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FAB 1. Bucs’ Draft Buzz At The Senior Bowl
Before I begin this week’s column, I wanted to thank you all for your comments on last week’s SR’s Fab 5, which featured an open letter to Jameis Winston, as well as Monday’s Rivers To The Bucs? And Other Senior Bowl Buzz column and the initial PewterReport.com 2020 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft. All three articles featured around combined 250 comments, which is a tremendous amount off feedback and it’s greatly appreciated.
While Bucs head coach Bruce Arians didn’t attend the 2020 Reese’s Senior Bowl, and general manager Jason Licht didn’t speak to the media this year in Mobile, Ala. due to not wanting to comment publicly on the team’s decision – or indecision – regarding Jameis Winston’s future in Tampa Bay, that didn’t stop PewterReport.com from working our league sources to get some scoop on the Bucs and offering up our insight and analysis on the team’s draft and free agency plans.
• Do you remember when Licht took the Doug Martin re-signing all the way to the eleventh hour back in the 2016 offseason, re-signing the Pro Bowl runner on the eve of the start of free agency? Martin was coming off a 1,400-yard season and Licht knew he had to bring back this offensive weapon for new head coach Dirk Koetter. It would have been unfair to Koetter in his first year not to have a running back that thrived in his offense.
But Licht also knew about Martin’s substance abuse issues – issues that would re-surface during the 2016 and cause him to get suspended from the league. Would the impact of a new contract force Martin to mature and clean up his act? Or would it be more of the same type of behavior?
Licht was truly in a damned if he did, damned if he didn’t situation, but the key thing is that he took his time and weighed all the options. Given the circumstances, Licht should have used the franchise tag at the time, but with hindsight being 20-20, Licht shouldn’t have re-signed him at all as Martin wouldn’t rush for more than 421 in each of his last two seasons before being cut.
The reason I bring this up is because the Bucs don’t know what they want to do with Jameis Winston yet. As Arians suggested in his final press conference of 2019, the evaluation process will take several weeks and the Bucs may not know what they want to do until March. I can see Licht taking the Winston decision to the eleventh hour, too.
There have been no contract negotiations with Winston because the Bucs are evaluating the potential available talent in free agency, as well as studying the QB prospects available in the 2020 NFL Draft. Deciding whether to re-sign Winston – who dazzles with his talent and ability to make plays and put up impressive passing yards, but frustrates with volumes of interceptions that hold back the team – is an incredibly important decision. Licht and Arians want to take their time, and rightly so. There’s no rush to do anything with Winston in January or even February.
Not only do the Bucs not know if they want to bring Winston back, they don’t know at what price point they want to keep him. Of course $20 million per year is more attractive to Tampa Bay than $30 million is, but what is the point of no return for the Bucs? Licht let two players he really liked – wide receiver Adam Humphries and linebacker Kwon Alexander – walk out of Tampa Bay because they fetched bigger deals than what he and director of football administration Mike Greenberg wanted to pay.
So what happens? My guess after the Senior Bowl is that it’s 50-50 that Winston returns to Tampa Bay.
I think the success that teams like Tennessee and San Francisco have had in the postseason with balanced offenses featuring strong running games and game-managing quarterbacks might influence the Bucs in that direction. Upgrading the running game will be a priority in Tampa Bay this offseason. That’s not a secret.
But remember that the Bucs won three division titles in six years under Jon Gruden with three different veteran quarterbacks in Brad Johnson, Brian Griese (with Chris Simms filling in after Griese was injured) and Jeff Garcia. A team can’t win the Super Bowl without making the playoffs first.
Arians believes in this formula, too. Look no further than him acquiring Carson Palmer in Arizona in 2013. Palmer helped take the 10-6 Cardinals to the playoffs that year and to a 13-3 record and the NFC Championship in 2015.
Right now with a dynamic passing attack – the top-rated passing game over the last two years, actually – the Bucs have finished 5-11 and 7-9. What did 5,000 passing yards do for Tampa Bay other than get Mike Evans and Chris Godwin into the Pro Bowl?
Sure, poor defense, the lack of a running game and missed field goals all contributed to Tampa Bay not making the postseason for the last five years, but so have Winston’s interceptions and pick-sixes. You heard Arians’ tone about Winston change in his final press conference. That final loss of the season to Atlanta and that final pick-six may have been the turning point.
• I’m not ruling it out completely, but I don’t think the Bucs will select a quarterback in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft. Starting a rookie quarterback in 2020 isn’t going to get Tampa Bay to the postseason, and after spending first-round picks on Josh Freeman and Winston over the last decade, I don’t think the Glazers necessarily want to go down that road again with another young developmental QB.
