FAB 2. The Worst-Case Scenario For The 2019 Bucs
After taking a look at eight things that could comprise the best-case scenario for the Buccaneers this year, it’s only fair to examine eight things that could wind up being the worst-case scenario for Tampa Bay, too.
I’m not trying to be a pessimist – just a realist.
The stars have only truly aligned a few times in this franchise’s history, starting in 1979 under John McKay where the Bucs just missed the Super Bowl after winning the NFC Central division two years after their inception. Tony Dungy’s arrival in 1996 and subsequent playoff berth the next year ended a 13-year postseason drought. Tampa Bay trading for Jon Gruden in 2002 and winning the Super Bowl that same year was like catching lightning in a bottle.
Can the stars align once more and can Arians’ arrival in Tampa Bay match the feats of Dungy or Gruden? The Bucs’ last four head coaches hardly had any success at all. Is the fifth time the charm?
Buckle up and brace yourselves, Bucs fans. Here are some not-so-far-fetched scenarios about what could go wrong in Tampa Bay during the 2019 season.
Arians Is The Next Wyche And Smith
Sam Wyche and Lovie Smith were big-name head coaches that came to Tampa Bay with a track record of success. Wyche took Cincinnati to the Super Bowl before losing to San Francisco in the 1980s. Smith took Chicago to the Super Bowl before losing to Indianapolis. Bruce Arians didn’t take Arizona to the Super Bowl but came close in 2015 with a 13-3 record, and the worst-case scenario is that the 66-year old head coach follows in Wyche and Smith’s footsteps and comes to Tampa Bay and can’t recapture past glory. With so much emphasis being placed on better coaching in Tampa Bay, if the Bucs are getting “Bruce Light” in 2019 instead of the original B.A. and the result continues to be falling short of making the playoffs.
Winston Falters In His Contract Year
The Bucs invested the first overall pick in the 2015 draft on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston as well as the last five years. Like Tampa Bay’s last first-round quarterback, Josh Freeman, Winston has set some team records in short order, but has yet to deliver a playoff berth. The worst-case scenario for the Bucs would be that Winston follows in Freeman’s footsteps and that he falters in his fifth-year option and doesn’t get a contract extension. Having to start over with another starting quarterback in 2020 – likely a rookie – would be a setback for Tampa Bay and almost surely leading to the firing of general manager Jason Licht, who drafted Winston.
RoJo Is A Bust
The Bucs purposefully did not draft another running back or sign one in free agency outside of former Cardinals rusher Andre Ellington, who didn’t play in 2018 due to injuries. Instead, the organization has put an awful lot of trust in last year’s second-round pick, Ronald Jones II, who had an awful rookie year. With Peyton Barber as the only established rusher on the roster, if RoJo can’t develop as a tackle-breaker and a receiver out of the backfield the Bucs won’t have much speed or big-play ability, and another second-round pick by Licht is chalked up to being a bust.
Bucs’ 2016 Draft Class Is A Bust
Speaking of busts, one thing Licht can’t afford to have is his 2016 draft class going down in flames. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, the team’s first-round pick in 2016, has missed 18 games over the past two seasons due to injury, outside linebacker Noah Spence, a second-round pick in ‘16, has just one sack over the past two years, and kicker Roberto Aguayo, Licht’s other second-rounder, was cut after one year. With Spence in a contract year and essentially Hargreaves too, despite the fact he had his fifth-year option picked up, it’s now or never for the remnants of the 2016 draft class, which also includes reserve cornerback and special teamer Ryan Smith and backup lineman Caleb Benenoch to rise up. If VH3 and Spence don’t have breakthrough seasons, it’s a real indictment on Licht as a drafter.
Bucs’ Kicking Game Continues To Struggle
Licht has a hit and miss track record in the draft, and has struggled even more in free agency. Whether it has been through the draft with Aguayo and Matt Gay, free agency with Nick Folk and Chandler Catanzaro, or via trade with Kyle Brindza, Licht has tried and failed to remedy the Bucs’ kicking woes. If Gay or Cairo Santos doesn’t pan out this year and Tampa Bay continues to lose games with missed extra points and field goals it would keep the team mired in the NFC South cellar and could certainly lead to his departure as the Bucs G.M.
Tampa Bay’s O-Line Underwhelms
Was the problem with the offensive line the talent or George Warhop’s poor coaching? We’ll find out in 2019, and the organization hopes it was Warhop’s fault with his overly complex blocking schemes rather than the actual players themselves – three of which make over $10 million per year. In this worst-case scenario, left tackle Donovan Smith continues to not block to the whistle, center Ryan Jensen continues to get too many personal fouls, Demar Dotson’s age shows and his health begins to falter, and the right guard spot continues to be a problem with Alex Cappa and Earl Watford not being the answer.
Injuries Strike Key Offensive Players
Tampa Bay’s offense has plenty of firepower, but the three skill position players the team cannot afford to lose are Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans, tight end O.J. Howard and running back Peyton Barber. Evans is the most talented and accomplished player on the Bucs offense and the Bucs will need him to play in 16 games to have a shot at the postseason. Howard’s first two years ended on injured reserve and that can’t happen again if the star tight end wants to make the Pro Bowl and help get his team to the postseason. If Barber goes down and RoJo falters (see above), an already thin Bucs ground game gets even thinner and grinds to a halt.
Tampa Bay’s Defense Continues To Get Abused
New Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles comes to Tampa Bay with a reputation for fielding an aggressive, blitzing defense and a knack for putting the personnel in the best position to succeed. But without double-digit sacker Jason Pierre-Paul, who suffered a fractured vertebrae in his neck in a May car crash, the worst-case scenario becomes that the Bucs can’t muster up enough pass rush with his absence. As a result of not pressuring the quarterback enough, Tampa Bay’s young secondary is carved up while playing man coverage and the defense continues to give up big plays and too many touchdowns.