It’s the holiday season, and the NFL regular season is wrapping up. No, the Bucs won’t be making a playoff push, and no they won’t be firing anyone. But they do have some roster holes, and in the spirit of Christmas, here’s a list of five things that the Bucs should ask Santa for this offseason.
1. A lockdown corner and a good safety
This has been a problem for a while. Remember Brent Grimes? That was the last time the Bucs had a lockdown corner on their team. Given their secondary is quite young, and given enough time they could develop better chemistry and communication skills, which seem to be a big issue this year. Carlton Davis has been a revelation at corner this year, and Jordan Whitehead looks like he could be a solid safety. But they lack that No. 1 guy that every good defense seems to have in their secondary. The 49ers have Richard Sherman, the Ravens have Marlon Humphrey, the Saints have Marshon Lattimore, etc etc. You get the point. The Bucs just need a guy, and it doesn’t necessarily have to come from the draft (although drafting Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah wouldn’t be the worst idea). Chris Harris will be a free agent, and the Bucs could try to move some money around to sign him, but if they need a more affordable option, guys like Bradley Roby and Aqib Talib will be available, as well. Sure, they’re not high-profile and they aren’t long-term solutions, but they would be solid mentors for the younger corners like Davis and rookie Sean Murphy-Bunting. As for the safety part of the problem, the draft could produce LSU’s Grant Delpit or Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons (he’s listed as a linebacker but he used to play safety before this year). Both would be fantastic for the Bucs, and they’re still kicking themselves for passing on Derwin James, so why not try to make amends by drafting a safety this year?
2. Some offensive line help
No, Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen can’t be the only two solid options up front. The Bucs need to replace Demar Dotson at right tackle, who will be 34 and a free agent this offseason. They also could use a right guard, as Alex Cappa and Earl Wartford are not great options. Donovan Smith could also be replaced, but with his recent contract extension he’s likely to stay there for a while. The draft could produce some solid offensive line talent in the middle rounds (although Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr. could be a good first-round pick) such as Prince Tega Wanogho out of Auburn, but the Bucs could also take a swing at free agency. Brandon Schreff from Washington might command a bit more money than the Bucs have to offer, but it’s worth a shot. Regardless, the Bucs need to upgrade their offensive line. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter who they put at QB, they’ll be screwed.
3. A smart decision at QB
Look, Jameis Winston has had a very inconsistent year (to be kind). He has the most interceptions in the league, which has contributed to their defensive struggles. But, he’s second in passing yards and sixth in TD’s. He clearly can throw the ball, it’s just the decision-making that needs improvement. But isn’t that what has been his problem his whole career? He’s 25. He’s in his fifth year. Is this just who he is? A lot of good numbers, but a lot of stupid mistakes? Regardless, the Bucs have a decision to make. They can try to resign Jameis, or they can draft a new QB. There’s really not any options out there in free agency, although if Drew Brees comes back for one more year it will be interesting to see what happens with Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater went 5-0 in his time relieving the injured Brees, and he’ll be 27 when he hits free agency again. It will be unlikely that he will settle for another backup role in New Orleans, as he has shown that he is capable of being a quality starter when given the chance. So the Bucs could sign Teddy, but they run the risk of a Nick Foles situation, where they pay a lot of money to a guy who isn’t as good as the backup and are on the hook for a lot of cash for almost no production. The Bucs just need to be smart. Don’t throw a lot of money at Jameis, but don’t throw it at Teddy either. Draft, or sign cheap.
4. Chris Godwin being happy with his rookie contract
Chris Godwin is having a monster year. He’s top-5 in receiving yards, and his runblocking is criminally underrated. He deserves to be paid, and he’s entering his last year of his contract. With other similar situations, such as Ezekiel Elliot and Melvin Gordon, guys have threatened to hold out until they get a new contract. The one big difference is that those guys are running backs, who have almost no leverage when it comes to contract negotiations, as they have been shown to be replaceable. Godwin has a bit of an advantage, as good wide receivers aren’t as easy to come by. But the Bucs have Mike Evans. He’s great, and is getting paid an appropriate amount for his production. They’re both receivers though, and it’d be tough for the Bucs to justify paying both guys large sums of money. They have other pressing needs. However, if Godwin is happy to simply play out his rookie contract, then the Bucs will be in business. They can put off the problem for another year. For the Bucs’ sake, hopefully Godwin is satisfied. Otherwise, they may have to break the bank or trade the young budding star.
5. Another solid first-round pick
Devin White and Vita Vea have been pretty good. They’re both big reasons the Bucs’ rush defense is #1 in the league, and White had a monster game against Jacksonville this past week. The Bucs just need to keep hitting on their first-rounders, because it seems unlikely that they will be able to score big in free agency this offseason. The good news is they will likely have a decent first round pick, and if they wish to dangle Chris Godwin in the trade market they could even get another one, similar to what the Saints did with Brandin Cooks three years ago. The Saints turned that first-rounder into Ryan Ramczyk, arguably one of the best right tackles in the NFL. If the Bucs could do something even close to that, they’d be quite satisfied. As for their own pick, it will likely fall in the 10-20 range. The Bucs will likely go .500 in their final four games, which will give them a record of 7-9. Not good enough to sneak them into the playoffs, but also not quite bad enough to get a high level pick. Regardless, they need to make another solid pick. If they do, they could turn things around next year and make some noise in the NFC South, which will be wide open if Drew Brees retires. Fingers crossed.