Thu, 30 Mar 2023

Reshaping the Roster | S.S. Mailbag

Buccaneers
18 Mar 2023, 18:26 GMT+10

Tampa Bay BuccaneersThis week, we talk best Buccaneer highlight reels than discuss such fan-submitted topics as the solution at left tackle, the idea of trading away starters for picks, and moreScott Smith

Sometimes you don't know you need a Mike Alstott highlight reel until you happen to stumble upon one and end up grinning loopily at a YouTube video of no. 40 careening off one defender after another. This happened to me recently when I was looking at the Twitter feed of Ronde Barber - that would be Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronde Barber - and found that he had retweeted this:

I bet you clicked on that link, especially if you're a Bucs fan of a certain vintage. That video is a lot of fun! And it got me thinking ("it got me thinking" is the official phrase of the Mailbag intro): If you could compile the absolute best highlights - say, 20 per reel - of every player in franchise history, which compilation would be most fun to watch? Is it even worth considering, or is it Alstott hands down? Let's consider some of the options.

One of them is right there in the lead paragraph. Ronde Barber played 16 years for the Buccaneers and made it into the Hall of Fame on the strength of a nearly endless stream of big plays. I mean, he scored 15 touchdowns (playoffs included)! That's absurd. That alone nearly makes up an entire 20-play highlight reel. You'd get to see the pick-six that shut down the Vet; the sack and interception in Carolina that made him the first (and still only) 40-interception, 25-sack player in NFL history; the time he picked off Brett Favre with one hand, the other fractured and wrapped in a giant club; and so on. Very strong candidate.

How about Lee Roy Selmon? I wish we had more of them, and it might be hard to flesh out an entire reel, but man he looked menacing in defiance of his sweet nature off the field. Those shoulder pads! He would just envelop opposing quarterbacks, and with 78.5 sacks we should be able to find enough juice for a good reel.

His highlight package isn't complete yet, but you could make a pretty impressive preliminary one for Mike Evans. The long-striding deep bombs for touchdowns, the acrobatic fades in the end zone, the toe-tappers on the sideline. I mean, this guy does have an NFL Catch of the Year under his belt, so you know he's out there creating unforgettable memories.

John Lynch would have the type of highlight package that the NFL used to show a lot but wouldn't necessarily be pushing in 2023. Still, you can't deny those high-impact shots - including one on the great Barry Sanders - get you pumped up. Plus, his reel would have a handful of very memorable takeaways, as Monte Kiffin called him "The Closer" for his tendency to make big plays in key moments.

I wouldn't call LeGarrette Blount one of the Bucs' all-time greats, but in his three seasons in Tampa he put together some of the most eye-popping highlights you can imagine. He's hurdling defenders at full speed here, pinwheeling 540 degrees into the end zone there...it's always fun to watch a bigger man do acrobatic stuff.

Warrick Dunn had plenty of flashy plays to fill up a highlight reel, and if you go back to the '00s you've got both Joey Galloway and Cadillac Williams. Galloway scored a lot of long touchdowns and Williams burst onto the scene with some incredible runs, though injuries kept him from putting together as robust of a highlight package as he might have.

You can't forget the all-time greats, of course. Warren Sapp's highlight package would be fun just to relive the mutual-respect battles he had with Favre. Brooks's reel would start with the Super Bowl clinching pick-six and would probably include a lot of him shutting down Michael Vick the way most defenders couldn't do.

Oh, and then there's Tom Brady. Think we couldn't find 20 heart-racing moments from his 108 touchdown passes as a Buccaneer. Those memories are fresher than most of the others on this list, but they would still be enjoyable to relive.

Of all those choices, I'd have to say that Barber is the closest to usurping the top spot. But who are we kidding. If you want to sit down for three minutes and watch a player do things you rarely see, all the while making sound effects in your head, it's got to be Mike Alstott. It was always Mike Alstott.

Now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

Scott,

Do you think the Bucs have a starter or starters they could trade away for additional picks? The idea being to draft well and replenish the team with cheaper rookie contracts. As much as I'd hate to see them go, would possibly losing players such as Devin White or Vita Vea for picks benefit the team more overall?

Charles (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com*)*

Whether a trade or two like this would be helpful or not, I think we should start this discussion on a philosophical level. As in, is trading away core young players for draft picks something the team wants to do at this point in time?

I say no, and I say that based on the moves the team has made in the last couple weeks. It seems clear now that, while the Buccaneers are in large part taking the medicine now after three years of kicking certain cap hits down the road, they are also still trying to compete in 2023. General Manager Jason Licht said as much in Wednesday's press conference with the newly-re-signed Jamel Dean and Anthony Nelson. I know it's easy to dismiss the talk of a high-ranking team official in some circumstances - what do you expect them to say? How many GMs are going to flat-out say that winning games isn't the top priority for the upcoming season?

