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[Off-season] Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Crossroads

The 2021 season has just ended, and as of March 16, the 2022 campaign will open its doors. Touchdown Actu therefore takes the opportunity to offer you an overview of the different franchises during the off-season. Which players to keep and cut? Which free agent to extend? Which rookies to watch? Here are some ideas, franchise by franchise. In the spotlight today, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Much like the Rams are doing this year, the Buccaneers went all-in by bringing Tom Brady in 2020. Tampas Bay knew the quarterback wasn’t a long-term solution, but wanted to try anything to get a ring. It was done in the first season, but after a premature elimination last year, the former Patriot bowed out. Leaving the franchise at a pivotal moment in its history.

With limited financial room for maneuver and many important free agents to re-sign, the Floridians have two choices: keep a team that would resemble that of the past two years or rebuild everything at the risk of going through a complicated period. The problem is that without a quarterback, the franchise is currently sailing a bit on sight.

The owners

1. Mike Evans/Chris Godwin (WR)
2. Donovan Smith/TristanWirfs (OT)
3. Lavonta David/Devin White (LB)

Leadership comes in pairs in Florida. With several players pending departure (or return), there are many questions on the side of Tampa. The franchise will have to rely on the few certainties it has. Among them, the receiving duo is reassuring. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin form one of the best tandems in this position in the league. Regardless of the name of the future quarterback, he will be able to rely on two complementary quality targets. Keeping Godwin was also one of the priorities of the leaders who placed the franchise tag on him, hoping to be able to agree on a contract over several years.

The future pitcher will have two other players he can count on: his two tackles. Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs are once again coming off of a very solid season. In 2021, both men, along with the entire offensive line, only allowed pressure on 20% of Tom Brady’s pass attempts. And that’s not to mention the racing game. They are at the ends of one of the best lines in the league and will be important again in 2022. On the other side of the court, Shaq Barrett, Antoine Winfield or Vita Vea will be important, but the key could be in the middle. Lavonte David and Devin White offer a rare complementarity. The experienced and the young wolf. The smart and the athletic. At the heart of this defense, they will be the barometers of Todd Bowles.

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–Cameron Brate (TE)

The list is thin here, as most players are free. Not that the Buccaneers don’t have a few undesirables in their roster, just that since many are free agents, the executives might decide not to re-sign them. There is, however, a Buc who could pack his bags sooner than expected: Cameron Brate. Faithful soldier of Dirk Koetter and Bruce Arians for several years in Florida, the tight end could be in danger. After successful 2016 and 2017 seasons, he is becoming less and less important in the Tampa Bay system. The arrival of Rob Gronkowski two years ago also contributed to his decline in influence.

The problem for Brate is that in an offseason where you have to take out the checkbook to keep several players, the slightest saving is sought. Cutting the wide receiver could free up as much as $5 million in Buccaneers payroll. Not negligible. Only small reason for hope for him, Rob Gronkowski and OJ Howard are free agents on this position. The first might not want to stay without Tom Brady and the second disappointed in Florida. Without big moves from the franchise, Brate could end up as the only tight end with contract experience on the roster. Enough to keep it.

The summer man

The future pitcher (QB)

It’s fine to imagine a squad, to build it carefully and to try to make it progress. But without a quarterback, this methodology seems almost doomed. The Buccaneers are in a good position to know that. They who had a very good workforce, but who had to wait for the arrival of Tom Brady to become real contenders. The pitcher’s retirement now leaves a big void in a position where Tampa Bay currently has no solution. Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are no longer available and one wonders in which direction the Floridians will go.

With the 27th pick in the draft, it’s hard to imagine them picking a pitcher. Unless they decide to go up. Except the Buccaneers drafted Kyle Trask last year and that would be a real disavowal for him. At the same time, the former Gator hasn’t particularly proven his ability to lead an NFL offense just yet. There is also the Blaine Gabbert. Replacing Brady this season, the pitcher is a free agent, but could be resigned to take up the starting position. Nothing that does not really make the supporters dream. Then there remains free agency with players like Jameis Winston or Teddy Bridgewater or a potential trade in quarterbacks like Jimmy Garoppolo or Deshaun Watson. In short, you will have understood that there are many solutions for the Buccaneers at quarterback, but few are convincing.

