FAB 2. Bucs Need To Remember The Titans

Tampa Bay and Tennessee are two franchises with talented, young quarterbacks, best friends as general managers and are separated by one win over the past four years. With both teams coming off 2-14 seasons in 2014, the Bucs had the first overall pick and selected Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. The Titans, which picked second overall, drafted Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who would outshine Winston in a 42-14 thrashing in the 2015 season opening win for Tennessee in Tampa Bay.

Titans’ Record 2014-17
2014: 2-14
2015: 3-13
2016: 9-7
2017: 9-7
Record: 23-41

Bucs’ Record 2014-17
2014: 2-14
2015: 6-10
2016: 9-7
2017: 5-11
Record: 22-42

But that’s where the similarities stop. The two franchises are seemingly heading in the opposite direction of each other with the Titans on the way up and the Bucs on the way down following the 2017 season.

Both Tampa Bay and Tennessee were supposed to be teams on the rise this year and projected to make the playoffs. The Bucs failed to meet expectations and finished with a disappointing 5-11 record, while the Titans backed into the playoffs thanks to a Week 17 loss by the Baltimore Ravens and ended up upsetting the Chiefs at home in the Wild Card playoff game.

Bucs HC Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs HC Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter was given another year to turn the team around and enters the 2018 season on the hot seat with general manager Jason Licht, whose contract option year was picked up over the summer, on the very warm seat.

Despite back-to-back 9-7 finishes in Tennessee and a surprise playoff win in 2017, the Titans fired head coach Mike Mularkey and could replace him with Houston defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, who has ties to general manager Jon Robinson from their days together in New England where Vrabel was a defensive end and Robinson worked in the scouting department.

If the Bucs want to reverse course and join the Titans as a playoff-caliber team, Licht would be wise to look at what Robinson, his buddy and Tampa Bay’s former director of player personnel from 2014-15. Robinson inherited two key pieces of the Titans offense in left tackle Taylor Lewan, who was a first-round pick in 2014, and Mariota, the team’s first-rounder in 2015. But what he did next propelled Mariota and the Titans to back-to-back winning seasons.

In 2016, his first year in Tennessee, made three key free agent signings to greatly help Mariota. Robinson signed Houston Texans center Ben Jones, who blocked for quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno at Georgia, signed Miami Dolphins wide receiver Rishard Matthews, and traded for Philadelphia running back DeMarco Murray, who was the 2014 Offensive Player of the Year in the NFL.

Titans QB Marcus Mariota and C Ben Jones - Photo by: Getty Images
Titans QB Marcus Mariota and C Ben Jones – Photo by: Getty Images

But Robinson wasn’t done building around Mariota and would add another starting offensive lineman and another premier running back in the draft. Robinson traded away the No. 1 overall pick in the draft to the Los Angeles Rams, who took quarterback Jared Goff. Robinson’s deal acquired the 15th overall pick, two second-round picks and a third-rounder. The Titans also got Rams’ first-round pick in 2017 and third-round pick that year.

With tons of draft capital, Robinson traded up to No. 8 with Cleveland to draft right tackle Jack Conklin and acquired a sixth-round pick, in exchange for the 15th overall selection, a third-rounder and a second-rounder in 2017. Armed with three second-round picks, Robinson drafted pass-rushing linebacker Kevin Dodd, who hasn’t panned out, defensive tackle Austin Johnson, who is a starter, and Heisman Trophy winning running back Derrick Henry.

Johnson and Henry were drafted with picks acquired from the trade with the Rams. In the third round, Robinson selected safety Kevin Byard, who has turned into a Pro Bowler. Granted, Robinson benefitted from a windfall situation by trading away the first-round pick, which the Titans could do because they already had a franchise quarterback in Mariota, but he absolutely nailed four of his first five picks.

Licht has had similarly successful drafts in 2015 and ’17, finding four starting-caliber players in each of those drafts, but Robinson has out-drafted him in terms of the caliber of players in his two drafts with the Titans.

TITANS’ 2016 DRAFT
1. OT Jack Conklin – Starter – First-team All-Pro
2. DE Kevin Dodd
2 DT Austin Johnson – Starter
2 RB Derrick Henry – Starter
3 S Kevin Byard – Starter – First-team All-Pro
5 WR Tajae Sharpe – IR
5 CB LeShaun Sims – IR
6 G Sebastian Tretola – no longer with team
7 LB Aaron Wallace – IR
7 CB Kalan Reed

BUCS’ 2016 DRAFT
1. CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Starter
2. DE Noah Spence – Starter
2. K Roberto Aguayo – no longer with team
4. CB Ryan Smith
5. OT Caleb Benenoch
6. LB Devante Bond
6. FB Dan Vitale –  no longer with team

