by Paul Wanecski
Clearly, things could have gone better for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2017. They feel they have a franchise quarterback, they had plenty of weapons through the air; things were looking good. However, the disintegration happened with Jamies Winston missing 3 games to injury, the running game never really being a factor and a defense that sat in the middle of the pack.
Truthfully, from a money standpoint, things could be worse. Tampa Bay certainly didn’t go crazy in free agency this year and as of the date of this article, still have nearly $30 million in 2018 cap space, even after taking on a couple contracts (more on that later). The draft capital is strong of the Buccaneers who could be candidates to move up the draft board. The team decided to resign their own and it was clear that was all they were focused on. CB Brent Grimes is back, TE Cameron Brate signed a huge deal, WR Mike Evans now has a five-year extension, and they are still going to control Winston for two seasons (this one included) as they are sure to exercise his fifth-year option for 2019. Rolling over all this cap money into 2019 will basically pay for Winston’s final year of his rookie contract and who can argue with a quarterback that is basically free?
Everyone could see several glaring holes in the Bucs defense near the end of the season. They had no pass rush and the secondary couldn’t buy the players enough time in coverage to really get after the quarterback. With Noah Spence still emerging, the team brought in veteran Vinny Curry, releasing Robert Ayers. While this was an upgrade, the team wasn’t done. With plenty of salary cap space, they were able to trade essentially a 3rd round pick for Jason Pierre-Paul to play on the edge. This was a really smart move as it crossed off the need to draft at this position. Absent any changes to the secondary, the team moved to retain offensive talent when Adam Humphries was tendered at the second round as a restricted free agent. The released long-time RB Doug Martin did not resign Charles Sims and currently have only Jacquizz Rodger and Peyton Barber as reasonable starting options in the backfield. The team will get a boost at receiver with Chris Godwin and DeSean Jackson (hopefully both can actually make it through the season healthy). Truthfully, the extension of Cameron Brate makes last year’s 19th overall selection of TE OJ Howard expendable, which is something of interest to watch moving into draft day.
Simply put, the team HAS to leave the draft with a running back and luckily, this draft is loaded with options. Any worthy of the 7th selection? If they aren't named Shaquon Barkley then the answer is no. They will be able to grab one on at the top of the second round but odds are at that time Derrius Guice will already be gone. Sony Michel would be a great fit for Tampa if he makes it that far. The true need is a cornerback, with Brent Grimes being 35, and Vernon Hargreaves showing his real production will be out of the slot position. They should be able to snag Denzel Ward from Ohio State or Derwin James from FSU. Of course, Minkah Fitzpatrick is the prize of that position but he won’t be there for them to snag. Of course, they could shock everyone and grab Quenton Nelson, a guard from Notre Dame who is simply NASTY but that won’t fix that pretty poor secondary that they basically ignored during free agency. Of course, the team could look to get to the 4th overall pick, swapping with Cleveland to grab Fitzpatrick from Alabama if they really feel is he that much superior to Ward and James. The best thing about the draft day is that anything is possible.