The Tampa Bay Buccaneers shocked many NFL fans as they finished the long and grueling season with a 9-7 record under first-year Head Coach Dirk Koetter. Jameis Winston and Dirk Koetter led the up and coming squad to their first winning record since the 2010 season.
Now, with the Bucs just missed the playoffs, which means their off-season starts and all eyes will be shifted to the current roster, free agency, and NFL Draft.
Let’s start off first with the current roster and what the Bucs could and should potentially do. Honestly, the roster will most likely remain the same with just a couple of new faces.
First off, Mike Evans will be entering a contract year and expect him to receive that big pay check from the Buccaneers, and especially after becoming the fourth player in NFL history with 1,000 plus receiving yards in each of his first three seasons. The Buccaneers will most likely exercise his fifth-year option and then extend him.
The Buccaneers must find a way to retain William Gholston, as he is the best run stopper on the defensive line and that he brings versatility by being able to play the tackle spot as well. He is not going to get the money he wants, as he expressed before the season, but he could land a fair deal.
One more defensive player that should be bought back is Chris Conte. His play improved just enough during the season to earn another one-year deal. The safety adds solid depth and will split time starting with Keith Tandy again next season.
Another player that should stay is Jacquizz Rodgers, who looks like the real discount double check. If it was not for Rodgers, the offense would have suffered at a larger rate when Doug Martin was out during the early and middle portions of the season. The veteran running back will not cost the team much, plus you know what you are getting in the Oregon State product.
Next, Doug Martin has received big heat from the Buccaneer fan base after he received a new deal and averaged 2.9 yards per carry, which is a career low. The Boise State product received a four-game suspension the last week of the regular season, which did not help. His contract could be voided and allow the team to save some money, which would leave them to look into the draft for a potential bell cow early in the draft in either Dalvin Cook or with a later selection on a guy like Pittsburgh’s very own James Conner. I think the only way Doug will remain in pewter and red is if he takes a pay cut.
Furthermore, the free agency market is not the Bucs favorite place to land players, as they have been burned in the market on past players like Anthony Collins, Michael Johnson, and others. They landed a stud in Robert Ayers this past year and I think they go into the open market looking for a defensive tackle and wide receiver, plus a more serviceable backup tight end.
The first key free agent I think the Buccaneers will target will be Dontari Poe. Gerald McCoy has the defensive end help now, he just needs a Robin in the middle next to him. Poe is a big guy who will eat up double teams, plus for a nose tackle, he gets tons of pressure up the middle. He will look to cash in and try to receive the same amount of money that Giants defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison got in the off-season.
The second player they should try and bring in is wide receiver Robert Woods. Woods is a steady receiver that has put up solid numbers without a proven NFL quarterback throwing him the rock. His production will increase with Jameis Winston throwing the football to him. The USC product would be a good stop gap compliment to Mike Evans. Woods should draw a four-year deal and average anywhere around $5 mil to $6 mil a year.
Lastly, the third free agent that will draw interest around the league will be Vernon Davis, as he is a true professional who can catch the football and block as well. Davis proved to be a valuable asset to the Redskins when Jordan Reed missed time with an injury. The Bucs love using their tight ends and Winston loves throwing to tight ends. Cameron Brate and Vernon Davis alongside Mike Evans could be a scary trio for the opposition to deal with.
After giving some ideas of what the Bucs could do with their current roster and potential free agency moves, the NFL Draft is up next.
In the first round, the Buccaneers hold the 19th pick. They have never drafted someone with that selected number. With their first-round pick, many people want a running back and I think the Buccaneers go back and address the cornerback position again. They have many options, but why not go for Vernon Hargreaves III former teammate Teez Tabor? Let’s reunite the former collegiate duo. Brent Grimes has one more year on his deal and is getting older, so it makes sense.
On day two, expect the Bucs to address the offensive line and defensive line. With Joe Hawley becoming a free agent, the Buccaneers get a new center in Ethan Pocic from LSU. He would come in day one of camp and win the job, unless Hawley is re-signed then the Buccaneers improve their offensive line depth, which is an area they need to address. He was Mr.Versatile for the Tigers by being able to play both guard spots, the center spot, and some right tackle.
However, in the third round, the Bucs should attack the defensive tackle area. If they possess a group of Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe (if signed via free agency), Clinton McDonald, and take Tanzel Smart out of Tulane, they could have a dominant group. Smart is a big fellow that shows underrated skills in stopping the run, but he has great interior pass rushing skills that will draw attention to his name.
As we enter the fifth round, the Buccaneers could still add a wide receiver, safety, running back, linebacker, or quarterback. I expect them to select James Conner with Doug Martin looking like a potential cap casualty. The rotation of Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, James Conner, and Peyton Barber seems like a fair group entering year two under Dirk Koetter. Expect Conner to explode and take over the reins in Tampa’s running game. He has heart and nothing will stop him from achieving his goal.
Getting closer to the end, round six approaches and the linebacker group looks weak behind Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David. This leaves the Bucs to take Hardy Nickerson, no not the great Nickerson we once had, but his son, which has been a silent stud in college. He can play both the inside and outside linebacker positions. He is a tackling machine that is around the ball carrier all the time. He has 353 career tackles between California (three year) and Illinois (one year).
Round seven is here and the last pick by the Bucs will be used on a receiver who helped Lamar Jackson win the Heisman, his receiver Jamari Staples. Staples is a tall and long receiver that makes mismatches for defenses. He would of had a better collegiate career from a statistical point of view, but Louisville spreads the ball around to everyone.
Finally, expect the Bucs to sign many undrafted prospects, but notable prospects like Leon McQuay III (safety) and Gunner Kiel (quarterback) to fill out the rest of the areas of need. Kiel would be the third string quarterback, as Ryan Griffin is ready to be Winston’s backup with Mike Glennon looking like the next Brock Osweiler. McQuay III would compete with the other backup safeties for a roster spot and I threw his name in the hat due to the Buccaneer fan base wanting a safety of some sort.