TITANS’ 2017 DRAFT
1. WR Corey Davis – Starter
1. CB Adoree` Jackson – Starter
3. WR Taywan Taylor
3. TE Jonnu Smith – Starter
5. LB Jayon Brown
6. G Corey Levin
7. LB Josh Carraway
7. OT Brad Seaton – no longer with team

BUCS’ 2017 DRAFT
1. TE O.J. Howard – Starter
2. S Justin Evans – Starter
3. WR Chris Godwin
3. LB Kendell Beckwith – Starter
5. RB Jeremy McNichols – no longer with team
7. DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu

Robinson has the advantage, not just with two All-Pros in Conklin and Byard, but also the benefit of more picks due to the Rams’ trade. Licht’s biggest gaffe remains drafting Aguayo in the second round of 2016. The Bucs had obtained an extra pick in the fourth round by trading down two spots from No. 9 to No. 11, but burned that pick, in addition to their third-round pick to move up in the second round to select the Florida State kicker.

Bucs C Ali Marpet – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs C Ali Marpet – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Licht has invested similar capital in the Bucs’ offensive line – with three high-priced free agents that haven’t panned out in left tackle Anthony Collins, center/guard Evan Smith and right guard J.R. Sweezy, two second-round picks in left tackle Donovan Smith and right guard/center Ali Marpet, and a decent contract extension to right tackle Demar. Yet Tennessee has the advantage due to the fact that Lewan and Conklin were both first-round hits and are Pro Bowl-caliber players.

The biggest difference between Licht and Robinson’s approach has been the weapons that they have acquired for their young franchise quarterbacks. The Bucs have invested in weapons for the passing game for Winston, while the Titans have built a strong ground game for Mariota to lean on.

Which approach has worked better? Tennessee has the edge for several reasons. The first is the formulaic approach outlined in Fab 1 – building a top 10 running game. The Titans are close with a top 15 rushing attack thanks to the one-two punch of Murray and Henry, in addition to Mariota’s scrambling ability.

Titans RB DeMarco Murray – 6-1, 220
2016: 293 carries for 1,287 yards (4.4 avg.) and 9 TDs with a long of 75
53 catches for 377 yards (7.1 avg.) and 3 TDs

2017: 184 carries for 659 yards (3.6 avg.) and 6 TDs with a long of 75
39 catches for 266 yards (6.8 avg.) and 1 TD

Titans RB Derrick Henry – 6-3, 247
2016: 110 carries for 490 yards (4.5 avg.) and 5 TDs with a long of 22
13 catches for 137 yards (10.5 avg.)

2017: 176 carries for 744 yards (4.2 avg.) and 5 TDs with a long of 75
11 catches for 136 yards (12.4 avg.) and 1 TD

2017 playoffs: 35 carries for 184 yards (5.3 avg.) and 1 TD with a long of 35
5 catches for 56 yards (11.2 avg.)

Robinson got a steal in trading for Murray as the Titans and Eagles simply swapped picks in the fourth round in 2016. That’s a trade that quite frankly the Bucs should have made, pairing Murray with Doug Martin – regardless of the fact that both were high-priced running backs.

Bucs RB Doug Martin - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

If Licht has a fault, it’s thinking that a position is filled when probable starters are acquired. Keep in mind that Licht was backed into a corner and essentially forced to re-sign Martin, who had two previous sub-500-yard rushing years prior to 2015 when he rushed for 1,402 yards and made the Pro Bowl in the first year in Koetter’s offense.

What was Licht going to do – not sign the league’s second-leading rusher, especially in Koetter’s first year as a head coach? He would have been chased around town by Bucs fans with pitchforks and torches for letting Martin walk in free agency. Licht did have his doubts about re-signing Martin because he waited until the eleventh hour, held his nose and got the contract done.

But what Licht should have done immediately there after is not believe that the real Martin was the 1,400-yard guy in the contract year, but rather the sub-500-yard guy the two previous seasons in 2013 and ’14, because that’s who he is – evidenced by two more sub-500-yard seasons in ’16 and ’17. He should have signed Martin and then signed another highly talented running back or do what the Titans did and draft Henry with a premium pick even though they just acquired Murray, who signed an extension worth $6.3 million per season.

Another example of this faulty thinking is when the Bucs had the chance to sign former Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden when he was released from the Browns last September, the Bucs passed because Licht had Brent Grimes, who made $8 million per year, and Vernon Hargreaves, a former first-round pick, penciled in as starters. Haden would command a huge contract averaging $9 million per year for three years in Pittsburgh, and where would he play in Tampa Bay Licht thought – nickel cornerback?

