The PR Bucs Monday Mailbag is where PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook answers your questions from our Twitter account. You can submit your question each week via Twitter using the hashtag #PRMailbag.
Below are the questions we chose for this week’s edition of the PR Bucs Monday Mailbag.
Question: Do you think we start next season with O.J. Howard and Cam Brate both on the team after the tight end position was so rarely utilized last year?
Answer: It depends on if the Bucs were to receive a trade offer they couldn’t refuse for O.J. Howard. I suspect the Patriots, who had genuine interest at the trade deadline last October, may come back around to inquire about Howard’s availability around the 2020 NFL Draft.
If the Buccaneers didn’t have two Pro Bowl wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, I think we would see Howard more involved in the game plan, but it is really hard for Bruce Arians and play-caller Byron Leftwich to not look to the team’s big-play wide receivers first. An argument could be made that focusing on the tight end more could open things up for the receivers, but when Tampa Bay has two of the best in the game already, does it really need to open things up for them? Evans and Godwin are elite in their own right and know how to get open. It’s nearly impossible for opponents to double both at the same time.
Even if both Howard and Cameron Brate are in the team’s plan for 2020, I still think the Buccaneers will look to re-do Brate’s contract to free up more salary cap space. With a $6 million cap hit in 2020, it is hard to justify paying that much for a No. 2 tight end that had just 36 receptions, 311 yards, four touchdowns with a pedestrian 8.6 yard per catch average last season.
With that said, Brate is one of the toughest players on the team, plays through injury, is smart and is a great locker room guy. Plus, he has great chemistry with Jameis Winston, so that could be a factor if Winston returns at quarterback in 2020. Despite those important aspects, I still would be shocked if the Bucs don’t try and save some money with Brate, similarly like they did with defensive tackle Beau Allen last year when the two sides agreed on a salary cut. The only way they don’t do that is if Howard gets dealt in a trade and Brate assumes the No. 1 tight end role again.
Question: Do you expect – and is it realistic to think – the Bucs should have a Top 10 defense next year (depending on re-signings, of course)?
Answer: If everyone returns then why not? The last six games of the season the Bucs had a Top 10 defense, and another year in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ system should only make this unit better. Staying healthy, of course, will be key, and that was something the defense was able to do for the most part in 2020. There were some guys banged up that missed some game here and there, such as rookie middle linebacker Devin White, but it was far from a M*A*S*H unit.
The one other big factor is how hungry this unit will be. Assuming outside linebacker Shaq Barrett gets the long-term deal he is looking for and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh are back. Both Barrett and Pierre-Paul had much to prove in 2019, and exceeded expectations. Can they do it again?
Do second-year defenders Jamal Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting and White believe the success they has last season as rookies will just carry over this year? The one thing the defense can’t do is rely on past success. Teams will be better prepared for Barrett, Dean, Murphy-Bunting, White and some of the other players on this defense after having a year of film on them in Bowles’ scheme.
Question: Being a Josh Freeman defender, until seeing him fail elsewhere, I was glad to see Scott Reynolds mention in this week’s Fab 5 that Freeman’s fall was his own fault not Greg Schiano’s. What was really wrong with Freeman?
Answer: There are plenty of theories out there about the downfall of former first-round pick Josh Freeman, and the answer is still floating around – but for someone else to tell. The best person being Freeman himself. He had some serious issues going on and we at PewterReport.com will just leave it at that.
I will say while I don’t pin the blame on Greg Schiano, he was the probably the wrong coach for Freeman at the time. Schiano wasn’t the type of coach to baby anyone. His perceived reputation was pretty true to his actual character. He once even challenged former defensive tackle Brian Price to go a couple rounds with him during an argument. So Schiano wasn’t going to play shrink before any player or buddy up to really anyone, and little special treatment was handed out to players.
Schiano did try to help Freeman somewhat, but his patience was limited and he moved on quickly by turning the reigns over to Mike Glennon, who was the team’s third-round pick in 2013, during Freeman’s fifth-year option – which was his last year in Tampa Bay.
Players tend to take on the personality of their head coach and we saw that with Raheem Morris being a laid back kind-of-guy, yet full of bravado. We also saw players take on the high-strung personality of Schiano as well and tighten up at the end of games – and not in a good way. It just wasn’t a good fit for Freeman at that point in his life. It’s a shame he didn’t work out elsewhere because he had the physical talent to play in the league. But his issues and his lack of dedication got the best of him.
Question: If the Bucs keep Jameis Winston as a starter, what will the Bucs do about the backup QB spot? I am weary of having a backup QB who seems incapable of playing in the NFL.
Answer: I wouldn’t be shocked to see Blaine Gabbert back as the backup, as long as his shoulder is fully healed and he is cleared to play. Bruce Arians and Jason Licht really liked Gabbert despite his limited success in the NFL. And had Gabbert not gotten hurt, I think we would have seen him in the starting lineup after the six-turnover performance against the Panthers in London.
Who knows how he would have fared, but did anyone genuinely think Ryan Tannehill would have played the way he did after Tennessee had seen enough of Marcus Mariota? There was really nothing obvious in Tannehill’s time in Miami that would have led many people to believe he would lead the Titans to the AFC Championship game and win the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year honors. At least not in my eyes.
Until the Bucs’ starting QB position is decided upon I think that the backup situation isn’t even being discussed much right now. Tampa Bay is likely to draft a quarterback whether or not Winston returns, or even if the Bucs sign one of the bigger free agent QBs.
The big question will be whether it is going to happen on Day 2 or Day 3. At that point he would battle Ryan Griffin most likely for the No. 3 job. Although Griffin is slated to count $1.6 million against the 2020 cap, but the team could cut him and choose to move on and not have any dead money.