Dec 24, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is tackled by New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata (93) during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Buccaneers 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
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The off-season is upon us and there is a bright light ahead for the Buccaneers. But, what if nothing goes their way this off-season. The dream for the Buccaneers is the playoffs the nightmare is failure which looms over every franchise. What should the Buccaneers fear most this year?
With the off-season officially upon the Tampa Bay Buccaneers many people are hopeful for next season. If last off-season is a sign of things to come many people including myself are excited for what Jason Licht can accomplish. With almost $100 million to spend and the nineteenth pick in the draft the Buccaneers have an opportunity to add significant pieces to build around the young core of players. With the leader of the offense in Jameis Winston, turning 23 on January 6th, he has proven he can do a lot with not much help around him. The defense, led by Mike Smith, was crucial to the team’s success in the second half of the season giving up 17.1 points in the final eight games of the regular season.
The Buccaneers are a team on the rise and a 6-2 finish to the regular season is a bright light for next season. As quickly as they showed up it can all go wrong just as fast. What are the scariest things the Buccaneers have to look out for this coming out season?
Oct 30, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith looks on prior to the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Smith Finds A New Job
Do you know why the Buccaneers fired Lovie Smith. Outside the defensive regression, the improvement of the offense and fear of losing Dirk Koetter was the main reason why they made the move. This season I don’t think they want to move on from Koetter just to retain Mike Smith. Mike Smith has been successful as a head coach before and I don’t think that he is willing to pass up another opportunity to resurrect his career. He’s got a nice job in Tampa and the fans love what he’s done in one season with the team. There are many jobs available and teams looking for a defensive minded head coach.
He’s already got interviews lined up with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the San Diego/ Los Angeles Chargers. If the Denver Broncos give him a call then I would get a little nervous. He’s probably drooling for the opportunity to lead Von Miller on a daily basis. Or if the Saints do trade Sean Payton, you don’t think he’d like an opportunity at the Falcons twice a year. Even with the work he’d need to do to improve that mess, he’d likely take it.
The best thing the Buccaneers can do is pay the man. Offer him the highest contract for a coordinator. Give him stability and keep him happy. What ever he needs make it happen. The only problem is there is nothing they can do if he wants to leave. They will have the issue of finding a replacement if he leaves too. In house they have solid candidates in Jay Hayes, Mark Duffner, and Brett Maxie but they could easily leave to join Mike Smith if he asked. The defense has looked better than they have since the glory days of Jon Gruden. If Mike Smith leaves for a head coaching job the Buccaneers may be in trouble.
Dec 11, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) runs with the ball as New Orleans Saints defensive back Delvin Breaux (40) attempts to tackle him during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Jameis Winston Collapses
Jameis Winston is the only quarterback in NFL history to pass for 4000 yards in his first two seasons. He’s had back to back season with very solid numbers across the board. The best thing for him to do now is continue on the path he is on and improve at his decision-making. This past season he increased his passing touchdowns but his turnovers also went up. He had seven more turnovers this season compared to last year. This season he had the second most interceptions in the league with 18 along with ten fumbles, six lost.
This season Winston only had a solid ground game for part of the season and defenses game planned around him. With a lack of quality players around him Winston can’t develop into his full potential. Winston had a couple of moments this season where his emotions got the best of him. He looked like Mike Evans two seasons ago where he complained almost every time he didn’t get a call. If Winston can’t get his head on straight and make better decisions the offense will regress more. Winston is good enough to make plays but he needs players around him to help. The team is improving but if Winston doesn’t get his head on straight and minimize the turnovers the offense will never be elite.
Dec 11, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) drops a pass in the second half against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the New Orleans Saints 16-11. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
The Offense Doesn’t Get The Help it Needs
Winston is only one man. He can only do so much to run the offense and it needs help. Doug Martin is in rehab, Mike Evans has little depth behind him, and the offensive line depth is pitiful at best. With all the cap room they have to work with there are a plethora of options to go after. They need a bell cow running back with Martin potentially done with the team. Jacquizz is good but he’s smaller and isn’t the fastest back in the league and Charles Sims is a pass catcher with poor vision behind the line of scrimmage.Many people like the top-tier backs coming out of the draft. Dalvin Cook is the biggest name being tossed around Buccaneers fans but they would likely need to move up the draft board to grab him. If the Buccaneers believe they are one running back away from serious contention then moving up the draft board could change the franchise.
