Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Needs

Quarterback

Josh McCown struggled mightily in 11 starts for the Buccaneers this season, completing 56.3% of his passes for an average of 6.75 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions, winning just once. He’s obviously not a long-term solution, going into his age 36 season and might not even be back at his scheduled 5.25 million dollar salary, which is non-guaranteed. Mike Glennon is younger, but he wasn’t much better, completing 57.6% for his passes for an average of 6.98 YPA, 10 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. Lovie Smith doesn’t seem to be a big fan of him, bringing in McCown and naming him the starter ahead of Glennon instantly and stubbornly sticking with McCown even when McCown was struggling and the team wasn’t going anywhere, only playing Glennon when McCown was hurt. With the first overall pick in the draft at their disposal, Heisman winner Marcus Mariota looks like as much of a lock as you can get at this point. If it’s not him, it’ll be former Heisman winner Jameis Winston.

Guard

The Buccaneers were so desperate for guard help before the season started that they traded a 4th round pick and promising young tight end Tim Wright to the Patriots for Logan Mankins, even though he was aging, declining, and had a large salary and even though he barely had any time to learn the offense before the start of the season. Mankins was solid, but he’s going into his age 33 season and they have a huge hole opposite him anyway. Patrick Omameh struggled on the other side of the line.

Defensive End

Michael Johnson struggled mightily in the first season of his big contract, but he was hurt and he could easily bounce back next season. The Buccaneers do need another edge rusher opposite him though. Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers were their 1st and 2nd round picks in 2011, but neither panned out and both are free agents. William Gholston, who started opposite Johnson last season, was underwhelming.

Safety

The Buccaneers used the 7th overall pick on Mark Barron in 2012 and then gave Dashon Goldson a massive contract the following off-season. Those were supposed to be their starting safeties for the future, but neither of them worked out. Barron was traded to Tampa Bay mid-season in 2014, while Goldson could be cut this off-season, with no guaranteed money left on his contract and after two awful seasons. Major Wright, who took over as the starter after Barron was traded, is a free agent. If he’s not re-signed, they’ll need to add two new safeties and I think they need to add at least one either way.

Middle Linebacker

Mason Foster was their starter at middle linebacker for 4 years after they took him in the 3rd round in 2011, but he was underwhelming and this off-season he’s a free agent. Lovie Smith spoke about upgrading that spot last off-season and finding someone who was a better fit for the Tampa 2 scheme. The Buccaneers were only able to bring in Dane Fletcher, who lost the position battle in the off-season and stayed a reserve. It’ll be tough, but Smith will try to find another Brian Urlacher.

Cornerback

Alterraun Verner did a solid job in his first season in Tampa Bay, but they struggled at the opposite cornerback spot. Both Johnthan Banks and Leonard Johnson struggled as the #2 and #3 cornerbacks respectively. They could add some competition this off-season. Banks, a 2013 2nd round pick, has struggled in his first 2 years in the league and should be pushed for his starting job.

Wide Receiver

Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson were a great wide receiver duo this season, both going over 1000 yards despite poor quarterback play on a 2-14 team. However, they don’t really have much depth behind them at wide receiver. Jackson is going into his age 32 season anyway and he has a large salary and cap number in each of the final two years of his deal in 2015 and 2016. They probably won’t outright cut him this off-season, but there were reports that they were interested in trading him at the deadline mid-season and either way he’s not going to be around too much longer and they don’t have a successor.

Notable Unrestricted Free Agents

DE Adrian Clayborn

Adrian Clayborn was a first round pick of the Buccaneers in 2011 and he had a decent rookie year, struggling mightily against the run, but getting good pass rush and overall grading out slightly below average on Pro Football Focus. The story of his career from there was injuries though, as he’s played just 20 games over the past 3 seasons. He missed all but 3 games in 2012 with a torn ACL, struggled mightily in his first year back in 2013, grading out 47th out of 52 eligible 4-3 defensive ends, and, just when there was optimism for his future again in 2014, he tore his biceps and missed all but 1 game. There’s still upside here and he’s a decent flier for a pass rush needy team, but he hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy and after 4 years in the league he’s still unproven.

