The 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl?
ESPN NFL analyst Herm Edwards certainly believes so. Pause for a moment. Exhale … Come on, the Super Bowl?
The Bucs were 4-12 last season. Let’s hammer that point a little harder. Tampa Bay hasn’t won more than seven games in a season since 2010, and the Bucs haven’t been in the postseason since 2007.
Yet magically, this year’s Tampa Bay squad is going to improve by leaps and bounds, enough so to play for a shot at the Lombardi Trophy? It’s far-fetched for sure, but it’s not outlandish.
There isn’t a team in the NFL that’s done more to improve during the offseason.
During free agency, the Bucs added starters on both sides of the football and improved depth all around. They added 15 new players and spent more guaranteed money in free agency—according to ESPN Stats & Information the total amount was $74.3 million—than anyone.
The Bucs put the extra few weeks of draft prep to good work, adding starters in the first and second rounds (wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins), grabbing guys in the third and sixth rounds who could play huge roles on this team very early (running back Charles Sims and wide receiver Robert Herron) and adding some depth with upside in the fifth round (offensive guard Kadeem Edwards and offensive tackle Kevin Pamphile).
There’s a chance that all six Tampa Bay draft picks could be hits for new general manager Jason Licht and new head coach Lovie Smith.
Speaking of Smith, the addition of a new head coach, and just as inspiring, the removal of Greg Schiano, has prospects for a grand Bucs improvement on the rise.
A disclaimer should be noted, however. Edwards was the defensive backs coach and assistant head coach of the Bucs from 1996 through the 2000 season, the same time period Smith was linebackers coach for Tampa Bay. There may have been a bit of homerism in Edwards’ prediction.
Smith has a track record of turning things around quickly. In Chicago, Smith took over a 7-9 Bears team from 2003, and after one 5-11 season in 2004, he had Chicago in the playoffs a year later. True, he needed a year at the helm to put the Bears in a position to win, but he turned the team around, and he’s making similar strides with Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay has talent just about everywhere on its roster. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was ranked first at his position by Pro Football Focus (subscription required). His 80 quarterback pressures were a mammoth benefit last season, and there's room to grow.
Lavonte David is one of the more promising young linebackers in the NFL, and Pro Football Focus ranked him the top pass-rushing, 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL last season.
On offense, the Bucs will get back one of the better running backs in the game in Doug Martin and have one of the more intriguing receiving corps in Vincent Jackson, Evans, Herron and Seferian-Jenkins. With an improved offensive line and all this firepower at the skill positions, Tampa Bay could be a point-scoring juggernaut.
To do so, and this is where the talk of a trip to the Super Bowl comes with a caveat, Tampa Bay must get great play from the quarterback position. Call the Bucs quarterback, whomever that might end up being, the team’s X-factor.
Mike Glennon threw for 2,608 yards and 19 touchdowns as a rookie last season. He was thrust into a bad situation and didn’t stink. But he’ll have to greatly outperform his rookie campaign if he’s under center in 2014 if the Bucs want to play in the Super Bowl.
Josh McCown only played in eight games in 2013 and only started five. But he threw for 1,829 yards and posted an amazing 13 touchdown to only one interception season. Numbers like that can propel a team to the Super Bowl, but in McCown’s previous 10 NFL seasons, he’s never come anywhere close to looking like the passer he was in 2013.
It might be a better goal for Tampa Bay to set its sights on making it into the playoffs. It’s not as sexy a prediction, but it’s still a lofty aspiration.
Not only will the Bucs have to avoid injury, improve dramatically on both offense and defense, have multiple free-agent signees and draft picks rise to the occasion and have just about every proverbial and literal football bounce the right way in 2014 for this team to make it to the Super Bowl, the Bucs will have to find a way to get past the New Orleans Saints in their division and the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC to make it through the playoffs.
All four of those teams are better on paper than the Bucs.
Dreams are good. And without a lofty goal, there’s no reason to take a first step. But there’s no way this Tampa Bay football team is ready to compete for a trip to the Super Bowl.
Now 2015…that could be a different story.
Unless otherwise noted all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.