Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5 Things That Must Happen to Be Successful in 2014
Following the sudden and somewhat unexpected departure of head coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik on Monday morning, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now tasked with finding capable and competent replacements to lead this franchise going forward.
While the team is rumored to be heavily interested in signing former Chicago Bears head coach and Bucs linebacker coach during the Tony Dungy-era, Lovie Smith, per Ira Kaufman of The Tampa Tribune, the list of potential coaching candidates does not stop there.
According to Joe Smith of The Tampa Bay Times, Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak, among others, have been linked to the opening in Tampa Bay as well. That said, it appears as if Smith will have the first opportunity to land the job, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.
Mind you, finding a replacement for Schiano would only fill part of the team's needs this offseason, as they would still need to hire a general manager to replace Dominik. Mark Cook of PewterReport.com compiled a list of potential GM candidates the Bucs could be interested in speaking to, with a few names that should ring familiar with Bucs fans.
So, where do the Bucs go from here? What steps should be taken to ensure the disappointment of 2013 is soon forgotten?
Here are the five things that the Bucs must do to be successful in 2014.
5. Find an Edge Rusher
Last offseason, the Bucs made the conscious decision to allow defensive end Michael Bennett, who led the team with nine sacks in 2012, to walk away and sign a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks. Granted, the Bucs did so under the premise that they felt that ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers were more than capable of picking up the slack.
Clayborn and Bowers did not deliver as expected, combining for just seven sacks (six by Clayborn). Meanwhile, Bennett tallied 8.5 sacks for a stingy Seahawks defense that racked up 44 total sacks and led the NFL in fewest points (14.4) and total yards (273.6) allowed per game.
Needless to say, the Bucs were wrong for letting Bennett walk, as the Bowers experiment has yet to yield any tangible results. The third-year end from Clemson has only managed to accumulate 5.5 sacks during his injury-plagued career.
The Bucs currently hold the seventh overall pick in the upcoming draft, which may provide just the avenue for the team to add the edge rusher it needs to truly be successful on defense. B/R's Matt Miller recently completed a full seven-round mock draft in which he suggests that Tampa Bay should pick South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney with their first selection.
Whether the team opts to upgrade via the draft or look for a playmaker in free agency, it's clear that an enhancement is needed in this area for their outlook to improve.
4. Improve the Left Side of the Offensive Line
Between tackle Donald Penn and guard Carl Nicks, the Bucs have nearly $90 million tied up along the left side of their offensive line, including roughly $17 million that will count against the salary cap in 2014.
Quite frankly, that is not money well spent.
Nicks has played in just nine of 32 possible games since signing with the Bucs prior to the 2012 season, including making just two starts this season. When healthy, there is little question that Nicks is one of the elite guards in the league. However, after dealing with two occurrences of MRSA in his foot this season, there is some question as to whether or not he'll ever see the playing field again.
Penn, on the other hand, has been consistently inconsistent. He lashed out last offseason after a report surfaced that claimed he had failed to meet clauses in his contract tied to his weight. Penn refuted those claims in a tweet to Pro Football Talk saying, "I still shut down the best DEs in the game..."
The problem is, Penn doesn't shut down the best defensive ends in the NFL, as evidenced by the three sacks he allowed Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams to tally against rookie quarterback Mike Glennon in Week 16. He's slower and less-athletic than left tackles should be and far from an elite talent, although he's being paid like one.
Whoever ultimately becomes the next GM of the Bucs will have to figure out how to best handle the significant salary cap money tied up by these two underperforming members of the offensive line.
3. Add a Speed Threat on Offense
While a lot of the talk and attention has been centered around the uncertainty and inconsistency at the quarterback position for the Bucs, what is without question is their need for a playmaking threat on offense.
Although receivers Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson are talented and pose their own challenges to opposing defenses, the Bucs truly lack someone capable of stretching the field or creating separation. Sure, Jackson can out-jump most defensive backs, and Williams has incredible dexterity, but neither are particularly fast or electric.
While Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins (pictured above) may not be available when they select at No. 7 in the first round, there are other similar options to be had later in the draft, such as Brandin Cooks from Oregon State, among many others.
In terms of potential free agents, Jeremy Maclin and Emmanuel Sanders are possible additions, although they would come with higher price tags than most draft picks.
The bottom line is that the Bucs need someone who can stretch the field and keep opposing defenses on their heels, which would do wonders for whoever is the quarterback of this team next season and beyond.
2. Extend Gerald McCoy's Contract
At one point, the knock on defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was that he couldn't stay healthy and was heading down the path to Bustville.
But that was before McCoy turned in back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons in 2012 and 2013, playing in all 32 games during that span while blossoming into the fearsome force many expected him to be as the third-overall selection of the 2010 draft. This season, "Geraldini" tallied 50 tackles and nine sacks, setting career marks in both.
However, 2014 represents the final year of his five-year, $63.5 million contract that he signed as a rookie in 2010. As it currently stands, more than 10 percent of Tampa Bay's salary cap in 2014 will be accounted for by No. 93, who has a cap figure of $13.2 million.
As I alluded to in regards to Penn and Nicks in a previous slide, the yet-to-be-named incoming GM will have the daunting task of keeping the Bucs' fiscal house in order. They are believed to have nearly $17 in cap space available heading into the season, according to Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com.
That's not to say the new GM should haphazardly hand out big-money deals, though. There are a handful of young players that will be reaching their prime in the next two years or so, namely linebacker Lavonte David and running back Doug Martin, who will are all but certain to look to cash in when the time comes.
Are there some injury concerns regarding McCoy? Of course, but it's football, and any play could be a player's last. For his part, McCoy appears to have turned a corner and has established himself as a preeminent defensive tackle in the process.
I'm sure there will be more and more talk about an extension for McCoy as we creep closer to the season—not only because it's makes football sense to secure your best player, but because there will likely to be a lot of talk about the potential for him to holdout before playing another down.
We shall see.
1. Find a Franchise Quarterback
In the NFL, it begins and ends with your quarterback.
Look no further than the 12 starting quarterbacks in the playoffs this season: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Nick Foles, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick.
In Tampa Bay, the debate will rage on in the coming months as to whether or not Mike Glennon is the guy for the Bucs. A third-round selection last April, Glennon has some of the physical characteristics needed to succeed (size, accuracy, etc.), but not all are convinced that he is a suitable long-term solution for the team.
For what it's worth, I'm of the opinion that Glennon is a good quarterback, but he is far from great. When I think of Glennon, I think of a player like Kyle Orton—someone who is serviceable and can step up in a pinch to give a team a chance to win, but one who is not capable of being a full-time quarterback.
And there's nothing wrong with that—that's just who Glennon appears to be.
So with that said, where do the Bucs look? Do they look at Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Brett Hundley in the first round, or do they hope someone such as AJ McCarron or Aaron Murray are available later in the draft?
Or, perhaps, do they look to make a splash and sign a veteran during free agency such as Jay Cutler?
I'm inclined to think the Bucs would be best suited to land either Bridgewater or Bortles, but that would likely require them to move up in the draft, which is something I'm not sure they have enough ammo to pull off.
J.J. Rodriguez can be reached via email at BRJJRodriguez@gmail.com