Ask the national football media what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to this offseason, and they'll invariably start talking about replacing Donald Penn at some point or another. Daniel Jeremiah claims that the Buccaneers have needs at defensive end, tight end and offensive tackle. In his NFL Scouting Combine conference call, Mayock talked about the same three position for the Bucs. Meanwhile, Adam Caplan came out with this report.
While rumors persist, the Buccaneers have yet to ask LT Donald Penn for a paycut. Not out of the question that he's eventually released.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) February 25, 2014
Every time, the Bucs' number one need is overlooked. No, that need is not defensive end. Lovie Smith would love to have a dominant edge rusher for his system (and so would every other team), but they can survive with the defensive linemen they do have -- especially if one of Adrian Clayborn, William Gholston, Da'Quan Bowers and Steven Means develops into a better player this offseason.
The Buccaneers' number one offseason need is offensive guard
Offensive was a major factor in the Buccaneers' offensive struggles last year. While Donald Penn's busts against Robert Quinn stand out, they came at the end of a game in which he largely shut the defensive end down. And while Penn certainly struggled at times last season, he still had an adequate year for an NFL left tackle. Perhaps not warranting the money he's scheduled to make, but you can certainly have a productive offense with Penn at last year's level of play on your line.
You can't say the same for the two guard positions last year, where Davin Joseph, Ted Larsen, Jamon Meredith and Gabe Carimi put up pathetic performances across the board. Of the three, Joseph's performance may be the most forgivable: he was coming off a major knee surgery, and was an important locker room presence. But Joseph is scheduled to make $6 million this year, that was his second major knee surgery, and I don't know of many 30-year-olds who manage to get back to Pro Bowl form after struggling so mightily.
Ted Larsen, Jamon Meredith and Gabe Carimi were all disastrously bad. The good news: they're all gone, free agents and roster casualties. The bad news: that means the Buccaneers have no depth at the position whatsoever. They do have Carl Nicks, who is progressing in his rehab process, but it remains unclear whether he'll ever be able to play football again. Oh, and he can't really be cut, because salary cap.
So these are your two starting Buccaneers guards: a 30-year old who has had two major knee surgeries and was one of the worst starting guards in the NFL last year, and an All-Pro who may never again play a down of football. Your depth consists of practice squad players who have yet to play a down in the NFL, and a center who was moved to center specifically because he couldn't hack it at guard.
You think maybe you want to address that? I don't know, maybe as your number one priority this offseason? Yeah, sure, the Bucs could upgrade (or cut costs) at offensive tackle. Yes, they could sure use a dominant edge rusher. But they can win with what they have at those positions. They cannot win with what they have at guard right now.