That’s the wrong approach. The right approach would have been to sign Haden and let him and Hargreaves battle it out for the right to start – even if it meant that Hargreaves, the 11th overall pick the previous year, would be forced to play nickel, which is what ultimately happened in 2017 anyways when Hargreaves failed outside. Doesn’t a lineup of Haden, Grimes and Hargreaves sound way more appealing than Ryan Smith, Grimes and Hargreaves?

Bucs QB Vernon Hargreaves - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves – Photo by: Getty Images

Now the Bucs have to either spend a premium draft pick this year on a cornerback – instead of another position of need like defensive end, defensive tackle, guard, safety or running back – or spend a good chunk of change in free agency signing a quality starter instead of doing it last year.

The same faulty approach was applied at running back in Tampa Bay where Martin was re-signed in 2016 to a lucrative contract extension, but failed to produce due to injuries and drug usage, which prompted a four-game suspension. When healthy and focused, Martin has proven to be a quality starting-caliber running back. But Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber aren’t in Martin’s league when it comes to talent, and Licht didn’t find another running back with a similar caliber.

So when Martin failed to produce at a high level, Tampa Bay’s ground game became a weakness. That meant more passes for Winston, and more passes for a young quarterback means a greater likelihood for interceptions and fumbles, which has happened.

Remember, the easiest thing for a young quarterback to do is turn around and hand the ball off to a running back. Despite the fact that Winston has broken several passing records in his first three years in the NFL, unless your last name is Marino, Brees, Manning or Brady, it’s not necessarily a good thing to throw for 300 yards a game and over 4,000 yards in a season. It often means that a team doesn’t have a good enough running game, and as we’ve seen this year, the teams that are in the hunt for the Super Bowl all have top 10 running games.

In Tennessee, Robinson acquired a Pro Bowl-caliber player in Murray and then spent a high second-round pick on Henry a month later to give Mariota a significant one-two punch that would better aid in his development than an extra tight end or wide receiver would. Those players would come later a year later in the 2017 draft when Robinson drafted Davis, Taylor and Smith for Mariota to throw to – after he shored up the ground game in 2016.

Alabama RB Derrick Henry – Photo by: Getty Images
Alabama RB Derrick Henry – Photo by: Getty Images

Over the past two years Murray and Henry have combined to have nine 100-yard games between them (Murray 6, Henry 3) in Tennessee, while Tampa Bay has produced just three 100-yard games over the same span with Rodgers producing two in 2016 and Peyton Barber with one last year. Martin’s last 100-yard game came in November in 2015. He will be released this offseason as a result.

Over the past two years the Bucs have given Winston plenty of weapons in the passing game at wide receiver with Godwin and free agent DeSean Jackson, and another tight end in O.J. Howard to complement Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate. But Tampa Bay has failed to give Winston a very good ground game to rely on. As a result, more pressure has been put on the young quarterback in the second and third years of his development and that has led to more turnovers by Winston and fewer wins by the Bucs as a result.

Marcus Mariota Career Stats
2015: 12 games – 230-of-370 (62.2 percent) passing for 2,818 yards
19 TDs / 10 INTs with 10 fumbles, 3 fumbles lost and a 91.5 QB rating
34 carries for 252 yards (7.4 avg.) with 2 TDs, 2 fumbles, 0 fumbles lost

2016: 15 games – 276-of-451 (61.2 percent) passing for 3,426 yards
26 TDs / 9 INTs with 9 fumbles, 2 fumbles lost and a 95.6 QB rating
60 carries for 349 yards (5.8 avg.) with 2 TDs, 7 fumbles, 3 fumbles lost

2017: 15 games – 281-of-453 (62 percent) passing for 3,232 yards
13 TDs / 15 INTs with 2 fumbles, 1 fumble lost and a 79.3 QB rating
60 carries for 312 yards (5.2 avg.) with 5 TDs, 2 fumbles, 1 fumble lost

Mariota’s 3-Year Totals
787-of-1,274 (61.8 percent) passing for 9,476 yards
58 TDs / 34 INTs with 21 fumbles, 6 fumbles lost and a 88.6 QB rating
154 carries for 913 yards (5.9 avg.) with 9 TDs

Jameis Winston Career Stats
2015: 16 games – 312-of-535 (58.3 percent) passing for 4,042 yards
22 TDs / 15 INTs with 6 fumbles, 4 fumbles lost and an 84.2 QB rating
54 carries for 213 yards (3.9 avg.) with 6 TDs, 3 fumbles and 1 fumble lost

2016: 16 games – 345-of-567 (60.8 percent) passing for 4,090 yards
28 TDs / 18 INTs with 10 fumbles, 3 fumbles lost an 86.1 QB rating
53 carries for 165 yards (3.1 avg.) with 1 TD, 4 fumbles and 1 fumble lost

