Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Reassessing Draft Needs After First Wave of Free Agency
Tampa Bay's free agent spending bonanza last year failed to prevent the Bucs from finishing with the worst record in the league. Taking a more tempered approach this year, the Bucs have yet to address their key roster needs.
The Bucs' three biggest problems in 2014 included bad quarterback play, a non-existent pass rush and a porous offensive line. In the first week of free agency, the Bucs didn't sign anyone that could fix these problems.
Rather, the Bucs spent more time rectifying last year's mistakes and potentially exacerbating their roster deficiencies.
Quarterback remains their primary need, but the Bucs were unlikely to look anywhere but to the first overall pick in the draft to fix that issue.
The offensive line was a significant if not primary contributor to the Bucs' offensive woes in 2014. With no free-agent signings so far, both offensive tackle and guard should be early draft targets.
The Bucs may be in even worse shape at defensive end. The Bucs already lost last year's day-one starters when they announced the release of Michael Johnson and when the Atlanta Falcons signed Adrian Clayborn per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. With pass-rushers flying off the free-agent market, the Bucs may leave their edge rush to a group of untested rookies.
Nickel cornerback is not as pressing an issue but is an issue nonetheless. The Bucs may still address this before the draft.
It's important to remember that less than a week has passed since the free-agent market opened. There are still players available. The Bucs' needs may still be fulfilled before the draft.
Here are the Bucs' updated draft needs since the opening of free agency this year.
The Bucs were always going to address the quarterback position in the draft.
With the first overall pick, the Bucs have their pick of Florida State QB Jameis Winston or Oregon QB Marcus Mariota.
This only became more apparent when the Bucs released Josh McCown last month, leaving Mike Glennon the only quarterback on the roster.
Even Glennon could find himself elsewhere next season if the Bucs can arrange a trade, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan:
Feeling in league circles is that the #Buccaneers, should they be willing to trade Glennon, would yield as high as a 3rd-round pick.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) February 24, 2015
Glennon's possible departure would put even greater impetus to draft Winston or Mariota.
Aside from quarterback, the Bucs have no need greater than defensive end. With no free-agent signings so far, they may be in serious trouble for 2015.
The Bucs already cut loose their big free agent pass-rusher from last year, DE Michael Johnson. While Johnson was an utterly ineffective pass-rusher in 2014, the Bucs don't have much else on the roster in terms of edge-rushers aside from Jacquies Smith.
Derrick Morgan indeed left Tampa without signing, according to folks inside the building. Anticipation is Cowboys next up.— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) March 12, 2015
Hardy is still on the Commissioner's Exempt list but was notified by the NFL that he may sign with a team. Though he's possibly the best edge-rusher on the market, Hardy is a liability if he can't stay out of trouble.
The draft offers few alternatives, particularly beyond the second round. The Bucs will have a shot at freak athletes in UCLA's Owa Odighizuwa and LSU's Danielle Hunter, but both would be drafted on pure upside given their raw football acumen.
On the flip side, Louisville's Lorenzo Mauldin is an accomplished pass-rusher, though he is not an outstanding athlete. He could be a third-round target if the Bucs choose to value immediate ability over upside.
The offensive line was a clear area of need entering this offseason. Through the first wave of free agency, the Bucs have yet to sign a lineman and might be relying on the offensive tackle depth in the draft going into 2015.
The Bucs released Anthony Collins this week per the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud:
Bucs release T Anthony Collins— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) March 10, 2015
Collins' release both solves and creates a problem. The former Cincinnati Bengal was a terrible left tackle, but the Bucs don't have anyone ready to replace him.
With no free-agent tackle signings in sight, the Bucs must look to the draft, which is particularly well-stocked with offensive tackles.
The Bucs will likely target Miami's Ereck Flowers, Pitt's T.J. Clemmings and Penn State's Donovan Smith. All could compete for a starting spot at right tackle.
Tampa Bay's right guard spot was a veritable turnstile in 2014. The team's main goal this offseason is to solidify the position for 2015.
While the Bucs haven't signed any free-agent guards yet, they are looking. They brought in Raiders center Stefan Wisniewski for a visit, though he left without a contract per the Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings:
Two more visits for Bucs confirmed: OL Stefen Wisniewski, DT Henry Melton— Roy Cummings (@RCummingsTBO) March 11, 2015
C Stefen Wisniewski has left Tampa without signing a deal. Bucs may still be interested. Hearing visit was mostly a fact finding mission— Roy Cummings (@RCummingsTBO) March 12, 2015
There is a lot of time between now and the draft. The Bucs could very well find a potential starter in free agency beforehand, but a need to draft a guard remains.
Duke's Laken Tomlinson poses one of the best options to start immediately. He's a mammoth with underappreciated pass protection skills. The Bucs may have to spend a second-round pick to get him.
If the Bucs address the offensive tackle position early, they may wait until later in the draft to take a guard. They could target Georgia Tech's powerful if undersized Shaq Mason, who may be a steal in the fifth or sixth round.
Lovie Smith considers the nickel corner position to be a starting role, so obviously it's important to the Bucs defense. The small but important steps the Bucs took in the first week of free agency confirm this.
Per the Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman, the Bucs re-signed CB Leonard Johnson to a one-year deal this week. Though he struggled in the slot in 2014, Johnson's experience in Smith's defense equips the Bucs with a baseline from which to compete or improve.
The Bucs also brought in Cowboys CB Sterling Moore for a visit, though he was another player who left without a contract per Greg Auman:
Doesn't sound like a decision is likely tonight on free-agent nickel Sterling Moore. Visiting Bucs today but other teams interested as well.— Greg Auman (@gregauman) March 13, 2015
Moore played the nickel position for Dallas and excelled. If the Bucs sign him, they may only need depth rather than a starter.
This year's draft crop doesn't promise to yield very many quality cornerbacks. The Bucs' best bets are with TCU's Kevin White and FAU's D'Joun Smith.
Both come with questions over their top-end speed, which is an overvalued quality in a nickel corner. What White and Smith do bring is a nose for the ball and sheer tenacity.
The Bucs are unlikely to spend anything more than a fourth-round pick on a nickel corner. However, they would get good value for White or Smith at that point.