The NFL Draft is always an exciting time for fans all around the league. Mock drafts get put to the test, teams add some exciting prospects to their rosters and everything finally starts taking shape for the upcoming season.
For the Buccaneers, this weekend’s draft is a big one. There is a lot riding on three days for general manager Jason Licht. Tampa Bay has what should be a very good coaching staff in place. Bruce Arians has a proven track record, and he has assembled a group of excellent coaches. But with those guys in place, there is now more pressure on Licht to fill out the 2019 roster.
Arians insists that this isn’t a rebuild. He believes the Bucs can win now. But there sure are a lot of holes on the roster and a lot of questions to be answered before anyone can really buy in and believe in the 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This weekend is huge for the organization, as a number of questions will be answered. These are questions that have been talked about for months, and each answer is a key to knowing what the future looks like in Tampa Bay. Let’s take a look at the top questions that should be answered by Saturday night.
Do the Bucs like Devin White enough to pick him in the top five?
This is a question that will be answered before 9 p.m. on Thursday. What Jason Licht is going to do with the No. 5 pick has been a dominant topic of conversation since New Year’s Eve. The Bucs certainly don’t want to be picking in the top five again next year, and nailing their first pick of the weekend would help them compete more for a playoff spot than draft positioning.
Devin White, a linebacker out of LSU, has been debated a ton in the last few months. The guy is an absolute freak of an athlete and a fantastic playmaker. Plenty view him as a top five player in this draft. So, why shouldn’t he go top five? Well, aside from those that are low on White and higher on Michigan’s Devin Bush, there are a lot of people convinced that value indicates that inside linebackers shouldn’t be selected that high. And that could be true. Value plays a part, but if the Bucs are as high on White as many think they are, all that value talk might not matter. If Licht and his staff see inside linebacker as a need — which they should — and have White graded higher than their other options at No. 5, why shouldn’t they take him? The fan base is split on this. We’ll see which side is happier come Thursday night.
What is in store for Gerald McCoy’s future?
Aside from the discussions about the No. 5 overall pick, there probably hasn’t been another topic that has dominated more headlines than the future of Gerald McCoy. The longtime Buccaneer, who was selected third overall nine years ago this week, might not be around much longer. Rumors have been swirling about McCoy’s future since the end of the 2018 season. Lately, there’s been talk about the Bucs trying to find a trade partner for the services of big No. 93. Pretty soon, we should know what’s happening with the whole situation.
It might be tough to find a team willing to trade for someone who has a cap hit of $13 million at 31 years old, but Tampa Bay is supposedly still trying. If a team misses on one of the top interior linemen in the draft, might the Bucs find a partner for a trade? Or if the Bucs end up selecting Quinnen Williams or Ed Oliver in the first round — or maybe even someone in round two — the writing on the wall might be even thicker. If there’s a replacement for McCoy in place as soon as this weekend, we can probably be sure that the six-time Pro Bowl selection will be out the door very soon.
At the same time, if the draft comes and goes without Licht addressing the interior of the defensive line, we can expect McCoy to stick around at least one more year. The point is, we’ll have the latest — if not final — development in this saga very soon.
Will the future of the offensive line remain uncertain?
Tampa Bay’s offensive line isn’t exactly a strong point. The Bucs locked in Donovan Smith at right tackle this offseason, and Ali Marpet is going to be a big part of the team for a while. But there are still question marks along the rest of the line, at least as far as the future is concerned. Ryan Jensen will be with the team for at least 2019, but could be gone as soon as next year. Demar Dotson will probably (?) still be the right tackle this year, but he’ll be 34 in October. And at right guard, who knows? It’ll probably be Alex Cappa or Earl Watford, but the team doesn’t really know what it has yet in Cappa and Watford isn’t a long-term solution.
So, will anything look different by the end of this weekend? If the Bucs end up spending a second-round pick on a guard or tackle, we’ll at least have some clue when it comes to what the line will look like by next year. Maybe even a third-rounder spent on an offensive lineman would clear some things up. But with as many needs as the team has on defense, o-line might not be much of a priority for Licht right now. There’s a reason a lot of seven-round mocks only have guard or tackle being addressed in the sixth or seventh rounds. Tampa Bay might just keep the group it has and fix it up some next offseason.
Are the Bucs really confident with Vernon Hargreaves III as one of their starting outside corners?
