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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. Tampa Bay’s Offseason Plans Are Revealed
Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht and Bucs head coach Bruce Arians addressed the media at the NFL Scouting Combine and had a lot of revealing things to say about the 2019 Buccaneers.
Reading between the lines and analyzing what was said – and what wasn’t said – here’s what stood out to me – some of which PewterReport.com has reported before over the last several weeks and was confirmed by Licht in Indianapolis.
• Licht and Arians suggested that they would like both defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and wide receiver DeSean Jackson to remain in Tampa Bay for the 2019 campaign, but stopped short of definitively declaring that both would be Buccaneers this season. They each used the term “I hope so.”
Well, guess what? They are the ones who determine whether or not McCoy and Jackson are on the roster. Licht and Arians are in control of the team and each had the ability to definitively say that McCoy and Jackson was going to be back – for sure – in 2019 and stopped short of doing that.
McCoy would fit perfectly in Todd Bowles’ one-gap 3-4 scheme – which Licht confirmed would be Tampa Bay’s new base defense – but his $13 million could be cumbersome for the cap-strapped Bucs to keep.
Arians admitted that he had a great conversation with Jackson, who expressed a desire to return to Tampa Bay after meeting with Licht and the new head coach, and loves the speed that Jackson could bring to his offense. But again, there just wasn’t that definitive declaration that Jackson – and his $10 million cap value – will be in red and pewter in 2019 no matter what.
I’m not buying that Jackson is on the Bucs roster by the start of the season. Do not be surprised if Jackson isn’t traded – and it might not happen until after the draft or during training camp.
Arians and Licht both had the chance to say with 100 percent certainty that McCoy and/or Jackson would be in Tampa Bay in 2019 and stopped short of declaring that. That’s telling.
• Barring a surprising development, expect wide receiver Adam Humphries and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander to test the free agent market rather than be re-signed prior to March 13. Both players have expressed a desire to return to Tampa Bay and the Bucs have told each of them that they would them to return – at the right price.
I doubt Humphries returns, despite Arians speaking glowingly about him at the podium. Arians told me off the podium that Chris Godwin would be perfect to play in the slot like Larry Fitzgerald did in Arizona. Arians loves the seam routes and prefers a bigger body playing that role. That might mean that Humphries, who at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds and is too small to be on outside receiver, could be the odd-man out. It’s difficult to justify paying a player who is below Mike Evans, Godwin and tight end O.J. Howard on the Bucs’ target totem pole anything north of $6 million.
• M.J. Stewart, the team’s second-round pick from a year ago, will be moving to safety – both strong and free – as I suggested should happen last year when he looked out of place at nickel cornerback due to his limited athleticism. He will be competing with Jordan Whitehead and Justin Evans for playing time.
• The Bucs are waiting for an update on linebacker Kendell Beckwith’s health, and will be receiving that next month. The team is bracing for bad news, which would be that Beckwith’s injury was career-threatening. The guess here is that Beckwith’s career is over and that the Bucs sign a linebacker or two – likely Kevin Minter – in free agency, and then draft another one, especially with Jack Cichy, last year’s sixth-round pick, also recovering from a torn ACL.
• Tampa Bay’s emphasis in free agency will be to try to re-sign its own players first, then sit out the first wave of (high-priced) free agency, and then dabble in the second wave of free agency in April and the third wave of free wave, which happens after the draft. I think the Bucs will be targeting a mid-level veteran guard to serve as a mentor and a place holder for Alex Cappa. Pittsburgh’s Ramon Foster and Arizona’s Mike Iupati will likely come cheap due to the fact that both are over the age of 30, and are names to know.
• Caleb Benenoch was awful at right guard and will move back to right tackle where he will compete with Demar Dotson and ultimately provide depth at that position – not at guard. Cappa will get to compete for playing time at both right guard and right tackle. Tampa Bay will be looking for an eventual replacement for 34-year old Demar Dotson, who could be playing his last season with the Bucs in 2019.
• Tampa Bay’s new coaching staff is excited about Vernon Hargreaves, who will compete at outside press cornerback and inside in the slot, Licht would like to keep him at one spot, but he will try both inside and outside cornerback during the offseason to see where he best fits in the coaches’ minds.
