Do the Bucs have an off-season plan?

by Gary Shelton on March 13, 2018 · 4 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Ayers hasn't been a premier pass-rusher./CARMEN MANDATO

Ayers hasn't been a premier pass-rusher./CARMEN MANDATO

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

He has a plan. Doesn't he? Mustn't he?

Jason Licht sits in his office, the midnight oil burning. He is watching game tape, and he is poring over scouting charts. He has a blueprint in his mind to negotiate his Tampa Bay Bucs from a fairly bad team to a fairly good one.

In the corner, just to be safe, there is a Strat-o-matic game. Spinner and all.

Somehow, you have to hope that Licht has an idea. Either that, or this organization will blow up its front office in a year.

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Licht needs to make Bucs better in a hurry.

Say what you want, but Licht is the general manager of a flawed football team.  It's been a lot of years since the Bucs made the post-season and, unless Licht makes some deft moves, this won't be one of those years, either There is no one lot rush the passer. There are only journeymen to run the football. Cornerback is a liability. Every placekicker is an unsolved mystery. The offensive line wobbles.

Ha, you think. Licht has the NFL right where he wants them!

Okay, okay. Let's face it. As the league's free-agency period begins, it's kind of hard to tell what Licht is thinking. Or if he is thinking. For the Bucs, the road to any improvement will be uphill over broken glass while it rains nails. The schedule seems to be tougher than the roster that will play it.

Look, we all realize that it's a good thing that the Bucs are bringing back Brent Grimes and Cam Brate, and it's splendid that Mike Evans will get paid. But getting better usually involves an influx of talent from elsewhere, doesn't it?

So how does this team get better? And when does it start?

Licht is betting his job that it will, of course. And he's paid to know things the rest of us do not. Right?

Take, for instance, defensive end, the weakest part of this football team. If you want one sentence to sum up the upcoming season, it is this: If the Bucs fix their pass rush problems, they have a chance. If they do not, they don't.

Start with this: There aren't a lot of of defensive ends out there in free agent. The only one worth his salt is probably 113-year-old Julius Peppers. I don't think Peppers is ready to rip up his roots at this stage.

But the Bucs weren't just a little bit bad at defensive end last year. They were dreadful. I kept waiting for them to put Don Knotts and Justin Bieber onto the field. They couldn't get close enough to the quarterback to make a local phone call.

And the draft? Well, the Bucs didn't lose enough to get into the hunt for Bradley Chubb. And Marcus Davenport seems like a horrible reach. And Arden Key is even more undersized than Noah Spence. There isn't an automatic answer in the draft.

Oh, trades seem out of the question, too. Frankly, I was a little disappointed last week when Robert Quinn and Michael Bennett (who both had 8 1/2 sacks last year) both changed teams at bargain prices. The Bucs were supposedly interested in both, but considering the price they went for, they weren't interested enough. That may come back to haunt them. Just a hunch, but both Bennett and Quinn will have more sacks than the top Bucs' defensive end next year.

I understand. Quinn has been hurt, and Bennett never seems to be happy, so you can't blame the Bucs for not being in love with either. But the Bucs haven't exactly gotten rich with the last half of their drafts, either. It seems like either Quinn or Bennett would have been worth a thought, especially if you don't have a guy you like in the first round.

(Of course, the Bucs need corners, too, and they didn't bite on either Richard Sherman or Aqib Talib and his roving bail bondsman. Think of that next year when you're watching Vernon Hargreaves play chase.)

The result is that a lot of people on the internet seem to think that Licht is stumbling through the dark here. If not the draft, if not free agency, if not trades, where do you think the team finds a defensive end?

William Gholston? He had 10 starts, zero sacks.

Robert Ayers? Ten starts, two sacks.

Ryan Russell? Six starts, two sacks.

Will Clarke? Two and a half sacks.

Noah Spence? Three starts, one sack.

Talk about your fearsome fivesome. In the NFL, 35 players had more sacks than the Bucs' defensive ends did as a group. It's been since 2005 that the Bucs had a player with double-digit sacks.

Odd. The Bucs' first No. 1 draft pick was Lee Roy Salmon, who was a terror. When the team won the Super Bowl, the MVP should have been Simeon Rice.

But except for those two -- and there are a lot of positions like this -- the Bucs have been playing chase. They drafted Booker Reese and Eric Curry and Ron Holmes and Keith McCants and Regan Upshaw and Gaines Adams, and they all fizzled.

You know, the Bucs had plan in those days, too.

What they didn't have was a pass rush.

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