mike Hoomanawanui
TE Matthew Mulligan
LB Brandon Spikes
OL Will Svitek
CB Aqib Talib
C Ryan Wendell
TE D.J. Williams2014 Arizona Unrestricted Free Agents
CB Xavier Arenas
S Yermiah Bell
CB Antoine Cason
LB Karlos Dansby
TE Jim Dray
C-G Mike Gibson
K Jay Feeley
TE Jeff King
CB Brian McCann
RB Rashard Mendenhall
WR Andre Roberts
DE Frostee Rucker
OLB-DE Matt Shaughnessy
TE Kory Sperry
OT Eric Winston
P Dave Zastudil
An initial look at the list offers two experienced middle linebacker candidates in Dansby and Spikes in case Licht, Smith, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson don’t think that Mason Foster is an ideal Mike linebacker in the Tampa 2. Spikes would have to drop a little bit of weight, but Nickerson might appreciate Spikes’ tenacity in the run game.
The Bucs could use some more athletic playmakers at tight end and Sperry might be an intriguing fit. Cason has some ballhawking ability and could be a good acquisition for the Tampa 2 defense. While Smith will have the final say on the 53-man roster, Licht will undoubtedly have some influence on the players Tampa Bay signs and parts ways with.5. Can Licht re-sign Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy before the season?
While there aren’t any high-profile, high-priority free agents to re-sign this offseason in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers will have three defensive linemen entering a contract year in 2014, including two starters. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn, the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2011, is a productive, three-year starter, while Da’Quan Bowers, a second-round pick in the same draft, has not lived up to expectations and was passed on the depth chart by rookie Will Gholston last year.
But the biggest free agent the Bucs will have in 2015 is defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, an All-Pro and a two-time Pro Bowler. McCoy, who is coming off a career-best nine sacks in 2013, is the team’s best defensive lineman, a leader on defense and the player that will be the engine for Smith and Frazier’s Tampa 2 defense. Stud three-technique defensive tackles are hard to find, and Licht will have to lock up McCoy for the future, but must be careful to do so in a way that won’t cripple Tampa Bay’s salary cap.
Because he was drafted in 2010 prior to the NFL rookie salary cap, McCoy is set to make $10.295 million in the final year of his rookie deal. But aside from Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh, who was picked one spot higher in 2010 than McCoy was, no other defensive tackle in the NFL makes over $10 million per season. Cincinnati Pro Bowler Geno Atkins is only scheduled to make $9 million in 2014 and he just received a contact extension this season.
The Bucs wanted to do a contract extension last year around the time that Atkins’ deal was done to lock up McCoy for several years for around $10 million per season, but were unable to do it. The goal for Licht will be to try to initiate some dialog with McCoy’s agent and try to get a deal in place before Suh heads to the negotiating table with Lions general manager Martin Mayhew. That would only drive the defensive tackle market value up. Avoiding any possible hold out in 2014 or the use of the franchise tag in 2015 by locking up McCoy with a long-term deal would be a huge coup for Licht in his first year as the Bucs general manager.
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