This weekend in Detroit, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face off against an impending 2018 free agent who could find his way to the top of their shopping list.
For as long as one can remember, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have needed pass rushers. Some years they think they have an answer, and other years they know they don’t and just try to compensate for it. With Noah Spence and Robert Ayers penciled in as starters, 2017 was one of those seasons where the team thought they were in good shape, and for the millionth time they were spectacularly wrong.
The pass rush is breathtakingly awful. Featuring new lows set each and every week, and it goes without saying they will desperately pursue help this off-season. This week they’ll get a firsthand look at one of the primary players they’ll chase, Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.
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“Ziggy”, as he’s known, is in the midst of his fifth NFL season, and is facing unrestricted free agency for the first time as a professional. The 28 year old native of Ghana has racked up 37 career sacks, including 14.5 back in 2015. At 6’5, 275 pounds, Ansah is a physical specimen the likes of which Tampa hasn’t seen since Simeon Rice. Most impressive of all? He’s only been playing organized football since 2010, and only started in nine collegiate games. So, his best football could very well still be ahead of him. Several teams around the league will heavily pursue Ansah, and I expect the Bucs to be among those teams.
The pool of quality pass rushers available this year is shallow; and the only player who may get more money than Ansah is Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
If the Buccaneers want Ansah, they’re going to need to pony up a significant number of dollars, in the range of 15 to 17 million dollars annually with room for more as Ansah’s agent will surely play teams against one another to maximize the price.
As a reference point, the Giants paid Olivier Vernon 17 million annually two years ago, and he was arguably viewed as a better player than Ansah is now. Given how many failures the Bucs have had experienced in free agency, they may be tentative to break the bank on Ansah, but it’s a necessary pill they need to swallow.
If Dirk Koetter is retained, he’ll be a lame duck coach in 2018 with a mandate to make the playoffs. To do so, he’s going to need an instant jolt to his pass rush which can only be found from an established veteran.
Tampa could attempt to select a pass rusher with their likely top ten pick, but expecting ten sacks from a rookie isn’t very realistic. With Ansah and Spence locked in as starters, the Bucs could use their first round pick on other positions of dire need, like defensive back, offensive line, or running back, while building defensive end depth with their middle and late round draft picks.
Ansah is surely aware of how badly the Bucs need a defensive end, so he’ll be looking to make a big impression this week against left tackle Donovan Smith and the rotating door of right tackles on the opposite side. From a booth up above, Bucs general manager Jason Licht will be watching closely.
"Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com joined the Locked on Bucs podcast for our Thursday episode! Check it out!"