The odds of them believing they are one player away is unlikely. If the Bucs stand pat on the draft there are players that can help the team. Trusting the right player to fall to them is a bold strategy and is usually not the best way to get the best weapons. Free agency is not as deep as it once was with the best wide receiver and running backs being Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Lacy. Those are some big names but they are past their prime or injury prone. There are two top running backs, three quality receivers, and two high-end offensive linemen in this draft. The odds of even one of them falling to them at nineteen is slim. If the Buccaneers don’t address the offense they will struggle to score points, like they did at the end of this season.
Nov 13, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo (19) against the Chicago Bears at Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers won 36-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Roberto Aguayo Can’t Make a Field Goal
The best kicker in NCAA history was just statistically ranked as the worst kicker in the league. He made 71% of his kicks this season bad enough for worst in the NFL including an amazingly low 36% from beyond 40 yards with none made past the 45 yard line. This was the first kicker in the NFL to not make a 45 yard field goal in a season since 2010. The reason why Bryan Anger had so many punts pinned inside the 10 yard line was because he was allowed to punt from the 35 yard line. With no trust from the head coach there is no chance for the kicker to gain confidence by making kicks. The only issue with Aguayo is when he is given the opportunity to make the kicks he does not make them.
Roberto Aguayo is an extremely lucky kicker. Any other kicker in the league would be gone but because was drafted in the second round, he’s safe. Dirk Koetter has come out and stated that he is willing to let go of any player that doesn’t produce and Aguayo hasn’t produced at all. If competition is brought in this off-season it better be some one that can make at least 80% of his kicks and can hit from beyond 45 yards. However if Roberto can come close to beating his competition they are going to keep him to make try to save themselves from wasting a high draft pick on a kicker. If Aguayo doesn’t make his kicks not only will he likely never get another job in the NFL but he will be hated by the Buccaneers community for his entire life.
Nov 27, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) and Seattle Seahawks center Joey Hunt (53) line up at the line of scrimmage during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Seattle Seahawks 14-5. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive Line Hurts Secondary, Secondary Hurts Defensive Line
What was the biggest factor in the Buccaneers five game winning streak, the pass rush. In the Seahawks game they had six sacks and shut Russell Wilson down. With a strong pass rush they force hurried plays from the quarterback helping the secondary get turnovers and contain players from making big plays. The Buccaneers still have not had a defensive line that included a 10 sack player since the days of Simeon Rice. Gerald McCoy had his lowest sack total since 2012. Robert Ayers had 6.5 while missing seven games. Noah Spence is the bright spot while recording 5.5 sacks in his first season in the NFL with a torn shoulder labrum for the entire season. The line managed to contain the running game this season but were ranked 30th in quarterback hurries.
While the secondary needs get some help from the line they needs to hang with their guys for long enough to give the line enough time to get to the quarterback. Brent Grimes and Keith Tandy were the lone bright spots on this secondary. Grimes has been able to make plays all over the field but he is getting up there in age and Tandy only started six games. Vernon Hargreaves had the worst statistical season for a corner back this season. He is the only corner in the league who gave up 1000 receiving yards. Hargreaves is a rookie but he only had one interception being the most targeted corner in the league. Over time he can develop but there is no reason why the first round pick in the NFL should be the worst corner in the NFL. I don’t really think I need to talk about all the blown coverage’s because he is a free agent and they should not be bringing him back. The best thing that the defense needs is experience and leadership.
The Buccaneers are a young team and work needs to be done if they want to make the playoffs next season. While they have a lot to grow off of from this past season they can still regress. It’s always hard to think of the worst case scenario but anything is possible. As Bucs fans we have to trust the leadership’s decision making because the only thing we can control is show up to home games and get loud. The dream is the playoffs but the nightmare is a real possibility.