It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. The Bucs lost to the Falcons, 34-32, to finish the season 5-11 again, and that cost head coach Dirk Koetter his job. Koetter was fired on Sunday night after the game and the team announced that general manager Jason Licht will stay on to lead the coaching search.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Licht To Lead Bucs’ New Coaching Search
Sunday’s 34-32 loss by the Buccaneers to the Atlanta Falcons was yet another close defeat in another 5-11 season that ultimately cost Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter his job. Koetter was fired by the Bucs, which announced that general manager Jason Licht will be staying on in 2019 to lead the search for another head coach.
The Glazers fired the last two coaches that had back-to-back losing seasons – Greg Schiano (2012-13) and Lovie Smith (2014-15), and even Raheem Morris got axed after posting two losing seasons in his three years in Tampa Bay. Dirk Koetter had a 9-7 season in his first year as the Bucs’ head coach, but went 5-11 last year and 5-11 again this season. Like Smith, his predecessor, Koetter went 0-4 over the last four games of the season, and that ultimately led to his dismissal.
The fact that Koetter was just 3-9 in games decided by seven points or less over the last two seasons proved to be fatal for his coaching career in Tampa Bay.
“I just told the players, ‘close, but no cigar’ is just where we are right now,” Koetter said after Sunday’s loss to Atlanta. “There’s a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL, and it starts with effort and competing hard. Those guys are doing that for sure. But, to play the first half like we did and then in the third quarter we just kind of ran out of gas there. We gave ourselves a chance, got back into it. Got back the lead, but couldn’t hold it. We’re not far away – the Bucs are not far away. But, at the same time, we’ve got to get over the hump here at some point.
“Numbers are nice, but this is a winning league.”
Licht’s record as the Bucs’ general manager is worse than Koetter’s, at 21-43, but he has done enough to stick around by stockpiling talent by adding defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul via a trade, defensive end Carl Nassib as a waiver wire claim, and adding players like wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who each had over 100 yards and two touchdowns against Atlanta, and quarterback Jameis Winston, who ended the season on an high note, throwing for 345 yards and four touchdowns with one interception against the Falcons, in the draft.
Licht will not only be in charge of finding a new head coach, but he’ll also be in charge of navigating the team’s salary cap issues as well as selecting a player with the fifth overall draft pick. I discussed the case for keeping Licht, as well as comparing his drafts to those of the Rams and the Eagles, in this edition of SR’s Fab 5.
STATEMENT 2: Winston Will QB Bucs In 2019
With Jason Licht staying on as general manager means one thing: Jameis Winston will be the team’s quarterback in 2019, which will be during his fifth-year option season – and with good reason. Winston has had a remarkable turnaround when it comes to his touchdowns and turnovers since he was benched following the Cincinnati Bengals game.
In Winston’s first four games since returning from his three-game suspension to start the season, he accounted for six touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But in the last seven games of the season, Winston threw 13 touchdowns and had just four interceptions, including one against Atlanta that wasn’t his fault. Winston has done a great job in reducing the amount of turnovers over the second half of the season. Including lost fumbles, Winston had 12 turnovers in the first five games of the season and has just five in the last seven.
That bodes well for Winston and the Buccaneers moving forward. One thing that Winston needs to improve on is winning, especially on the road. Winston’s record as the team’s starting quarterback this season was 3-7 while Ryan Fitzpatrick’s record as the starter was 2-4. Winston is 0-12 in Tampa Bay’s last 12 road games dating back to the 2016 season.
Winston completed 22-of-35 passes for 345 yards (62.9 percent) with four touchdowns and one interception, and finished the 2018 season completing 244-of-378 passes for 2,992 yards with 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His 64.5 percent completion percentage was a career high, ahead of the 63.8 percent completion percentage he had from a year ago. Winston also rushed 49 times for 281 yards (5.7 avg.) and one touchdown.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Who Are Licht’s Candidates To Replace Koetter?
With Bucs general manager Jason Licht leading the coaching search, former Arizona head coach Bruce Arians becomes a logical candidate to replace Dirk Koetter. Licht worked with Arians in Arizona in 2013 and Arians is a noted offensive-minded head coach that has a strong affection for Jameis Winston.
