Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rumors & News

Offseason In Review: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Although the Buccaneers are in the midst of an eight-year playoff drought, they appear to be on the right track after taking significant steps forward in 2015. Not only did Tampa Bay enjoy a four-win improvement and better its point differential by 58 from 2014 to 2015, but it may have found a franchise quarterback in Jameis Winston. The No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, Winston acquitted himself well as a rookie and could soon help lead the Buccaneers back to consistent contention for the first time since the early 2000s. In a perfect world for the Bucs, their return to the postseason will come in January 2017. However, given the club’s relatively modest offseason, it’s likely too soon to expect it to push for a playoff spot in the NFC.

Notable signings:

General manager Jason Licht said before free agency that the Buccaneers would be “selective and strategic” in spending money and wouldn’t dole out contracts with the potential to damage their cap over the long haul. Licht was true to his word, as even the most sizable deals he awarded to veterans will be easy to escape in short order if they don’t work out.

Doug Martin (vertical)

In terms of both contract (five years, $35.75MM with $15MM in guarantees) and star power, running back Doug Martin was Tampa Bay’s most notable offseason signing. Given that the Buccaneers decided in May 2015 to decline Martin’s $5.621MM fifth-year option for 2017, they took a financial hit this past winter in committing nearly three times that much in guarantees to their 2012 first-round pick. A year ago, though, Martin was coming off back-to-back miserable seasons that made his sensational rookie campaign look like a fluke. He revisited his first-year form last season, however, finishing second in the NFL in both carries (288) and rushing yards (1,409) en route to first-team All-Pro status.

Considering Martin’s inconsistent track record, betting on the 27-year-old going forward looks like a gamble. In the event he’s unable to live up to his new pact, the Bucs will be able to bail on his contract after the 2017 season, thus mitigating the risk. Should Martin keep serving as a quality option, Tampa Bay will continue to have one of the league’s most well-rounded backfield duos in him and Charles Sims. Led by that tandem, the Buccaneers finished last season first in yards-per-carry average (4.8), fifth in overall rushing (2,162) and 11th in DVOA – up from 31st in 2014.

Among the players who will be responsible for blocking for Martin and Sims is left guard J.R. Sweezy, whom the Buccaneers inked to a five-year, $32.55MM pact with $14.5MM guaranteed in free agency. With a combined $2.5MM in dead money through 2020 left after this year, the Buccaneers will be able to move on from Sweezy without much difficulty if they have buyer’s remorse.

Sweezy spent the first four years of his career in Seattle, where he started in all 46 of his appearances from 2013-15, though Pro Football Focus ranked him just 66th among 81 qualified guards in overall performance last season. Nevertheless, the Bucs are counting on Sweezy as the long-term replacement for the retired Logan Mankins, whom PFF placed 15th in 2015. The Sweezy era in Tampa Bay hasn’t gotten off to an ideal start, though, as the 27-year-old will miss at least the first five weeks of the season with a back injury. In the meantime, the Buccaneers are likely to go with former tackle Kevin Pamphile, a third-year man with four starts on his resume.

Robert Ayers

On the defensive side, the Buccaneers went into free agency looking to augment a pass rush that finished last season tied for 14th in sacks (38) and 22nd in hurries (91). To help with those issues, they added defensive end Robert Ayers, a former Bronco and Giant who amassed 21 sacks and four forced fumbles in 39 games over the previous three seasons. The soon-to-be 31-year-old Ayers missed four games in 2015, but his production was highly impressive – he picked up a career-high 9.5 sacks and added 18 hurries, placing him between the likes of Chandler Jones (16) and Olivier Vernon (20).

Ayers, who also finished last year as PFF’s eighth-best edge rusher (110 qualifiers), is now on the Buccaneers’ books through 2018. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case – in the event of an appreciable decline in output, the Bucs will be able to move on from Ayers either after this season or after next without taking on any dead money. While Tampa Bay would rather see Ayers play well and remain in place for the duration of his three-year, $19.5MM deal, the fact that his contract has no cap ramifications past this season makes it a worthy gamble for the organization.

