After a year in which the Bucs defensive line contributed to the lowest sack total in Tampa Bay in decades, there will be some significant changes this offseason.

One of the most recent additions to the Bucs D-line will be departing as the team is expected to release defensive tackle Chris Baker, who signed a three-year, $15.7 million contract last March as a free agent from Washington. His release could happen any time but will certainly occur before March 18, as $3 million of his $4.875 million base salary becomes guaranteed if he is on the Bucs roster at that time.

Baker’s release will create $4.875 million in salary cap room for the Bucs, who are believed to have over $61 million in salary cap room right now before any cuts.

Bucs DT Chris Baker - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DT Chris Baker – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The 30-year old Baker was lazy and was a bad signing by general manager Jason Licht, who hoped that the 6-foot-2, 320-pounder could add size and pass rush to the Bucs defensive line. Baker had 100 tackles, 9.5 sacks and five forced fumbles for the Redskins from 2015-16, but disappointed in his first season in Tampa Bay with 33 tackles and half a sack while getting paid $6 million.

PewterReport.com spoke with Licht at the Senior Bowl where he and his Bucs scouting staff and assistant defensive line coach Paul Spicer were scouting defensive ends and tackles in anticipation of a defense-heavy draft in April.

“Speaking as the general manager, we have a good nucleus of talent and we definitely need to provide our coaches with more players and more depth and I feel that lies on me, obviously,” said Licht, who has spent only two draft picks on defensive linemen in his four years in Tampa Bay. “I am cognizant of that, especially on the defensive side of the ball. We need to start focusing more on that side, and that falls on me. We need to add more players that add to the culture and we need to do a really good job of making sure we add players that don’t detract from the culture.

“I don’t feel like we have a lot of those players. We don’t. The vast majority of our roster is made of guys that my scouting staff and I are looking for. You can start with the four rookies that contributed last year (tight end O.J. Howard, safety Justin Evans, wide receiver Chris Godwin and linebacker Kendell Beckwith), those are the types of guys we want along with Kwon [Alexander] and Jameis [Winston] and those guys.”

Along the defensive line, the Bucs need more like Clinton McDonald who was also the Buccaneers Man of the Year for his community service work, and none like Baker. Blame Licht for signing Baker, but the Bucs G.M. doesn’t hang on to mistakes very long, evidenced by his release of defensive end Michael Johnson, quarterback Josh McNown and left tackle Anthony Collins after one year in 2015, and his release of kicker Roberto Aguayo, Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in 2016, last summer after just one season.

McDonald was supposed to be Baker’s backup at nose tackle last season, but wound up beating him for the starting job and for playing time while recording 29 tackles and five sacks in 14 games. The 31-year McDonald is an unrestricted free and the team would like to re-sign him, in addition to defensive end Will Clarke, who is also scheduled to be a free agent this offseason, if the price is right. McDonald made $2 million last year, which was the final year of a four-year deal he signed back in 2014.

One of the players that started his time in Tampa Bay as a positive contributor is defensive end Robert Ayers, Jr., who signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract in 2016. Ayers recorded 29 tackles, 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a safety in his first season in Tampa Bay despite missing four games due to injury. But last year was a different story as Ayers recorded 31 tackles, and only two sacks and two forced fumbles for the Buccaneers, who were dead last in the league with 22 sacks.

Bucs DE Robert Ayers, Jr. - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs DE Robert Ayers, Jr. – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

Tampa Bay has not made a decision on whether to keep Ayers, who missed four more games last year due to injury, or release him and save $6 million in salary cap room. Ayers, who turns 33 in September, has a $1 million roster bonus that is due on March 18 if he is still on the team. The guess here is that the Bucs move on from Ayers, who was a two-year starter.

“Some decisions will be very easy, and some we’re still having some internal discussions about,” Licht said.

One defensive lineman Tampa Bay will not be looking to part ways with is defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who is in Orlando this week for his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl. While McCoy has reached a place in his contract where the team could trade him due to a very low salary cap hit of just $500,000, the Bucs have no intentions of doing so. Although he turns 30 on February 25 and his sacks have decreased every year over the past three seasons, Licht still believes McCoy is one of the NFL’s elite defensive tackles.

“I still think that Gerald is in the prime of his career,” Licht said. “I don’t think that Gerald has lost a step by any means. I still think Gerald has one of the best get-offs in the league from a three-tech standpoint.

“Gerald did miss some time with an injury, but he came back from it and that’s a testament to him – although we were out of contention. I’m not worried about Gerald losing a step. We’re more focused on bringing in more depth and more players around Gerald.”

Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Getty Images

With better sack production and pressure from the defensive end position, Licht believes McCoy can increase his sack numbers in 2018 from the six sacks he totaled in 15 games last year, and is not interested in trading him for draft picks. Getting rid of the Bucs’ most productive pass rusher won’t help the team rush the passer better this year.

“We are not in discussions with anyone regarding Gerald,” Licht said. “Gerald is one of our best pass rushers and that’s an area where we need to get significantly better at.”

The Bucs are expected to look to both free agency and the draft for players that can help the team’s pass rush, but the two biggest names – Dallas’ DeMarcus Lawrence and Detroit’s Ziggy Ansah – likely won’t be available as neither team wants to lose their biggest sack producers. It’s not a great year to be searching for 4-3 pass rushers in free agency and the draft, and the Bucs, who have the seventh overall pick, likely won’t have a shot at drafting North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, so it will require a good deal of proper evaluation and a little bit of luck to find productive pass rushers to add to the team in 2018.

