5 Moves the Buccaneers Should Have Made This Offseason
Second-guessing an NFL front office is a really easy thing to do from an arm chair. Any team that made as many moves as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made this offseason is bound to have its decisions questioned.
The brain trust of head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht entered One Buc Place with steely resolve. They were willing to make drastic and often controversial choices to reshape the Bucs roster to better fit their vision for the team.
The release of cornerback Darrelle Revis was particularly shocking as the Bucs had sacrificed a first-round pick in 2013 and a fourth-round pick in 2014 to acquire his services.
Smith was not completely sold on parting ways with Revis, according to Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith. Still, Smith calculated Revis' contract value against the chance to upgrade other parts of the roster and gambled losing a premiere cornerback by adding players like defensive end Michael Johnson and cornerback Alterraun Verner.
The Bucs also turned in a solid draft, bolstering their offense with wide receiver Mike Evans, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and running back Charles Sims.
Only time will tell if the blueprint Smith and Licht used to reformat the roster will lead the Bucs back to respectability. However, there were some missed opportunities and missteps the Bucs made this offseason that could have made the Bucs an even better team.
The Bucs may have been too hasty with some of the players they jettisoned or allowed to walk away. They also missed out on players that were available in free agency and the draft who could have been cornerstones for the team long-term.
Here are five roster moves the Buccaneers should have made this offseason.
Reacquire Michael Bennett
Former Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett's departure is a missed opportunity that will haunt the Buccaneers for years to come.
The Bucs first acquired Bennett after he was cut by his current team the Seattle Seahawks in 2009. Patient with his development, the Bucs' investment paid off when Bennett turned in nine sacks, 41 tackles and three forced fumbles in 2012.
Former Bucs general manager Mark Dominik had opportunities to sign Bennett to a long-term contract in both 2012 and 2013. Bennett signed back with Seahawks in 2013 for a measly one-year, $5 million contract without letting the Bucs match their offer because he felt the Bucs "acted like they didn't want [him]."
Bennett went on to be an integral part of the Seahawks' Super Bowl-winning defense. He could have commanded the most money of any defensive end in this year's free agent class.
Instead he took a very modest four-year, $28.5 million contract to return to Seattle.
Bennett's contract pales in comparison to the Bucs' free-agent defensive end signing Michael Johnson, who signed a five-year, $43.75 million contract to play in Tampa.
Bennett and Johnson are both high-quality defensive ends, but Bennett has the edge as a pass-rusher. His quickness and burst may not appear on a stat sheet, but the pressure he applied both from the edge and as an interior rusher led to more sacks and interceptions for his teammates.
It is possible the Bucs offered Bennett the same amount of money they gave to Johnson. It is also possible that the bad blood from 2013 precluded Bennett from returning to Tampa.
Nonetheless, the Bucs had one last opportunity to bring in a top-notch pass-rusher they had developed in-house, and they missed.
Trade Up for Teddy Bridgewater
Every quarterback-needy team in the NFL is going to regret letting Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater slip to the 32nd overall pick of the 2014 draft.
Early this year, Bridgewater was thought to be a potential first-overall pick in the draft. Between his poor pro day and unimpressive stature, his stock fell to where he may have fallen out of the first round.
Bridgewater's stock started so high because he is simply surgical on tape. He makes smart, quick decisions with the football and throws with consistent accuracy, more so than either Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel, both of whom were taken before him.
Still, 29 teams (30, if you include the Seattle Seahawks) passed on him. His free fall only ended when the Vikings traded back into the first round by giving the Seahawks their second- and fourth-round draft picks.
Essentially, the Vikings surrendered a fourth-round pick to move up eight spots for a player who a likely franchise-caliber quarterback.
The Bucs could have very easily made this trade happen as they were even closer to the 32nd-overall pick than the Vikings. They may not have had a fourth-round pick this year thanks to the Revis deal, but a fourth-round pick is not so valuable that compensation could not have been otherwise mustered, including Mike Glennon.
