The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the second longest playoff drought in the NFL (sorry Browns) but hopes were high that in 2019, their new head coach could unlock the Winston enigma and end that run. Success would send the Buccaneers into January football for the first time since Jon Gruden’s penultimate year. The result? A Jeff Garcia-led side were bumped out of in the Wildcard round by the Giants squad on their way to becoming the 1 in the Patriots 18-1. Yes, it was THAT long ago. Instead of playoff football, what they got was a weird season. They struggled after some early promise and were 2-6 through eight games. They then won five of their next six to get back to a 7-7 record, before losing their last two. The 2019 season was almost as much of a see-saw as Jameis Winston’s entire career has been in the NFL.

General Manager: Jason Licht

Head Coach: Bruce Arians

Bruce Arians brought his ‘no risk it, no biscuit’ offense to Tampa looking to turn Jameis Winston, who first met Arians as a youngster at a QB camp in Alabama, into a record-breaking calibre signal-caller. In some ways he managed to do it, as Winston became the Buccaneers record passer in numerous categories and the only quarterback to throw for over 5,000 yards. However, he also managed to become the first quarterback in history to throw both 30 TD’s and 30 interceptions in a season. Despite signing a four-year contract, questions must be asked about how many years Arians has left as a coach, as he will turn 68 a month into the 2020 season. The answer to that question may become apparent with his approach in this upcoming offseason. There are also questions about his reasons for coming out of retirement, whether it was because of Winston or because of some legacy of diversity that he wants to leave the NFL, seeing as he has spoken often about the diversity of his staff, with both co-ordinators being African-American and multiple female members of the coaching staff. As for Licht, he entered 2019 in a contract year but was given a new contract before the start of the season to keep him through 2022. This seems incredible given that he now has a record of 34-62 in six years with the Buccaneers, and only one winning season. However, given that the new contract means he is now contracted for the same period as Arians’ it would suggest that it may well have been Arians’ call to keep Licht in order to tempt him out of retirement.

Cap Space: $91.7 million

The nearly $92 million that the Buccaneers have in cap space is third in the NFL, behind the Dolphins and Colts, and suggests it is time to go shopping. However, the Buccaneers have six starters, possibly seven if you include a third wide-receiver (a definite starter in a Arians’ offense) hitting free-agency, that will eat up that cap in no time. That is before considering that Pro-Bowl wide receiver, Chris Godwin, will be a free agent in 2021 and it would be much cheaper to sign him this off-season than next. That means there may well be various players who would not come with any dead cap hit potentially on the chopping block. Cameron Brate ($6m) is a favoured target of Winston, but he is a second tight end in an offense that no longer uses many one tight end sets, let alone two. William Gholston ($4.75m), who was much improved in the 3-4 defense that the Bucs moved to in 2019 is someone who may be replaceable for less capital.  Ryan Jensen ($10m) is another many consider replaceable but he did put in a solid performance as a team leader in 2019. Finally, Lavonte David ($10.75m), who might be the most underrated linebackers of the last decade, has just turned 30, and with the emergence of rookie Devin White, may well be asked to restructure.

Impending Free Agents

Week 5, Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers There are 19 Buccaneers who are hitting free agency in 2020 and that is why the Buccaneers cap space will suddenly disappear in this offseason. They will need to make decisions about: – Ndamukong Suh, who despite being 33 was well worth the $9million and change he got in 2019 on the number one rush defense. – Shaquil Barrett, who in his first season as a full-time starter, broke Warren Sapp’s single-season Buccaneers sacks record.  When you add QB hits and pressures was one of the best edge rushers in the NFL in 2019 – Jason Pierre-Paul, who only became a free agent this year when his contract was restructured, essentially to free cap space in which to sign Barrett while he missed half the season thanks to an off-season car crash that was potentially career threatening. However, he returned to start eight games, getting 8.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. A very impressive return. – Demar Dotson, the starting right tackle but at 34, is beginning to look like a weak link on the line. – Breshad Perriman, signed to replace Adam Humphries as the number three receiver, looked a non-factor for most of the year. That was until he was suddenly cast into a starting role through Week 15, producing three 100-yard games and four touchdowns in the last three weeks. Those considerations do not even include the Jameis Winston issue. On top of that, they must find a starting running back, as there seems no appetite by Bucs fans to see Peyton Barber brought back. They also need to make decisions about defensive role players like Beau Allen, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Carl Nassib. Whatever they decide to do with Winston, they also have to decide whether they are willing to roll with Ryan Griffin, who entering his sixth year in the league has more years in the NFL than regular season pass attempts, as the backup quarterback.

Team Needs

Major Need: Quarterback

Before anything else, they must decide what they are doing at quarterback. Jameis Winston may be the hardest quarterback  in the entire history of the NFL to decipher at the end of their rookie deal. He holds ever positive statistical record for a quarterback in team history. However, he is also now second behind Vinny Testaverde for career interceptions and sacks.  His 2019 season also put him second for single-season interceptions and joint top for single-season sacks in team history. Arians’ quote after the final loss in week 17 loss sums him up; ‘There’s so much good and so much outright terrible’. What is that worth in the current market? Surely there will be coaches who will see his good sides and think he is fixable.  Rumour has it that he wants $30million a year, which would give him the fifth highest cap hit for quarterbacks. That number seems crazy until you realise that Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff are two of the four above him. Being young and available appears to be enough in this era, but for the Buccaneers, how much is the devil you know worth to you as opposed the devil you don’t?

Major Need: Offensive Line

A key to much of the Buccaneers offensive woes may lie with fixing this offensive line. It is clear Winston does not trust his line and often fixates on the pass rush for too long, missing opportunities and then rushing throws.  However, perhaps even more important is fixing the line in order to get the running game going. The Buccaneers run game has been extremely inconsistent through Winston’s career, and a lot of the blame lies at the feet of the offensive line. If they can get a consistent running game operating they can take a lot of pressure off whoever they decide to progress with as their quarterback.

Steve Moore

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