For this weekend’s Pewter Report Roundtable, the crew answers another tough question. This week’s prompt: two weeks into free agency, what is the Bucs biggest remaining offseason need?
DISCLAIMER: for this exercise we assumed that tight end Rob Gronkowski will eventually re-sign in Tampa Bay.
Scott Reynolds: Blaine Must Stay!
The Bucs’ biggest remaining offseason need might be re-signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Tampa Bay is razor thin at defensive line right now with Vita Vea, Will Gholston and reserve Rakeem Nunez-Roches. It also might be the running back room. Leonard Fournette is back, but there are depth concerns with only seldom-used Ke’Shawn Vaughn currently in the stable. But I’m going to go in a different, more obvious direction.
Bucs QB Blaine Gabbert – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
It’s time to re-sign Blaine Gabbert, damnit. I want to see Gabbert back in Tampa Bay for a couple of reasons. First, aside from making the Bucs quarterback room that much more handsome, Gabbert knows Bruce Arians’ offense inside and out. He’s spent four years in it. The coaches laud Gabbert’s big arm, and his athleticism in and out of the pocket. If Tom Brady were to go down with an injury, the Bucs would stand a better chance of winning with Gabbert over the unproven Kyle Trask.
The second reason is that after Brady retires or leaves Tampa Bay, I’d be interested to see how Gabbert 2.0 fares after sitting and learning from the G.O.A.T. Gabbert has been Arians’ personal reclamation project for years. Could he be a late bloomer like Rich Gannon was in Oakland years ago? The third reason is that Gabbert could be a great measuring stick for Trask’s development. If the former second-round pick can’t beat out Gabbert for the backup job, that would be worrisome moving forward.
Matt Matera: Bucs Could Use Another D-Lineman Even If Suh Re-Signs
The Bucs have, for the most part, kept their defense intact for next season. Even after re-signing defensive end Will Gholston this week, there’s still a hole on the defensive line. Nose tackle Vita Vea does it all up front for the defense, but he needs a running mate with him.
Georgia DT Devonte Wyatt – Photo by: USA Today
I know, I know – the odds are that veteran defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will re-sign with the Bucs. I’m very much on board with this, as Suh has been great during his three seasons in Tampa Bay. He’s never missed a game and has recorded 112 tackles, 14.5 sacks, forced a fumble and has scored two defensive touchdowns. With that said, I still think the Bucs can add another piece to the interior defensive line that you know will be there for more than one year. The Bucs could move on from Steve McLendon this season, so whether it’s another veteran that’s ring chasing or drafting a prospect, there’s room.
If Suh is back for another season, I’d like for Tampa Bay to still get younger at the position through the draft. It’s threading the needle here, but they can find a player that can still make a splash in a limited role and then develop into a starter in a season or two. They can go in an earlier round with Devonte Wyatt, Jordan Davis or Travis Jones, or settle for a mid round pick with Perrion Winfrey. Either way, the Bucs could use an influx of youth up front. Tampa Bay has solid depth with Gholston and Rakeem Nunez-Roches. It would help if they just got a little bit more.
Jon Ledyard: 4-Man Pass Rush Must Improve In 2022
I wouldn’t mind the Bucs adding another guard or offensive weapon, but right now the majority of their offense seems set. Assuming Rob Gronkowski comes back, they’ll draft a tight end and running back at some point in the middle rounds. I wouldn’t rule out a wide receiver selection either, but clearly the team’s biggest remaining needs are not on offense. Instead, it’s the defensive side of the ball that needs some attention.
Bucs OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
It’s not the Bucs fault that quality defensive tackles in the draft have almost completely dried up for three straight years. This year’s class has a couple run-stuffing options, but the best 3-technique in Georgia’s Devonte Wyatt should be off the board by No. 27. As a result, the Bucs might have to get creative with how they find interior pass rush. This draft has several big edge defenders who could kick inside and play a versatile role in 2022. Tampa Bay saw the benefit of that last season, when Joe Tryon-Shoyinka played over guards with success.