Arians will turn 68 this year and has just a few years left before he retires for good. He wants to win now.
Licht has been the general manager in Tampa Bay for six seasons without a playoff appearance. He wants to win now.
The Glazers are getting tired of looking at 15,000 to 20,000 empty seats at Raymond James Stadium and haven’t had their team make a postseason appearance in 13 years. They want to win now.
Maybe I’m wrong and that changes in March and April, but that’s the way I read the organization right now with the NFL Scouting Combine on the horizon.
• The Bucs still have plans to extend the contracts of Lavonte David and Chris Godwin this offseason, which PewterReport.com reported last month. Doing so, especially with David, will create some cap space because the team could reduce David’s $10.75 million salary in 2020, which is the final year of his deal, by offering him more guaranteed money in the extension.
There is a big advantage to giving Godwin a well-deserved raise this offseason, as it would cost the Bucs even more money to sign him if he were to play well in a contract year. Tampa Bay has paid two receivers $10 million or more per year when Evans was paired with DeSean Jackson, and Godwin and Evans are the league’s best pass-catching duo and are worth the money. Atlanta did that a few years ago with the contracts of Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. With the NFL becoming a pass-first league, more teams will be paying for top receiver talent because of the value of the position.
• Speaking of receivers having their contract extended, there is optimism that the Bucs can re-sign Breshad Perriman, and that the speed receiver hasn’t priced himself out of Tampa Bay. Perriman was one of the hottest receivers in the league down the stretch, catching 36 passes for 645 yards and six touchdowns last year with most of that production coming in the final five games of 2019.
Will another team pay Perriman $8 million or $9 million per season for five good games with Tampa Bay and four good games in Cleveland when he has yet to put together a solid 16-game season? Maybe. All it takes is one, but Perriman loves Tampa, loves the offense and loves the guys in the locker room.
Humphries got paid $9 million per year by Tennessee this past offseason, but had three years with at least 55 catches and 600 yards in Tampa Bay first. Humphries got paid for his consistency. Perriman hasn’t proven that he’s a consistent receiver – yet. And that could help the Bucs that would love to have him back at somewhere between $4 million to $6 million rather than $8 million.
• The top three offseason needs appear to be right tackle, running back and safety. I think all three get addressed in the draft, but I also think 34-year old right tackle Demar Dotson is re-signed to a one-year contract before free agency starts for depth and competition.
The Senior Bowl did not have a good crop of running backs this year, and I think the Bucs will take an underclassman runner. This year’s group is good, and there could be a quality rusher in the second round like Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, or a back like Miami’s DeeJay Dallas a little later in the fourth round.
As for offensive tackle, there could be as many as five or six tackles in the first round. Four of them could be off the board by the time Tampa Bay is on the clock at No. 14. Georgia’s Andrew Thomas or Alabama’s Jedrick Wills are battling for the top spot with Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Louisville’s Mekhi Becton right behind them.
At 6-foot-7, 368 pounds, Becton is a massive left tackle that can play right tackle. Think a bigger, more agile version of Baltimore’s Orlando Brown, Jr. I think the Bucs would love to have him at No. 14, but he’s such a rare talent I don’t think he’ll be there. The stand out at the Senior Bowl was Houston left tackle Josh Jones, who elevated his stock with a strong week in Mobile, Ala.
The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Jones, a four-year starter, could make the move to right tackle if he were to be drafted by Tampa Bay, or might be an upgrade at left tackle if the team was contemplating moving Donovan Smith to right tackle. It’s worth noting that the only coaches the Bucs had in Mobile for Senior Bowl week were offensive line coaches Harold Goodwin, who is the run game coordinator, and Joe Gilbert.
PewterReport.com had Jones as the team’s second-round pick in our initial 2020 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, but he won’t be there in the second round. Jones could be the guy for the Bucs at No. 14 or if Tampa Bay wants to trade down a few spots to acquire more draft picks.
As for safety, Lenoir-Rhyne safety Kyle Dugger was a real standout. Dugger was fast and physical and showed he belonged at the Senior Bowl. He played center field one snap, then came down and played the run in the box on the next. Dugger covered a tight end one play and then lined up in the slot against a receiver on the next.
Dugger was a fourth-rounder in PewterReport.com’s first mock draft, but the NFL scouts I spoke with had him with a second- or third-round draft grade. Dugger would be a great fit in Tampa Bay, and Licht loves drafting safeties, having done so in each of the past three years with Justin Evans (second round, 2017), Jordan Whitehead (fourth round, 2018) and Mike Edwards (third round, 2019).