Joining Ayers in the Buccaneers’ front seven is 13th-year man Daryl Smith, who’s slated to start at strongside linebacker after dividing his first 12 seasons between Jacksonville and Baltimore. Notably, Smith played the first four years of his career under new Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who was the Jaguars’ defensive chief during those seasons. Daryl Smith enjoyed some fine seasons with the Jags, and he was particularly durable as a member of the Ravens. In Baltimore, Smith started in 48 straight games from 2013-15 and racked up 120-plus tackles in each of his three seasons with the club, while also combining for nine sacks and four forced fumbles. PFF was unimpressed with Smith’s play last year, though, as the outlet ranked him 71st among 97 qualified linebackers. The Ravens then cut Smith in early March, but based on his ability to stay on the field and produce, the Bucs made out well in signing the 34-year-old for a fairly meager sum of $2.5MM.

“Not only is he a really good football player, but once you get to know Daryl and the type of guy he is, I think Daryl will be a really good sounding board,” new head coach Dirk Koetter told Scott Reynolds of Pewter Report. “His experience and the players that he’s played with in his career, the things that he’s accomplished in his career, will do nothing but help Lavonte [David] and Kwon [Alexander] advance as players.”

Thanks largely to a weak secondary, Tampa Bay allowed the fourth-most touchdown tosses (31) and the second-highest passer rating (101.2) in the league last season. With that in mind, the club addressed the area over the winter by signing outside help (Brent Grimes and Josh Robinson) and re-upping Chris Conte, Bradley McDougald and Keith Tandy to new deals.

Brent Grimes

Grimes, a cornerback, is clearly the most accomplished member of the group, having started in 90 of 106 appearances with two teams – the Falcons and Dolphins – and totaling 26 interceptions since entering the league in 2007. Like Daryl Smith, Grimes also worked under Mike Smith previously. Grimes played in Atlanta from 2007-12, and Smith was the Falcons’ head coach in five of those six seasons. The rapport they established with the Falcons helped lead to a reunion in Tampa Bay.

“It’s a big deal for me, because I like the system,’’ Grimes told Roy Cummings of the Tampa Bay Times in March. “And one thing I know about Mike Smith is, he’s a great coach as far as everybody on the field knowing where they need to be and knowing what their assignment is, and he pays great attention to detail.”

After leaving Atlanta, Grimes was an impressive producer in Miami, where he started in all 47 appearances over the previous three seasons and picked off either four or five passes in each of those years (though he did yield a 103.2 passer rating against in 2015). Grimes is now in his age-33 season, so he’s unlikely to resemble a shutdown corner at this juncture. Still, as is the case with their other established veteran signings, the Bucs will have the option of waving goodbye to Grimes with no real harm done at season’s end. Regardless of whether Grimes sees his two-year deal with the Buccaneers through, the organization will hope his outspoken wife, Miko, is capable of avoiding controversy. She already made headlines for the wrong reasons last month, which wasn’t anything new.

While neither Robinson nor Tandy is expected to play a huge role at corner in Tampa Bay’s secondary this year, both Conte and McDougald have realistic chances to occupy the starting safety spots. Conte performed well in 2015, his first season with the Buccaneers, starting 13 of 14 appearances and totaling 79 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. The ex-Bear’s output also netted him a solid 32nd-place ranking among 88 qualifying safeties at PFF, and the Bucs elected to bring him back on a one-year deal. The team made the same decision with McDougald, whom it signed to a second-round tender for 2016. McDougald led the team’s defensive backs in snap percentage last season (81.2 percent), and he piled up 87 tackles and two interceptions along the way, but the Bucs haven’t been happy with his work this summer. However, with only flawed options behind McDougald, he’s a good bet to open the season as the club’s No. 1 free safety.

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Bucs Not Looking For Another Kicker

  • When asked about bringing in a second kicker, Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said “I wouldn’t think that’s an option,” though he said that is a better question for GM Jason Licht (Twitter link via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times). So far, second-round selection Roberto Aguayo has been struggling, which has led to even more scrutiny on the team’s unorthodox pick.

Buccaneers Sign Kyler Kerbyson, Waive Cassanova McKinzy

  • The Buccaneers announced that they have signed tackle Kyler Kerbyson and waived/injured tackle Kelby Johnson. Kerbyson, an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, was waived by the Patriots earlier this month. The Buccaneers also waived linebacker Cassanova McKinzy.

