Tampa Bay’s new regime of head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht have presided over a 1-6 start to the 2014 season, and the reason is due to a lack of talent on the Buccaneers roster. While the team’s 2014 draft class holds promise with the play of rookie wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the return of running back Charles Sims, it’s time to admit that the Bucs’ free agent class has been abysmal with far more misses than hits.
With Tampa Bay nearing the midseason of the 2014 campaign, it’s time to review the free agent blunders that Smith, Licht and the front office have made. The good news for the Bucs is that most of these free agent mistakes can be corrected in the offseason as only a few players have guaranteed money in their 2015 contracts and the team has plenty of cap space to take on some dead cap money. And there is still time for some of the free agents to turn their seasons – and the Bucs’ fortunes – around with nine games left.
What also helps is the fact that the Bucs have eight draft picks in 2015 and may not have to address as many holes with free agency given the front office’s recent track record, as you will see here.
BUCS’ FREE AGENCY HITS
1. WR LOUIS MURPHY
Murphy signed a one-year, $730,000 in the offseason but was released prior to the 2014 season opener due to a back injury. He was re-signed three weeks later and played a huge role in Tampa Bay’s first win of the season at Pittsburgh with six catches for 99 yards in the second half, including a 41-yard catch-and-run to help set up the Bucs’ game-winner.
2. DT CLINTON McDONALD
McDonald has been an okay signing for the Buccaneers, inking a four-year, $12-million deal. McDonald has the versatility to play nose tackle and three technique and brings some toughness to the defense. He has 25 tackles and 1.5 sacks through seven games. But Minnesota’s Tom Johnson, who was signed to a one-year, $845,000 deal, would have also been a good fit in Tampa Bay and has five sacks on the year, including one against the Bucs last week.
BUCS’ FREE AGENCY MISSES
1. LT ANTHONY COLLINS
The Bucs signed Collins to a five-year, $30-million deal that includes $9 million in guaranteed money and he has been a poor acquisition. Not only does Collins lead the team in penalties with six, he also has surrendered a team-high 10 QB hits, according to ProFootballFocus.com, in addition to nine QB hurries. ProFootballFocus.com has Collins down for only sack against Baltimore, but you could argue he gave up 1.5 sacks against the Ravens and allowed another to Everson Griffen last week against Minnesota. Collins has never been a wire-to-wire starter in the NFL and it shows. He may be better off inside at guard, where he also has some experience, but the concern is that he plays too soft to move to the interior.
WHAT THE BUCS SHOULD HAVE DONE: One could argue that keeping Donald Penn would have been better, but he’s allowed one sack and 10 QB hurries this year and has only played marginally better than Collins. In hindsight, Branden Albert, who received $47 million over five years with $20 million in guaranteed money has been worth it, as he is the second-rated tackle in the NFL right now, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Collins ranks 59th out of 71.
2. DE MICHAEL JOHNSON
Johnson has been battling an ankle sprain this season, but he’s been a huge disappointment, especially with his hefty price tag. Johnson signed a five-year, $43.75 million deal in the offseason that included $18 million in guaranteed money. He’s only produced 15 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble – with all of those splash plays coming in Tampa Bay’s lone victory of the year against Pittsburgh. Of all of the free agents signed this offseason by the new regime, Johnson easily presents the worst value.
WHAT THE BUCS SHOULD HAVE DONE: Johnson is not the ferocious pass-rusher that Tampa Bay needs for the Tampa 2 defense. A much better value – and player – for the Buccaneers would have been Willie Young, who, like Johnson, only had three sacks last year, but has seven in 2014 to lead Chicago. Young’s seven sacks rank second in the NFL, and his three-year, $9 million contract is much more palatable.
3. C EVAN DIETRICH-SMITH
Dietrich-Smith was supposed to be an upgrade at center for the Bucs and the position has actually gone backwards since Jeremy Zuttah was traded in the offseason. Dietrich-Smith has spearheaded a subpar running game and given up one sack and seven QB hurries this year, in addition to three fumbled snaps and two personal foul penalties. He’s not a great athlete and is overpaid after signing a four-year, $14.25-million contract in the offseason.
WHAT THE BUCS SHOULD HAVE DONE: Brian de la Puenta is ProFootballFocus.com’s top-ranked center, while Dietrich-Smith ranks 37th out of 41 centers, which is awful. With no dead money hitting the cap if he’s released, Dietrich-Smith might not be a Buccaneer in 2015 unless his play improves.