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 spent six years 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: [email protected]
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FLBoy84

Really like Gerald as a player and a person, but still have some questions re: his leadership ability. Saw a recent article where he’s stating the players need more accountability among themselves to become successful. It seems this has been an ongoing issue since Sapp, Brooks, Lynch etc were shown the door and we haven’t brought in the type of leaders to fill that void since. That falls on the GM, his staff and the coaches. And, while Jamies is definitely a “rah-rah” type of guy, not sure he possesses true serious leadership qualities at this point, though he may… Read more »

Ozzy

Our Dline needs major help. We can try to go after DT Sheldon Richardson or DT Star Lotulelei. Also, Scott have you watch any tape on DE Dorance Armstrong Jr from KU? Do you know what’s his draft grade? He looks like an Arden Key but better against the run

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Horse

Scott, how much do you think they are relying on Gholston and Spence? Will they be starters?

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FLBoy84

Not sure about you Horse, but thinking it would be great add enough talent where those two are solid depth guys at this point. Not sure Licht can acquire that amount of talent in the off-season, though Jacksonville did add Abry Jones, Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakuoe as well as the late season trade of Marcell Dareus as a back up to Malik Jackson last year, so it is possible I guess if the right moves are made. And they still had Dexter Fowler as well.

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Horse

FlBoy84;. Of course I know we need to have two new starting defensive ends. I was just a little surprised Scott didn’t mention them at all. I was trying to find out what role they might play this coming season. Gholston’s being paid a lot of money and not sure if he’s going to actually be here. Spence may be forced to be a 3-4 defensive player only because of his shoulder.

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FLBoy84

While it’s easy to call Chris Baker a bad signing by Licht now, it was almost universally praised by most pundits (PR included) as a solid one just 11 months ago. Just one of those that didn’t work out and turned into one of those signings that “detract from the culture” that Licht referenced.

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Buc 1976

The Bucs will need too open up the wallet to be able to sign top FA’S and stop with the bargain basement BS.

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Wausa

I disagree that the draft doesn’t have any depth at DE. 2nd round Duke Ejiofor DE Wake Forest Sam Hubbard DE Ohio State Rasham Green DE USC 3rd round Dorance Armstrong DE Kansas Jaylen Holmes DE Ohio State Josh Sweat DE Florida State Chad Thomas DE Miami 4th round Tyquan Lewis DE Ohio State Marcell Frazier DE Missouri. If the Bucs can hold their water at DE in free agency and the 1st round of the draft(assuming Chubb is gone). The Bucs have an opportunity to load up on some very productive defensive ends in rounds 2-4. Also, free agency… Read more »

jongruden

DE Marcus Davenport is 6’6 with long arms and wingspan like Simeon Rice he is opening eyes at senior bowl so look for him to be a draft option if Chubb is off board

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makski

SCARES me to DEATH!!! Does anybody know what his Senior season stats are compared to K Mack?? Those small school guys scare me when it is THAT high of a pick. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the small school guys, I love Marpet. But I only like the small school guys when they are considered a can’t miss by most pundits, see Marpet. I feel like this Davenport guy is moving up the draft boards way too late to be a top 10 guy, just my opinion. I wouldn’t mind if we traded down and then… Read more »

surferdudes

The good news, Licht doesn’t hang on to mistakes, the bad news is, he keeps making them. He did hang on to Martin though, and that was a big mistake. McCoy isn’t going anywhere, and I’ll say it here now, neither is the Bucs defense. McCoy will be voted team captain once again, and expect more loafing with no accountability in the locker room as long as he is. Nickerson, then Sapp ruled that room with an iron fist, McCoy is to nice of a guy. That situation with Baker at the end of the season is a perfect example… Read more »

Dbuc63

I’m all for trading McCoy at the right price. Two premium picks this draft would be acceptable in my opinion. We need good D-Lineman. WE currently have one very good and the rest are below average. Easy to contain one very good lineman when the rest stink. Take a page from Belichick!

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Buc-Up

Let’s hope Licht stops forcing small DE’s like Spence & Smith on his defensive coaches when they want tall DE’s. It’s like when McKay would draft and sign small WR’s like Anthony, Green, & Emmanuel when Dungy’s offense was suited for big blocking WR’s.

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maarnold1775

Thank goodness somethings going to change. I’m afraid we’re in for a lonnng year!

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rob roy

Marcus Davenport is to much of a reach in the first round, let alone the 7th pick. The unknown is if Spence can stay healthy and play the entire season. If so the DL will be in good shape with a couple of additions. Licht needs to re-sign Clinton McDonald and keep Robert Ayers another year. The defensive line needs to add a DT/DE in both FA and the draft. It would be worth it to move up with our second round pick to draft a stud DT. DT Da’Ron Payne (6-2 319) Alabama or DT Taven Bryan (6-4 295)… Read more »

fanofdabucs

Why would this team have any interest in keeping an over paid Martin?? Barber is a better back, younger, more affordable, and doesn’t have any baggage. Martin is toast. This team needs a guard, a RB that can catch and run..Sony Michele in the draft or Jerrick McKinnon in FA. The focus in the draft needs to be DL and DBs. Although at pick 7, they need to not force a need pick at that spot. If Chubb is gone and they aren’t sold on another other DE at 7, then look at Nelson at guard or maybe even DT.… Read more »