Perhaps that’s a role Tryon-Shoyinka steps into again this year. Or perhaps the Bucs select Minnesota’s Boye Mafe or Houston’s Logan Hall early in the draft. Another option could be signing a veteran like Melvin Ingram or Justin Houston close to training camp. But the Bucs must improve their 4-man pass rush this season. And they can’t rely solely on Tryon-Shoyinka’s development to make that happen. Listening to HC Bruce Arians and GM Jason Licht in Indy, it’s clear they are aware of this shortcoming. It’ll be interesting to see how they choose to address it this offseason.
J.C. Allen: Bucs Roster Still Lacks A True Strong Safety
The Bucs have been active in free agency this offseason, re-signing their own and bringing in new players. And there’s surely a few more dominoes to fall in the coming months. Locking up Carlton Davis, while re-signing William Gholston and potentially Ndamukong Suh, should ensure that the team’s defense largely remains intact for the 2022 season. However, the Bucs lost a pivotal part of their defense that hasn’t been replaced in hard-hitting strong safety Jordan Whitehead.
New Bucs S Logan Ryan – Photo by: USA Today
Tampa Bay has Antoine Winfield Jr., Mike Edwards and the newly signed Logan Ryan. But none project as strong safeties. Winfield could potentially fill that role, but he is already one of the league’s premier players at free safety. The Bucs want to use the Pro Bowler in a variety of ways, but not at the expense of his progression at free safety. Edwards is more of a ballhawk than a hard hitter, and is probably suited best as the third safety in three safety packages. While Logan Ryan is a do-it-all player, he could see a majority of his snaps in the slot. The Bucs also have Ross Cockrell, who was cross-trained at the position during camp, but he’s more of a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option.
With the free agency market dried up at the position, the Bucs could look to the draft. Luckily it’s a pretty deep draft at the position. Georgia’s Lewis Cine is a popular pick in the first round and was featured in our latest mock. Other options, especially if the Bucs trade back into the second round, could be Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker or Baylor’s Jalen Pitre. In later rounds the Bucs could target Iowa’s Dane Belton, Auburn’s Smoke Monday, FAMU’s Markquese Bell and USC’s Isaiah Pola-Mao. With Edwards and Ryan set to be free agents in 2023, the Bucs need to add talent to the room. Preferably that will be a player who can let Winfield continue to flourish at free safety.
Josh Queipo: Fix That Kicking Game!
While some of my colleagues may identify tight as the biggest need due to Cam Brate being the current penciled-in starter with scant depth behind him. Others may say their confidence in the depth chart behind Leonard Fournette is lacking. Still others may identify the lack of interior pass rush ability as a desperate need. But I say these all take a backseat to another position group that has not been addressed this offseason. Yet, it desperately needs to be!
Bucs P Bradley Pinion – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
What is this weak spot? The kicking game. Last season, Ryan Succop hit on 83.3 percent of his field goal attempts. This is a solid, if unspectacular, number. However, looking into that number deeper you will see he was only 7 of 10 from 40-49 yards and missed his only attempt from 50 or beyond. And that gets us to his biggest area of opportunity. It’s not the kicks Succop is attempting that are costing the team points. It’s the kicks he doesn’t get to attempt because the team is acutely aware that he doesn’t have a strong enough leg that can swing games in the Bucs favor.
In addition to Succop’s range issues, the team also has a punter problem. Last year Bradley Pinion ranked 28th in the league (min. 45 punts) in punt average. That was dead last. Adjusting for net average, Pinion’s 38.9 average ranked 23rd. When combining touchbacks and punts that end up inside the 20 Pinion’s 44.6 percent rate was his best ranking at 18th. Now, when you look at Pinion’s un-guaranteed $2.9M cap hit this year and the fact that his AAV is the 6th highest in the league, you see that things just don’t match up. This roster is loaded on offense and defense. Why are we settling for an average-at-best kicking unit?