• Ryan Fitzpatrick will not be back in Tampa Bay. He’s an unrestricted free agent and the team won’t re-sign him. Arians said he doesn’t want any possible division in the locker room and wants the entire team behind Winston.
Ryan Griffin, who is also an unrestricted free agent, could be re-signed by the Bucs at the right price, but don’t automatically expect him to be Winston’s primary backup. If Griffin, who has zero playing experience in the regular season, is re-signed, that would not preclude the Bucs from drafting a quarterback or acquiring another one to compete for the right to be the No. 2 QB.
Keep an eye on Drew Stanton, a former Cardinals quarterback under Arians, who may be the odd man out in Cleveland. Arians likes to have veteran quarterbacks who know his system on the staff to help teach the younger quarterbacks.
• Arians gushed about running back Peyton Barber. Between Barber and Ronald Jones, who he is excited to work with and feels needs a confidence boost, this tells me that the Bucs likely won’t be pursuing a starting-caliber running back in free agency, especially due to the fact that they signed former Cardinals running back Andre Ellington. They may draft another running back, but I doubt they will go after a free agent rusher.
• Licht said that they are still deciding what to do with Barber’s restricted free agent tender. Expect the Bucs to tender him with second-round draft pick level compensation, which would be a one-year deal worth approximately $3 million in 2019. The Bucs may also look at doing a long-term contract extension with Barber like they did with tight end Cameron Brate last year when he was a restricted free agent – although nowhere near as expensive at $7 million per year.
• Arians also gushed about Vita Vea, as did Licht, who noted that he has position flexibility to play in a 3-4 scheme like he did at Washington playing nose tackle, three-technique and five-technique – or that Vea could become one of the best playmaking noses in the league.
• Licht indicated that the previous coaching staff didn’t embrace Noah Spence’s skill set because he didn’t have the ideal size and length, but that Spence’s size and speed off the edge make him a better fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker than a 4-3 defensive end.
• Arians has dealt with players that like to do their own thing when it comes to training in the offseason, such as Jackson, before and wants every veteran to take part in the voluntary mini-camps and OTAs to learn the system.
• Arians spoke highly of McCoy’s ability to pressure the pocket and rush the passer from the inside. He said good inside pressure creates sacks for the outside rushers. You can bet that the Bucs will draft at least one interior defensive lineman in this year’s draft – possibly at No. 5 overall.
• “Hopefully No. 2 never plays. Tom Moore had the best saying ever when he was here in Indy with Peyton. Somebody asked him why the No. 2 guy never gets any reps. He said, ‘It would be shitty and we don’t coach shitty.’”
• Arians’ idea of having multiple practices going on dates back to college when he was an assistant at Alabama under Paul “Bear” Bryant, who had four groups of players practicing on four different practice fields at the same time in an attempt to rapidly develop young players with increased reps. Tampa Bay will hold two different practices at the same time during the OTAs and Arians said that today’s young players are less fundamentally ready coming into the league than they were years ago.
This is why Arians has always wanted a big coaching staff. Instead of paying one assistant $450,000, he would rather have two assistants making $200,000 apiece. More assistant coaches lead to smaller classroom sizes, and the team doesn’t have to stay on the field as long. The increase of reps with two practices cuts down the amount of practice time needed, which is important in Tampa Bay to do the oppressive heat and humidity and the constant chance for rain during the summer.
Arians said the double practices would consist of two 7-on-7 sessions – one on each field – as well as blitz drills where the coaches can constantly gauge the progress of players.
• “We have what I call an accountability board where every meeting starts with every penalty and every missed assignment. If you are on there too much, you’re either not smart enough or you don’t give a shit. Your give-a-shit meter better be real high if they’re going to make our team.”
• “I think all of us – in any work force – the fear of losing your job might be No. 1, then you try to do the best job you can. But don’t get first. Every player should have that fear.”
“Yeah, a lot of them are coddled,” Arians said. “Starting today, who are the ones that have been silver-spooned, you know? Every one of them can learn. It’s just finding out how they learn. I can’t be as critical on this guy as I can on this guy, because he can take it.
• Arians suggested that the Bucs will be drafting speed on defense to compete with the other teams the NFC South. Although he didn’t mention players by name, Arians was surely thinking about Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in Atlanta, Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore in Carolina and Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas in New Orleans.