Winners and Losers of Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Offseason so FarJune 14, 2015
Winners and Losers of Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Offseason so Far
Few players can enjoy job security following a 2-14 season, and most of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster is finding that out this offseason.
After being tied for the league's worst record in 2014, the personnel overhaul continues for the Bucs, who are entering the second year under the direction of head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht.
Bright spots were few and far between last season, but another attempt to add quality veterans and free agency has helped Tampa Bay build stronger depth, as has a draft class that should yield a handful of rookie starters.
Who will benefit the most from the Bucs' offseason moves, or face a tougher battle to make the final 53-man roster thanks to the newcomers?
Winners: WRs Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson
When a rookie receiver tops 1,000 yards and breaks the single-season franchise record for touchdown catches with 12, that's pretty impressive.
When he does it with Josh McCown and Mike Glennon throwing him the ball behind one of the league's most maligned offensive lines, it's darn near a miracle.
But that's exactly what Mike Evans did in 2014, going on a tear that saw him grab 10 of his 12 touchdown receptions over the final nine games of the season. Veteran Vincent Jackson was no slouch either, catching 70 passes for the third straight season and going over 1,000 yards receiving for the sixth time in seven years.
Considering the production these two pass-catchers were able to generate last year—despite a weak supporting cast and the absence of their offensive coordinator—both Evans and Jackson have to be salivating over the moves made by the team this offseason.
They'll have a rookie quarterback in Jameis Winston who won't be afraid to take chances in order to put them in position to make big plays, added young talent along the offensive line and a new offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, who has a strong track record of success in the passing game. Look for another big year from Tampa Bay's top two receivers.
Loser: QB Mike Glennon
Mike Glennon just can't catch a break.
After taking over just three games into his rookie season, the former third-round pick performed admirably in 2013, throwing 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions over 13 starts. Good enough to keep the starting job in his second season, right? Of course not.
Tampa Bay brought in veteran journeyman Josh McCown the following offseason, handing him the starting job. When McCown missed five games early in the season due to injury, Glennon stepped in and outplayed him. Even so, the reins were handed back to McCown once he was healthy, and he led the Bucs to the league's worst record.
Despite being so quick to give the starting job back to the veteran over Glennon, the Bucs cut McCown soon after the end of the regular season. Surely Glennon would now get his shot.
Enter Jameis Winston.
The Bucs spent the No. 1 overall pick on the former Heisman Trophy winner, once again relegating Glennon to the backup role. It's a great situation for the Bucs, who have a young signal-caller with plenty of successful starting experience to back up their talented rookie, but you have to think Glennon isn't too thrilled.
It's hard to imagine Glennon wouldn't have preferred to be traded this offseason, with multiple teams across the league offering far more appealing opportunities for him to win a starting job. Instead, it looks like he'll spend another year playing second fiddle.
Winner: RB Doug Martin
After racking up nearly 2,000 total yards and making the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2012, Doug Martin has struggled through injuries and subpar offensive line play over the past two seasons. Many expected Martin to be dealt prior to last year's trade deadline, with the new regime having spent an early third-round pick on Charles Sims in the 2014 draft.
Heading into this offseason, many again expected Martin to be a prime trade candidate. But as Scott Reynolds of Pewter Report points out, new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter didn't want the former first-rounder going anywhere:
Yet when Dirk Koetter was hired on January 13 after being part of the staff purge in Atlanta, the Bucs’ new offensive coordinator told the front office he wanted to keep Martin.
“Dirk Koetter, once he started watching tape of all our players, he came away impressed with Doug,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. “You saw the tape when he’s healthy, he’s still a very effective runner.
Sims missed the first half of last season with an ankle injury, and he may end up being best suited as a change-of-pace back who contributes mostly on third downs. If Martin can stay healthy, he clearly has the confidence of his new offensive coordinator and could have an improved offensive line in front of him with the addition of two second-round picks, Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet.
Many expected Martin to be wearing another team's jersey in 2015, but it looks like he could end up being the team's lead back instead, possibly returning to his rookie-season form.
Loser: CB Leonard Johnson
The nickel corner is one of the most vital positions in the Tampa 2 defense, but the man who spent most of 2014 in that spot for the Bucs struggled mightily, leading to a decrease in playing time and a free-agent addition meant to replace him.
Leonard Johnson got the first crack at the nickel job in Tampa Bay's first season playing in Leslie Frazier's version of the Tampa 2, but he looked out of place. This offseason, the man who started stealing snaps from him over the latter part of the 2014 season has already caught the eye of Buccaneers.com's Joe Kania:
There is a competition brewing for the No. 3 corner spot, and Isaiah Frey is right in the thick of things. He and Leonard Johnson were rotating in at the slot position with the first team, with Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner playing on the outside. Sterling Moore, who was signed as a free agent this spring, worked primarily with the second group. Frey has been working with the first team since the start of OTAs.
