It’s time to face the hard reality. Thirteen months after winning the Super Bowl, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are rebuilding. What was possibly the best roster in the NFL two months ago is now a shell of itself. There are many reasons for this, but the first step in solving any problem is acknowledging it exists.
What’s that problem exactly? The Buccaneers no longer have a strong young core of foundational players. Sure there are guys like Tristan Wirfs and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka who everyone should feel great about. However looking at this roster overall there are more questions than answers.
Why Is It Time To Rebuild?
At this point there is no reason to believe the Buccaneers will be competitive in 2022. The offense is led by a second year quarterback or a bust turned backup. The offensive line is a complete unknown on the interior. In terms of starting running back, there is none. The days of consistently scoring 30 points per game feels like a distant memory at this point.
At least the Buccaneers still have their suffocating Super Bowl defense, right? Not so much. The Buccaneers are set to have five starters from that defense hit free agency, including their star cornerback Carlton Davis. Additionally, future Hall of Fame linebacker Lavonte David will turn 33 years old this season and it seems more likely that we see his retirement before we see another Buccaneers playoff game.
How Did We Get To This Point?
It’s never just one reason as to why things fall apart. In this case I would point to the biggest factor as a calculated risk that didn’t pay off.
A year ago the Bucs made the decision to kick the can down the road on some things and this allowed them to retain all of their key players from their Super Bowl win. Even in hindsight I believe that this was the right choice. However, it did set up this coming offseason with limited cap space and having more than a few important pending free agents.
One of those free agents was Chris Godwin. After playing on the franchise tag last season there was every expectation that the two parties would reach a long term deal. However, that did not happen before this year’s deadline for the franchise tag. As a result, the Buccaneers placed the tag on Godwin for the second year in a row.
Why does this matter? Because the franchise tag will be $19 million against the Bucs salary cap this year. That’s money that can’t be spread out over time or converted into bonuses to give the team more flexibility. This means even less money than expected to re-sign other guys.
Ali Marpet retiring didn’t help things either. You can overcome losing both Alex Cappa and Ryan Jensen when you still have a pro bowl guard in the prime of his career. Then you can plug in last year’s third round pick, Robert Hainsey, after getting 2021 as a redshirt year. Then it’s really only filling one hole as opposed to three. With that said, it’s hard to have faith that Hainsey will be able to step in as a quality starter without Marpet as a safety net.
This leads to the final piece to the puzzle, missed draft picks. This is something that dooms all teams to fail. If you don’t have cheap young talent or depth behind your starters then it’s hard to win in this league.
After watching Hainsey and quarterback Kyle Trask be healthy scratches last year, not even available as a backup, it’s hard to see them as part of a young core. You can add other misses in that conversation such as Ke’Shawn Vaughn, MJ Stewart, Justin Evans, and Roberto Aguayo. These were all day two picks who failed with the Bucs for various reasons.
Keep in mind that Jason Licht has obviously had great success as well and that no general manager gets all their picks correct. Licht built a championship roster and he deserves all the credit that comes with that. However, know that this free agency cycle was coming and that other key veterans such as Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Ndamukong Suh could be facing retirement. If the Bucs turn out to have no young talent ready to step in to replace these losses, which I suspect is the case, then it’s an absolute failure on Licht’s part.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As stated before, there’s no reason believe that the Buccaneers will contend for anything next season. While that’s obviously a disappointment with the talent that Tampa Bay still has there’s also a silver lining. It’s the perfect opportunity to balance the books and for a year of growing pains.
This is their chance to play all the young guys and learn exactly what they have. With no explanations you can feel comfortable with Trask running the offense. If he crashes and burns then it doesn’t matter; it just verifies that the Bucs need a new quarterback. Same with the likes of Hainsey and Vaughn. Learn exactly what these kids can do.
This will tell the Buccaneers where they need to draft next year. It will also give them much higher draft picks to work with. Between this year’s draft and next year’s draft the Buccaneers have to reestablish their young core to go with some of the star talent they have under contract long term.
If Licht can get these next two drafts right then the Bucs could be Super Bowl contenders again as early as 2024. As far as rebuilds go, that’s as quick of a turnaround as you could hope to see.
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