The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have dished out more big contracts over the past few years than perhaps any team in the NFL. They’ve re-signed Davin Joseph (7 years, 52.5 million), Donald Penn (6 years, 41.7 million), Mike Williams (6 years, 40.25 million), and Quincy Black (5 years, 29 million), signed Carl Nicks (5 years, 47.5 million), Vincent Jackson (5 years, 55.5 million), Dashon Goldson (5 years, 41.25 million), and Eric Wright (5 years, 37.5 million), and traded for Darrelle Revis (6 years, 96 million).
Some of those deals have panned out. Vincent Jackson has been their #1 receiver with 150 catches for 2608 yards and 15 touchdowns in the past 2 seasons combined. Donald Penn has been a fixture as an above average blindside protector. Darrelle Revis shook off a torn ACL and re-emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL last season. However, most of those deals have been disappointing.
Quincy Black and Eric Wright were both gone within 2 years of signing those deals. Davin Joseph suffered a knee injury in 2012 and was one of the worst guards in the league in 2013. Carl Nicks has been a very good guard when on the field, but has played just 9 games in two years because of a toe injury and a subsequent infection. Both could be cap casualties this off-season. Dashon Goldson graded out below average on Pro Football Focus in his first year with the Buccaneers after signing a record deal for a safety. Mike Williams has the potential to bounce back going forward, but he missed 10 games with injury and caught just 22 passes in the first year of his extension this season.
The Buccaneers’ problems have not been limited to free agency. High draft picks committed to Josh Freeman, Brian Price, Arrelious Benn, Da’Quan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn, and Mark Barron have yet to pay the dividends they were supposed to. As a result, the Buccaneers are a 4-12 team pressed up against the cap and GM Mark Dominik was fired this off-season after 5 seasons with the team, in which they went 28-52 and failed to make the playoffs. They haven’t made the playoffs since the 2007 season under Jon Gruden and they’re already on their 3rd head coach since Gruden was let go.
The Buccaneers might have been even worse than their 4-12 record would suggest. Sure, they went 2-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less and had a tough schedule, but they also went 4-12 despite a +10 turnover margin, which can be tough to maintain on a year-to-year basis, especially for bad teams. The Buccaneers went 1-11 this season when they didn’t win the turnover battle. They’re way too reliant on that. In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, they ranked 30th, which is about right. This is one of the worst teams in the NFL in spite of all the money they spent.
It’s not all bad for the Buccaneers though. The trio of Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, and Darrelle Revis might all be among the top-20 players in the NFL, as they graded out 1st, 2nd, and 1st at their respective positions on Pro Football Focus this season. Their defense was the definition of top heavy as those were the only three players that graded out above average and played more than 300 snaps, but the core is there for them to build around. It’s much easier to upgrade from poor to average than it is to upgrade from average to great. Players like those 3 are rare and represent three positive things from Mark Dominik’s tenure.
Another positive thing he left behind was Mike Glennon, who definitely flashed as a third round rookie quarterback, completing 59.4% of his passes for an average of 6.27 YPA, 19 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He’s expected to get another chance as the starter in 2014 and could be the answer at quarterback if he develops properly. The Buccaneers will also get Doug Martin and Mike Williams back from injury for next season.
The other positive thing for the Buccaneers was that they hired Lovie Smith, an accomplished head coach and a defensive mastermind who was sorely missed by the Bears this season. The Buccaneers had to settle for bottom of the barrel coaching options the last two times around in Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano because of the poor reputation of the Buccaneers’ owners around the league, so they should consider themselves lucky that Smith was willing to take the job. Smith is familiar with the organization, serving as linebackers coach from 1996-2000.
I’m very excited to see what he’ll be able to do with Gerald McCoy (in the Tommie Harris/Henry Melton role) and Lavonte David (in the Lance Briggs role) and to see if he can help the rest of the defense play better around them, including former high draft picks Da’Quan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn, Johnthan Banks and Mark Barron and high paid underachieving safety Dashon Goldson. There’s some concern about how Darrelle Revis will fit his scheme because he’s a pure man cornerback, but Smith let Charles Tillman play man in Chicago so I’m not too concerned. He’s not dumb.
Smith’s biggest flaw and what led to his eventual termination in Chicago was his tendency to pick incompetent coaches to run his offense. Smith has tabbed former University of California coach Jeff Tedford as his offensive coordinator and he’ll be tasking with aiding in Mike Glennon’s development, which could make or break this team going forward. Tedford is a bit of a wild card. He coached 6 different future NFL 1st round pick quarterbacks while in college, but only Aaron Rodgers panned out as the other 5 included Kyle Boller, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, and David Carr, who are among the biggest busts in NFL history (the 6th is Trent Dilfer). I want to give Smith the benefit of the doubt with his judgment of offensive minds, but he hasn’t earned that with his history.
The Buccaneers used 1st and 2nd round picks on defensive ends in Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers and they haven’t really panned out. Clayborn graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 47th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 52 eligible in 2013, while Bowers played just 212 snaps behind Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, who was Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked 4-3 defensive end. Clayborn could bounce back next season, another year removed from his torn ACL, and he did flash before the injury. However, even then they need someone opposite him. If any of Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Barr, or Khalil Mack is still there at #7 overall, I expect them to pull the trigger.