4. QB JOSH McCOWN
In two and a half starts, McCown has completed 43-of-68 passes (63.2 percent) for 420 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown by Atlanta. McCown is the most mobile quarterback on Tampa Bay’s roster and has rushed for 33 yards and two touchdowns on five carries. Yet the Buccaneers offense scored just 31 points in the 10 quarters with McCown at the helm before a severely sprained thumb sidelined him for the next four starts. During that span, Mike Glennon has ascended to the quarterback position and appears to be the starter for the rest of the season. Making $5 million per season through 2015, McCown is overpaid and hasn’t lived up to his play in Chicago in 2013 when the threw 13 touchdowns and one interception in relief of injured starter Jay Cutler.
WHAT THE BUCS SHOULD HAVE DONE: The Bucs should have identified that Glennon was coming off a promising rookie season in which he threw 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions and drafted a quarterback to compete with him rather than signing and starting a veteran like McCown. That decision robbed Glennon of any first-team reps in the offseason and throughout training camp and the preseason and stymied his development. The clock is ticking for the new regime of head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht, and by waiting to draft a QB in 2015 instead of taking Johnny Manziel Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo last May, means they may have drafted a signal caller for the next regime. Smith and Licht likely have three years to build a winner in Tampa Bay, and that means it would come in the second year of a new quarterback’s development, which might be a tall order unless they get the right one or Glennon improves immensely.
5. TE BRANDON MYERS
With a two-year, $4.25-million contract, Myers was signed to be a starter in Tampa Bay, but quickly lost that job to rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He has been less than stellar in pass protection (one sack surrendered) and has struggled at the point of attack in the run game, which is why the Bucs kept Luke Stocker on the team.
WHAT THE BUCS SHOULD HAVE DONE: In hindsight, the Bucs might have been better off holding on to Tim Wright, who has made of an impact in New England (17 catches for 182 yards and three touchdowns) than Myers has made in Tampa Bay (16 catches for 139 yards) – and for one third of the price.
6. MLB DANE FLETCHER
Fletcher, who came from a 3-4 scheme at New England, was signed to a one-year, $1.2 million deal this offseason to back up Mason Foster at middle linebacker. Not only is Fletcher a bad fit in the Tampa 2 defense because of his limitations in dropping in pass coverage, he also has a tendencies of overrunning rushing plays and getting outside of his gaps.
WHAT THE BUCS SHOULD HAVE DONE: Fletcher, who is a good special teams player, seems like a fish out of water in the Tampa 2 scheme and the Bucs would have been better off signing Karlos Dansby, who inked a four-year, $24 million deal with Cleveland. Licht saw Dansby play in Arizona, and should have recognized that Foster isn’t the future at the middle linebacker spot and gone after the veteran linebacker in free agency.
7. CB ALTERRAUN VERNER & MIKE JENKINS
Just because Verner was a Pro Bowler last year doesn’t mean that he is the second coming of Darrelle Revis. Verner is a good, but not great cornerback, averaging nearly $6.4 million per season – not the $16 million Revis was making. Verner has 41 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble, and his play would benefit from a much better pass rush from Tampa Bay’s front four. Jenkins’ Bucs season was over just after it started. Jenkins gave up a touchdown pass to Carolina rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin before tearing a pectoral muscle.
WHAT THE BUCS SHOULD HAVE DONE: Verner isn’t a bad signing, but a better value would have been signing veteran Brandon Flowers, who signed a one-year deal for $3 million with San Diego after six years in Kansas City. Flowers is the second-ranked cornerback in the NFL by ProFootballFocus.com, and has 23 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups this season.
8. FS MAJOR WRIGHT
Wright, who signed a one-year, $795,000 deal has just 15 tackles in a support role at free safety and strong safety, while getting two starts in place of the injured Dashon Goldson. Despite knowing the Tampa 2 defense from his days with Smith in Chicago, he hasn’t played it very well with the Buccaneers.
WHAT THE BUCS SHOULD HAVE DONE: Hindsight is 20-20, but with the Buccaneers trading away starting strong safety Mark Barron and not high on either Wright or Goldson, signing Malcolm Jenkins in free agency would have been wise. Jenkins, who tormented the Bucs for years in New Orleans, signed a three-year, $15.5-million contract and has 35 tackles, seven pass breakups and three interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown.