Impact Rookies: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

First Round – Vernon Hargreaves III, CB (Florida, No. 11 overall)

Hargreaves shows above average body control and does a nice job of keeping his feet on the move. He shows good agility and balance, but needs to redirect and change direction skills better when challenging the receivers running deep routes along the perimeter. Still, he shows explosion out of his plant and is a quick twitch type who shows good alertness vs. plays in front of him. When beaten, he has that sudden burst to recover. His quickness in transition prevents smaller receivers from getting good position working underneath vs. him. Vernon Hargreaves (Vertical)

Hargreaves is a mentally tough athlete and solid hitter who could play inside at safety, if needed. Still, his primary position with the Bucs will be cornerback. He will hustle and run down a ball carrier from across the field and seems to enjoy the contact in run force. He plays at full speed and few players in the game of foot-ball can match his quickness. He competes for the ball with no regard for his body.

With his exceptional speed. Hargreaves has no problem maintaining inside position when challenging a receiver in man coverage, especially when working along the sidelines. He has the speed, closing burst and ball reaction skills to stay tight with any opponent, whether they are quick and fast or tall and physical. He needs to improve his strength base, so not to get backed off by the bigger receivers at the next level, but has the frame to add the power needed.

Hargreaves will be a starter right off the bat for the Bucs and anyone who doubts his ability clearly wasn’t watching Saturday night’s preseason contest against the Jaguars. Hargreaves picked off opposing quarterback Chad Henne twice, helping Tampa Bay to a 27-21 victory.

Click here to continue reading about the Bucs’ rookie class..

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Bucs Reach Injury Settlement With Elijah Shumate

  • The Buccaneers have reached an injury settlement with safety Elijah Shumate, according to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). As such, Shumate has been removed from Tampa’s IR injured reserve list.

Demar Dotson Contract Details

  • As part of his three-year extension, Buccaneers right tackle Demar Dotson scored $4.25MM in full guarantees, according to Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (Twitter links). Another $4.25MM, presumably guaranteed for injury only, becomes fully guaranteed on March 13 of 2017. Dotson’s new pact has a total value of $16.5MM, and will keep the 30-year-old in Tampa through 2019.

Buccaneers Sign Ishmaa'ily Kitchen

  • The Buccaneers have signed defensive tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and waived/injured rookie safety Elijah Shumate, the club announced. Kitchen, who weighs in at 330 pounds, appeared in 40 games for the Browns from 2012-14, but saw action in only two contests last year with the Patriots and Lions.

Buccaneers Sign Demar Dotson To Extension

The Buccaneers have signed offensive tackle Demar Dotson to a three-year deal, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The pact is worth $16.5MM, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The new deal will give the 30-year-old some security, keeping him under contract through 2019. The Bucs have confirmed the deal via press release. Demar Dotson (vertical)

Dotson, 31 in October, joined the Bucs as a UDFA out of Souther Mississippi in 2009. Eventually, Dotson found his way into the Bucs’ starting lineup, becoming their primary right tackle in 2012. Dotson appeared in every regular season game for them from 2012-2014 but injuries limited him to six games last year. Prior to this deal, Dotson was scheduled to hit the open market after earning $1.75MM in the 2016 season.

In other Bucs news, defensive end George Johnson has been ruled out for the season after suffering a hip fracture. Also, despite trade rumors surrounding backup quarterback Mike Glennon, the Buccaneers are reportedly not shopping him.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

J.R. Sweezy Expected To Start Season On PUP List

One of the Buccaneers most notable offseason signings will likely be missing the first five weeks of the season. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Bucs are expected to place offensive guard J.R. Sweezy on the physically unable to perform list. Sweezy has been battling a back ailment, and Stroud says the injury is “troublesome enough” to place the 27-year-old on the PUP.

J.R. SweezyThe Buccaneers added Sweezy in March, inking him to a five-year, $32.5MM ($14.5MM guaranteed) contract. The offensive guard had spent his entire four-year career in Seattle, where he had settled into the starting right guard role. With left guard Logan Mankins retiring, the Buccaneers were in the market for offensive line help. Stroud writes that Sweezy actually turned down a similar deal from the Seahawks in order to join Tampa Bay.

After signing that deal, the lineman had surgery to repair a herniated disk, and a recent second opinion provided Sweezy with some optimism.

“Just went and got it checked out. Everything is good. I’m on track,’’ Sweezy said (via Stroud). “I’m taking it day by day and trying to get back to where I need to be to play at the level I need to play at.’’

However, as Stroud notes, the Buccaneers want to protect their investment, and they want to assure that Sweezy is 100-percent before he takes the field. The writer cites the team’s mishandling of lineman Carl Nicks as a reason for caution. Third-year lineman Kevin Pamphile will likely slot in as the team’s starting left guard during Sweezy’s absence.