The 2019 Bucs have many holes to fill if head coach Bruce Arians wants to make the team contenders. Here are the major areas I’d like to see them address.
Ranking 29th in 2018 in the run, most opposing defenses did not fear the run. While the Bucs did have the luxury of the top passing game and top 3 offense overall, they finished 12th in points scored. The recently-eliminated Kansas City Chiefs averaged 35.3 points a game to the Bucs’ 24.8, which clearly shows problems finishing drives. For those scoring at home, the Chiefs finished at 16th, averaging 115 yards a game to the Bucs’ 95.2 yards per game.
Popular names that come up are Le’Veon Bell, who unintentionally took the year off in a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the younger Kareem Hunt, who was cut by the Chiefs following a domestic incident. Bell’s just three years older than Hunt and has more of a proven record. Hunt had a breakout rookie season, but his conduct sidelined him. No other team picked him up after his release. You get more of a proven commodity from Bell, but you get more potential shelf life from Hunt.
Another choice they could try is Tevin Coleman, who filled in for starter Devonta Freeman, which would be a more lateral move since Peyton Barber could still fulfill backup duties. Doug Martin is a free agent after his only season in Oakland, and perhaps he could be better utilized under Arians than he would have been under Dirk Koetter. But he’s prone to injury and doesn’t warrant a long-term contract.
A spellback who would be a definite upgrade depending on how much Adrian Petersen is in demand. How much would he long for an opportunity to play for a ring. He can start on the fly. He could at least warrant a 1-year deal since he still produced 1,000 rushing yards for the season in Washington. If Arians feels the need in the draft to address other positions, then running back would be a luxury position.
Should Donovan Smith leave, here are some names the Bucs could pick up.
Two particular targets are going to be playing in the Super Bowl, New England Patriots Trent Brown and LaAdrian Waddle. Brown is the current starting left tackle, who at 25 has plenty of career left. It’s surprising that both are in their contract years. Don’t be surprised if at least one of them gets locked up. Should Brown be locked up, the Bucs can make a hard play at Waddle, who’s only 27 years old and can play both tackle positions. He’s also the primary backup tackle in case either Brown or Marcus Cannon goes down. The balanced Patriot offense is 8th in passing and 5th in rushing respectively.
New Orleans Saints Jermon Bushrod may not be a long-term solution, but he’s been in the league long enough to have protected Drew Brees’ blindside for nearly five seasons. He’s also spent time with the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins. At 34, Bushrod’s worth at least a 1-2 year investment and a quality depth move as Arians grooms his successor.
Carolina Panthers’ tackle Daryl Williams looks like an attractive option, but a knee injury put him on injured reserve. His viability as a starter is in question depending on how his recovery process goes. Left tackle Chris Clark is also a free agent, having had stints with the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans before landing with the Panthers. The Panthers finished 10th overall in offense, 16th in passing and 4th in rushing. While Williams is younger at 26, Clark is in a similar position at 33 as Bushrod is as a temporary investment.
Morris Claiborne has had a respectable 7-year career between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets. This should be an easy sell since defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was his coach when he arrived in 2017. Last season, Claiborne had a career high 14 passes defended and 57 tackles. He would be at least an upgrade over Brent Grimes.
Bryce Callahan is also someone the Bucs should consider despite the foot injury that put him out for the season. He’s proven capable in coverage, swarming around the ball. He made a career high 45 tackles for the third best defense in the league. The Bucs may not have Khalil Mack, but Callahan can provide quality depth at the position, considering his 4 interceptions and 12 passes defended the past two seasons.
Rontez Miles is familiar with Bowles’ system with the Jets, and he’s a capable tackler. While he’s not known for his interceptions, he has the speed to rush the QB and provide depth at the safety position. Another possibility is Kendrick Lewis from the Tennessee Titans. He spent most of his career with the Chiefs before moving on to the Texans and Baltimore Ravens. He was mainly productive during his days in Kansas City and Houston, grabbing nine in the five-year span. He can also rush the QB, is a solid defender, and can tackle. Whether he can recapture the production of his early years remains to be seen. He’s worth a look as another depth move.
Only two names come to mind outside of the NFL Draft. The Bucs should make Robbie Gould a target to help ease their kicking woes. A career 87.7 percent in field goals, Gould got even better late in his career. Having spent most of his career with the Bears, he never reached 90 percent in his 11 years there. During the last three seasons with the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, Gould has only missed 3 FG, all with the Niners. Yes, he was perfect in his 10 games with the G-Men. Gould is about as good as you get with kicking.
The other is Jason Myers, who was selected for the Pro Bowl this year from the New York Jets. He has dramatically improved from previous seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Bucs haven’t had much luck trying to catch lightning in a bottle, but he’s worth a look since Bowles helped him get to his lone Pro Bowl.