Lovie Smith suggested at his introductory press conference that he’s looking to upgrade the middle linebacker position. That makes sense. Mason Foster has graded out below average in all 3 seasons as a starter since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2011 and he’s a poor fit for the cover 2. Smith will be looking for his next Brian Urlacher. That won’t be easy, but it’ll be easier to find someone better than Foster so expect them to target this position early in the draft, perhaps in the 2nd round.
Tim Wright emerged as a solid receiving threat out of the tight end position, this season, catching 54 passes for 571 yards and 5 touchdowns as an undrafted rookie. However, the 6-3 220 pound converted wide receiver is not an inline tight end by any stretch of the imagination and a very poor blocker. Wright would be better served in a joker role, playing out wide, in the slot, at h-back, and as a move tight end, behind a true inline tight end.
It’s really amazing how good of a season Gerald McCoy had considering he was the only one on his defensive line that the opposing team had to worry about. They started 4th round rookie Akeem Spence at defensive tackle next to him and he played as you’d expected a 4th round rookie to play, grading out as Pro Football Focus 3rd worst ranked defensive tackle. He could be better in 2014, but they should bring in some competition for his job.
The Buccaneers could make both Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks cap casualties this off-season, as Joseph graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked guard this season and Nicks has played just 9 games in 2 seasons with foot problems and may never play again because of nerve damage. All of their internal replacements sucked this season so they should replace both of them from the outside if they do cut them.
This is another spot on the defense that needs help, the outside linebacker spot opposite Lavonte David. They could fill this spot by moving Mason Foster here or by drafting someone like Anthony Barr or Khalil Mack to play the Von Miller role. It’s a two-down role anyway so this one isn’t that high up on their list, especially since it’ll be easy to fill.
The Buccaneers have no depth behind Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. When the latter went out for the season 6 games into it this season, they didn’t have a suitable replacement. Tiquan Underwood had just 24 catches for 440 yards and 4 touchdowns on 376 routes run and he’s a free agent anyway. Depth needs to be added.
Is Mike Glennon the quarterback of the future? His 19 touchdowns to 9 interception ratio would suggest he is, but he also completed just 59.4% of his passes for an average of 6.27 yards per attempt. He was an obvious upgrade over Josh Freeman, but the Buccaneers still moved the chains at a 66.29% rate this season, 27th in the NFL, with Glennon making 13 starts. He’s the heavy favorite to be the starter in 2014, but they need to add a better backup than Dan Orlovsky, who is a free agent this off-season anyway.
Key Free Agents
WR Tiquan Underwood
Tiquan Underwood was the Buccaneers’ 3rd string wide receiver this season and was pressed into starting action for the final 10 games of the season with Mike Williams hurt. He didn’t impress with his opportunity, as he had just 24 catches for 440 yards and 4 touchdowns on 376 routes run. The man who was infamously cut by the Patriots the day before the Super Bowl in the 2011 season, Underwood has just 63 catches for 1009 yards and 6 touchdowns in 4 seasons. The former 7th round pick of the Jaguars out of Rutgers is purely a depth receiver and situational deep threat.
DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim
A 3rd round pick out of Washington in 2010 by the Eagles, Te’o-Nesheim has carved out a significant role in Tampa Bay over the past 2 seasons, playing 748 snaps in 2012 and 616 snaps in 2013. However, he’s been terrible, especially in 2013, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked 4-3 defensive end. He had just 1 sack, 9 hits, and 14 hurries on 328 pass rush snaps, managed 10 total solo tackles, including 9 stops, and missed 7. He shouldn’t get anything close to guaranteed money for next season.
Potential Cap Casualties
DT Derek Landri
The Buccaneers can save 1.5 million in cash and cap space by cutting Landri, so it seems like a no brainer. He played just 124 snaps, despite the Buccaneers need at the defensive tackle position, and graded out well below average on Pro Football Focus on those snaps.
G Davin Joseph
The 7-year, 52.5 million dollar contract the Buccaneers gave Davin Joseph was a mistake from the start. The year before he received it, he was Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked guard, despite playing just 11 games. In 2011, the first year of his contract, he continued to struggle, grading out below average and then he didn’t play at all in 2012 with a knee injury. This past season he was their 2nd worst ranked guard. The Buccaneers have a new front office and coaching staff so Joseph’s hall pass has probably run out as he heads into his age 31 season. The Buccaneers can save 6 million in cap space by cutting him and get out of the remaining 27.5 million he’s owed penalty free.
G Carl Nicks
Carl Nicks received a massive 5 year 48.5 million dollar contract from the Buccaneers and, even though he’s a guard, it was worth it. Nicks has played well when on the field in the first two seasons of the deal, but he’s played just 11 games thanks to a toe injury and a subsequent infection. He now has nerve damage that may potentially end his career. Given that, it makes sense for the Buccaneers to cut him and save 2.286 million on the cap this off-season, as good as he can be when healthy.