Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager (GM) Jason Licht has a lot of ground to make up. Last offseason, Licht joined the Bucs' organization in hopes to revive the talent so that it can improve upon a four win season. Unfortunately, the unthinkable happened - the team posted a worse record than last season, winning only two games.
Lovie Smith was brought on board during the 2014 offseason, before signing Licht to become GM, to become the head coach. Here's what he said.
"My original statement was for us to become a relevant team again," Smith says. "And what's relevant? We want to win all of our home games. We want to put a good product on the field. We want it to be like the old days where teams said. ‘Oh, man, we've got to go to Tampa this week. It's tough going down there.' We have the same goal as everyone. It's to win games. To win our division. To win the Super Bowl."
We all know what transpired for the 2014 season, but let us reflect upon the 2014 by comparing it to the 2013 season.
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|2013 v 2014 Basic Comparison|
2014 was a train wreck no one for saw, never expecting it to be worse than 2013. And yet there were bright spots to the season. For example, when looking at PA (Points Against), 204 points came in the first six games of the season, or PA average of 34 points per game for the first six games. Thereafter, the last 10 game PA average was 20.6 points, which would be a top 10 defense. One possession games lost, which is 8 points or less, were nine total in the season, which is not including a blown fourth quarter lead. Speaking of blown fourth quarter leads, the team had six blown fourth quarter leads. Also, rookie wide receiver Mike Evans posted over 1,000 yards receiving and 12 touchdown receptions!
What led to a more dismal record can be traced to the offseason, via Pewter Report:
"Looking back on (free agency) last year, we had some hits and we had some misses," Licht said." We are going to be wiser in our decisions, and we're going to make sure we're spending our money wisely, too."
That being said, Licht made a point to say that the foundation of a team always starts with the draft. Nevertheless, the front office and coaching staff will do their due diligence when it comes to evaluating NFL players who could be poised to hit the market, too.
"Well I guess I'll answer that by saying this," Licht said. "Our primary way of building this team is going to be the draft. I think I said it on my first day here, that's where we find our stars; that's where our future is built and nothing has changed there. That's the way we're going to work moving forward, and we're especially excited this year that we have a high pick, the highest pick that you can have. That's going to help our team immensely.
"I always want to learn from my mistakes (in free agency)," he continued. "We did this together as a staff, but I'm the one held accountable; I am the general manager so I need to do a better job."
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|2014 Offseason Transactions|
|LT||Donald Penn||LT||Anthony Collins||OT||Kevin Pamphile||5|
|C||Jeremy Zuttah||C||Evan Dietrich-Smith|
|G||Gabe Carimi||G||Oniel Cousins||G||Kadeem Edwards||5|
|WR||Mike Williams||WR||Mike Evans||1|
|FB/TE||Erik Lorig||FB||Jorvorskie Lane|
|QB||Dan Orlavsky||QB||Josh McCown|
|TE||Brandon Myers||TE||Austin Sefarian-Jenkins||2|
|CB||Darrelle Revis||CB||Alterraun Verner|
On defense, the biggest loss was Darrelle Revis, but Alterraun Verner helped not make the loss so bitter. The OLBs were also special teamers. After the bye week, the defense figured out how to play the Tampa-2 defense.
Offense, on the other hand, was a completely different story. Notice that the starting right guard position was never addressed in the offseason, not in FA nor in the draft - unless you truly believed Oniel Cousins was the heir apparent for the starting right guard position. Then factor in trading away C/G Zuttah during FA period. Also note that LG Carl Nicks only played in two games in 2013 and 7 games in 2012. Then factor in trading away C/G Zuttah during FA period. The only moves this new regime made were to sign Oniel Cousins and draft Kadeem Edwards in the fifth round.
A lack of foresight of shoring up the guard position reared its ugly head when Carl Nicks and Tampa Bay decided to part ways after the draft. Late into the 2014 preseason, the Bucs made a trade with New England. Tampa would send its own 2015 fourth round pick and TE Tim Wright for LG Logan Mankins and his over $6 million per year salary.
The gamble failed as miserably as the organization thought Cousins could be a competent starting right guard.
At left tackle, the organization invested upon the premise that Anthony Collins would make the transition to tackle position from guard, via Cincy Jungle.