With the hiring of Todd Bowles as their defensive coordinator, the Bucs should be pretty excited about the future of the defense. But personnel-wise, this group probably isn’t ready to make a huge leap in 2019. Sure, the team made some additions in free agency, but there are still holes up front and at linebacker. One shock was that there was no action at cornerback. It didn’t take long for us to find out why. Bruce Arians said in March that he and his staff are happy with Vernon Hargreaves III as one of their outside corners and that the team just needs to find a new nickel corner. That was somewhat of a surprise to some, as Hargreaves was more effective at nickel under the old coaching staff.
Playing under Bowles should allow Hargreaves to play more of his style. But is the coaching staff banking on the former Florida Gator adapting to the new scheme? Or was Arians’ public praise more of a smokescreen? If Tampa Bay goes through Thursday, Friday and Saturday without really addressing the outside corner position, we’ll have our answer. Considering where Hargreaves was drafted, him excelling in a return to playing press-man isn’t out of the question by any means. But whether or not he’ll go unchallenged on the outside will be decided soon enough.
Are Licht, Arians and the coaching staff truly satisfied with the backfield as it is?
There’s been a ton of talk this offseason about Tampa Bay’s backfield. One mock draft had the Bucs selecting a running back with the No. 5 overall pick. I still haven’t let that go. But there seems to be a widespread thought that the backfield needs a new addition before the regular season gets going. Speculation has continued despite Jason Licht and Bruce Arians both talking extensively about how excited they are about the team’s backfield as it currently stands.
Arians has praised Peyton Barber at length, and Licht recently said second-year back Ronald Jones II has been impressing. The signing of veteran Andre Ellington should help the running back room as well. So, will the Bucs make a move for a running back in the draft? There are still some mocks that project a running back going to Tampa Bay in the second round. Is that really a possibility? It doesn’t feel like one, but we won’t truly know until Friday. If the Bucs go with a running back like Damien Harris, Miles Sanders or Darrell Henderson, we can assume that they aren’t bringing them in to be in the background. If it’s a late-round addition, it’s unlikely that much will change with the dynamic of the group.
Does Tampa Bay have full faith in Jameis Winston being its quarterback in 2020?
Some of the earliest statements made by new head coach Bruce Arians when he was hired by Tampa Bay were about quarterback Jameis Winston. The two met a long time ago, and Arians has been a supporter of Winston’s ever since. When the “quarterback whisperer” was hired, he noted that the chance to work with Winston was part of the reason he decided to come out of retirement after one year. So, we know that No. 3 will get his shot to prove that he is Tampa Bay’s franchise quarterback of the future. But will the team give him the benefit of the doubt before he plays one season under Arians?
Michael David Smith, managing editor of Pro Football Talk, brought up a point Monday about Rams quarterback Jared Goff. It’s a point that is relevant to the Bucs’ situation with Winston:
Jared Goff is in his final year as a relatively cheap starting QB. In 2020, his cap hit skyrockets to $22.783 million, and after that he hits free agency and he'll want even more. Rams may be ready to start shopping for a cheaper alternative. https://t.co/iQ7xfjAf1I— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) April 22, 2019
Winston is playing this season on his fifth-year option at nearly $21 million. He is set to become a free agent next season. If he improves and plays well under Arians in 2019, there probably wouldn’t be any hesitation when it comes to paying him big money to avoid seeing him walk in free agency next year. But if he struggles or shows inconsistency, the Bucs are in a dilemma. Quarterback money in free agency is crazy. They might not want to give him a huge contract unless they really know he’s their guy. But if they decide he’s not their guy, who would they have waiting in the wings? Blaine Gabbert or Ryan Griffin?
That’s where this weekend comes into play. Maybe Tampa Bay looks to do what Michael David Smith is suggesting for Los Angeles. Perhaps the Bucs go with a quarterback late on day two or on day three. At least then, the team would have someone behind Winston that could potentially take over if it comes to that. If the Bucs skip out on drafting a quarterback this year and decide to move on from Winston in 2020, they would probably have to spend another high draft pick on a quarterback. With where the team is, spending yet another top pick on a quarterback would be a tough pill to swallow.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating for anything here. But with Winston’s contract expiring after this year, the front office has to start thinking.
We’ll get our answers on all of these questions this weekend. The 2019 NFL Draft begins Thursday and runs through Saturday. Let’s go.