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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. Licht Must Think The Worst About The Bucs This Offseason
This is a dangerous time for Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter. It’s the offseason and both men enter 2018 on the hot seat. Licht had an option year picked up by the Glazers in the summer, so he’s in a contract year, while Koetter has been given one more season to see which season was the fluke – last year or the 9-7 record he produced in 2016.
My advice to Licht, who is largely in charge of personnel acquisition as it pertains to free agency, the NFL Draft and re-signing the Bucs’ own players?
Think the worst.
Don’t assume the best.
You could look at some of Tampa Bay’s close losses – the team was 3-7 in one-score games – and suggest they should bounce right back in 2018. I could look at the games the Bucs’ won and remind you that it took a last-second field goal to beat the New York Giants, they beat the Jets by just five points, they scored 10 points in the final minute to beat the Dolphins, and it took a miraculous deep throw to beat the Saints on the last play offensive play of the season finale. Tampa Bay could easily have been 2-14 in 2017.
Licht has to think that the Bucs aren’t close to getting to the playoffs, and that a roster tweak here and there just won’t do. He tried that last year, bringing everybody back, adding two free agents in wide receiver DeSean Jackson and defensive tackle Chris Baker along with a draft class, and thinking that would get the Bucs over the hump and into the playoffs.
It didn’t work and he can’t make that mistake again or he won’t be drafting any more players or signing any more free agents in Tampa Bay.
If the Bucs are going to keep the coaching staff in place, then a lot of the players need to go. It’s foolish to think that if everybody comes back from a disappointing 5-11 season that it will simply yield better results in 2018 – and if that is the thinking, then why?
Licht needs to go for broke this offseason. I’m not saying that he needs to go crazy with the Glazers’ money like he and Lovie Smith did in 2014 signing the likes of defensive end Michael Johnson, quarterback Josh McCown, offensive tackle Anthony Collins and cornerback Alterraun Verner to huge contracts, rather he needs to do what Jon Gruden and Rich McKay did in 2002 while overhauling the Bucs offense.
That year, the Bucs signed Joe Jurevicius in free agency to team with Keyshawn Johnson and Karl Williams then signed Keenan McCardell and drafted Marquis Walker in the third round and Aaron Lockett in the seventh round, too. Although Tampa Bay signed tight ends Marco Battaglia and Ken Dilger in the offseason to pair with Todd Yoder, drafted Tracey Wistrom, and then Rickey Dudley was added at the start of the season.
The Bucs already had quarterbacks Brad Johnson, Shaun King and Joe Hamilton on the roster, but Rob Johnson was added. Tampa Bay had offensive tackles Jerry Wunsch and Kenyatta Walker, but re-signed Pete Pierson and added Roman Oben and Lomas Brown. The Bucs had Jeff Christy at center, but re-signed Todd Washington and drafted Zack Quaccia in the seventh round. Running backs Michael Pittman and Byron Hanspard were signed in free agency and the Bucs drafted Travis Stephens in the fourth round to compete to suit up next to fullback Mike Alstott.
Tampa Bay had cornerbacks Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith on the roster, but added Corey Ivy and Terrell Buckley through free agency and Tim Wansley through the draft in the offseason. The Bucs had starting defensive ends in Marcus Jones and Simeon Rice, but signed Greg Spires and drafted John Stamper.
Too much was never enough for Gruden and McKay that year it served them well in winning Super Bowl XXXVII.
Licht and Koetter have to think the worst to make the Buccaneers better this offseason. Here’s what they need to do:
Don’t think for a minute that running back Doug Martin will ever come close to rushing for 1,000 yards again. It’s not going to happen, and Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter would be fools to think otherwise. Martin hasn’t rushed for more than 500 yards in four out of the last five seasons. He doesn’t deserve any more chances in Tampa Bay, especially at age 29. Time to move on.
Don’t assume Jameis Winston is going to magically commit less than 20 turnovers next year. Winston is a gunslinger that came into the NFL with the reputation for turning the ball over. Yes, the coaches should continue to work with him on that area, but Koetter needs to accept that in some games Winston is going to have as many bad plays as he does good plays and have to work around that with better coaching and win in spite of Winston on occasion.
Don’t expect Ali Marpet to be a better center than he was a guard. If Marpet is considered to be an A-minus guard and a B-minus center, put him back at right guard to bolster that position and find a B-rated (or better) center to help upgrade the interior of the offensive line. Make a play for Baltimore’s Ryan Jensen to upgrade the center position.
Don’t think that Evan Smith or Kevin Pamphile is a starting-caliber guard. As much as Licht might want to burn it, there is plenty of game film of them failing at left guard last year. If he wants to sign Pamphile back due in a reserve role due to his versatility that’s fine, but don’t pay him starter money or expect him to play like a starter in 2018.