According to Pro Football Focus, in 389 passing plays in 2013, Collins allowed only one QB hit and no sacks and just 14 QB pressures. Not having a full season under his belt as a starter is making teams, maybe including the Bengals, hesitant to sign him to a long-term deal that pays him like an elite tackle.
One thing appears likely, and that's the Bucs will sign one of the top free agent lineman left on the market.
Walterfootball.com had a 2014 preview that denoted the instability that existed in the offensive trench:
Tampa also made some changes up front to improve the blocking. The lethargic Donald Penn is gone, and former Bengal Anthony Collins was brought in as an upgrade on the blind side. He'll bookend Demar Dotson, who had a terrific 2013 campaign.
The other addition the Buccaneers made to the offensive line was Evan Dietrich-Smith, who was brought in from the Packers. Dietrich-Smith is a skilled lineman who can play all three interior positions. He'll be used at center, as he'll be flanked by Carl Nicks, and one of Patrick Omameh, Jamon Meredith or Kadeem Edwards. Nicks can be dominant if healthy, which is far from a guarantee. The right guard position, however, figures to be a liability unless Edwards, a fifth-round rookie, manages to step up.
There is an old adage that battles are won in the trenches, and our trenches are our linemen, both offensive and defensively. Offensively, the organization did not improve situations there they needed most help, which was at both guard positions. On defense, the thought was a different story.
Here are the ‘notable' depth charts for 2013 and 2014 from what I can recall.
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|2013 Defensive Depth|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|2014 Defensive Depth|
Players like Larry English and Jacquies Smith were not part of the team during the off-season. English was signed by the Bucs twice in pre-season. The Bucs waived Means to make room for English the second time signing. Smith was picked off of waivers in September. Smith had the second most sacks on the team, two sacks behind McCoy.
Unlike the offensive line where it only replaced talent, the defensive line added talent. McDonald replaced and improved from Gary Gibson at nose tackle. Johnson replaced Clayborn at RDE. This shifted Clayborn to LDE, which improves defensive depth.
Also, the defensive line did have some players developing because they were drafted in the 2013 draft.
|2013 TB Bucs Draft|
The trio of Spence, Gholston, and Means had high promise going into pre-season. Lovie actually described Means as a prototypical DE, according to JoeBucFan. Spence and Gholston have developed to provide the Bucs depth on the defensive line.
Last offseason was a tale of two tales. The defensive line added talent. The offensive line only replaced two positions, but also released depth. That is one massive mistake that Licht need not repeat. Onto the 2014 draft, on the surface, it seemed as though Licht did due diligence as he did draft two offensive linemen. Unfortunately, he drafted them in the fifth round. In the third round, Licht drafted a running back despite having three capable running backs and a hole not addressed at guard position during the free agency period.
Licht was quoted that through the draft was the primary way of building a team and it is where they will find their stars. But a bad decision in the draft can also deter building a team. Sims was a third round pick. While it seems like it was just one draft, it turned out to be much worse. Conflated with the lack of addressing the guard position during free agency and Carl Nicks' departure from the team, the front office had to trade a 2014 fourth round pick (2nd pick overall in the fourth round) and TE Tim Wright. Now with the debacle of the unpreparedness of the front office to find any capable guard, it must look to draft a guard, hopefully, within rounds two and three.
If building through the draft was that pertinent, then this one draft mistake is a very costly one as it will eventually cost the Bucs three draft picks and a tight end.
The Bucs' depth chart for tight end is now weaker if it does not re-sign Luke Stocker. Stocker is known to be a blocking tight end than a two dimensional one that can block and catch. Wright is a pass catching tight end. Brandon Myers is a pass catching tight end. Yet here is an odd kicker - the Bucs did not re-sign FB Erik Lorig during the 2014 off-season. Lorig can actually double as an inline, blocking TE. That versatility could be useful for about a million a year, which the Saints signed him for four years. Here is an interesting fact: Lorig has been a lead blocker for two 1,000 yard rushers with the Bucs. The two runners are LaGarrette Blount and Doug Martin.
My hope is that Licht improves this offseason after living through the bed he had made. For an organization in dire need for talent, mistakes are much larger in scope. Yet, if Licht does not appropriately define his mistakes, then we will continue to endure his future ones.