If there was one reason why Mark Dominik was fired, it was probably his win-loss record as a general manager. If there's a second reason, it was probably Josh Freeman. But if there was a third reason why Mark Dominik was fired, I would contend that Luke Stocker was the reason.
I have no personal beef with Stocker, but very few players have seemingly had such promise, failed to deliver on said promise, yet stuck around on a roster for so long. Injuries and a general lack of reliable production have kept Stocker sidelined for most of his professional career, as he's caught only 28 passes (and only one for a touchdown) in his three years in the NFL.
Stocker occupied a premium spot on the Bucs' depth chart for a couple of years in a row before this offseason, when new general manager Jason Licht brought in a pair of new players at the position to put Stocker in danger of missing the roster.
With that said, let's continue our position previews with a look at tight end. (2013 depth chart information taken from OurLads.)
Then Versus Now
The 2013 tight end depth chart in Tampa Bay was something out of a bad football joke. Stocker's disappointments are documented above, while Crabtree was a lovable character who had never delivered on a regular basis as a tight end in Green Bay. Zach Miller had a solid rookie season in Jacksonville, but quickly faded into obscurity, while Nate Byham was a blocking machine who struggled to get open against any defender.
And I'll admit I got this one totally wrong, but I was outraged when the Bucs kept Tim Wright over Danny Noble. I loved what I saw from Noble during training camp, and Wright was a project player that never seemed to show up during offseason workouts. It made no sense to me at the time to keep Wright and let Noble go, but that obviously worked out for the best as we consider the 2014 depth chart at tight end.
Wright was as surprising of an undrafted rookie as I've seen in a while, as he emerged as the second-best receiving option on the team and helped give Mike Glennon some kind of secondary option behind Vincent Jackson. He's joined by new additions Brandon Myers and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who give the Bucs a trio of tight ends unlike any at the position in Tampa for quite some time.
And while we can't expect too much from Seferian-Jenkins, as I pointed out in a recent article for numberFire, he'll still contribute both as a receiver and a blocker in 2014. Myers and Wright will both create mismatches over the middle of the field, and provide solid sets of hands for Josh McCown or Mike Glennon to throw to.
Stocker is still around, but his status as a Buccaneer in 2014 is certainly in doubt. The three tight ends ahead of him are locks to make the roster, and undrafted rookie Cameron Brate will be able to be stashed on the practice squad, possibly leaving Stocker out in the cold.
While we should all temper expectations for ASJ in year one, there is no reason to temper hopes of what he can become as he translates his athletic ability into that of a refined NFL tight end. Seferian-Jenkins has the height, weight, and speed, plus the strength as a blocker, to have a Rob Gronkowski-like NFL career. He has a lot to do to reach that point, but even falling short of that goal will produce a fine player at tight end.
Tim Wright similarly has some room to grow, and while he doesn't have the incredible athletic profile of ASJ, he's a more polished and capable receiver who will thrive if he's given the chance to play off of the line of scrimmage in two tight end sets. He's never going to be an ideal blocker, but using him as a move tight end in the "Aaron Hernandez role" to Myers or ASJ's "Gronk" could produce some headache-inducing mismatches on offense.
And the best news is that both Wright and Seferian-Jenkins are under team control for the next few years, meaning both players can be building blocks for the Bucs' new offense under Jeff Tedford. Myers seems to be nothing but a stopgap to give the Bucs' quarterbacks an option at tight end until Seferian-Jenkins catches up to the speed of the NFL game, although that's not an indictment on Myers as much as it is a commentary on how good an ASJ/Wright combination could be.
Again, that leaves the soon-to-be-out-of-contract Luke Stocker out in the cold, meaning his future with the Bucs is even more dim past 2014, should he hang around on the roster through this season.
Brate is a surprisingly athletic Ivy League prospect who could use a year on the practice squad to better define what his role will be in the NFL. He was used both in-line and in the slot at Harvard, but the step up in competition to the NFL will obviously be quite large. He is an impressive athlete, however, so don't rule out the possibility of Brate hanging around in training camp.
The Buccaneers are better in both the immediate and distant future at tight end thanks to the moves made this offseason.