The 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were certainly a mixed bag. A 2-6 first half had plenty questioning Bruce Arians, his coaching staff and the roster that Jason Licht had assembled. But some big offensive performances and a much-improved defense keyed a four-game winning streak and a 5-3 second half.
The end result was a 7-9 season that felt like it could’ve been more. A few missed kicks, a missed call and a seemingly endless turnover problem made the difference between a seven-win campaign and possibly a playoff berth. That’s been the story of Tampa Bay football as of late, hasn’t it? This team plays just well enough to allow for a few “what ifs” to haunt everyone all offseason long.
But by the end of this particular season, there seems to be more reason for optimism going forward. The defensive improvement is a major reason for that. Now, the next several months will be all about retaining that defensive core and deciding what in the world needs to be done with quarterback Jameis Winston.
There will be plenty of talk about all of that for weeks and weeks to come. So, before we fully shift gears to the 2020 season, let’s take some time to reflect on the past season. Our staff came together to give out some year-end awards for the 2019 Bucs.
Player of the Year: Shaquil Barrett
Others Receiving Votes: Chris Godwin
For as many free agent misses as Jason Licht has had over the years, he deserves plenty of credit when he hits on one. He certainly found the mark with Shaquil Barrett, who was brought in from Denver last spring to give the Bucs’ pass rush a boost. The team likely planned on getting some solid production out of Barrett in 2019, but there’s no way anyone saw this all coming from the 27-year-old. With his first chance at consistent playing time, all he did was rack up an NFL-leading 19.5 sacks, breaking Tampa Bay’s single-season franchise record in the process. He also came up with six forced fumbles and an interception, leading the way for a Buccaneer defense that appears primed for a huge 2020. That is, as long as the unit can retain Barrett. All signs point to him being back next year and beyond, which is fantastic for the future of this team. Him being left off the All-Pro first-team is a crime, but at least he is headed to the Pro Bowl in Orlando later this month.
Rookie of the Year: Devin White
Others Receiving Votes: Jamel Dean
After the second half of the season, it’s much harder to narrow this down to one guy. But Devin White deserves this one. The No. 5 overall pick got out to a slow start in 2019 due to an illness and some injuries, but after making it back fully healthy, he was a huge part of the defense’s resurgence. The guy just made plays. He finished the season with 91 tackles (58 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, three passes defensed, an interception, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two touchdowns. Throw your analytics out the window. That type of production can’t be ignored. White had a strong rookie campaign, and he’ll only get better from here. With him and Lavonte David, Tampa Bay has one of the most formidable linebacker duos in the entire league. Watching those two in 2020 and beyond will be a treat, that’s for sure.
Biggest Breakout: Shaquil Barrett
We have a double award-winner in the form of Shaquil Barrett. Unsurprisingly, our player of the year wins biggest breakout considering the fact that no one was really sure what to expect out of him just last March. When he signed a one-year, $5 million deal with Tampa Bay, hopes were high. But 19.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and a Pro Bowl nod? No one’s expectations could’ve been THAT high. Maybe Barrett’s were. He was stuck behind Von Miller in Denver, meaning this was his first chance to get consistent playing time. With a one-year prove-it deal, he certainly proved it. Now, he’s about to get PAID, and it’ll most likely be by the Bucs.
Biggest Disappointment: O.J. Howard
Others Receiving Votes: Jameis Winston
Yes, O.J. Howard did play for the Buccaneers in 2019. The fact that that’s even a joke made here tells you all you need to know about the season he had. The 2017 first-round pick showed glimpses of excellence in his first two seasons, with 997 yards and 11 touchdowns in 24 games. Coming into this season, plenty of folks were expecting a true breakout year from Howard. But he just never got going. Bruce Arians hasn’t always had the tendency to feature tight ends in his offenses, but he hasn’t had a weapon like Howard before. This year should’ve been so much better for the former Alabama star, but instead, he is now the subject of trade talks within the fan base. That’s truly disappointing, to say the least. He started emerging little by little later in the season to finish with 459 yards on 34 catches (tying his 2018 total), but the one touchdown is the big letdown here. As big of a mismatch as he is all over the field, he should be even more of a problem in the red zone. But he was invisible for a large part of the year, which means he’ll be looking for a bounce-back year in 2020. Will that be with the Bucs?
Game of the Year: Bucs 38, Colts 35
Others Receiving Votes: Seahawks 40, Bucs 34 (OT)
During the Buccaneers’ four-game win streak during the second half of the season, they won a game that they wouldn’t have won in past seasons. In a Week 14 home game, Tampa Bay fell behind Indianapolis 10-0 in the first quarter before coming back to take a 14-10 lead. The Colts then went up 24-14 and eventually 35-21, but the Bucs weren’t done. They made it 35-28 by the end of the third quarter before outscoring the Colts 10-0 in the fourth, taking the lead with 3:51 to go. The defense held on from there, earning them a hard-fought come-from-behind victory. Past Bucs teams may not have come back from two 10-point deficits and a 14-point second-half deficit. Jameis Winston had three picks, but came away the hero with 456 yards and four touchdowns on 33-of-45 passing. He even added a rushing touchdown. This was an exceptionally entertaining game. It’ll be a fun one to look back on this offseason when we’re desperate for Bucs highlights.
Moment of the Year: Ronde Barber’s Ring of Honor Induction Ceremony on Sept. 22
Others Receiving Votes: Shaq Barrett breaking Warren Sapp’s single-season sack record; Mike Evans’ nomination for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award; Jason Pierre-Paul’s sack on his first snap back from a devastating neck injury
While there were certainly some moments to appreciate on the field in 2019, our moment of the year comes from a guy who hasn’t played for the Buccaneers since 2012. The Ring of Honor inside Raymond James Stadium is an excellent way for the franchise to immortalize its greatest figures, and Ronde Barber has been a shoo-in for that recognition for over a decade at this point. His pick six to seal the NFC Championship Game and send the Bucs to the Super Bowl back in the 2002-03 season lives on as the organization’s greatest moment, but his contributions go even further than that. He revolutionized the nickel cornerback position, which is where he spent most of his career. Barber played 16 seasons in the league — all with Tampa Bay — and is a pillar of the franchise’s history. At halftime of the Bucs’ Week 3 game against the Giants, he got his name inside the stadium that he called home and got to share the moment with former teammates, other Bucs legends, the fans and his family, including his brother. It was a special moment for him and the Buccaneer fan base that got to see him become a legend all those years ago. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has to be next.
Agree or disagree with our picks for these year-end awards? Let us know what you think in the comments or on Twitter @Bucs_Nation.