In the days leading into the 2017 and 2018 NFL seasons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a lot of pre-season hype, made big splashy moves and were selected to make an appearance as HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series. It netted them zero wins. The team that finished 5-11 in 2017, finished 5-11 in 2018.
If you want to take it one layer deeper, it actually cost the team four wins as they dropped from 9-7 in 2016. Either way, making the argument the Bucs are either regressing or stagnating certainly has some win-loss statistical support.
But this year, the team has completed at least a partial makeover. The offense remains largely intact minus the presence of guys like DeSean Jackson. The big change here is mostly in mentality, trust and scheme.
The defense is going to look completely different than what we’ve seen in recent years. Getting back to the attacking mentality which helped the franchise win their only Super Bowl, the defense is also welcoming a new veteran presence who more closely resembles legendary inside man, Warren Sapp.
There’s a new leadership presence in the linebacker room with Devin White, and the familiar face belonging to Lavonte David is expected to fill a new (more aggressive) role himself.
Tampa Bay’s secondary looks...well...different. There’s some optimism there, but the names are mostly new or at least newer than most are comfortable with at this stage.
So, with all the newness going on, fans are hopeful there will be progress. Sports Illustrated is not as hopeful.
“While you could argue that the hiring of Bruce Arians is exactly the kind of thing that would unstick this franchise from the mud - and maybe, in time, it will - they are still dependent on the elevation of Jameis Winston to a role that we’ve only seen him grasp fleetingly on the field over the past few seasons.”
These are the words of SI’s Conor Orr. Wrapping up a series where the publication has been identifying teams with open championship windows, closed windows, and then those who seem to be stuck in what Orr calls, “The Jeff Fisher Orbit”; Orr believes the Buccaneers are stagnating even now despite all of the changes.
Pointing to Winston as a point of focus when casting doubt on Tampa Bay isn’t a new idea, or even a fresh one. But it’s an accurate one. Winston is the focus of this whole operation. He’s the reason Brue Arians feels like the team can win now. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Jameis Winston could go down as one of the greatest to ever wear a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform. But first, he and this team have to find a way to win.
Like some, Orr isn’t optimistic and seems to cap the potential upside of this season at,
“Maybe being only slightly less confused about Winston’s viability as a franchise quarterback after this season, when the going rate for starters on long-term deals hitting the open market could be hovering around $40 million per year.”
I have to admit, my own upside projection to this season is a bit higher. And while Winston is definitely a focal point, my eyes turn to the defensive ability more than Winston’s when gauging just how successful this team can be.
But, when you’re a quarterback in the NFL the team’s result is laid at your feet when it’s bad, and thrust upon your shoulders when it’s good.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 21-33 with Winston under center. The biggest team accomplishment has been finishing one game over .500 since he was drafted first overall in 2015.
In three of his four professional seasons, the team has finished with five wins twice and six wins once. Those might be about the most stagnant win-loss numbers in the league.
Will the team get off this mark and bust through to make it into a window-opening status in 2019 and beyond? Soon, we’ll find out.
Until then, most are expecting the Bucs to stay right where they are and have been for quite some time now.