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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should trade Vincent Jackson

Vincent Jackson is a veteran leader, a matchup nightmare, and one of my favorite Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But he should be traded if the team has any respectable offers on the table for him.

Chris Graythen

Vincent Jackson came to Tampa as an oft-injured wide receiver with off-the-field baggage and a big price tag. But after posting the best numbers of his career during his first year in Bucs colors, Jackson has quickly become a fan favorite, and has quietly become a leader for the franchise.

Which is why many are quick to lash out against trade rumors linking the Buccaneers with a deal to send Jackson away. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Bucs are getting "tons of calls" for the wideout, who is currently under contract for the next couple of years.

And if the Bucs were living up to their preseason expectations, and contending for the NFC South lead after their bye week, then Jackson would be off the table to any suitor. Trading away the best and most consistent offensive player from a contending team simply doesn't make sense, and the Bucs would be unwise to deal Jackson if they had any hopes of making a playoff run this season.

The 2014 Bucs are not going to contend for anything, however. Despite an optimistic look at the standings showing only a two-game gap from the Bucs to the top spot in the division, further investigation shows the Bucs to be one of the worst teams in the league by any measure. Thoughts of the Bucs contending this season are blind optimism at best, and the head coach admitted that his team isn't very good after a Week 6 loss, just three months after saying the team would be relevant quickly upon his arrival.

Lovie Smith was brought in to bring the Bucs back to relevance, and it's clear that trying to patch holes in the roster with free agents and veteran trade pieces has failed. Logan Mankins and Josh McCown have both been ineffective and don't have a lot of good football ahead of them at their ages, while veterans like Clinton McDonald and Michael Johnson have yet to make a big impact for the team.

But there's nothing the Bucs can do to reverse their decisions this offseason, as the money committed to free agents and the draft pick traded for Logan Mankins are now gone for good. Making a forward-thinking decision to part with a veteran in decline in favor of young assets would be the right move for a front office that needs to shift from "win as soon as possible" to "build a better team for the future."

The team spent two premium draft picks on pass catchers in the 2014 NFL Draft, and that signifies their acknowledgement that the position lacked talent and depth. After the draft, thanks to the additions of Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs can now plan for a future at receiver and tight end that features talent, and doesn't rely on "what-if" questions about Vincent Jackson's health and ability as he ages.

In other words, the Bucs have prepared for Jackson's departure, and have reached a point where his value to the team (which is not contending this season) may be less than his value to another team. Jackson is dropping the ball regularly in this late stage in his career, and doesn't have the deep speed that earned him his payday in Tampa as a free agent. Those two aspects of his game will not get any better as the 2015 and 2016 seasons approach.

Obviously the trade details matter quite a bit when considering giving away a big-name player like Jackson, as a conditional mid-round pick would not be enough to hand over a dominant offensive weapon. But if the Bucs are given the opportunity to trade a viable "win now" receiver and receive "win later" draft pieces or young players in return, they should do it without hesitation.

Lovie Smith was brought in to make the Bucs relevant as quickly as possible, but putting band-aids on big problems has already proven to be a lacking strategy for building a relevant Tampa Bay roster. Trading Vincent Jackson and moving ahead with draft assets and cap space would prove that Smith and Jason Licht have an eye toward making the Bucs relevant for years to come, rather than chasing a quick fix that never seems to work in the NFL.