The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had no shortage of problems in recent seasons. Dirk Koetter’s high-powered offense couldn’t overcome the league’s worst defense, leading to his ouster after three seasons and back-to-back five-win campaigns.
So to untie the knot Koetter couldn’t loosen, the franchise would like to turn to an old pro. The Bucs and Bruce Arians, former Cardinals and Colts head coach, officially announced his return to the NFL.
The two-time NFL head coach of the year left his post in Arizona on New Year’s Day last year, sending the Cardinals into a tailspin that guaranteed them the top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He can boost his stock even further by leading the Buccaneers back from the dead.
The Cardinals will get some minimal compensation after Tampa hired away their retired head coach: a swap of late-round picks in 2019.
NFL initially told Buccaneers no compensation needed to hire Bruce Arians. But Cards made late argument to NFL that they held Arians’ rights. Rather than having a protracted dispute, Bucs sent a 6th-round pick to Arizona for Arians’ rights and a 7th-round pick, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 9, 2019
Arians will have to solve Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston problem
The Buccaneers are approaching a crossroads with the quarterback they selected with the first overall pick in 2015. Jameis Winston has been an enigma on the field and a headache off it. He was suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season for allegedly groping a female Uber driver, and while his other character concerns are an issue for a different story, the “Controversies” subheading on his Wikipedia page clocks in at 979 words.
That could leave Arians to oversee a decision on whether or not the franchise will commit to the quarterback it hoped would lead the club to a new era of prosperity. The Buccaneers exercised the $20.9 million option for 2019 at the tail end of his rookie contract last April, but that expensive deal is only guaranteed in case of injury, and Winston can be released without leaving any dead money behind on the club’s salary cap.
Would Arians move on from its embattled starter? Or is he taking this job in order to take on the challenge of rehabilitating Winston? Considering his past — both on the sideline and as someone who coached Winston through football camps during the young quarterback’s formative years — Tampa Bay’s hiring points to the latter.
General manager Jason Licht has said as much in the past.
“(Winston) has accomplished more than most of the elite quarterbacks have at his age through that time span (in their careers). There’s a lot to like about Jameis. Jameis will be here next year.’’
Arians confirmed this plan in an interview with Rich Eisen Wednesday.
Arians has worked with both young, rising quarterbacks and established veterans in the past. His guidance as offensive coordinator and interim head coach for the 2012 Colts turned another former No. 1 overall pick — Andrew Luck — into a playoff starter as a rookie. He also called plays for Ben Roethlisberger during the two-time NFL champion’s age 25 to age 29 seasons.
Those are all points in Winston’s favor, but “here” doesn’t necessarily mean starting, as 2018 proved. Arians’ biggest success as a head coach came with a transplanted veteran quarterback when he guided Carson Palmer and the Cardinals to a 49-30-1 record and a pair of postseason berths over a five-year span. Ryan Fitzpatrick may not be an option since he’s facing free agency in 2019, but that doesn’t mean Arians won’t be able to find a veteran QB to challenge for a starting role without him.
There will be a robust market for flawed older passers this spring, which may include players like Tyrod Taylor, Joe Flacco, Teddy Bridgewater, and maybe even Super Bowl 52 MVP Nick Foles. If Arians wants to tear down the Bucs offense and rebuild in his own image, he’ll have some options.
The good news is Winston is only 25 years old, and he showed signs of improvement as his fourth season as a pro wore on. He finished 2018 with 13 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a solid 100.1 passer rating after regaining his starting role from Fitzpatrick over the Bucs’ final seven games. Moving on from Winston, at least from an on-field standpoint, probably isn’t the right move. But his off-field exploits will give Arians something to consider when it comes to shaping his 2019 roster.
To help out, Arians is bringing on a couple of familiar faces:
I'm told the current plan is for Byron Leftwich to join the #Bucs as offensive coordinator and for Harold Goodwin to join as assistant head coach-run game coordinator. I'm told Goodwin has not given official word yet, at this time, per source.— ig: josinaanderson (@JosinaAnderson) January 9, 2019
Leftwich, a one-time Bucs quarterback himself, began his coaching career with Arians in Arizona. He was let go as the Cardinals’ OC at the end of the season.
Arians he can’t rely on the Buccaneers’ defense to bail him out
Tampa Bay’s defense was very, very bad under Dirk Koetter. The Buccaneers ranked 27th in the league in yards allowed and 31st in points given up. Their advanced statistical profile isn’t much better.
There’s some talent along that hollowed-out lineup thanks to the presence of Jason Pierre-Paul and Lavonte David, but Arians is going to have to oversee a mass acquisition of talent to shore up that unit. He’ll also have to build up young prospects like Vita Vea, Carlton Davis, and Justin Evans.
The easiest way to do that is to bring on a defensive mind to take the reins and balance out his offensively inclined management. That’s what Arians is doing, reuniting with his former Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who was served his walking papers by the Jets at the end of this season.
Bowles’ defenses were ranked in the top 10 in points allowed in each of his two years in Arizona. Tampa’s defense hasn’t been able to boast the same since 2010.
The Buccaneers will be getting an experienced head coach with a proven track record, whose consistent success in Arizona only looks more impressive after 2018. But he’s also 66 years old and will have significantly less veteran talent than he ever had with the Cardinals. Resurrecting Tampa Bay will be a challenge — but Arians’ resume suggests he’s the right guy for the job, even if he’s not the trendy one.