FAB 4. Licht Needs To Flood Weak Positions On Bucs Roster
There has been a light drizzle at the start of free agency in Tampa Bay, but now general manager Jason Licht needs to make it rain.
I’m not talking about throwing dollar bills at free agents like he’s in the club. Licht needs to keep pouring talent onto the Bucs roster along the offensive line, at running back and in the secondary.
Actually, he needs to flood it.
Licht doesn’t need to make it expensive and burn to cash. He just needs to add bodies for legitimate competition that can challenge for starting jobs – not simply stockpile the roster with undrafted free agents who will simply be camp fodder.
Licht needs to attack those positions the way he did the defensive line last year. After generating a league-low 22 sacks in 2017, Licht nearly went overboard when it came to the defensive line. After firing defensive line coach Jay Hayes, Licht started free agency by signing defensive tackles Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein. He traded for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and then signed defensive end Vinny Curry.
But Licht wasn’t done with two new defensive ends and two new defensive tackles. Despite having defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive ends Will Gholston and Noah Spence, as well as those new additions, Licht drafted defensive tackle Vita Vea in the first round and then claimed defensive end Carl Nassib off waivers in September.
Thank goodness he did all that.
Unrein never played a down due to a severe concussion. Vea missed all of the preseason and the first three games of the season with a calf injury. Curry missed four games with an ankle injury. Allen and McCoy each missed two games with a foot and calf injury, respectively.
Despite all of those injuries, the Bucs defensive line really didn’t miss a beat and helped the team record 38 sacks. Imagine if all Licht did was sign Unrein and Allen and not draft an athletic, up-and-coming talent in Vea. Imagine if Licht stood pat with the acquisitions of Curry and JPP and didn’t claim Nassib.
At running back this offseason, the Bucs re-signed Peyton Barber, last year’s leading rusher, and added former Cardinals back Andre Ellington, who didn’t play last year due to injury. Other than that, Ronald Jones will be the new coaches’ reclamation project, Shaun Wilson is coming off injured reserve and Dare Ogunbowale is back for another training camp.
The Bucs simply need more talent here.
Jones was a second-round pick, but hasn’t lived up to it. Ellington was a sixth-round draft choice and the rest were undrafted free agents.
Tampa Bay would be wise to sign former New York Jets running back Isaiah Crowell and then draft another running back in April – perhaps Memphis running back Darrell Henderson in the second or third round. Take them all to camp and let them duke it out until it’s clear who the top four backs are.
The same thing needs to happen on the offensive line, especially at right guard and right tackle. Neither Licht nor this new coaching staff can assume that Alex Cappa can simply show up this year and magically become a starting right guard overnight. Cappa needs competition. Licht needs to flood the offensive line by signing a veteran guard and drafting another one. The same thing at right tackle where the team needs a continuity plan behind Demar Dotson.
Tampa Bay’s secondary needs the same attention. Cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III, Carlton Davis, Ryan Smith and David Rivers have a combined two career interceptions. Safeties Justin Evans, Jordan Whitehead, Isaiah Johnson and M.J. Stewart have a combined five interceptions between them. That’s seven career interceptions from eight players, which means the Bucs need more playmakers in the secondary – especially some veterans. The last thing this team needs is to start another rookie cornerback that will wind up with zero interceptions while learning on the fly and giving up first downs and touchdowns in the process.
Licht and new Bucs head coach Bruce Arians have an awful lot of faith in a roster that produced back-to-back 5-11. They both think that better coaching in 2019 will make the difference. Part of that is ego.
The problem with that overconfidence is that if Licht doesn’t add the necessary competition in free agency and the draft by the time the preseason rolls around and Arians’ coaching staff realizes that this player really can’t play or that player isn’t as good as they thought he was it will be too late. The draft will have come and gone and free agency will be over.
Licht will then have to cross his fingers that he and director of player personnel John Spytek can find another Jacques Smith or another Nassib. That’s quite a risk because there are rarely saviors on the street in September.
Licht and Arians need to take a look at the third-team player anywhere on the depth chart and ask, “Could the Bucs get by with that player for 10 games if injuries hit hard and that third-teamer ascended up the depth chart?”
Right now at running back that player is Jones or Wilson behind Barber and Ellington, and that’s a scary thought, isn’t it? This shouldn’t be
If you’re Arians and you’re reading this, remember the quarterback conundrum you faced in 2014 when Carson Palmer went down with a torn ACL after a 9-1 start in Arizona and then backup Drew Stanton also got injured? The Cardinals limped into the playoffs, going 0-3 down the stretch with third-string QB Ryan Lindley and losing in the first round of the playoffs to squander an 11-5 season.
If you’re Licht and you’re reading this, remember the linebacker scramble you had last year after losing Kwon Alexander and Jack Cichy to torn ACLs during the Cleveland game? The Bucs were forced to start Riley Bullough, Devante Bond and Adarius Glanton against the Giants and Saquon Barkley. How’d that work out?
Neither Licht nor Arians should be overconfident in this current roster. Yes, there is talent in Tampa Bay. Yes, the Bucs have underachieved for the last two years and lost some real winnable games due to poor coaching and game management.
But this is not a Super Bowl roster. Not yet. Not even close.
If cap room is an issue, Licht should instruct Buccaneers director of football administration Mike Greenberg to restructure Mike Evans’ contract to create $10 million more in salary cap room. Not necessarily to overpay players in Tier 1 free agency, which is drawing to a close, but to find some more Deone Bucannon-type and Breshad Perriman-type for Tampa Bay and sign a guy like Crowell in Tier 2 free agency – either before or after the upcoming NFL Draft.
And a veteran cornerback. And a veteran safety. And a veteran guard.
Flood those positions in free agency and the draft.