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The main free agents

1. Carlton Davis (CB)
2. Leonard Fournette (RB)
3. Ryan Jensen (C)
4. Rob Gronkowski (TE)
5. Jordan Whitehead (S)

Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, OJ Howard, Ronald Jones, Giovanni Bernard… We’ve been repeating it without moderation since the start of this article, but the number of free agents on the Tampa Bay side is enormous. No less than 10 holders are on the market, enough to upset a team. We said the leaders managed to keep Chris Godwin. What about Carlton Davis now? The cornerback may be the best player available in this squad, but not sure the Buccaneers have enough money to keep him.

Then they will have to make a choice in many positions. In attack Gronkowski and OJ Howard are free agents. Should we keep one of the two? Both ? Any ? Among the running backs, Fournette, Jones and Bernard can look elsewhere. How many will remain: 0, 1, 2 or 3? Not to mention veterans like Jason Pierre-Paul or Ndamukong Suh, important during the title, but who could get one last big check before bowing out. Not sure their future lies in Florida.

Top 5 Needs

1. Quarterback
2. Running back
3. Offensive line
4. Defensive line
5.Tight end

It’s simple, the Buccaneers have needs everywhere. Depending on who will leave or stay, this list could be refined, but for the moment all or almost all the lines have gaps. Inevitably, the priority is at the quarterback position. Leaving Tom Brady leaves a huge question mark in this position. Blaine Gabbert is a free agent and Kyle Trask was drafted in 2021. Neither really has the makings of a starting quarterback in this league. On this post Tampa Bay has not moved for the moment and time is running out.

For the rest have said, the groups of tight ends and running back are for the moment empty. The interior of the offensive line must be completely rebuilt with the end of the contracts of Ryan Jensen and Alex Cappa as well as the retirement of Ali Marpet. Finally on the other side of the line, despite Shaq Barrett and Vita Vea, the leaders will certainly be looking for reinforcements on the defensive line.

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Raheem Mostert (RB)

To replace some starts, the Buccaneers are going to have to make free agency moves. Not sure they have the money to land a huge player, so we’ll have to be smart. Among the runners, many are free in Florida and even if they will not all leave, we will have to recruit. The franchise could then give it a shot with Mostert.

The former 49ers won’t change the future of the offense as soon as he arrives, but he could bring a style of play that can do good for Byron Leftwich and his offensive group. The future quarterback would undoubtedly be delighted to have a running back capable of taking on many races, but also of bringing into the aerial game. The concern with Mostert necessarily remains his health. The runner struggles to complete full seasons. But that’s also what could lower its price. It’s all about balance for the Buccaneers this season.

The new blood

Zion Johnson (Boston College, OC)

There is a distinct schism within the Buccaneers offensive line heading into this offseason. First there are the extremities provided by two very high level players, then the interior which is a much larger project. Among the three players who make up this middle of the line (a center and two guards), none is guaranteed to stay. Ryan Jensen is a free agent. Just like, Alex Cappa. Above all, Ali Marpet has just announced the end of his career, a little by surprise.

The moment therefore for Tampa Bay to look for new assets. Zion Johnson could clearly be one of them. Boston College’s offensive lineman has the big advantage of being able to play center or guard. A versatility that should appeal to leaders. His athletic qualities and his ability to be good in pass protection, but also in the running game, make him one of the best players in this position for this 2022 vintage. They also make him a coveted player. Not sure he’s still there at the time of the 27th choice.

Other possible choices: Kenyon Green (OL), Carson Strong (QB), Tyler Linderbaum (C), Jalen Wydermyer (TE)…

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