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Pinpointing Buccaneers’ cornerstones not as easy as it used to be

A recent Pro Football Focus article picking three Bucs players to rebuild the team around begs the question: Who are Tampa Bay’s franchise cornerstones?

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NFC Championship - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

For more than a decade—and truthfully for much of their existence—the Buccaneers have not been winners. In fact, until their Super Bowl season in 2020, they had the worst winning percentage of any team in the four major American sports leagues. That’s not a tag you should ever want to have.

During the team’s losing seasons, you could typically only choose a few bright spots on the roster. In fact, for the better part of the 2010s, picking the franchise’s cornerstone players was as easy as looking at Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David on the defensive side of the ball. As the decade went on, there were some players who developed into cornerstones on the offensive side of the ball. Mike Evans (since 2014) and Ali Marpet (since 2015) are two that come to mind, as both have consistently played at a Pro Bowl level throughout their entire careers.

But with Tampa Bay having the league’s best roster entering the 2021 season, it’s much harder to pinpoint cornerstone players. This thought originated from a recent Pro Football Focus article that focused on picking three players from each team to build around. In that article, Ben Linsey picked Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Tristan Wirfs as the three Bucs to build a team around.

“The Buccaneers have the best roster in the NFL, and their receiving corps is the strength of the team. Godwin and Evans are both top-15 wide receivers in PFF’s preseason rankings entering the 2021 season, and they are in line to continue to produce at a high level for years to come at 25 and 27 years old, respectively. Those two are far from the only bright spots on Tampa Bay’s offense. Wirfs projects to have one of the brightest futures of any offensive tackle in the NFL following a rookie season in which he deserved All-Pro recognition. His 84.1 PFF grade on the year led all qualifying right tackles.”

It’s difficult to argue with Linsey’s picks, but man is it difficult to narrow it down to just three players or what? That speaks to the roster that Jason Licht and his staff have built over the years, and it’s a good thing this is just a hypothetical anyway as practically the entire Super Bowl-winning team is back to go for two in 2021. But for the sake of the exercise, would you stick with Linsey’s picks as your three Bucs to build the team around?

Evans and Godwin truly are two of the game’s best receivers, and both are still pretty young. Evans will be 28 years old at the start of this upcoming season, while Godwin will only be 25. Those two as your top two receivers is a phenomenal place to start a team. As for Wirfs being the third guy, it’s also hard to dispute that. Though he has just one professional season under his belt, the 2020 first-round pick already looks to be one of the best tackles in the game. He was spectacular as a rookie, playing a significant part in Tampa Bay’s run to its second-ever Lombardi Trophy. There is legitimate All-Pro potential there for Wirfs, as one could even argue he deserved that honor last year.

However, as good as those three guys are and as important as they would be as the base of a team, consider who is being left out of that group: Devin White, a budding superstar linebacker who is just 23 years old... Marpet, a 28-year-old who has been one of the best and most underrated guards in the NFL since his arrival in the league... Shaquil Barrett, the league’s sack leader in 2019 and one of the key reasons the Bucs got the job done in the playoffs this past season... Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting, three 24-year-old cornerbacks with extreme promise... Antoine Winfield Jr., a do-it-all safety who will only be 23 when he starts his second NFL season this fall... And, of course, there’s a host of veterans—like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh and Lavonte David—who miss out on consideration because of their age but would still be major pieces to build a team around if you’re thinking shorter term.

Again, the depth of young talent on Tampa Bay’s roster is pretty impressive. That has to be exciting to a fan base that got its first taste of winning in a long time this past year. Yes, some older veterans—especially Brady—were huge difference-makers. But the future of the team looks pretty unbelievably bright when you really get down to it. For anyone who thinks the franchise will go straight back to irrelevance when Brady retires, there’s a whole host of studs littering the roster who would beg to differ.

So, what do you think, Bucs Nation? If you had to pick three members of Tampa Bay’s roster to build a team around, who would you go with? Let us know what you think in the comments down below.