Moore may be running with the second team for the most part, but that's likely due to his need to get acclimated to the Bucs' particular brand of Tampa 2 defense, which is likely to have a few differences from the version he ran under Rod Marinelli in Dallas. Don't be surprised if he quickly jumps ahead of Johnson once training camp rolls around.
If that happens, look for Johnson to be the odd man out in the slot, as his lack of ideal size at just 5'10" would keep him from being able to slide outside and beat out the likes of veteran Mike Jenkins for playing time there.
Winner: DE Jacquies Smith
For yet another offseason, improving the team's pass rush—especially on the edge—was high atop the list of needs for the Bucs.
But after cutting their losses with Michael Johnson just one year after giving him a hefty payday in free agency, Tampa Bay opted not to spend top dollar for another big name on the open market. That led many to believe they would address the need via the draft, but despite an extremely deep class of pass-rushers, all seven rounds came and went without the Bucs spending a single pick at the position.
They added a few undrafted free agents and brought back former Buc George Johnson in a trade with the Detroit Lions, but that was the extent of the team's efforts to improve arguably the most important aspect of the Tampa 2 defense.
The big winner in all of this? Jacquies Smith, the waiver-wire wonder who caught fire in the second half of last season, racking up 6.5 sacks over the final eight games of the year.
Smith was easily the Bucs' most effective edge-rusher in 2015, and it doesn't look like he'll have much competition to challenge him for a starting spot. Tampa Bay is gambling on a player who has never been a full-time starter in the NFL, but he's sure to be relishing the opportunity this year.
Loser: WR Robert Herron
Many expected Wyoming receiver Robert Herron to come off the board around the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft, so plenty of Bucs fans were ecstatic when the team snatched him up in the sixth round. Tampa Bay had been in need of a playmaker in the slot who could also contribute in the return game, and Herron seemed to fit the bill on both sides.
But the undersized rookie appeared in just eight games last season, catching a mere six passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. His hands were inconsistent, and he failed to make an impact in the return game, despite a weak group to compete with.
This offseason, it appears the Bucs may be willing to move on from Herron already on both fronts. They spent a fifth-round pick on Nebraska's Kenny Bell, who has impressed in workouts so far and could end up getting starting snaps on the outside, allowing Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans to work out of the slot and create mismatches for opposing defenses.
Tampa Bay also spent a sixth-rounder on Utah's Kaelin Clay, who was an exceptional return specialist and has the skills to contribute in the slot as well.
These moves could easily push Herron not only out of game-day snaps, but possibly out of a roster spot entirely.
Winner: OL Coach George Warhop
Considering the overall performance of his unit in 2014, it's not hard to see why Bucs offensive line coach George Warhop took plenty of criticism.
But nobody will accuse Warhop of having an abundance of overall talent at his disposal last season, and the sudden departure of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford left the entire offense crippled, and his unit suffered as much as any on that side of the ball.
Heading into this year's training camp, Warhop should be all smiles. There is stability in the coordinator with Dirk Koetter, and the team spent two of their first three draft picks on promising young blockers. Both Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet should challenge for starting jobs right away, and their presence will improve the group's depth across the board.
Warhop's group shares plenty of the blame for the offense's lack of success in 2014, but more than a few of the 52 sacks they gave up last season were the fault of their quarterbacks holding on to the ball far too long. The arrival of Jameis Winston should help considerably in that regard, as he's usually willing to pull the trigger, even to a fault.
Loser: RB Mike James
Once a promising member of a deep group of young runners, Mike James finds himself buried on Tampa Bay's depth chart in the offensive backfield and may struggle to carve out a roster spot in training camp.
James averaged 4.9 yards per carry as a rookie in 2013, flashing playmaking ability in relief of an injured Doug Martin through the first eight games of the year. But an injury of his own ended that season for him as well, and he's yet to regain his form.
In 11 appearances last season, James carried the ball just 19 times for 37 yards, averaging a measly 1.9 yards per attempt.
As the 2015 season approaches, James will not only have to compete with the likes of Martin, Charles Sims and Bobby Rainey for touches, but his chances of sticking as a short-yardage back are dampened by the addition of two rookies—seventh-round pick Joey Iosefa and undrafted free agent Dominique Brown—who have the bulk and skill set to fit that role more effectively.
Barring any preseason injuries, it looks like James could easily be on the outside looking in when the final roster cuts come down.