Defense wins championships, right? That’s the idiom that represented conventional thinking for decades in the NFL, and it’s actually worked for the Bucs twice in Super Bowls in 2002 and 2020.
Build a championship defense and find just enough offense and you had a good chance to be a perennial playoff, if not Super Bowl contender. Think of all of the dynasties throughout league history during the Super Bowl era. The Packers in the 1960s. The Steel Curtain Steelers of the 70s. The Purple People Eaters in Minnesota. The Bears in the 80s. The early 2000s Ravens and Bucs. All were built based off of defense.
Man, has the world changed. These days the thinking has turned to “find a quarterback and build around him” in this modern day offense-driven NFL. More and more you are seeing a focus on creating elite offense and a “good enough” defense throughout the NFL. While Tampa Bay’s defense starred against Kansas City in Super Bowl LV in 2020, it was Tom Brady who won the MVP while the offense put up 31 points.
Looking at the participants of the last five Super Bowls and all 10 teams ranked 10th or better in scoring offense while only six of the 10 teams were Top 10 in defensive scoring. No, in this day and age you have to have a good offense to sustain success. It would follow that teams have changed how they allocate their resources to match.
Is that the case with the Jason Licht and the Bucs? It would seem yes is the answer. Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com recently tweeted about offensive vs. defensive spending, which got me thinking “How do the Bucs allocate their premium resources between offense and defense?”
Bucs co-chair Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, VP of football administration and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Using Fitzgerald’s evaluation method, I looked at the how the Bucs spent on their Top 5 most expensive players on offense and defense. The results? Licht is spending on offense to the tune of an extra $19.2 million/year. On offense, Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Donovan Smith and Ryan Jensen combine for $90 million in average annual value on their contracts.
Meanwhile on defense, Lavonte David, Vita Vea, Carlton Davis, Shaq Barrett and Akiem Hicks add up to just under $71 million per year. This represents a 28% premium to the offense.
It can be argued that this is a natural function of league spending. The top paying positions in the NFL currently are quarterback and wide receiver. But also consider that outside of special teams, the lowest four paying positions come from that side of the ball. Guard, tight end, running back, and center rank lower in AAV among the Top 10 paid players at their respective positions than any other positions on either side of the ball. It evens out in the aggregate. To see the Bucs front office focus their available dollars more on offense shows they understand how to sustain a winner in today’s NFL.
Premium Draft Picks
The other significant resource teams use to build their roster is premium draft picks (picks in the first three rounds). Does the Bucs penchant for focusing on the offense continue here? Nope. When it comes to the draft, Licht and company have been much more balanced in their allocation.
Since Licht arrived in 2014 he has used 16 picks in the first three rounds on offensive players, 14 picks on defensive players, and one pick on a special teams player (kicker Roberto Aguayo – never forget). And looking at each round individually there is similarly even distribution. The first round has three picks on the offensive side of the ball to five on the defensive side. The second round has the offensive side with the edge seven to six. And the third round is six to three favoring the offense.
Looking at these as a whole and it appears the Bucs front office understands the draft is still quite the crap shoot and invests picks evenly along both sides of the ball. But when they need to spend on “sure things” they are more likely to dish out on offensive players than they are defensive ones. And that strategy is showing itself to be one that is paying off for them in today’s offensive-driven NFL.