Imagine if Arians came to Tampa Bay as the head coach and Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who was fired by New York on Sunday night, came to the Bucs as the defensive coordinator? Bowles served as Arians’ defensive coordinator in Arizona from 2013-14 before becoming the Jets’ head coach in 2015.
Another one to keep an eye on is Baltimore’s John Harbaugh, who may be acquired in a trade. Keep an eye on that, as there is some interest from Tampa Bay. Of course it will all come down to compensation, but I expect Licht to at least kick the tires with Baltimore. Tampa Bay won’t be the only team in the running for Harbaugh. It’s been reported that Denver could also be in the mix.
The precedent has been established for trading for a coach as Tampa Bay did that in 2002 for Oakland’s Jon Gruden. It’s hard to imagine that the Bucs would want to give up the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft – and likely more – for another head coach, but it worked out well with Gruden, obviously.
There could be some more candidates on the way on Monday as Miami may fire Adam Gase and Cleveland may fire Gregg Williams. We’ll have more on the potential candidates to replace Koetter on PewterReport.com on Monday.
QUESTION 2: Who Played Their Final Game In Red And Pewter?
Several Buccaneers. Not only will there be a coaching change in Tampa Bay in 2019, but there will be plenty of roster moves this offseason too. So who likely played their final game in red and pewter? I chronicled which players may be released due to being salary cap casualties in my most recent SR’s Fab 5.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson wants out of Tampa Bay and will get his wish and that will clear $10 million in cap room. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy will turn 31 in February and is scheduled to make $13 million and the Bucs may want to reallocate that money elsewhere. McCoy has been an icon on and off the field in Tampa Bay, but with the team facing a salary cap crunch in 2019, the Bucs will likely be forced to part ways with their 2010 first-round pick – either by cutting him or trading him.
Defensive end Vinny Curry is slated to make $8 million and that’s too rich for a backup as Carl Nassib will be the starter opposite Jason Pierre-Paul in 2019. Defensive end Will Gholston is on the books for $3.75 million and that might be too rich for a reserve. Right tackle Demar Dotson remains a good value at $4.85 million in 2019, but his body has worn down over the last couple of years and he’ll be 34 next year. He’s not a lock to return.
Another Bucs player playing his last game in Tampa Bay is cornerback Brent Grimes, who has been a huge disappointment this season. Last year, Grimes had a team-high three interceptions and 11 pass breakups. This season he came into his final game with just three pass breakups and no interceptions, but wound up with three more on Sunday against Atlanta.
Middle linebacker Adarius Taylor is no lock to return, either. He’s in a contract year and made just over $1 million this year. The team likes him as a special teams player more than as a linebacker.
Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries, who ended up as the Bucs’ second-leading receiver with a career-high 76 catches for 866 yards and five touchdowns this year, is slated for unrestricted free agency. The current regime would like to have Humphries back at the right price.
Left tackle Donovan Smith and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, who has spent half the year on injured reserve, will also hit free agency in March without new deals, but both are expected to return. Smith could get the franchise tag and Alexander could get a multi-year extension or a one-year prove-it deal as he attempts to come back from a torn ACL.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Winston Will Start In 2019, But Bucs Will Draft A QB
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston will return to Tampa Bay on his fifth-year option in 2019 as the team’s starter, which should come as no surprise. But just like the Bucs did with Josh Freeman during his contract year, drafting another quarterback in Mike Glennon, I see Tampa Bay also selecting a quarterback in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Will it be a first-round pick, a mid-round pick or a late-rounder? Time will tell. But Winston will have stiffer competition in 2019 than Ryan Griffin, who may or may not return to Tampa Bay in free agency.
PREDICTION 2: The Bucs Draft A Lineman With The 5th Overall Pick
I know it’s early, but the guess here is that Bucs general manager Jason Licht will address the trenches with the fifth overall draft pick in 2019. Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams looks like a rock solid prospect that could play either left or right tackle in Tampa Bay and replace either Donovan Smith or Demar Dotson for the long term.
If Licht parts ways with Gerald McCoy, who will be 31 in February and is scheduled to make $13 million, then defensive tackle becomes a position of need as the Bucs will need a stud to team with Vita Vea for the future. Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Clemson’s Christian Watkins are two Top 10-caliber defensive tackles that Tampa Bay should consider.