Winners, Losers of Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Offseason so Far
Just like every NFL season has its winners and losers, so too does the NFL offseason.
The hiring of head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht this offseason transmogrified attitudes toward the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization. In a matter of months, the Bucs have gone from a bottom-dwelling punchline to a rising contender, at least on paper.
Of course, Smith's Bucs have yet to put on pads, much less play a down. Nevertheless, Lovie's arrival and subsequent revamp of the roster left a number of winners and losers in his wake.
Most of the Bucs returning from the disastrous 2013 season will benefit from Smith's hiring, but not all. Weaker veterans will be exposed and likely culled from the roster.
Every NFL offseason entails competition for roster spots. Many players will lose out due to injury keeping them from demonstrating their value or simply because they aren't good enough.
Some players will enjoy greater success by the very nature of roster and organizational turnover. Adding better talent to lighten the load and shedding inferior notions of winning football can maximize the potential of some of Bucs' better players.
Only training camp and the preseason remain before the start of the 2014 season. Of the offseason so far, the following winners and losers have little time to affect their fates for better or worse.
Winner: Vincent Jackson
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson proved last year he could still be great in spite of his surroundings. This year, he has a chance to prove how much more he could be.
The Buccaneers fielded the worst offense in the NFL last season. However, Jackson bears no blame for last year's debacle.
In two years in Tampa, Jackson recorded consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. His performance has been something of a miracle considering the Bucs' quarterback and wide receiver issues in those two years.
Smith and Licht's roster additions look to have the opposite effect.
Where Jackson endured the inconsistency of Mike Glennon and apparent meltdown of Josh Freeman, he has a chance to thrive with veteran quarterback Josh McCown under center.
The Bucs also gave Jackson their best attempt at replicating his physical talents as a receiving partner in first-round pick wide receiver Mike Evans.
Like Jackson, he is a mismatch nightmare and should draw more attention from opposing defenses than Mike Williams or Tiquan Underwood. Evans' presence gives the Jackson the ability to do more damage down the field.
Jackson can't be the dominant receiver he's been forever, but the Bucs have put him in a position to exploit his talents to the maximum for the foreseeable future.
Loser: Carl Nicks
Few of the Bucs' recent free-agent signings have been as disappointing as Carl Nicks.
Truly, Nicks' problems are not of anyone's making. Any person who could have predicted Nicks' toe injury or his MRSA ordeal probably would need a DeLorean and a sports almanac to have made that call.
Nonetheless, the Bucs can only be despondent over the sum of money they paid for Nicks to appear in nine games over two years in Tampa.
Even now there is no certainty what Nicks' status is or will be at the start of the season. He is aiming to return by training camp, according to the Tampa Bay Time's Rick Stroud.
Nicks' purported timetable seems to be little more than a pipe dream. According to Stroud's report, Nicks hasn't even started jogging. Nicks himself has stated that his foot is not fully recovered:
I asked Carl Nicks how healthy his foot is...He says he's not in football shape, but "just walking around, I gotta be at least 60 [percent]"— Tom Krasniqi (@TKras) June 10, 2014
The good news is Nicks' passed the Bucs' physical, per Stroud's report, but that's about the only good news in whole situation. The Bucs could be looking at a total loss on the Carl Nicks experiment.
Winner: Gerald McCoy
All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is a winner by virtue of distraction.
No more stunts-filled games. No more wasted opportunities. Just McCoy and his destiny.
The hiring of Smith presents McCoy with the chance to truly follow in the footsteps of his mentor and predecessor, Hall of Famer Warren Sapp.
McCoy also has the benefit of improved help to his right with the addition of defensive end Michael Johnson.
The Bucs were wise to build around McCoy, adding the elements that diminished him last year.
Loser: The 2011 Draft Class (minus Mason Foster)
A new coach typically spells trouble for the previous regime's draft classes. Bucs drafted in 2011 have the most to fear.
The only 2011 draftee with little to worry about is middle linebacker Mason Foster. Smith already anointed Foster his on-field play-caller, so it's a good bet he's not going anywhere.
Aside from Foster, only defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers and tight end Luke Stocker remain on the roster from the 2011 draft class.
Clayborn and Bowers have been underwhelming as Buccaneers. After a strong rookie year, Clayborn injured his knee in 2012, which clearly limited him last season.
Bowers is already off on the wrong foot with the new coaching staff. Once again, the fourth-year pass-rusher showed up to offseason practices out of shape.
The Bucs have one full-time starter in Michael Johnson, so the remaining end spot is up for grabs. Clayborn and Bowers face stiff competition from William Gholston and Steven Means, who are arguably more athletic and possess greater upside.
Stocker may also be out of time to make an impact on the roster. After multiple seasons truncated by injury, Stocker now has real competition that could see him off the team in 2014.
Second-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a dual threat in the pass game and as a blocker. Tim Wright and Brandon Myers both bring solid hands as receivers.
What does Stocker bring? He will have to show the coaching staff he's capable of staying healthy in training camp to even have a shot at the roster.
Winner: Mike Glennon
Quarterback Glennon might be an odd pick for a winner coming out of this offseason, but make no mistake. Glennon secured his future with the Buccaneers.
Glennon was forced to start in a bad situation last year. The Bucs may have recognized that when signing veteran McCown to be the starter this year, giving Glennon a chance to learn behind a seasoned pro.
The future isn't here for Glennon, but the future looks bright.
Loser: Leonard Johnson
Cornerback Leonard Johnson's fate coming out of this offseason lies in his own ability and development.
Johnson played a big role in the Bucs defense over the past two years, playing in the slot and even starting at times.
However, Johnson has never faced the sort of competition he has this year. The Bucs signed former Chicago Bear and Smith disciple D.J. Moore this offseason and it appears Moore has the upper hand competing for the Bucs' slot receiver spot.
Moore's greatest advantage over Johnson is his experience in Smith's system. Neither are athletic phenoms, but Moore has years of consistent production with Smith's Bears, including 10 career interceptions.
Johnson still has training camp to prove himself Moore's match, but it's unlikely he will be able to force himself into the nickel corner spot.
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