TAKING STOCK: TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians headed into the 2020 offseason successfully identifying his team’s primary problem; quarterback play. Because of that, he let former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston walk in free agency after delivering the first 30-30 season in NFL history; one in which a QB throws at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.
Arians, having correctly assessed his team, reached out to some cast-off washed up loser named Tom Brady and, before the year was out, was hoisting a Super Bowl Trophy. It was the second in the team’s history. And, seventh for Brady, but who’s counting?
They also managed to do it as the first Wild Card team to win the Super Bowl since 2010.
So what do you get the team that has everything? How about another title? We’ll dive in and see how they can do it.
In the Taking Stock series, we’re looking at each playoff team, going from worst to first, and outlining exactly what they must do to avoid being one of the five or so franchises who miss the postseason the year after making it.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
2021 Record: 11-5, NFC Wild Card, NFC Champion, Super Bowl LV Champion
Playoffs: Defeated the Washington Football Team 31-23 in the NFC Wild Card Round, defeated the New Orleans Saints 30-20 in the NFC Divisional Round, Defeated the Green Bay Packers 31-26 in the NFC Championship, defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 in Super Bowl LV.
Previously: Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Washington Football Team
IT’S TIME TO DRAFT ANOTHER QUARTERBACK
I’m no longer playing the “Tom Brady is heading for the QB cliff” game. The longer he plays, the more likely it is to happen, but I’m out as far as predicting when that will be. The quarterback Grim Reaper comes for all men, just recently claiming first-ballot Hall of Famer Drew Brees, but so far Brady (who is older than Brees by nearly two years) has avoided the scythe. Will he do it again? I mean, he shouldn’t. But you could have said that last year. Or the year before. Brady continues to defy the odds.
Last season, in addition to winning it all, Brady completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 4,633 yards, 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The chasm was seriously averted.
Ultimately, the only way to avoid that cliff is to retire before you hit it. Either way, the greatest QB in NFL history isn’t long for this league. The Buccaneers might get one more year out of him. Maybe two. But they need to start thinking about the future now while he’s still on the team and winning Super Bowls.
Which brings us to…
THE NFL DRAFT
Tampa Bay picks at No. 32 in the first round, obviously, and have just one extra pick, a second seventh rounder. That limits their wheeling and dealing and while they don’t have a lot of needs, they’d certainly like to come out of the draft with at least three players that could start if called upon in 2021.
I will not be the first, nor the last, writer to pair Florida quarterback Kyle Trask to the Buccaneers. He’s a natural fit, ep dive he’s ranked right outside the draft’s Top Five QBs along with Stanford’s David Mills. He played in Florida, so what’s not to like?
The problem is, I’ve seen drafts where people have Tampa selecting Trask at No. 64 in Round Two and I’m telling you right now, he’s not sitting that long. Trask is a mid to high second rounder and it honestly wouldn’t shock me to see him sneak into the bottom of the first. Last season with the Gators Trask completed 68.9 percent of his passes for 4,283 yards, 43 touchdowns and eight interceptions. That was against an all SEC schedule, against defenders on most Saturdays that will be playing on Sundays. With the exception of the Cotton Bowl loss to the Okalahoma Sooners, even in defeat he played pretty well.
Trask was really hurt by the lack of a combine and an opportunity to meet NFL teams face to face in that setting. He’s a wild card as far as where he will go, but if Tampa Bay does like him (and they should), they would be smart to consider taking him at No. 32 in the first round. That way they get his fifth year option down the road.
If they decide to with someone else, say a defensive lineman like Daviyon Nixon from Iowa or an edge rusher like Carlons Basham Jr. from Wake Forest, they’ll need t trade up in the second to grab Trask before a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints or Chicago Bears turn in his card. He’s more of a sure thing than Mills, who always looked great but played in just 11 NCAA games after suffering multiple injuries.
The Buccaneers have done exactly what they needed to do in free agency so far and it was as simple as keeping their own good players. That meant new deals for Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Rob Gronkowski, Rakeen Nunez-Roches, Leonard Fournette, Kevin Minter, Josh Wells and a franchise tag on wide receiver Chris Godwin.
They have, as of this moment, let Antonio Brown walk, but they never really needed him in the first place with receivers like Mike Evans, Godwin and Scotty Miller, who was destined to become the next Wes Welker and Julian Edelman the second Brady signed his contract.
What else do they need to do? Really, nothing. They can sit back and wait with open arms for veterans who want to join up with Arians, Brady and Gronk at a shot at a ring. Especially for older guys who’ve already made bank, it’s an enticing prospect.
With Brees gone, the Saints will remain formidable thanks to their defense an coaching, but I don’t see anyone competing with the Bucs for division supremacy next season. The Atlanta Falcons will be better with a new coaching staff because that always happens. The Carolina Panthers are a mystery, but not a particularly interesting one.
2021-22 Projected Record: 12-5, NFC South Champions