Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers addressed a lot of needs in free agency. They added starters at quarterback, defensive end, left tackle and cornerback. But the one thing they failed to do was to address their biggest need: offensive guard. One year later, the Bucs are making the exact same mistake.
When the pre-free agency period of talking-to-players opened up, the Bucs didn't make any waves. In fact, there were no concrete reports of them talking to anyone -- only vague reports of their showing interest. And tellingly, none of those reports really tied the Bucs to any offensive lineman. Before free agency proper opened, every big name at guard or tackle had already re-signed with their own team, or committed to a deal elsewhere.
That left the Bucs with exactly one reliable option at guard: Stefen Wisniewski. He has visited and left the team's facilities, and there's no one else they can sign who could be relied on as a starter. The Bucs also need to find a starting tackle at either the right or left side of the line, but given the fact that they didn't push for any of the bigger names, Jake Long is the only remotely viable starter available on the market. And he's not even linked to the Bucs, never mind that he's also declined significantly.
Making matters worse, the Bucs have now cut Michael Johnson, but have yet to sign a replacement. Derrick Morgan is not signing with the Bucs for now, according to Vaughn McClure, which means that at yet another crucial position for this team, the Bucs are either going to have to settle for scraps, or sign probably-domestic-abuser Greg Hardy.
Even moves that seem to aid the team are de facto lateral moves, or low-impact signings. Last year, they replaced an adequate center in Jeremy Zuttah with the adequate Evan Dietrich-Smith. They replaced the declining Donald Penn with the unreliable Anthony Collins. The only truly successful signings were Alterraun Verner and Clinton McDonald.
This year, we're seeing a similar pattern. Henry Melton's a good signing, but is Bruce Carter really a reliable middle linebacker? He has one season of quality play. Replacing Dashon Goldson is good, but with Chris Conte? Michael Johnson sure was overpaid, but is whoever's replacing him going to be better? And who, exactly, is going to take Anthony Collins' place?
The Bucs don't look like they have the answers to these questions. Last year, their failure to grab reliable starters in free agency or the draft forced them to trade for Logan Mankins at the eleventh hour, and they still ended with the worst offensive line in the NFL. They still couldn't manufacture a pass rush. They still had problems everywhere -- which is why they now hold the first overall pick.
The Bucs are seemingly obsessed with getting value in free agency, and there's nothing wrong with that in theory. But at the end of the day, you need players to start. Not overpaying for a premium free agent is great, until the moment comes when you're starting Oniel Cousins because value was more important to you than constructing a functional roster.
Maybe I'm just overreacting. Free agency is far from over. Trades can happen. The draft is coming up. The roster is far from set. But so far, this looks eerily similar to last year -- and that did not end well.