Heading into a condensed training camp in 2020, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster certainly features some new faces. However, it is the familiar faces that will play a significant part in ensuring Tampa Bay’s success. I am specifically talking about three stars on the defense, as well as three stars on the offense. Let’s jump right into the defense.
One of, if not the best free-agent signing of Jason Licht’s tenure as Buccaneers general manager. In 2019, Shaquil Barrett was brought in on a one-year, $4 million prove-it deal. Boy, did he ever prove it! Not only did he set the single-season Tampa Bay sack record with 19.5, he also led the entire NFL in sacks. Barrett tormented opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks. Aside from the sacks, he also tallied 37 quarterback hits, an interception, and six forced fumbles, several of which were returned for touchdowns.
With Barrett now playing on the franchise tag, he is basically on another prove-it deal, though much more lucrative ($15.8 million). Expect him to continue to impress in 2020. Do not be discouraged if the sack numbers are not quite as high in 2020 due to a full season of Jason Pierre-Paul, but expect the pressures to remain amongst the top in the league. Barrett was voted the number 32 overall player in 2019 for good reason.
Aside from his veteran locker room presence and vocal leadership, Jason Pierre-Paul is a huge asset while on the field. After missing the first six games of 2019, he registered 8.5 sacks in just ten games. This was enough to earn a two-year, $25 million deal in the offseason. If Pierre-Paul can stay healthy for the full 2020 season, this defensive front will be a force to be reckoned with. Pierre-Paul, Shaquil Barrett, Vita Vea, and the next player on my list, Ndamukong Suh, all rushing the passer at once will be a beautiful sight.
Ndamukong Suh did not overwhelm in the statistics department in 2019, however, re-signing him for the 2020 season was a priority, and here is why. It is not because of his two touchdowns or 2.5 sacks, rather, it is because he was an anchor in the #1 rush defense of 2019. Suh wins a majority of the snaps he gets single-teamed, and with Vita Vea playing next to him, it is hard to double both. Also, the last two teams Suh has played for have been home to the sack leader that season. Aaron Donald for the Rams in 2018, and Barrett for Tampa Bay in 2019. Suh is a selfless player and opens up opportunities for his fellow members of the front seven. Expect that to carry into the 2020 season, as he is on a one-year $8 million deal.
Now onto the offensive side of the ball…
The left tackle position became that much more important with the signing of 43-year old Tom Brady. Donovan Smith is notorious for being an inconsistent player, however, he has managed to stay very healthy in his career, missing just one game in five seasons. The Buccaneers have $14.5 million tied into Smith’s contract this season, so they expect him to keep Tom Brady safe. Smith has gotten away with some rough games while Jameis Winston was quarterback of this team, however, if it continues with Brady under center, he may be expendable.
The signing of veteran Joe Haeg and first-round draft pick Tristan Wirfs gives the Buccaneers options in case Smith does not play up to par. However, I am going out on a whim and expect Smith to impress and be an above left tackle in 2020. Here’s why: Winston held onto the ball often and led to Smith’s man getting the sack. Tom Brady is known for getting rid of the ball quickly, which will help make the O-Line look a bit better.
Ronald Jones II
Coming into his third season, it appears Ronald Jones II will finally get his reps as the RB1. LeSean McCoy and rookie third-rounder Ke’Shawn Vaughn will likely take on a majority of the pass-catching duties in 2020. However, I would expect Jones to get about 65-70% of all carries and remain on the field in certain third-down situations. Jones looks to have put on quite a bit of muscle in the offseason, which will help him add the bruising factor to his already shifty style of running.
Chris Godwin really made a name for himself in the 2019 season. His 1,333 yards were third in the NFL last season, very impressive considering he missed the last two games of the year. Having lined up in the slot 51% of his snaps in 2019, it appears Brady has his next slot weapon, a position previously held by Julian Edelman. Will Godwin live up to the hype in 2020? I say absolutely. The guy catches everything and is tough as nails. The switch over from Jameis Winston to Tom Brady will only help Godwin, and his willingness to learn is something Brady loves in his receivers. Paired up with a top-five receiver in the NFL in Mike Evans, I expect another huge year for the #38 overall player of the 2019 season.
These six players will be huge factors in whether or not the 2020 Buccaneers are legitimate contenders or pretenders. All of them have two years or less on their current contract and will look to show out and try to make their case for another contract. This is just added motivation for guys who are on a team that has big expectations ahead of them.