Predicting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 5 Biggest Free Agency Moves
Predicting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 5 Biggest Free Agency Moves
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at a crossroads with their roster, and free agency will be the first piece of the puzzle to an offseason that will shape this team for many years to come. In the minds of most who follow the team, the biggest question that needs to be answered first is what to do at quarterback. Do the Buccaneers move forward with Mike Glennon as the starter or do they work on finding his replacement in free agency or the draft?
Financially speaking, the team has the 16th-most salary cap space, according to Over The Cap. In the past, management has made big splashes in free agency right away. In the last three offseasons, they have added Carl Nicks, Dashon Goldson and Vincent Jackson. All three received giant multiyear contracts and became the highest-paid free agents at their positions in that free agency and overall. New general manager Jason Licht plans to build through the draft and use free agency to sign mid-priced players. Do not expect this regime to open free agency like they have in the past.
Focusing on the quarterback position only would be a mistake, and the team needs to focus on finding players to fit new head coach Lovie Smith's scheme. To succeed in his zone-based scheme, the defense needs a strong front four, rangy linebackers and an opportunistic secondary. Building the right defense that fits this scheme will have a positive ripple effect on the entire team.
Every great Smith defense in the past has been built in a similar fashion. They have been led by opportunistic defenses that create turnovers, big production from the special teams and an offense that produces chunk yardage plays downfield in a timely fashion. The good news for Buccaneers fans is that several pieces that fit into that plan perfectly are already on the roster.
Starting on the defensive side of the ball, they have three starters who are playing at an All-Pro level. Those who inaccurately believe that interceptions and pass deflections define a cornerback’s success would tell you that Darrelle Revis had a bad season. Meanwhile, according to Pro Football Focus, Revis was the best overall cornerback in the NFL in 2013. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is one of the most dominant “one-techniques” in the league, and he is a perfect fit in the scheme as long as the team can bring in a gap-penetrating three-technique to play alongside him. Lastly, weak-side linebacker Lavonte David has played so well since entering the league that Tony Dungy went on to compare him to Derrick Brooks.
Three great players can lead to a great defense if and only if they have the right role players to complement them. In the secondary, a combination of first-round draft pick Mark Barron and high-priced free agent Goldson make up a safety tandem that should be one of the best in the NFL. Neither has lived up to expectations, but a new defensive scheme could be the perfect remedy for two opportunistic players who like to gamble on making the big play. As mentioned above, defensive line is king and mandatory for this scheme to have success. The Buccaneers are weak at both defensive end spots, so I expect them to add two quality defensive linemen in free agency.
On offense, it’s time to release Davin Joseph. Joseph was once a great run blocker, but in 2013 he graded out as the worst run-blocking guard in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Unlike free agent bust left guard Carl Nicks, Joseph’s contract carries no dead money. If the team decides to release Joseph, they will gain back his entire $6 million salary in cap space.
Glennon’s skill-set compares favorably to a former Smith quarterback Rex Grossman. Don’t worry, though; Glennon is already a much better decision maker and he has better mobility, pocket presence and accuracy than Grossman. Glennon fits nicely into the offense as long as he has the weapons around him to play their part in a big play. At wide receiver, a change in coaching gives former standout Mike Williams another chance to showcase his ability to make plays down the field. Otherwise, I expect the team to address wide receiver in the 2014 NFL Draft which arguably features the deepest wide receiver class in the last decade.
The following five free agents make a lot of sense in pewter and gold.
5. Devin Hester
Lovie Smith wants to channel what has worked in the past and put together one of the best special teams units in the league. It is only sweeter for Smith when he can do that by adding a player he has enjoyed coaching in the past. Production on punt and kick returns was few and far between last season. Devin Hester still has juice left and has very little tread on his tires in recent seasons. Hester will come in and immediately upgrade the special teams. The best part about it as that Hester will likely come very cheap and allow the team to allocate salary cap space to other needs.
4. Chad Rinehart
Chad Rinehart is nothing more than an average guard at this stage of his career, but he won’t be relied on to be anything more than the fourth-best offensive lineman on the team. Rinehart can come in as a cheap, valuable and experienced guard who can replace Davin Joseph, assuming he is cut, in a pinch. Rinehart is still a solid pass protector, and in 2013 he was a better overall player than Joseph.
3. Jared Allen
According to comments already made by the new regime, the team is more likely to sign two quality defensive linemen than make Greg Hardy a $12 million-per-year man. The first piece of that puzzle will be Jared Allen. Allen is no longer the All-Pro of his younger days, but he is still a very good run defender and average at rushing the passer. Most importantly, Allen is a great fit for the scheme and has played in a similar scheme before in his career.
2. Charles Tillman
As mentioned above, Revis had an All-Pro caliber season even if his interception column doesn’t show that. Across from him, rookie cornerback Jonathan Banks struggled all season long and was the victim of constant targets by the opposing quarterback. Banks has talent and eventually he can come along and mold into a solid starter. For now, though, who better to come in and smooth that transition than Charles Tillman? Tillman has plenty of experience in the scheme having played under Smith in Chicago for so many years. His skill-set is also a great fit, and there is no cornerback in the league who can rival his ability to force fumbles.
1. Henry Melton
The Buccaneers will immediately add one of the most dynamic three-technique defensive tackles in the NFL if they sign Henry Melton. Melton, coming off torn ACL, certainly comes with some risk, but all signs point to an on-schedule return so far. When healthy, he provides the team with a perfect fit schematically on defense. Before the injury, Melton was quickly becoming known as one of the best defensive tackles in the league. He had eight sacks in just 14 games in 2012. In the end, the injury could end up providing a benefit for the team because Melton can be signed at discounted price.