2017: 13 games 282-of-442 (63.8 percent) 3,504 yards
19 TDs / 11 INTs with 15 fumbles, 7 fumbles lost and a 92.2 QB rating
33 carries for 135 yards (4.1 avg.) with 1 TD, 4 fumbles and 1 fumble lost

Winston’s 3-Year Totals
939-of-1,544 (60.8 percent) passing for 11,636 yards
69 TDs / 44 INTs with 31 fumbles, 14 fumbles lost and an 87.2 QB rating
140 carries for 513 yards (3.7 avg.) with 8 TDs

Jon Robinson and Jason Licht - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Jon Robinson and Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The big takeaway is that in the passing game, Winston has 270 more pass attempts in two more games than Mariota and has thrown for 2,160 yards and 11 more touchdowns, but also 10 more interceptions and accounted for 10 more fumbles and eight more fumbles lost. Yards don’t win games, and for every extra touchdown Winston has thrown versus Mariota it has come with twice the amount of turnovers.

The biggest way the Bucs can help Winston reduce the amount of turnovers is to remember the Titans, and give him a stout ground game with two elite starting-caliber running backs who are each capable of rushing for 1,000 yards. Licht needs to look west to Tennessee and see how Robinson has built a ground game to aid Mariota’s development and help the Titans make the playoffs even when Mariota has a bad year, as he did this past season.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

39 COMMENTS

  1. I’m just not buying that the Titans are any sort of model of NFL success. I would argue that the Bucs had a better draft in 2017. If the Titans have more starters from 2016, it is solely because they had so many second round picks.
    I am not convinced that the Titans are on the way up and would not be surprised if they are out of the playoffs next year with a losing record.
    The team I think the Bucs should look to is Jacksonville. Those guys, thanks to perhaps the best drafting in the league, are going places fast and could win a superbowl in the next couple of years. I predict they will be the best team in the AFC next year while the Titans are watching the playoffs on television.

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    • Curious if the Jags fans are going to start contributing to Chris Baker’s charity since he inspired their team with his “3 wins in the playoffs” comment in the preseason. Wait.. what.. he didn’t say playoffs??

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    • Don’t forget they are in a weaker conference too than the NFC and especially NFC South.

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      • I meant NFC South being the toughest to play in.

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        • Horse I agree NFC south is a much better Division and will be for years to come.

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  2. Definitely agree Scott that LIcht has seemed to miss the boat when it comes to stocking positions with more than one potential starter for depth. Koetter likes to use the “our guys” line a lot. Team might need to do a better job evaluating “our guys” and grade them more on actual production than perceived promise and potential. Something’s wrong with the current formula. New England seems to be one of the few teams that can plug in their no-name depth guys and not lose too much production. Maybe Licht needs to remember he doesn’t have BB on the sidelines anymore.

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    • Don’t get me wrong guys, I’m a fan of most of what Licht has done since he’s been here, but stocking positions with players actually capable of pushing the starters for playing time isn’t one of them. While the need to maintain salary cap space for upcoming contracts is understandable, missing the playoffs for the past 10 plus years while consistently being in the Top 5-10 in available cap space each year doesn’t seem to be working. Understand FA is a crap shoot as well, as most pundits lauded the under-the-radar signing of Baker as a great move. Doesn’t mean we should stop trying to improve depth everywhere possible though every avenue available, and even overspend if the right FA is available..

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  3. I agree that NFL teams can sometimes make the play-offs with a great defense, and a solid running game helps. But to make the play-offs on a year-to-year basis, teams need a franchise QB. That has been proven over and over. It also helps to play in traditionally weak divisions like New England, but that’s another story. I would be willing to wager that the Jaquars and Vikings don’t have the same success next year, although the Eagles will with Wentz returning. New England gets by with a mediocre defense because they are often playing with a lead, making the other team’s offense one dimensional. All that being said, in 2018, I think the BUCS need to totally focus on the defense in free agency and the draft, with the exception being an upgrade at OG . If Winston improves his play, the offense is good enough to be a play-off team. Currently the defense is obviously not good enough, but can be with the right off season moves.

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    • Might wanna throw RB in there with OG as an offensive need.

