Buccaneers: The never ending quest to find a defensive end

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 26: Simeon Rice
SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 26: Simeon Rice /
SAN DIEGO – JANUARY 26: Simeon Rice
SAN DIEGO – JANUARY 26: Simeon Rice /

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have needed a defensive end every off season since Simeon Rice was released after the … 2006 season, and again they need one this season so why have they struggled so much at finding a good one?

We all know that this is a position that the Buccaneers have been looking to bolster since Simeon Rice was released after the 2006 season, but since he was the last Buccaneers with ten or more sacks in a season … Twelve years ago!  How bad has the defensive end search been for the Buccaneers?  Well let’s look into their drafts picks and free agent signing since that time and see.

Since Rice was released eleven seasons ago the Buccaneers have drafted a total of nine defensive ends but only two in the first round (Gaines Adams – 2007 and Adrian Clayborn – 2011), two in the second round (Da’Quan Bowers – 2011 and Noah Spence – 2016), none in the third round and five in rounds four through seven.

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Adams, Clayborn, Bowers, and Spence have a combined total of 40 sacks in 148 games (9.25 seasons), and the five defensive ends they drafted in the fourth through seventh rounds have an even worse 11.5 sacks with ten of those coming from current Buccaneers defensive end William Gholston.

For a grand total of 51.5 sacks from the nine total defensive ends drafted by the Buccaneers since 2007, and for comparison Rice had a total of 53.5 sacks from the 2001 through 2004 seasons in 64 games.

The current hope for a defensive end to finally achieve ten or more sacks in a season is 2016 second round pick Noah Spence who has managed 6.5 sacks while only playing in 22 of 32 possible games and only 819 of the 2121 defensive snaps (39%) due to two shoulder injuries.  While currently averaging a sack per every 3.4 games it might be difficult to achieve the ten sack season mark unless he comes back fully healthy, and starts in every game instead of the six start in 22 games that he has in his career so far.

As these numbers show the Buccaneers have whiffed heavily on defensive ends in the draft with Noah Spence still in the “maybe” category we will have to see how he develops and if he can stay healthy.

Free agency is the other important cog that the Buccaneers have tried to improve their pass rushing skills with minimal success, but let’s take a look at who they have brought in and how they have fared since 2007.

I am going to focus on defensive end free agent signings that played at least one season for the Buccaneers, and I came up with eight free agent signing that fit the bill.  These players are: Kevin Carter (2007-2008, 32 games), Stylez White (2007-2010, 63 games), George Johnson (2011, 2015, 20 games), Michael Bennett (2009-2012, 50 games), Jacquies Smith (2014-2017, 29 games), Michael Johnson (2014, 14 games), Howard Jones (2015-2016, 20 games), and Robert Ayers (2016-current, 24 games).

These eight free agent signings played a combined total of 252 games (15.75 seasons) as starting defensive ends for the Buccaneers beginning from 2007 to present and have managed 91.5 sacks combined.  Michael Bennett came closest to breaking the ten sack mark (defensive end) with nine in 2012.  Then he was mysteriously not resigned and went to Seattle where he has won a Super Bowl, been a 3-time Pro Bowler, and amassed 39 sacks in five seasons (8 sacks/season average).  Obviously keeping him would have been very beneficial to the Buccaneers pass rush.

The Buccaneers have whiffed on several free agent defensive ends on this list most notably Michael and George Johnson (4 sacks total), and maybe current Buccaneer Robert Ayers who through two seasons has only 8.5 sacks.

In the eleven seasons since Simeon Rice was cut loose the Buccaneers as a team have totaled 335 sacks (30.5/season) with the twelve defensive ends mentioned accounting for 143 of those sacks (43%).  In comparison in the six seasons with Rice the Buccaneers had 227 sacks (38/season) with Rice’s 69.5 sacks (12/season avg.) alone accounting for 31% of the team’s sacks.  The pass rush during his six seasons allowed the Buccaneers defense to be sixth ranked in yardage allowed, and eighth ranked in points allowed.

This season with an NFL low 22 sacks with only 8.5 by defensive ends, with a team high 2.5 by reserve defensive end Will Clarke, was an epic failure of pass rushing as opposing quarterbacks had plenty of time to complete 67.6% of their passes.

With Robert Ayers, Noah Spence, and William Gholston (combined 3 sacks in 2017) as the only real defensive ends on the team next season the Buccaneers finally have to find an answer to their defensive end failures.  Robert Ayers production fell off last season with only two sacks and he will be 33 years old at the start of next season could be released with zero dead money.  Leaving them potentially with just two defensive ends on the team in Noah Spence and William Gholston who combined for one sack last season.

With an unspectacular free agent class of defensive ends besides Ziggy Ansah and Demarcus Lawrence (who will both most likely be franchise tagged), and only one for sure can’t miss defensive end in the top five of the draft (Bradley Chubb) who will likely be gone when the Buccaneers pick (seven), so where will the Buccaneers find one?

With Dirk Koetter and possibly Jason Licht on the hot seat will they go bold and trade up into the top five for Bradley Chubb, or throw a pirate ship full of money at a free agent, or do they find a player that they really like on another team and trade for them, or … do they build through the draft trade back and acquire more picks and draft several defensive ends?

My opinion … with their jobs on the line and the talent on the team they had better be bold, but now it’s your turn to tell me what you think they need to do to fix their inability to find pass rushers: Be Bold and trade up, spend big, trade picks for player, or trade back and gather more picks to use in the draft?

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Comment in the comments section or tweet me directly @ND1Bucsfan with your thoughts and thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.

Once a Buccaneers fan always a Buccaneers fan through the Best of time … and the worst of time, and free agency coming soon (tick … tick … tick), and as always … FIRE THEM CANNONS!!!