Fine, but the Buccaneers moves have backed up what Licht is saying, and what he and Head Coach Todd Bowles said at the Combine. Yes, the Buccaneers have had some hard decisions to make based on the fact that the team was about $55 million over the salary cap when the offseason began. The idea, as Licht and Bowles expressed at the Combine, is to continue to try to compete in the short term without sacrificing long-term goals. That's a difficult tightrope to walk, but the Bucs are giving it a try.

Choosing to absorb the entirety of Tom Brady's $35 million dead cap hit in 2023 rather than trying to spread it out over the 2023-24 seasons is a rip-off-the-Band-Aid move. The Buccaneers could have kept going in that direction by letting Dean and Nelson and Lavonte David walk without trying to re-sign them, and to me that would have been a signal that the team was taking all of its medicine right now. You could certainly justify not re-signing Dean, given that you paid top dollar for your other corner, Carlton Davis, just a year ago. Instead, Licht and company found a way to keep those players, making it much more likely they will be able to field a strong defense in 2023.

And then the Bucs landed Baker Mayfield. Your mileage may vary on how much you expect out of the former first-overall pick, but he is undeniably an experienced NFL starter who has had some noteworthy peaks in his still relatively young career. The Buccaneers could have just run with third-year man Kyle Trask and not given him any serious competition, and while Trask may in fact emerge as a quality starter, not bringing in a veteran would mean there would be no safety net if he stumbled. It would mean the team wasn't serious about putting itself in the best position to win in 2023.

As for the specific players you mentioned, Vita Vea and Devin White, I have a hard time seeing the Bucs trading either of them. The team clearly indicated that it considered Vea a long-term core player when it gave him a big four-year extension in January of 2022. Vea is in the prime of his career, he was a team captain for the first time in 2022, he was in the Pro Bowl a season ago and he just posted a career-best 6.5 sacks last fall. In addition, the fact that Vea's salary has been restructured twice in a little over a calendar year, both times converting base salary into a signing bonus, makes him a lot harder to trade. Those signing bonuses are prorated over the remainder of his deal but if you trade him it all accelerates to the current year, meaning he would probably end up with a significant dead cap number. Trading him would likely make things worse for the Bucs' cap situation.

As for White, he's going into his fifth season, which is when his salary takes a big jump up because it's the fifth-year team option part of his rookie contract. There would be no dead cap hit, only savings, from trading him, but to do so would go against the whole idea of bringing back Dean and David and Nelson. White is one of the biggest playmakers on the Bucs' defense and his contributions would be tough to replace.

Also, keep in mind that the Buccaneers already have nine draft picks to play with in April, and if they keep all of them that would be their biggest draft class since 2010. It's hard enough to find a spot for nine rookies on an opening day roster; at some point, adding more of them is a matter of diminishing returns. Yes, you would rather have, say, a second-round pick you got in a trade of a veteran player than the sixth-rounders the team is currently holding onto, but I think the Bucs are pretty satisfied with the draft capital they have right now. And, as we all know, no matter what round you're picking in, the draft is something of a crapshoot. If the Buccaneers traded away Vita Vea, they would be extremely thin along the defensive line - only he and Logan Hall are currently under contract - and would almost certainly would be looking to draft a big man for their interior line. They'd be hoping to find somebody as good as...well, Vita Vea.

Now, talk to me again in October. I tend to think the Bucs are going to be competitive this coming season, especially in a division that doesn't have a clear favorite, but I'll concede that a rough start is within the range of possibilities. If that were to happen then, yes, I could see the Bucs trading some starting-caliber players for 2024 draft picks.

Who are we targeting to replace 76s position?

- theman1514t (via Instagram)

...and...

Who's going to be the starting LT this season?

-june_almighty26 (via Instagram)

The answer may very well be on the roster already.

The Buccaneers are looking for a new answer at the critical left tackle position for the first time in nine years after releasing long-time stalwart Donovan Smith in early March. Smith had held down that position with an ironman grip for the past eight seasons, ever since being drafted with the second pick of the second round in 2015. In that span, he started 131 of a possible 137 games, postseason included, and when he did play he almost never missed an offensive snap.

So it's a very important question for 2023. And one potential answer, one that has been openly discussed outside Bucs headquarters for several years, is to move All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs over to the left side. On Wednesday, General Manager Jason Licht acknowledged that there have been internal discussions of that idea, not as a sudden epiphany after the Smith release but as something they've considered a possibility since the day Wirfs was drafted in 2020. You could move Wirfs to left tackle and potentially try Luke Goedeke at right tackle, the position he played in college. Goedeke started at that spot in the 2022 season finale in Atlanta and seemed to acquit himself pretty well, albeit against the NFL's worst pass rush.

If you wanted a long shot option that is also currently on the roster, let's not forget that Brandon Walton started a game at left tackle last season after both Smith and Josh Wells got hurt in the first month. If the Bucs decide to leave well enough alone with Wirfs and let him continue to dominate at right tackle, Walton would at least be one of the candidates to get a shot on the left edge. For my money, though, I have absolutely no doubt that Wirfs would be able to handle the switch from right to left with little problem. At this point, I'm not sure I'd best against Wirfs being able to do anything. I am aware that it is tougher than it sounds for lineman to switch sides, but Orlando Brown Jr. handled the move just fine for Baltimore and then Kansas City and I think Wirfs might be a better player overall.