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  4. We like the “Informative” Scott Reynolds!!!! Nice read dog. I always knew you had it in you. LOL

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  5. I think making the playoffs in your fourth season as a Q.B. is living up to expectations. Bortles was key last week in the Jags win, you act like the Jags defense won that game Scott, they didn’t, Bortles did, to me he is a franchise Q.B.. Should’ve promoted Robinson, and fired Licht. Licht has shown he doesn’t know how to build a team. His first draft was Evans, over Donald, big mistake. You build from the front back, Licht hasn’t shown in anytime in four years he gets that. When Coughlin was with the Giants he’d draft 2 D lineman every draft, Licht two in four years! Coughlin just hits on D lineman, Licht has struck out four times up at bat. Licht couldn’t see through the trees Martin was washed up, and pasted in a running back heavy draft. Licht went for the shinny toy in F.A., D Jax, Coughlin’s priority Campbell. Licht doesn’t get it, not expecting him to change, Koetter either for that matter. No changes to the staff, don’t expect any changes in his approach to practice, don’t expect much improvement in our record. 2018 will be a throw away year, waiting for the Glazers to finally find Mr.Right.

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  6. Enjoyed the Licht/Robinson comparison as well, well researched (ht to Trevor I’m assuming). And noticed Joe Flacco’s name was missing in Fab 1. Are we really considering him “elite” now?

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  7. I agree, Scott, that I hope that Koetter has a more “nose to the grindstone” approach this offseason. It seems pretty obvious that the OL & DL are where the upgrades need to take place. Nelson seems like a great prospect, but why not a guy like Ohio St. C Billy Price who is the unquestioned captain of that O-Line and shows all of the leadership that you look for, beyond simply a guy that blocks? Moving Ali back to his natural guard position would help set up both the running game and passing game. Last thing, not a huge fan of 5-star recruit Chad Thomas… He’s sort of “All-Airport” as Sapp would say. But, RB Mark Walton is the real deal.

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    • Agreed. And I feel like markcwalton will get lost in the shuffle because of so many good rb’s entering the draft this year. Would love to get him in the third round. He can catch the pass out of the back field and has great wheels

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  8. Hindsight articles are fun.

    “But what Licht should have done immediately there after is not believe that the real Martin was the 1,400-yard guy in the contract year, but rather the sub-500-yard guy the two previous seasons in 2013 and ’14, because that’s who he is – evidenced by two more sub-500-yard seasons in ’16 and ’17. He should have signed Martin and then signed another highly talented running back or do what the Titans did and draft Henry with a premium pick even though they just acquired Murray, who signed an extension worth $6.3 million per season.”

    Tell me, which talented RB should Licht have drafted in 2016 after signing Martin? Which talented RB should he have sunk MORE dollars into in free agency? I guess you could spot Jordan Howard out of the mix, but other than him there were nothing but RB landmines drafted ahead of JH in an extremely weak RB draft class, which is probably a big reason why Doug was extended in the first place. The 2017 draft was and 2018 draft is stocked with good RBs. Good thing Licht signed Doug to an easily shed contract. Licht didn’t believe in Doug AT ALL. The mistake, if there was one, was keeping him for 2017. But, they didn’t make that decision until AFTER they did not land an impact runner in the 2017 draft. He stayed true to his board and drafted some great players, which allowed Doug one last chance. He failed. That’s on Doug, not Licht.

    Also, I believe the owners have a lot of say in who gets free agent dollars. It’s entirely possible they told Licht no on Haden and yes on Ward. Who can tell?

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    • It’s funny to me that most of the pundits and fans seem very happy with Bucs free agent moves and draft picks at the time. Graham is right about twenty twenty hindsight. There was universal relief when Bucs signed Martin to a new contract. Most fans were thrilled to keep him. And, pundits from the local to the national level all praised the signing of DJax.
      Let’s be real here.
      The only draft picks that I have not liked the past few years were Hargreaves and that second round picker. Would I have preferred more defense overall? Sure. But, I can’t say that any of the picks seemed bad at the time.

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    • The best running backs often get drafted well back of the first half of the first round. All the hype and PR went to Leonard Fournette last spring … but the guy who will win OROY this year is Alvin Kamara, a third rounder.

      Good drafting isn’t just about picking decent first rounders … it’s about finding talent throughout the draft, particularly in the mid-round Day 2 picks. Licht has been pretty uneven in finding value. He’s had a couple of good ones, like Justin Evans and Kwon Alexander , but he’s also had some stinkers, like ASJ and Noah Spence and what most in the NFL still believe to be the stupidest single draft pick of all time, trading up to the second round to draft Aguayo.

      And don’t even get me started on Licht’s horrible record of free agent signings.

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    • Licht, who gave Doug Martin a top 5 leaguewide contract for a RB with the first two years guaranteed didn’t believe in Martin at all? So when he kept Doug at his inflated top 5 salary even though it wasn’t guaranteed this year due to his drug suspension and still had to serve the remaining 3 of his 4 game suspension this year you think that shows a lack of belief in a him? 😂

      If we want to go the hindsight route, then Jason could have merely drafted Devonta Freeman in the third round in 2014 instead of Charles Dancin’ Fever Sims. No additional trades or added salary neccessary.

