The area that has seen the most overhaul during the off-season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been the offensive line.
To make room for their new signings however, the Bucs cut long time starters Donald Penn and Davin Joseph, and also traded Jeremy Zuttah to the Baltimore Ravens. Ted Larsen signed with the Arizona Cardinals in free agency.
Penn had played in every game for the Bucs since 2007, while Joseph played in 100 games for the Bucs since 2006, 99 of which were starts (he missed all of the 2012 season due to injury). Zuttah had started 76 of 90 games over a six-year span, while Larsen has played in every game the last three years.
With these moves, the Bucs have gotten younger across the line but at the same time they have lost a lot of experience. They’ve signed good players, but they are unproven for the most part.
Collins has been signed to be the new left tackle, but he has played in only 59 games over six years, with only 25 starts. Dietrich-Smith has also made just 25 starts across his four-year career in which he has played in 61 games.
Cousins has also played 59 career games over six seasons with just nine starts.
Now, the Bucs do have a supposedly healthy Carl Nicks returning at left guard, and still have Demar Dotson and Jamon Meredith on the roster, all of whom have had a number of years of regular playing time.
Dotson has played in every game the last two seasons, while Meredith has only seen extensive action within the last two years.
Right now, the Bucs starting offensive line would likely be as follows: Anthony Collins (LT), Carl Nicks (LG), Evan Dietrich-Smith (C), Jamon Meredith (RG) and Demar Dotson (RT). Cousins, Jace Daniels, Patrick Omameh, and Jason Foster are the only backups on the roster.
It’s almost guaranteed that the Bucs will add offensive line depth in the draft next month and that makes sense. But the problem will be that whoever they draft will have a grand total of zero games played in the NFL and that’s not beneficial to an offensive line that hasn’t seen a ton of playing time over the years.
With that in mind, it could be beneficial for the Bucs to dabble in free agency again and look at some of the experience lineman who are still available, and quite frankly, wouldn’t cost much to sign.
Wade Smith, a guard who has started every game the last four seasons for the Houston Texans is a 12-year veteran. Eric Winston, who is heading into his 10th season in 2014, has started every game at tackle for the last seven seasons with three different teams. He is even the current president of the NFL Players Association and has said he wants to sign with a team before the draft.
It can be argued that there’s a reason these players, and others, remain unsigned over a month after free agency has begun. However, that should be overlooked right now.
It’s not necessary that these players are signed and made starters. But, the lack of experience the Bucs have at offensive line (and will have more of after the draft) should be a cause for concern, especially since the Bucs are playing all four teams for the NFC North and AFC North this season, two divisions that are notoriously known as having very good defenses.