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ESPN ranks Buccaneers’ 2021 offseason as league’s best

After a successful few months in Tampa Bay, who else would be No. 1?

NFL: Super Bowl LV-Champion Tampa Bay Buccanners Boat Parade Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For years, the Buccaneers would come away as “winners” of the offseason only to be anything but winners on the field during the season. That certainly changed in 2020 when the team brought in Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski—among others—in the spring before going 11-5 and winning Super Bowl LV. Finally, at long last, Tampa Bay’s offseason success translated to wins on the field—and eventually the sport’s biggest prize.

Ever since their 31-9 win over the Chiefs to capture the Lombardi Trophy, the Bucs have talked about going for two. In other words, it’s all about repeating in 2021. Early indicators would seemingly show that they have a good chance to do so, especially when you consider that they have already repeated as winners of the offseason this spring.

In a recent ESPN article ranking the best and worst 2021 offseasons in the NFL (ESPN+ subscription required), Bill Barnwell rated Tampa Bay’s offseason as the league’s very best. And it’s certainly hard to argue against his case for Jason Licht and his staff leading the pack for the moves they’ve made over the last few months:

“What went right: The Super Bowl champions managed to bring back just about everybody from last season’s team. Thirty-one Bucs players lined up for at least 200 snaps on offense or defense a year ago. Owing to some creative cap work and a Tom Brady extension, all 31 of those players are back. The most conspicuous departure from the 2020 team might realistically be swing tackle Joe Haeg. Tampa didn’t add much outside of former Bengals third-down back Gio Bernard, but this is about as much continuity for an NFL team as you can imagine from year-to-year. The Bucs also managed to keep defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on staff after the former Jets coach flummoxed Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl.”

Heading into the offseason, there wasn’t a lot of certainty that the Bucs were going to be able to bring everyone back. Shaquil Barrett, Chris Godwin, Lavonte David, Ndamukong Suh, Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown were just some of the key free agents that the team had, and they’re all back. The front office got creative with the salary cap and made it happen.

When a backup offensive lineman is the biggest departure from your championship team, you’ve done pretty well. That’s no disrespect to Joe Haeg, either. If anything, it’s a testament to the work that Licht, Mike Greenberg and the staff did in finding space for some significant names. Add in Giovani Bernard as a solid pass-catching running back and the Tampa Bay roster is just as good—if not better—right now than it was when the confetti was falling at Raymond James Stadium back on the first Sunday in February.

Barnwell went on to discuss “what went wrong” for the Bucs this offseason and, as he puts it, it’s tough to find much to complain about:

“What went wrong: Everyone got a year older? It’s really tough to find much that went wrong for Tampa this offseason. Its main competitors in the NFC got worse, as the Saints were forced to shed talent and the Packers might have started a blood feud with Aaron Rodgers. You could quibble with using a second-round pick on quarterback Kyle Trask as opposed to using that pick to try to add more depth up front, but Tampa used its third-round pick on Robert Hainsey instead.”

All of that is true. Save for time stopping and the team not aging another year, there’s not much else you could’ve asked for out of the last few months. Time will tell whether the draft class is a good one, but the team seems to very much believe it got some studs to incorporate as depth this year.

On the point about the Bucs’ biggest competitors getting worse, that also appears to be true. Barnwell ranked the Saints’ offseason as the league’s seventh-best despite the loss of Drew Brees to retirement, but others in the division didn’t fare quite as well. The Panthers’ offseason was ranked 26th, while the Falcons’ was ranked 28th. Of Tampa Bay’s playoff opponents from last season, the Washington Football Team (fifth) had the best offseason, as far as Barnwell sees it. The Packers (31st) had the worst.

Barnwell closes his evaluation of the Bucs’ offseason by grasping at straws when it comes to what could’ve been done differently and what there’s left to do. He even admitted himself that he was quibbling:

“What they could have done differently: While Leonard Fournette played a meaningful role in the Bucs’ run to the title, I’m not sure they needed to commit $3.3 million guaranteed to Playoff Lenny and another $850,000 guaranteed to Bernard. With that being said, when we’re talking about $4 million across two veterans, you can see just how little there is to quibble with when it comes to this franchise’s spring.”

Eh. The Bucs were able to make these deals for Fournette and Bernard work, and both are presumably going to play big roles this season. Again, we’re grasping at straws.

What could the Bucs go on to do next, in Barnwell’s opinion?

“What’s left to do: This one is tough. The Bucs wouldn’t be in great shape if Brady suddenly collapsed in his age-44 season, but they brought back Blaine Gabbert and did use the second-round pick on Trask. If you squint and look for a problem, you could see that swing tackle role as a place to improve. Morgan Moses will probably end up as a starter somewhere, but I wonder if they would target Halapoulivaati Vaitai if the former Eagles tackle were cut by the Lions.”

Of course, without Brady, the Bucs would be in a tough spot. But that’s true in any year, and you’re not necessarily going to go out and get a ready-to-start backup when you have the greatest quarterback of all time on your roster. As for depth on the offensive line, maybe the team could use an upgrade. The front office is surely exploring all options and, as we saw in 2020, Tampa Bay isn’t afraid to make transactions right before—or even during—the season.

What do you think, Bucs Nation? Did the defending champs have the NFL’s best offseason again? Is there anything left to do with the roster before Sept. 9?