Don’t assume that guard J.R. Sweezy is going to see his level of play return to form from before his back injury. If the Bucs want to keep Sweezy in 2018 it’s only under the condition that he needs to compete for a starting job. Don’t pencil anyone other than Marpet (at either center or guard), Demar Dotson and Donovan Smith as starters along the offensive line. And don’t let Sweezy prevent this team from drafting Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, either. If Sweezy is a backup or is released because he couldn’t win a starting job, so be it.
Don’t think that defensive tackle Chris Baker is going to play any harder or be more productive than he was last year. If a player is going to prove he’s worth a big contract it will be in his first year. It didn’t happen last year. Don’t expect it in 2018. Re-sign the harder-working and more productive Clinton McDonald to replace Baker, who should be released, but don’t pencil in anyone as a starter on the defensive line except for McCoy. No one else has earned that right.
Don’t assume McCoy is going to get more than six sacks next year. McCoy will be 30 this season and his sack production is on the decline and injuries are taking their toll. McCoy had 9.5 sacks back in 2013, then had 8.5 in back-to-back years before posting seven in 2016 and then six last year. At some point, McCoy’s production is going to fall off a cliff. It could be this year, or the year after or three years from now. Expect it will be this year and be prepared with capable defensive tackles just in case.
Don’t think that Noah Spence’s twice surgically-repaired shoulder is going to hold up. Believe that his shoulder is finally healed after he’s suited up for 16 games in 2018 – not before. Do you know how many sacks to expect from Spence next year? Expect somewhere between one sack and 5.5, because that’s all he’s shown in two injury-riddled seasons thus far.
Don’t expect Winston to suddenly hit DeSean Jackson with deep passes. Jackson will earn an $11 million base salary this year and the team will face a $7 million cap hit if he’s released. So Jackson will get one more year to prove he’s worth the money. Although he was signed to run go routes and deep post patterns to take advantage of his 4.3 speed, the recommendation here is to use more slants and intermediate post patterns as they have a higher chance of success as Winston is not a great deep ball thrower. Koetter needs to rethink how to use Jackson and take advantage of his yards-after-catch ability rather than having Winston keep throwing incompletions his way deep down the field.
Don’t assume that Brent Grimes will continue to play at a high level if re-signed. Grimes will be 35 this year and Tampa Bay desperately needs better cornerback play. Grimes is only part of the answer – not the whole answer. The Bucs need to find two more cornerbacks in free agency capable of starting – in addition to Grimes, who missed some time with injuries last year.
Don’t pencil in Vernon Hargreaves III as a starter. The reason why the Bucs passed on signing former Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden was because Grimes and Hargreaves were the projected starters heading into the season and there wasn’t any room for Haden. That’s nonsense because Hargreaves hasn’t proven that he’s a capable starter yet – regardless of him being a first-round pick.
The Bucs don’t need a pass rushing defensive end and a defensive tackle. They need two pass rushing defensive ends and two defensive tackles. Tampa Bay doesn’t need a running back to replace Martin. It needs an entire new stable of running backs to compete with Peyton Barber for the starting job.
Licht has done this at some positions, such as tight end where he spent the team’s first-round pick this past year on O.J. Howard despite having a star tight end in Cameron Brate. Then he signed undrafted tight end Antony Auclair as a priority free agent. The Bucs had Mike Evans, Adam Humphries and Jackson at wide receiver heading into the draft and still selected Chris Godwin in the third round.
Tampa Bay re-signed safety Chris Conte to pair with Keith Tandy, and then signed J.J. Wilcox in free agency and drafted Justin Evans in the second round. Once T.J. Ward became available after training camp, Wilcox was traded to Pittsburgh and Ward was signed. Although Ward didn’t make nearly the impact the Bucs expected him to make, the aggressiveness shown by Licht adding Ward was the right call.
Licht and Koetter can’t make the mistake of believing in young players like Hargreaves and Ryan Smith anymore. They need to believe in them once they’ve proven themselves.
It’s going to take more than another good draft class to help the Bucs rebound in 2018. A rookie can’t be counted on to rush for 1,000 yards. A rookie can’t be expected to boost the team’s pass rush with 10 sacks. A rookie can’t be relied upon to become a lockdown corner in his first year in the NFL.
The Bucs need to stack proven veterans – plenty of them – ahead of the young players and draft picks and let them battle it out. The cream will always rise to the top, as it did when fourth-round draft pick Kwon Alexander beat out high-priced veteran Bruce Carter for the starting middle linebacker job in Tampa Bay in 2015.
By expecting the worst this offseason, hopefully Licht can help the Buccaneers become their best in 2018.