As teams get mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs, we’ll give you a jump on their offseason by examining what went right, what went wrong and what needs to change before next season.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Any list of the most disappointing teams in the NFL has to start with the New York Giants, but the Buccaneers shouldn’t be far behind. Tampa Bay was a sleeper playoff pick for many, and face-planted instead. When the Bucs were eliminated their only wins were against the Bears, Giants, Jets and Dolphins, four similarly bad teams. A 29-7 win in their first game over the Bears was nice, but there wasn’t a moment all season in which it seemed Tampa Bay was a good team.
What went right: Well, “Hard Knocks” was really fun. Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy are still two of the best players in the NFL. Rookie tight end O.J. Howard and rookie safety Justin Evans had some nice moments, and rookie receiver Chris Godwin made some plays in the second half. Even though they were bad this season, the Buccaneers still have some blue-chip talent.
What went wrong: Doug Martin’s career continued its downswing with another bad season from beginning to end, but that didn’t stop an overwhelmed coaching staff from stubbornly feeding him the ball like he was Earl Campbell in 1978. Mike Evans had a disappointing season, but not even close to as disappointing as DeSean Jackson, a free-agent addition who made no impact. The defense was a sieve all season. And the most troubling issue of all was Jameis Winston’s regression.
Will the coach be back?: The Buccaneers fired Lovie Smith, in large part to hold onto then-offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, but now it seems Koetter will be gone too. There’s just no reason to believe Koetter is the right guy to lead the Buccaneers, and reports of a rift with Jameis Winston can’t help (even though the Buccaneers went out of their way to deny there were any issues). It would be surprising if Koetter returns. Then get ready for as many Jon Gruden rumors as you can handle.
Do they have a quarterback?: Winston isn’t going anywhere. He showed promise his first two seasons and the Buccaneers aren’t exactly starting over. But this was a disappointing season for Winston. Given weapons like DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard, Winston struggled. He’s still way too reckless with ball security, and that’s troubling after three seasons. So the Buccaneers do have a quarterback, but we might have to set our expectations lower for him going forward.
Quick free agent fix: Through 13 weeks, the Buccaneers had 17 sacks. You read that correctly. That’s obviously the worst mark in the NFL. Pass rushers aren’t easy to find in free agency, but the Buccaneers have a projected $70 million in cap space according to Spotrac, fifth most in the NFL. If the Lions can’t lock up Ezekiel Ansah, perhaps the Buccaneers could offer him a huge deal. If that falls through, perhaps they can grab Saints end Alex Okafor, who had a nice season.
Quick draft fix: Whoever is the best pass rusher to drop to the Buccaneers — Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell, LSU’s Arden Key or Boston College’s Harold Landry perhaps — that’s the pick. Tampa’s pass rush is so bad, they need to put all their resources into fixing it and then figure out what they have left to fill other holes.
Give it to me straight, can my team make the playoffs in 2018?: This really looked like a team on the rise, and we can’t rule out that perhaps everyone who liked them this season was just a year off. A playoff run would center around Winston turning out of this skid and having the breakout it looked like he’d have this season. If the Bucs use their cap space and picks to help the pass rush, a running game comes from somewhere (Peyton Barber maybe?) and a new coach rejuvenates the team, maybe the breakthrough comes in 2018.
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