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      • What kind of contract do you think Doug was going to get elsewhere as a free agent coming off his 2015 season? You think he would have signed here without any guaranteed money?! The fact Licht was smart enough to put language in the contract that got the Bucs out of it if Martin got himself suspended was brilliant.

        My guess is they were all set to take Dalvin Cook with the 19th pick and release Martin until OJ Howard fell. When that happened they made the decision to give Doug another chance. Justin Evans, Chris Godwin, and Beckwith are all players that made impacts at more important positions than RB. I’m glad they were selected. Unfortunately Doug didn’t hold up his end of the bargain and he’ll be gone.

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        • NFL contracts ALL have clauses for outs when a player is suspended due to drugs/PDA’s.

          Remember Eric Wright? Do you think Mark Dominik was just really shrewd when he magically inserted that into Wright’s contact? No, it’s common for ALL NFL contracts to included clauses like that. LOL

          First, Licht failed to take on Martin’s option year, which would have been the one year he played well, allowing Martin to become a free agent when he otherwise would not have. THEN he compounded his previous mistake (par for the course for him) by keeping Martin around and not renegotiating his massively inflated and unguaranteed deal. Because he’s a genius.

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  9. A few thoughts regarding free agency and the up-coming draft.

    I do not believe the Jason Licht strategy of waiting until the end of free agency to get value (not hiring top dollar free agents) has worked – we get Chris Baker instead of Calais Campbell. Incredibly, six of the top 10 2017 spenders in free agency, a period formerly reserved for desperate teams to throw money at anyone, made the playoffs: the Patriots, Titans (yes Jon Robinson, a Licht understudy), Rams, Vikings, Panthers, and the Jaguars (who spent $20 million more than any other team). Maybe it’s time to join the party!

    We need to start fixing the defense with this draft. The top defensive free agents are going to be expensive and the ones like DeMarcus Lawrence and Ziggy Ansah aren’t going to make it to free agency. The Bucs had the worst defense in the NFL, the worst third down percentage, worst sack total and the worst pass defense. Three of the four teams in the conference championships (Eagles, Vikings, Jaguars) are there because of their defenses.

    The Jags with a weak QB but a dominant defense are in the AFC Championship. The Vikings with a substitute undrafted QB and a dominant defense made it to the NFC Championship. The Eagles are in the NFC Championship led by substitute and journeyman QB Nick Foles.

    The Ravens a while back won a Super Bowl with freakin’ Trent Dilfer. I’m sure all of you remember that a few years ago a team called the Bucs with a QB considered average but with a dominant defense made the playoffs year after year and also won a Super Bowl.

    What am I trying to say here? These playoff teams should tell Licht and Koetter something – that the age-old formula still works – defense wins championships! Get us a defense and we’ll start winning games.

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  10. Certainly agreed that a strong running game and a strong defense are keys to championship football.

    But let’s not make the same mistake the Bucs have repeated over and over again since the Super Bowl team of relying upon superstar running backs and failing to build and maintain the strongest possible offensive line. A super running back like Cadillac Williams or Doug Martin may temporarily boost the running game, but when these backs are continually running into brick walls they inevitably get injured too much and their productivity drops off the proverbial cliff. Been there done that twice now.

    But on the other hand, teams that consistently commit to building and maintaining top shelf offensive lines find that the running backs themselves become more or less interchangeable, and they are less prone to injury and therefore enjoy more longevity .. and the starter RB does get sidelined with injury, another can quickly replace him, either from the bench, or from FA or draft.

    But offensive line is the easiest position group to undervalue and ignore – they don’t generate highlight video or headline states. They just do their job, week in and week out.

    To build an effective sustainable running game, invest first in the offensive line, and then as available, insert the best available running backs we can afford, and make sure we are getting more than one guy capable of starting.

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  11. The biggest thing that gets me about all of this is adjustments. Look at all the playoff teams, look at the teams that just lost and they are making adjustments. They fire some coaches and hire others, special teams, OC’s, DC’s. They evaluate why they didn’t make the Super Bowl and they are making changes. I agree with keeping our head coach but when we look at the rest of the staff and say, “Oh no we did fine this year we are keeping everything as it is.” Are we crazy? If you make no changes you will get the same results, proven fact. So I really don’t expect much change in the team and I should call my ticket rep. and tell him I want a refund for my 6 season tickets I have had for over 20 years. No adjustments is crazy!!!!!

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    • Had a similar reaction when no changes were announced, but in hindsight, it’s easy to see how some of the coaches might’ve gotten a little complacent after the D in particular started to come around during the last half of 2016. Hard to imagine they all just magically forgot how to coach overnight. Thinking they’ll have a better approach in 2018. And hard to put all the poor production and results strictly on the coaching staff, as most of the players, if they were being completely honest. would probably say they could’ve executed their assignments better and left some plays on the field.

