That means there’s no time to waste. The Buccaneers need to turn their roster into a championship contender immediately.
Fortunately for Tampa Bay, there are a lot of pieces already in place. The offense was far too turnover-prone in 2019 — thanks mostly to Jameis Winston’s 30 interceptions and five lost fumbles — but still finished third in points scored. It has arguably the best receiver duo in the NFL in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, each of whom had at least 1,100 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last season.
The defense lagged behind, allowing the fourth-most points in the NFL. While Winston’s seven pick-sixes contributed to that total, the secondary still allowed the third-most passing yards in the NFL. Keeping breakout pass-rushing star Shaquil Barrett was an important start to the offseason, but there’s work to be done on the pass defense even if it played well in the latter half of the season.
It’s time for the Buccaneers to push their chips all in and make sure Brady has the team around him to get a seventh Super Bowl ring. Here are three trades that could help get the job done.
1. Trade up to draft an offensive tackle in the top 10
Winston was sacked 47 times during the 2019 season. Only Matt Ryan, Kyler Murray, and Russell Wilson, who were subjected to 48 sacks each, went down more often.
However, the Buccaneers’ offensive line isn’t as shoddy as the sacks would lead you to believe. The interior was among the best in the NFL in pass protection, anchored by guard Ali Marpet and center Ryan Jensen. Left tackle Donovan Smith was given a three-year extension last year and rewarded the Buccaneers with the best season of his career. He was especially good late in the year, allowing only one sack and two hits in the back half of Tampa Bay’s schedule.
The problem area is right tackle. Demar Dotson was allowed to reach free agency and signing former Colts backup tackle Joe Haeg isn’t going to cut it. Nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters is an option to fill that void, but he’s 38 and missed 12 games in the last three seasons due to injuries. Finding a long-term solution is a must.
There are several offensive tackles expected to go early in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. In Dan Kadar’s latest mock draft, three tackles were taken in the top 10 and six were picked in the first round. Tampa Bay is projected to get one of them with its 14th overall pick: Georgia’s Andrew Thomas.
That’d be a perfect selection for the Buccaneers, who would get one of the most polished and NFL-ready prospects in the entire class. It’s such a great fit that the Buccaneers shouldn’t sit and cross their fingers that Thomas falls into their lap.
Tampa Bay should make sure it lands Thomas or one of the other top offensive tackles in the class. Parting with a draft pick or two to climb into the top 10 is a small price to pay in the long run.
2. Trade for Jets running back Le’Veon Bell
The Buccaneers need more from the running back position. Despite 2018 second-round pick Ronald Jones coming off a season with 1,033 yards from scrimmage, the team was still 28th in the NFL in yards per carry. It allowed Peyton Barber to walk in free agency and needs to add a new face to its backfield.
Tampa Bay especially needs a running back who can contribute in the passing game now that it has Brady. In three of the last four seasons, Patriots running back James White finished with at least 60 receptions and five receiving touchdowns.
Brady has a dynamic pair of wideouts and a couple of intriguing options at tight end, but he needs a running back who offers more receiving skills than Jones. While the draft is the likeliest avenue for the Buccaneers to address the position — LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the second round, perhaps — Bell is the most substantial way to make a Super Bowl push.
Bell has averaged 4.9 receptions per game over the course of his career. It’s part of the reason the Jets gave him a four-year, $52.5 million contract. In his first season in New York, Bell had decent numbers, but didn’t quite live up to his paycheck with 1,250 yards from scrimmage, four touchdowns, and a career-low 3.2 yards per carry.
The Jets regretted the deal almost right away and would probably be interested in another team willing to take it off their hands. In Tampa Bay’s offense, Bell would have a good chance at returning to his Pittsburgh form.
If that sounds unrealistically expensive for the Buccaneers, it’s not. The Jets will have to eat much of the contract they gave Bell, leaving Tampa Bay with a pricy but relatively reasonable deal for a 28-year-old running back with two All-Pro nods.
3. Trade for Vikings safety Anthony Harris
Andrew Adams and Jordan Whitehead were the starting safety duo for Tampa Bay for most of 2019. Neither was particularly inspiring. There are a few other on the roster, with 2019 third-round pick Mike Edwards, 2017 second-round pick Justin Evans, and second-year undrafted safety D’Cota Dixon.
Bruce Arians says he’s pretty happy with that group.
“I think we could still look at a safety,” Arians said at the end of 2019, via Buccaneers.com. “But I loved D’Cota Dixon and he was possibly going to be our starting strong safety until he knocked out his shoulder, so getting him back — hopefully getting Justin Evans back — I’m not sure we do [have a need].”
Still, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles could use a jolt at the position. He was the defensive coordinator in Arizona when the Cardinals drafted Deone Bucannon in the first round in 2014. He was the head coach of the Jets when the team picked Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye with their first two picks in 2017. Clearly, he values safety play and is willing to invest resources at the position.
Options are thin on the free agent market, though. The top players remaining are Damarious Randall and Tony Jefferson, two good-not-great players who could serve as stopgap starters.
Tampa Bay can do much better. For the cost of a mid-to-late round draft pick, Minnesota would probably be willing to part with Harris, who was franchise tagged earlier in March.
Harris led the NFL last season with six interceptions (Bucs safeties collectively had two) and earned Pro Football Focus’ highest grade at the safety position.
Highest graded safeties— PFF (@PFF) March 10, 2020
1. Anthony Harris - 91.1
2. Justin Simmons - 90.8
3. Marcus Williams - 88.9
4. Harrison Smith - 88.4 pic.twitter.com/PXnogJuiW1
The franchise tag means Harris will be due about $11.4 million for the 2020 season, and he’ll probably want an extension. That’d eat up a significant chunk of the Buccaneers’ remaining cap space, but it’s a move they could afford to make (assuming they don’t acquire Bell).
It’s also one that could round the defense into championship shape.