After trades, Bucs should aim for ultimate reward: the draft’s top pick

Head coach Lovie Smith and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers find themselves 1-6. After Tuesday's trade, they're building for the future again.

Kim Klement

TAMPA, Fla. — Oh, this race is tight, a potential classic finish to come.

Urgency from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-6) should be a must, the possible reward satisfaction of becoming the franchise’s first team to reach the playoffs since the 2007 season.

No, the challengers aren’t the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, the class of a motley crew in the pillow-fight NFC South, where the best record is 3-4-1. No, the reward isn’t a postseason berth this year, because face it, who expects the offensively challenged, defensively abysmal, quarterback-less Bucs to win more than a game or two the rest of the fall?

Instead, Tampa Bay’s targets should include this row of misfits: the St. Louis Rams (2-5), Tennessee Titans (2-6), New York Jets (1-7), Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7) and Oakland Raiders (0-7).

The bad. The poor. The struggling. The ugly. The worst.

"Beat" them all. "Earn" the draft’s top pick.

Deadline deals

Call it what you will — Be Miserable for Mariota, Play Woeful for Winston. Pick a name, any name. Slap it on a bumper sticker, post it on message boards, start the drumbeat for change.

Just call it like it is: After Tampa Bay’s trades Tuesday, when the organization sent safety Mark Barron packing to the St. Louis Rams and jettisoned linebacker Jonathan Casillas to the New England Patriots for draft picks, the Bucs are about building for the future (again). This season should be considered a wash before it reaches its halfway point (again).

Aim high. Focus on the prize like it means new life, like it means a new face to be plastered on Raymond James Stadium.

The Bucs need a quarterback. They should play the final nine games like they want one.

"Nothing surprises me," Bucs linebacker Dane Fletcher said. "It’s the NFL at this point. It’s tough to see a couple of good guys leave and go on. But what can you do? You’ve just got to keep grinding on."

The developments Tuesday should end all doubt about Tampa Bay’s intentions. If the Bucs were serious about their chance to win the division, they wouldn’t have turned the NFL’s trade deadline into a personal episode of "Let’s Make a Deal." Contenders don’t open shop and hold a red-tag special.

Can you imagine the Denver Broncos doing the same thing Tuesday? What about the New England Patriots?

Great responsibility

Coach Lovie Smith says there’s no truth to the thought that the Bucs are glancing toward the future. He said the moves give them their best chance to win now. But that line is hard to accept, given how Tampa Bay is down two experienced players without immediate help in return.

"It’s about our current roster," Smith said. "You don’t trade players unless you feel pretty good about the other players that you have."

The current roster has made the Bucs a smelly pile through seven games. How is 1-6 a good thing?

Make no mistake: The trades were good for the Bucs. Danny Lansanah’s emergence made Casillas expendable. And let’s hope Barron, a former seventh overall pick, turned in his invisibility cloak before starting fresh in St. Louis. Perhaps Major Wright, a five-year veteran, will fare better.

Still, it’s not correct to spin the moves as beneficial for the Bucs the rest of this season. Think about it: Barron started all seven games this year, so by shipping him to Jeff Fisher, the Bucs become thinner at safety. Casillas made little impact in recent weeks, but with him gone, the Bucs’ depth at linebacker becomes thinner.

What happens if Lansanah goes down to injury? If Barron is such a good player, like Smith says, why is trading him a positive for Tampa Bay’s present?

Out of reach

Whatever. The correct outcome was achieved. The right choice is to focus on next year, when the Bucs can start fresh, preferably with a new quarterback. Why not shoot for 1-15 so someone else doesn’t snatch up Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, red flags and all, if they declare?

"I guess you never know until you’re down the line," said Bucs offensive tackle Demar Dotson, when asked if the trades make Tampa Bay better now. "I guess they got a fourth round and a sixth-round (pick for Barron). So I guess that will be told down the line."

Added Lansanah: "I couldn’t say. That’s for those guys upstairs to figure out a thing like that. I just work here, and I just do what they ask me to do. And that’s what I’m doing."

The Bucs’ net gain in the trades was a fourth- and fifth-round pick next year. Smith and general manager Jason Licht should hold those selections close and save them for when this season is sent to the wood chipper. At this point, picturing an NFC South title with Tampa Bay’s offense and defense is silly.

Meantime, dream on. Imagine Mariota and Winston declaring. Imagine either dancing in the Bucs’ backfield, frustrating defenses, either serving as an upgrade to what Tampa Bay fields now.

Josh McCown? Mike Glennon? Both are good men, but they had their chances.

The stakes have changed.

Aim for the top.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.