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  12. the biggest difference between the bucs and titans is that 2015 season. while the bucs ascended to mediocrity under lovie smith, the titans continued to be horrible. that led to them getting a king’s ransom from the eagles for the right to draft wentz, and they turned that incredible haul into multiple starters and all pros. while the titans parlayed the #3 overall into multiple premium picks over the next 2 drafts, the bucs took their smaller quantity of picks and used 2 of them to trade up for a kicker who is no longer with the team.

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  13. I could care less about comparing Titians and Bucs; I’d stay focused on NFC and especially the South. I’ll stick to the only thing I have heard out of Licht’s mouth, ” our need is DE and RB”.
    We shouldn’t be discussing any Center or Guard under 6’2″; same for DE’s. I’m hoping Licht will find a way to pick up more draft picks and not for trading back up. Time for GM and Head Coach get tough with their players in how they practice in 2018. I remember we practiced very hard in Orlando during the preseason of our Super Bowl win. Go Bucs!

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  14. Wow. I know this wasn’t the point of this Fab 5, but Mariota is starting look very suspect right now. Not a bust, but suspect af.

    How the heck are you going into a complete nosedive in production on a playoff team that’s supposedly built around keeping as much pressure off of you with a good line and a great running game?

    15 games – 281-of-453 (62 percent) passing for 3,232 yards 13 TDs / 15 INTs with 2 fumbles, 1 fumble lost and a 79.3 QB rating.

    Like what?!! That’s getting close to like Blake Bortle’s rookie numbers. Not a good look.

    You can even see the impact that a great line is having in the fumble numbers between Winston and Mariota through the years. QBs can sometimes fumble out of chance, but there was a huge discrepancy between W + M this year on that front and I’m pretty sure it’s from getting hit. W played less games and supposedly in a very QB-unfriendly system and he’s still making M look like Bortles?

    Suspect af. Better turn it around in a year.

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  15. When we saw how much better the running game was with Peyton Barber in there over Doug Martin, even with a depleted OL minus the Bucs two best starters, doesn’t it seem likely that a good running back can make an OL better just as much as the other way around? Imagine having great running back? If Barkley happens to fall to 7? Bucs have to take him IMO.

    Right away Jameis gets better. One of his strengths is play action. Imagine it with a legitimate threat!

    Of course if he’s not there and the only one of the top five players are (not including QB’s obviously) is Nelson? Yes. Draft him. Fills a need with the BPA on the OL, the entire OL.

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    • Garv, agree with you. It is one of the priorities.

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  16. Gee, a lot of really nice comments respecting each others’ opinions and philosophies on how to construct a play-off team. Bravo fellow commenters! Fact is, there are a number of ways to achieve success.

    To me, having a stout Defense that can limit the opponent’s ability to score, makes having a high scoring offense of our own a lesser priority. As Sapp used to say, “Just give me 17 points.” That said, having a great ball-control running game that maintains possession of the ball, also limits the opponents’ ability to score. Do both and victory will be a much easier task. Throw in a great punter and two good Special Teams gunners and you have the trifecta.

    We all know there is a need at every position group except QB, WR, TE, LB and P. All other positions need some help. Some more than others. Some easier to fix than others.

    Defensive Line is without a doubt the greatest need on this team. It’s also probably the most difficult to fix. That’s why I’m in favor of a switch to a 3-4 scheme.

    Hopefully we can get lucky and find a Ronde Barber or Donnie Abraham n the mid-rounds to solve that weakness.

    Offensive Line and Running Back are much easier to upgrade.

    Bottom line is no matter what position we draft at # 7, it will be a need. Unlike my usual Draft stance to take the highest ranked player in each round; this season I’m more in favor of a trade down in two of the the first three rounds.

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    • Scubog, Amen!

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  17. This was really a great read, Scott and it solidified many of my preformed opinions.
    First off, it really clarified the performances of Mariota’s and Winson’s last three years.
    Mariota has really benefited from having a solid running game and defense to play with.
    In the meantime, Winston has had to shoulder the burden of carrying the offense himself while not being able to rely on a defense that has been lackluster except for an 8 game stretch in 2016.
    Unlike a lot of people, I don’t worry to much about Winston’s INT’s, it’s the fumbling that drives me nuts.When you sling the ball around as much as he did the last three years, you are going to get those. If Winston would just get his fumbling undeer control, I would be satisfied.
    As for Licht, earlier this year I rated his drafting as a C. He seems to have had his worst year in 2016 whereas Robinson had his best. None of our 2016 draftees excelled this year which played an important factor in the Bucs 2017 record.
    If I were to rate his FA signings it would have to be a D but I am not sure how much the coach plays a part in those signings and selections.
    I heard someone blame him for blowing up the offensive line in blowing up the offensive line in his first year which was a huge mistake, but I believe that was Lovie Smith’s idea, not Licht’s.
    Finally, he hasnt been the only one to make blunders with this teams roster.
    Left to the devices of many of the fans and also Pwerter Reports, Licht hasn’t made to many blunders on early rournd selections except for Arroyo.
    He hs pretty much followed the desires of most of the fans for the first four years.
    The most glaring ones have been over he past two years. Whie a huge majority of you, along with Pewter Reports, were screaming for the Bucs to take a CB in 2015 and a RB in 2016, I was calling for defensive line help.
    You have met the enemy, and he is you.