9. FB JORVORSKIE LANE
Lane’s biggest play of the year was a 54-yard dash on a fullback dive against St. Louis in Week 2. His lead blocking has been lackluster, evidenced by the Bucs running backs’ pedestrian 3.5-yard average. Lane was suspended for two games for use of a performance-enhancing drug and has not been a difference-maker as a blocker.
WHAT THE BUCS SHOULD HAVE DONE: Lane has been an okay pick-up, but tight end Luke Stocker has done a good job as a lead blocker and could fill that role up just as well and free up a roster spot for another more important position.
Scott Reynolds is in his 22nd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Two hits, nine misses.
Worse than that you just spent 15.5 mil on a player that has never made one memorable play towards the end of a game, never gotten in a qb’s head and affected a game,never caused an abundance of motion penalties and just has never ever been any kind of factor in the fourth quarter NEVER!!! He’s your leader well there you have it !!! Wake up and quit reading pro football focus like Gerald does he makes a few plays a game but truly isn’t a factor at all most of the game but you can count on him to jump offsides twice a game.Until Gerald becomes a factor more than 5 plays a game he isn’t leading this D anywhere wake up folks !!! Hell he takes himself out of more plays that grade good than he has game altering plays every game.Leaders show up and lead by making meaningful plays when needed not shooting a gap in the first quarter making a stop for a loss then taking your self out of the next play and giving up a huge play.Its the fourth quarter anyone seen Gerald??? Very talented Con Man / Thief
Never blame the data Kino! Facts are facts and Pro football focus just lists the data. You complain about McCoy’s impact but if he’s listed as the best at his position you need to compare McCoy’s performance against other DT’s, not against what you think he should be doing. What PFF has proved is that as bad as you think McCoy is playing, every other DT is playing worse if you watch ALL their plays, which none of us do.
Gerald McCoy, as the bell cow on the field leader of our team, has now presided over 3 epic team collapses. Call me crazy, but Mr. Sapp would not have allowed that.
This is depressing Mark :/
So basically it’s all been bad. Even McDonald is only an acceptable signing. I’m a bit surprised about Collins. I didn’t expect him to be awesome, but damn if the dude’s not just terrible.
What the Glazers’ should have done? Got a real G.M. first, then let him select the head coach. Why? Because Frick, and Frack Glazer have no clue when it comes to picking coaches. What the hell, they pay two coaches, might as well pay three.
Wow, great article and obviously very telling. These two clowns get an “F” in evaluating talent and in coaching. I bet Schiano and Dom are laughing…I know I would. We were better last year!
Indeed, this is depressing. The bucs are bad this year and will be bad for years to come. Jeez.
I think the Bucs have seen the error of their ways and has from top to bottom completely replaced the pro personnel dept. Unfortunately, the WMDs listed above were already on board before these changes were made.
Cheer up! These problems can be fixed. Johnson’s health will improve, Collins can be moved to OG if necessary, and Verner can be coached up. The rest are chattel that can be dealt with at year’s end. Seems we’ve already started.
Get rid of the notion that Lovie is some operational tyrant that has overrode good advice and has made independent personnel decisions. Not his MO and nothing in his history suggest that he operates this way. If anything, he is too compromising. The link below outlines what they have done. I expect better days are coming!
It looks bad now. But as SR mentioned, there is time for a lot of these guys to turn it around. Verner is particular isn’t playing great but more a product of the lack of a pass rush in my opinion, plus he has been a victim of two push offs TDs at Pittsburgh and Steve Smith in the Ravens game. And really the jury is still out long term. But as of now, the bottom line is, the team is 1-6.
Mark or Scott
Either of you up for an analysis of Doninicitis?
An analysis year by year of his draft picks.
How many busts,hits and ho-hums along with the who could have beens.
Eg #1 Mark Baron vs Luke Kuechly
Just a thought
As for McCown, I think the lack of a dedicated QB Coach has added some value to him. Glennon’s development has been positive in most cases… gotta wonder if McCown aided in that?
oops meant to put that under the overall post
In baseball parlance they are hitting .182 – they would be demoted to the minors.
I feel the same as Macabee and Mark. I’m not happy about the guaranteed money for Collins and Johnson, but we can live with it another year and dump them if we have too later. I think Johnson can still play when he can get healthy; kind of like the Luke Stocker thing. I can see this team getting better and I could care less about a few wins or not and stats at this point in time. I believe in the Coach and GM and I am giving them a reasonable chance to turn this team in the right direction. Getting extra draft picks is key because our 1st pick might just be a QB and we need help in other areas too. Barron was a disappointed; he had two Coaches to prove he was a winner and he failed at it. I would have kept Martin out of last weeks game and tried to trade him for something; now that he has an injury we shot ourselves in the foot again with him. Cheer up fans> I will get better. Go bucs!