I highly doubt the Bucs would go the veteran route, either by sign or trade, because that would be a very expensive move and the team is probably all out of expensive moves for the time being. Jason Licht said that the Bucs will continue to make additions to the roster but would now be looking for more "reasonable" deals. However, the draft is still ahead and it would make a lot of sense for the Buccaneers to address the offensive line there, perhaps even in the first round.

If you put any stock in the collective wisdom of all the mock drafts out there, it looks likely that three tackles will already be off the board by the time the Bucs are on the clock at number 19: in some order, Paris Johnson, Peter Skoronski and Broderick Jones. However, if that's the first tier, there's also a pretty intriguing second tier that includes the likes of Tennessee's Darnell Wright, Oklahoma's Anton Harrison and Ohio State's Dawand Jones. With that much depth, there's a very good chance at least one of them will be available at pick 19. Trevor Sikkema of Pro Football Focus had the Bucs landing Wright at that spot in his most recent mock draft; Sikkema cut his chops in Tampa and still has his finger on the pulse of what's going on with the Buccaneers.

If you throw the likes of North Dakota State's Cody Mauch, Syracuse's Matthew Bergeron and BYU's Blake Freeland into the mix, there might even be a tackle worth grabbing when the Bucs' second-round pick rolls around. Whether or not the Bucs decide to flip Wirfs to the other side could depend on exactly which one of these prospects they land, should they go after a tackle early on. For instance, Wright would probably be a best fit at right tackle, though he did play a season on the left side in college, so that probably mean a switch for Wirfs. Or you could get Wright into the building and then decide which is the best way to employ those two on the edges. If for some reason Paris Johnson slides to number 19 and the Bucs take him, he would probably step in on the left side, leaving Wirfs in his current position.

What is the most important position to focus on this year in the draft?

- saljrmandujano (via Instagram)

There isn't just one, which is actually a good thing. As a counterexample from a few years ago, it was painfully obvious that the Buccaneers were in the market for a new starting right tackle in 2020 after moving on from Demar Dotson. The rest of the line was in good shape but the Bucs were in win-now mode with Tom Brady and that gaping hole at right tackle really had to be addressed with some kind of premium asset. There were four tackles considered blue-chip prospects in that draft class, and after the third of them came off the board at pick number 11, Jason Licht felt compelled to trade up one spot in order to make sure he got the last one, Wirfs, at number 13. (Wirfs might have come off the board fourth in that group but so far he has proved to be the best of the bunch.)

I don't see the Bucs in that situation this year, so unless a player they covet very highly slips surprisingly into the middle of the first round, they shouldn't have to give up any other picks to move up. If the Bucs aren't beholden to one specific position they should be able to land a player high on their board at a position of need at number 19.

So let's eliminate some positions first. Sure, the Buccaneers could be tempted by a "quarterback of the future," but they won't be in the running for any of the four expected to go high in the first round. They still have a very good top three in the receiver room in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage. The backfield is now in Rachaad White's hands, and there is the reported agreement to bring veteran Chase Edmonds aboard to go with Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Running back doesn't seem like a pressing need. And the team drafted two tight ends last year and appears to have landed a two-way starter in Cade Otton.

Thus, on offense, the only positions I see as likely first-round targets are on the line, either at tackle or guard. There will be good value at both spots at number 19. The Bucs could find some more depth in the backfield, however, on Day Two.

On defense, the Buccaneers have some rather obvious depth issues. They only have two defensive linemen under contract (Vita Vea and Logan Hall), not counting former practice squad players Mike Greene and Willington Previlon. That said, they drafted Hall with their top pick last year and may look to flesh out the depth there with later picks or value free agency signings.

The Bucs managed to re-sign Anthony Nelson and will be getting Shaq Barrett back from his Achilles tendon injury while hoping for another step forward from 2021 first-rounder Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. That said, Head Coach Todd Bowles has made it clear the defense needs a more productive rush off the edges to complement Vea inside, and I have little doubt they would jump on an outside linebacker if one they like a lot falls to 19.

The Bucs also got Lavonte David back and have their two starters in place for 2023. However, neither David nor Devin White are under contract for 2024, so planning for the future there should be a priority. There isn't necessarily a lot of first-round caliber prospects at that spot this year, but the Bucs could target the position on Day Two.

With Jamel Dean back in the fold and paired with Carlton Davis, the Bucs are set at outside cornerback but could still use another one to operate in the slot, which would allow Antoine Winfield Jr. to concentrate on playing safety. And, it's worth noting that Winfield and Nolan Turner are currently the only two safeties under contract with the Bucs for 2024. So those positions should be a priority during the first two days of the draft, too.

So, for my final answer, if we're talking specifically about the first round I would say these three positions: offensive tackle, defensive back and edge rusher. If we're expanding this to include the first two days, I would add in inside linebacker and running back.

Sign up for Atlanta News

a daily newsletter full of things to discuss over drinks.and the great thing is that it's on the house!