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    • Drdneast, do you think you were the only one who said the same thing? Despite the pleads for the last couple years to draft defensive ends, it could have easily been the correct moves that they chose except they chose the wrong players. We got to live in the now, not the past. Let’s hope they do better this time in drafting.

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  18. I agree, Get a Beast Running game and every stat on Offense and Defense will Improve .. Get some Big Backs

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  19. Nice thing about this time of year is that everyone is right and no improvement idea should be ignored. If you choose you can Bash everyone and everything about the Buc’s or you can focus on minor improvements that in your mind would push the Buc’s into the playoff’s and possibly beyond. Remember what reality hands us at the end of the season may be totally different. That being said, I agree with Macabee, Defense has historically been our strong suit as proven by the Dungy years and the very chemistry of the team. Until the last few years offense was a matter of scoring 17 points per game. So as I scan the list of 2018 prospects I tend to focus on defense particularly pass rushers.
    But ya know it doesn’t have to be defense. What if we took Quentin Nelson at 7, Derrius Guice, Kerryon Johnson, Sony Michele Type Back at 38, or a Jt Barrett as a wildcat back-up QB in the later rounds. Of course we could sprinkle in some D-line players for old time sake. Whose to say that hypothetically that draft wouldn’t work. Do the same with Free agency. Hell if you can score 40 points a game that will get you to the play-offs.
    Time of the season to brainstorm. IMO. Go Buc’s

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  20. Since there has been no change to the coaching staff, or front office, I’m not expecting much change to our record in 2018, 7-9, 6-10 seems reasonable. I believe the Glazers should’ve brought in an outside consultant to assess the whole organization. They could use a Tom Coughlin type, vice pres of football operations, to at least make some recommendations on F.A., and the draft. Maybe the Glazers should mend fences with Dungy, and just pay him for some different opinions. Licht, and Koetter seem fixed on certain players, like Martin last year. While we were screaming for Barber, they steadfastly stuck with Doug, they had to justify keeping him at that salary. I don’t trust the Licht to straighten this mess out on his own. Bring in another football mind.

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  21. The Bucs do a good job limiting the commitment of guaranteed money to the first year or two of a contract. That makes it all the more puzzling that they do no “overstock” more. CB Haden mentioned in the article is such a failure to overstock. The one that has made me crazy all year is LT Andrew Whitworth who left the Bengals for the Rams in 2017 and had his third straight Pro-bowl year. I still hope for the best with Donovan Smith, but “overstoking” with a guy like Whitworth could have helped Smith’s professional development and allowed a lot more flexibility along the OL. Whitworth or Smith could have competed at LG or moved to RT when Dotson was injured, etc. And, the Bucs needed a big back to complement their host of small backs – Blount was on the market; it Blount is poison for the Bucs, someone similar was needed.

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  22. I have no reason to doubt your word Horse. But the overwhelming number of and Pewter Report wanted the Bugs to draft Bargreaves. This year they wanted the FSU kid who had a history of injuries in college. Not surprisi fly, they followed him to the NFL.
    I also have blundered as a GM. I urged the Bugs to resign Martin and then ,esp hi for another year. Unfotunaly since Martin got his big money, I believe he has lost his hunger for the game

    Ll

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  23. If you study Licht’s philosophy in our drafting most of the time he ignores our real needs such as great linemen on both sides of the ball and instead drafts trying to take the best player available. So we had a great TE and could get another TE in later rounds who could both block and catch, Auclair, just as big as his first choice last year but he still used his first choice on another TE we didn’t really need, instead of taking the highest rated DE which we badly needed. Remember his first draft when he spent a high pick on a fast tall RB from WVa. when we really didn’t need another RB at the time. He also tries for cheaper Free Agents he thinks are “good values” too and is the worst Free Agent picker we have ever had—that is exactly why we didn’t get Campbell and Jacksonville did. The Glazers blew it by not firing Licht because he is going to do it one more time leaving us in the dust behind our division foes like he did this year. He is the culprit!!!

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