This season must have felt like 4 different seasons for Buccaneers fans. They started 1-3, after losing their last 10 to finish 2011, and it looked like more of the same. However, after the bye, they ripped off wins in 5 of 6 games and looked like a potential playoff team. They lost a close one at home to Atlanta and then in Denver, but those were two of the best teams in the league so they still looked like they were in good position. That was until they lost at home to the lowly Eagles, and then got blown out by the Saints and Rams, to push their losing streak at 5. They finished out their season with an impressive win in Atlanta.
It’s no surprise they’re this inconsistent when their quarterback is this inconsistent. It wasn’t just this year. They went 3-13 in 2009, 10-6 in 2010, and then 4-12 last year as Josh Freeman posted 10/18, 25/6, and 16/22 touchdown to interception ratios in those 3 seasons respectively. This year, he started the year with a 5/4 TD/interception ratio in their first 4 games, then had a 16/3 ratio in their next 6, and then a 5/9 ratio on that 5 game losing streak, before having a decent game against Atlanta. In wins, he had a 97.6 QB rating, which is comparable to Tom Brady’s and Ben Roethlisberger’s. In losses, that rating was 71.4, which is comparable to Chad Henne and Mark Sanchez.
Overall, his stats are solid. His career quarterback rating of 79.8 is nothing special, but it’s not terrible either. But, it must be so maddeningly frustrating for Buccaneers fans to have no idea on a game to game basis what they’re going to get when their quarterback takes the field. It seems to be frustrating the organization as well. They’ve mentioned on several occasions that they will try to bring in some better competition for him this off-season and an upgrade over backup Dan Orlovsky. Josh Freeman is in a contract year in 2013, so it’s going to be a huge year for him. In 2014, he could be anything from a well-paid starting quarterback for the Buccaneers to a backup elsewhere.
Both of the Buccaneers’ week 1 starting cornerbacks got suspended this season. Aqib Talib’s suspension got him traded to New England, ahead of free agency this off-season, while Eric Wright’s voided his contract and gave the Buccaneers the option to cut him and get out of the reminder of his contract without penalty. He’s not worth the 30.75 million he’s owed over the next 4 seasons. It was a ridiculous contract to begin with and the Buccaneers got a lucky break when he voided it. He should be cut and he’s expected to be.
However, without Talib and Wright, the Buccaneers will need two new starting cornerbacks this off-season. They gave a bunch of young cornerbacks a shot down the stretch in their absence, including EJ Biggers, Leonard Johnson, Anthony Gaitor, Brandon McDonald, and Danny Gorrer. None of them really looked like long term starters as the Buccaneers ranked 29th against the pass. They might be able to get away with one of that group as a starter in 2013, but not two. Look for them to target cornerbacks in free agency and/or with the 13th pick of the draft.
Gerald McCoy showed what he can do if he can stay healthy, playing all 16 games for the first time in his 3 year career and having one of the top years by a defensive tackle this season. However, they need an upgrade next to him. Roy Miller is a decent run stuffer, but he had just 5 total quarterback pressures all year. He’s a free agent anyway.
The Buccaneers traded away Kellen Winslow last off-season, which proved to be a smart move. He went on to be a final cut by the Seahawks and then was unwanted on the open market, playing a few snaps with the Patriots and that was it. The idea was for 2011 4th round pick Luke Stocker to be his replacement. While he did a good job as a blocker, he didn’t provide much as a pass catcher. Those duties were left to Dallas Clark, but he’s a free agent heading into his age 34 season. They need a pass catching tight end to pair with Stocker long term.
Ronde Barber had a resurgent season this year at free safety, after the longtime veteran struggled last year at cornerback. However, he turns 38 in April and no one would be surprised if he hung them up. Even if he doesn’t, you can’t count on him long term. He’ll be retiring soon and his abilities could fall off a cliff at any time. They’ll need a long term successor or immediate replacement depending on what he decides, though they might opt to replace him in house with Ahmad Black.
Michael Bennett is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. A lot of common fans don’t know about him, but he’ll get a hefty payday this offseason as a free agent. If the Buccaneers can’t bring him back, they should be fine with 2011 1st and 2nd round picks Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers as starters, but they’ll have no depth and have a need at the position. They should really try to re-sign him though because that trio plays really well together.
The Buccaneers rarely used a 3rd linebacker this season. I don’t know if that was by design, but it might have just been because the coaching staff didn’t trust Quincy Black. Black has been terrible since signing a ridiculous 5 year, 29 million dollar deal 2 off-seasons ago. He should be cut, owed a non-guaranteed 5.5 million coming off a major neck injury sustained in Novemer. The Buccaneers could bring in another 3rd linebacker or give the job to Adam Hayward, who was decent in Black’s absence down the stretch.
Josh Freeman’s inconsistency has to be maddeningly frustrating for Buccaneers fans. At times, he can look like one of the best quarterbacks in the league and at times he can look like the worst. All in all, he posts solid stats, but it’s never a good thing to have no idea what you’re getting from your starting quarterback on a game to game basis. He’s heading into free agency after next season, so this is a key year for him. The Buccaneers have mentioned on several occasions adding a better backup and more competition for him. Dan Orlovsky is no threat to his job. They need to bring in someone who can be, preferably through the early/mid rounds of the draft so he can take over as a starter in 2014 if they need him to.
Both guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph will be coming off major injuries next season. They need some better depth because both Ted Larsen and Jamon Meredith were terrible when counted on this season. Davin Joseph is overrated and overpaid anyway, as he ranked towards the bottom of ProFootballFocus’ guards in his previous two seasons before his injury this year. He probably won’t be cut or anything, but they could use better depth for competition in case he continues to struggle.
The Buccaneers ranked 30th in the NFL in kickoff return average. Arrelious Benn should not be allowed to serve in that role any longer.
The Buccaneers were better at returning punts, but primary punt returner Roscoe Parrish is a free agent.