Which player can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers not afford to lose this offseason? The easy answer is Jameis Winston, because the easy answer is always the quarterback. It’s true, of course, but not particularly interesting. I know some Bucs fans are souring on Winston, but he’s having a better season than he did last year, statistically, despite the injury and ruinous offensive line performance.
Winston’s certainly still on track to be a very good NFL quarterback, and the Bucs aren’t about to find a better quarterback on the street, anyway. So I’m going to talk about another player the Bucs can’t afford to lose: defensive end Noah Spence.
The Bucs’ pass-rush is anemic, and arguably the worst in the NFL this year. They have exactly one player on the roster who’s capable of being a dynamic edge rusher, and that’s Noah Spence—he has the speed, and the ability to turn that speed into power, to turn into a quality edge-rusher.
Unfortunately, Spence has spent the past two seasons dealing with a recurring shoulder injury, which landed him on injured reserve this year. It’s robbed him of precious development time, and the Bucs of a competent pass-rush. Not that Spence could produce that all by himself, but the Bucs can’t produce one without him.
That is: if Spence develops. Aside from losing him to injury, the Bucs could also ‘lose’ him to stagnation—perhaps because of that shoulder injury, or for whatever other reason. Players fail to reach their potential all the time, and that could certainly happen to Spence.
The Bucs have struggled to get an edge rush for years on end. They’re still smarting from letting Michael Bennett walk in free agency, and before him the only competent edge rusher was Stylez G. White from 2007-2010. That feels like an eternity ago.
Losing Spence would mean starting over at the position yet again, with Robert Ayers getting older, too. The Bucs will probably invest in a defensive end this offseason, but they need more than one player—and losing Spence would leave them way too fragile at the position, too.