Win or lose this Sunday, the Buccaneers have had a far more competitive season than most expected. This is primarily due to plus play from their strong bed-rock of players, those select few stars that were drafted and developed by the team. For the Buccaneers to make the playoffs next season, does this foundation need adding to, or is it merely lacking in a strong supporting cast?
Every team, good or bad, has its core of players. It’s subjective to a degree, but for every team there are at least a few guys that can’t be argued with. A good team, like the Seattle Seahawks, has several clear members of its core, such as Russell Wilson, Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. A lesser team like, say, the New York Jets, has Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Darrelle Revis, and uhh Matt Forte?
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For the Buccaneers, their true core is again subjective and up for debate, but there are those that the public is in agreement on. I posed the question on Twitter and received many different responses, but there were seven that appeared on (nearly) every ballot. Those are: Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Gerald McCoy, Ali Marpet, Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Cameron Brate. These are the guys you’ll likely see on those giant posters outside of Raymond James Stadium. Several players are vying to get into the club, but more on them in a minute.
One of the key questions the Buccaneers will need to answer when they plan their approach to this off-season is whether this core of Buccaneers is complete and merely needs more support, or whether it needs additional star power. Young, incumbent players trying to break into the elite class (many of which were voted on as members of the teams’ foundation) such as Hargreaves, Spence, McDougald, Smith, and Tandy are all candidates to strengthen the core, but outside help might be required.
The Buccaneers will without a doubt be tempted to spend large this off-season, as they have the most cap space in the NFL to spend and a little while longer before they have to break the bank on re-signing quarterback Jameis Winston. They have glaring holes at safety, receiver and offensive line, as well as looming issues with depth at defensive end, corner back, and running back.
On defense this season the Bucs took a lot of positive steps forward, but it’s clear that they need more star power in the secondary, specifically at safety. If a new member of the Buccaneer “core” is added this off-season, look for it to be a player like Tony Jefferson from Arizona or, in an ideal world, Eric Berry from Kansas City. Offensive tackle or center could be other potential star-layered positions.
Beyond those three positions, it is wise for the Buccaneers to remain careful with their cash. With their foundation and most importantly quarterback in place, the Bucs aren’t far from the playoffs and it could be that just a few new starters will make the difference. Veteran additions looking for one last starting-caliber contract, similar to what Robert Ayers and Brent Grimes were, will be the types they go after.
Receiving help can be found throughout the draft and affordably through free agency, as the best available in Alshon Jeffery likely won’t yield a super-star contract. Even their newest hole, running back, can be solved without big bucks being spent. The same can be said for corner back and defensive end who have quality starters in place for next season but need infusions of depth. Look for the Bucs to be careful in who they select and to pay them responsibly despite their large sums of cap space to fall back on.
The Buccaneers face an exciting off-season in 2017 in which they can put the finishing touches on both their foundation of star players as well as their roster as a whole. It should be fascinating to see how they approach it, and what they feel most needs financial improvement.