This is why I’ll never be a fan of building through free agency. Sure looked good over the off season but the end result is dreadful………especially if you’re the one writing those checks.
I think this list is very premature and leaves off the most obvious FA bust on the roster, Dashon Goldston. Michael Johnson will be fine once we add talent around him, take into account he’s been injured and without any real talent its hard to get him off the field to stay fresh. Verner is fine and hardly a bust. It’s hard to know if the problems with the offensive line is talent, coaching or they simply havent played together long enough. I find it hard to believe these players were successful other places and now all of a sudden cant block anyone. Warhop was a Oneil Cousins advocate so that immediately puts his judgement in question. Give them time, hopefully we swap Dotson and Collins and see if we can get better results. McDonald is a rotational type DT and when the talent increases he will be fine in that role. Also its hard to know what impact not having Tedford has had on the whole offense but its very obvious that he would be much better at calling plays and putting players in position to succeed than Arroyo. Football is a chemistry sport and this team simply hasn’t had enough time to know who really fits and who doesn’t, of course some guys have underachieved so far but that list looks a lot longer than the few players mentioned here. Of the 7 teams that hired new coaches last year only 2 have winning records(Lions and Browns)and both teams are considerably better along with lines of scrimmage and at the QB position. Patience although not what we want to hear is what’s needed.
“Michael Johnson will be fine once we add talent around him”
He’s got McDonald and McCoy beside him. Get off Johnson’s johnson and see things as they are…he’s just not that good.
BucDaFuckUp My assessments are realistic not just something to say bc Im mad at the team like you. Disagree with some facts not some corny ass saying that only shows you have no real facts. As for McDonald he was a reserve on a title team not a starter, so that actually makes my point.
Johnson has made a career off of 1 season. Since you are discussing real facts, please indicate which moves Johnson used last year when he piled up those 3.5 sacks over 15 games. The dude is DaQuan Bowers on steroids…oh wait…
On the defensive side of the ball, I can’t find any excuses for poor performances, missed reads, poor tackling and penalties. They should be playing much better.
Even though I like GM, I was shocked by his contract extension. His 4th qtr issues may be a result of the fact that the defense is on the field a lot longer than offense and the fact that one man can’t do it all. Just not sure.
Offensively, I don’t know how to fairly judge the “skilled” players as a lot of success is due to the play-calling and adjustments as a game progresses. With a “rookie” offensive coordinator calling the shots and maybe not being able tosee/ make proper adjustments on the fly, players performances can definitely be impacted.
On the whole, it does look very bleak. When you are discussing the draft beginning in early October, you know your season is in the toilet.
let’s all root for Oakland and Jacksonville. We want that #1 spot.
This is a great article SR. I like how you connect each FA with what you think they should have done and in many cases back it up with data. I only disagree with two of the “What the Bucs should have done’s”. I still think the right move at the time was to bring in McCown. The only other FA at the time is Vick and he’s not better than McCown. But I would rather have McCown or Vick than to tie our franchise to any of the QB’s you named in the draft. It was a bad QB class to begin with and so far none proven to be franchise QB’s. The other “What the Bucs should have done” I would change is the CB’s. What they should have done is keep Revis, not bring in Flowers. We used the money we saved on Revis to bring in Collins, Johnson, Verner and Myers and none of them have played well. If anything we should have kept Revis AND signed Flowers. Flowers at $3 mil isn’t that much money. On a side note, I was blown away to see that PFF only listed Collins as having 1 sack. It seems like he gives up a sack every week!
Thanks Scott. I looked at last year’s FA crop at the time and it wasn’t exactly a who’s who of talent…I think we grabbed a few guys that looked good but haven’t produced…fortunately we didn’t mortgage the farm to get them and we can mostly kick them aside and try again with the next crop and another draft. It’s not like we signed some QB with questionable talent to a huge deal that has in salary cap jail now…we have lots of cap room, and can rectify these problems above. Like some folks above, I too think Verner has actually been a hit not a miss….so maybe not as down overall. Personally, I’m still a huge believer that the ship will only be turned around once we get a real QB…it makes such a huge difference….just look at the Aints – they have a chance every year and it’s 100% about Brees….we’ve never had a QB even close to that calibre (Steve Young debacle aside)….we need Mariota!
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