S Major Wright

A 2010 3rd round pick, Major Wright started 42 games in 4 seasons in Chicago. His best season was 2012, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked safety, but he had his worst year at the worst time, grading out dead last at his position in 2013, a contract year. He was limited to one-year deals in free agency and ended up with Smith again in Tampa Bay, starting the year as a backup, but moving into the lineup when Mark Barron was traded to St. Louis mid-season. Wright made 7 starts graded out about average on 520 snaps and should be given an opportunity to at least compete for a starting job wherever he ends up this off-season. Tampa Bay keeping him would make sense. He played 3 years for Lovie Smith in Chicago and he’s played his best football in Smith’s defense in his career.

MLB Mason Foster

Foster was a starter from the word go in Tampa Bay, after they drafted him in the 3rd round in 2011. In 4 years with the team, Foster played 57 of 64 games (though he missed 6 this season), starting all but 3 of them. However, he graded out below average in all 4 seasons, including 43rd out of 60 eligible this season. He’ll draw interest as a starter on the open market because of his experience and he could end up back in Tampa Bay, but whichever team signs him shouldn’t expect much.

Cap Casualty Candidates

S Dashon Goldson

One of ex-GM Mark Dominik’s patented free agency whiffs, the Buccaneers signed Goldson to a 5-year, 41.25 million dollar contract 2 off-seasons ago and he proceeded to be one of the worst safeties in the game over the past 2 seasons. Goldson was Pro Football Focus’ 81st ranked safety out of 86 eligible in 2013 and their 87th ranked safety out of 88 eligible in 2014. With no ties to the current regime and a non-guaranteed 7.5 million dollar salary scheduled for 2015, Goldson will almost definitely be cut this off-season, a move which would clear 4 million in cap space immediately.

QB Josh McCown

This one you can’t blame Mark Dominik for. The Buccaneers new regime signed Josh McCown to a 2-year, 10 million dollar deal last off-season, a reasonable value considering what guys like Chad Henne and Michael Vick got last off-season, but Lovie Smith named him the starter as soon as he arrived in town, even though Mike Glennon had shown flashes as a 3rd round rookie in 2013. McCown, who randomly had 5 good starts in Chicago in 2013, was going into his age 35 season and hadn’t had a season with a QB rating over 70 since 2005, so it was a weird move. McCown predictably regressed in 2014, completing just 56.3% of his passes for an average of 6.75 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 34th ranked quarterback out of 39 eligible and went 1-10 in his 11 starts. Smith stubbornly stuck with him even as he was struggling and refused to give Glennon a look, even with nothing to play for. Going into his age 36 season, with the Buccaneers likely taking Marcus Mariota #1 overall, McCown probably won’t be kept at a non-guaranteed 5.25 million dollar salary for 2015, though he could be retained at a cheaper rate as a veteran backup.

G Logan Mankins

It just seems like whenever the Buccaneers make a big splash, whether it be a high draft pick, a big free agent signing, or a prominent trade, it backfires. The Buccaneers sent a mid-round pick and promising young tight end Tim Wright to the New England Patriots for Logan Mankins right before the start of the season, a move many saw as a complete steal. The issue is Mankins is aging, now going into his age 33 season. Mankins was solid in 2014, but he wasn’t as good as he’s been in the past and the rebuilding Buccaneers might not want to give a declining player a 7 million dollar non-guaranteed salary for 2015. Because they acquired him through a trade, there will be no cap penalty for the Buccaneers releasing him.

WR Vincent Jackson

This one is unlikely, but if the Buccaneers want to go into a complete rebuild, they could try to trade or cut the aging Jackson. Jackson played well in 2014, catching 70 passes for 1002 yards and 2 touchdowns, while grading out slightly above average on Pro Football Focus, but he’s owed 9.78 million non-guaranteed in 2015 and the Buccaneers could save 7.78 million of that on the cap immediately by letting him go. He’ll be in his age 32 season in 2015. They were known to be interested in trading him at the trade deadline, but couldn’t find any takers.

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