ESPN is trying to predict the future by looking at the teams best set up for long-term success. They've ranked the teams for the 2016 season four years ahead, which seems like a waste of time. But at least it's a fun exercise to discuss. You can find their method here, but it basically comes down to removing things from a certain bodily orifice.
The Bucs are ranked a middling 18th, which isn't surprising given the fact that this basically looks like a "right now" power ranking. The Bucs have a lot of young talent at a lot of positions, but some of their key players at other players will likely be phased out once 2016 rolls around. Vincent Jackson and Donald Penn will both be 34, while players like Adrian Clayborn, Mason Foster and Lavonte David will be looking at their second contract.
What looks like a good core now can disappear quickly, and the Bucs have to constantly replenish their roster if they want to be competitive in the future, just like every other team. Of course, right now they may want to focus on being competitive right now. It has been quite a long time since the Bucs made the playoffs, after all.
Not unexpected but still slightly disappointing is the fact that of all the position groups to be rated for the 2016 season, Doug Martin's the only one to make a top 10. The last time the Bucs had a running back who was likely to be a top 3 player at running back four years later, that player tore his patellar tendon. And then did it again. Whelp.
Martin is just so solid. He's an excellent interior runner, can get the edge outside, break the long run, pick up the blitz and is a capable receiver. Is he a special talent like many of the players on this list? Not exactly. But he isn't far off either -- and he already knows how to churn out yardage. Martin will only get better at this craft. Tampa Bay's offense goes through Martin -- and it should three years from now as well.
Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson aren't among the wide receivers, while Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers aren't mentioned with the pass-rushers. Carl Nicks is left out of the offensive line rankings, while Freeman isn't seen in the quarterbacks list and, finally, the Bucs have no tight ends even remotely worthy of the title top 10 in 2016.
Of course, projecting this far into the future is bound to be incredibly inaccurate. It's just a fun little exercise. If Josh Freeman turns out to be the future (or they find a good quarterback elsewhere), the Bucs have enough young talent at key positions to be very good in 2016. But a few key injuries, a decline in play or a collapse of play and coaching (see: 2011) could lead to another series of rebuilds and more agonizing over the future.
The Buccaneers currently have just 13 players under contract for the 2016 season, and almost all of those were drafted this year and would be in their final contract that season. Despite that the Bucs have a whopping $52 million committed to the salary cap that season according to my numbers. Darrelle Revis takes up the majority of that money with his annual $16 million in compensation, but Dashon Goldson at $8 million, Davin Joseph at $7 million, Carl Nicks at $10 million and even Michael Koenn at $3 million take up sizable chunks as well.
Of course, none of that money is guaranteed, so the Bucs could easily say goodbye to all of those players by the 2016 season. They'll also re-sign some other players. Barring injuries, it's almost certain that players like Gerald McCoy, Doug Martin, Lavonte David and Mike Williams will be around once 2016 rolls around. Although, when it comes to contracts, nothing is truly certain. The Bucs will have to make a few tough choices on who to resign and/or release over the coming years, once the cap hits from free agency really start to hit.