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On The Clock: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2016 Offseason Preview

In his “On the Clock” series, NFL analyst Brett Casella (@NFL_iQ on Twitter) will take an in-depth look at all 20 teams that failed to make the playoffs as they head into the 2016 offseason. He will conduct a thorough examination of each roster and make recommendations on whom to cut and re-sign, as well as which players to target through free agency and the draft.

This article will focus on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2015 Record: 6-10
Draft Pick: #9


Season Summary

MikeEvansThe Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have only won six games this season, but there is plenty of reason for optimism moving forward. After being taken with the #1 pick of the 2015 draft, Jameis Winston looks like he is ready to fill the role of franchise quarterback, becoming just the third rookie in NFL history to pass for 4,000 yards. Despite struggling with drops, sophomore wide receiver Mike Evans still managed to have a productive year, and running back Doug Martin broke out on to the scene, finishing second among all NFL players in rushing yards.

The defense was Tampa Bay’s main problem this year. Despite having talented players such as Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, the unit just couldn’t get it together, finishing 26th in points allowed. At the conclusion of the season, the Buccaneers fired head coach Lovie Smith, and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was promoted to take his place.

Re-Signings & Cuts

Doug MartinTampa Bay faces relatively little drama this offseason, with only two significant roster decisions to make. The first of those decisions is running back Doug Martin, who enjoyed a break out season in his contract year. Martin flourished as a rookie, but rushed for fewer than 500 yards in each of his next two seasons. Things turned back around in 2015 though, as he ran for 1,402 yards, second in the league to only Adrian Peterson. The Buccaneers should try to re-sign Martin if possible, but the two sides may not come to an agreement. The franchise tag could be used, but the Buccaneers will have to decide if they want to pay Martin as a top running back when backup Chris Sims showed promise last year.

The other big decision facing Tampa Bay is Vincent Jackson. The wide receiver is entering the last season of his five-year, $55.5 million contract, and will be a $12.2 million cap hit in 2016. At age 33 and coming off a season where he only amassed 33 catches for 543 yards, the Bucs may deem it best to part ways with the aging receiver and save themselves $9 million. The problem with doing this lies in the Buccaneers wide receiver depth (or lack thereof). After Mike Evans the pickings are slim; Tampa Bay may find it best to suck it up and welcome back Jackson for a final season. The third choice is attempting to extend him and restructure his contract.

Free Agency Needs

The Buccaneers have just under $50 million in cap space, and could get that number near $60M with the simple releasing of Vincent Jackson. The biggest unit they will look to improve is their secondary, and luckily there are some big names poised to hit the market. Safety Eric Weddle is a name the Buccaneers may possibly consider, although they would probably prefer to sign the younger Eric Berry or Tashaun Gipson. Cincinnati’s Reggie Nelson and George Iloka could also be players of interest.

At cornerback, potential targets include Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Prince Amukamara, Casey Hayward, and Sean Smith. Any one of these players could step in and immediately become an impact starter for the Buccaneers defense.

The defensive line is another area of weakness, specifically the pass rush. Despite his off-the-field issues, defensive end Greg Hardy is a talented player, and probably the best pure pass rusher in this class of free agents. If Tampa Bay rolls the dice, they may be able to get him at a discounted price. Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are two other names to keep an eye on as free agency approaches.

On the offensive side of the ball, the receiving core needs a serious upgrade. Mike Evans is their franchise pass catcher, but the depth chart after him leaves much to be desired. Travis Benjamin has the speed to take the top off of defenses, and would open up the underneath for Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu from the Bengals are set to be free agents, and either one of them would be a great addition to the Tampa Bay offense. Rishard Matthews and Reuben Randle are two cheaper options that might draw interest as well.

If a deal with Doug Martin can’t be reached, the Buccaneers may look to fill his void via free agency. Lamar Miller and Matt Forte will be the best replacements available, but Chris Ivory, Alfred Morris, and LeGarrette Blount could all be signed as early-down backs, with Chris Sims taking over the third-down role.

Potential Draft Picks

noah_spenceUnlike last year when they had the first overall selection, the Buccaneers draft pick this April will be dictated by who falls to them. DeForest Buckner and Vernon Hargreaves both have the talent to be impact players their rookie seasons, but it is very likely that they are both gone by the time the ninth pick rolls around. If that is the case, look for the Buccaneers to go with an edge rusher, such as Noah Spence, Leonard Floyd, or Shaq Lawson.

If offensive linemen Cody Whitehair or Jason Spriggs are still available when the Buccaneers pick in the second round, they will be able to select either player with confidence. Otherwise, addressing the wide receiver position may be their best option. Sterling Shepard or Tyler Boyd could still be on the board at this time.

In the third round, a few names to keep an eye on are RB Derrick Henry, WR Pharoh Cooper, and WR Rashard Higgins.

Have any questions, comments, or just want to talk about the article? Simply leave a comment below.

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