Lovie Smith labeled Glennon his "quarterback of the future" following the first round of the draft. Glennon is better than the Bucs' 2013 record indicates, but he simply is not the quarterback Bridgewater will likely become.
Keep Jeremy Zuttah
Are Patrick Omameh and a few million dollars really better than still having Jeremy Zuttah on the roster?
The Bucs are currently in a position of complete uncertainty at the guard position. Carl Nicks hasn't played a snap of football since Week 4 of last year and still may not make it back.
That leaves Patrick Omameh, Oniel Cousins, Jamon Meredith and a bunch of rookies to pick up the slack.
Yet, for reasons that remain unclear, the Bucs gave a valuable swing player to the Baltimore Ravens for a fifth-round pick in 2015, a pick that the Bucs basically used already to trade up for tackle Kevin Pamphile in this year's draft.
Zuttah was only a serviceable center but a decent guard. His greatest asset was his versatility, often swinging between center and left guard.
What is truly puzzling about the Bucs' decision to move Zuttah is the fact that he actually fits the mold of the new athletic offensive linemen the Bucs assembled this offseason. In fact, Zuttah was arguably the most athletic interior lineman the Bucs had on the roster.
While former Green Bay Packer Evan Dietrich-Smith is an upgrade at center, Zuttah would have been a better option at guard than any player currently on the roster.
It is possible Zuttah did or said something that precluded his joining the rest of the returning roster in Lovie Smith's vision of the team. However until there is evidence to support this, Bucs fans can only assume the team made a terrible miscalculation in trading away a viable starter at guard.
Retain Erik Lorig
Not every player lost to free agency is a superstar. Sometimes, guys like fullback Erik Lorig just bring a skill set that a team should allow to walk out the door.
As is the case for most fullbacks, Lorig's contribution to the Bucs during his tenure could not be reflected on a stat sheet. Over his four year career in Tampa, Lorig only caught 30 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown.
However, Lorig was an underrated blocker and an underutilized receiver. The Times-Picayune's Terrance Harris also noted that Lorig is "more than just a lead blocker."
Lorig could have helped the Bucs with their new-look running game and as a blocker. The Bucs don't have any experienced in-line or lead blockers left on the roster since Lorig departed.
The NFL offense now revolves around execution and making mismatches on offense. Lorig is a big target who could have added a different dimension to the Bucs offense. Instead, he will bring that to Tampa only once a year as a Saint.
Draft Terrence Brooks in the Third Round of the 2014 NFL Draft
The Bucs have two guaranteed starters at safety and added better depth this offseason. Nevertheless, the Bucs should have upgraded more by drafting safety Terrence Brooks in the third round of the 2014 draft.
It may be counterintuitive to add a player to a position with two locked-in starters. The problem is, Dashon Goldson is wildly overpriced for the barely above-average performance he put on the field last season.
Goldson's most glaring weakness is his coverage skills. While he's not a liability, he isn't too difficult to beat in coverage and isn't the most reliable tackler after the catch.
What the Bucs need is a free safety that is as good in coverage as in run support, isn't at constant risk of suspension for helmet-to-helmet hits and doesn't cost the team $8.25 million a year per Over The Cap.
Former Seminole Terrance Brooks is a physical specimen. More importantly, he looks strong in coverage, which is natural for a former cornerback. Bleacher Report's Shehan Peiris provides a comprehensive look at Brooks' skill set and what makes him a solid safety prospect.
The Baltimore Ravens drafted Brooks in the third round, just 10 picks after the Bucs took running back Charles Sims. While Sims' receiving acumen could make the Bucs run game more potent, the Bucs were already deeper at running back than at safety.
Major Wright and Keith Tandy comprise the Bucs' depth at safety. Though they are quality backups, neither has any upside and are not in a position to start for the Bucs at any point in the future.
Goldson's biggest sin isn't his poor play last year but what he costs the team with his salary and suspensions. Brooks would only cost a third-round draftee's salary and could be an even better safety than Goldson in the future.