The 5 Toughest Decisions the Buccaneers Will Have to Make This Offseason
Every offseason holds a plethora of difficult choices for an NFL team. That becomes especially true when a new regime takes over and begins evaluating for next season.
With head coach Lovie Smith taking the reins in Tampa, very little is guaranteed. Smith will install his own defense along with offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford's offense.
Even before Smith's arrival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced numerous personnel decisions. Quarterback Mike Glennon was impressive in 2013 but didn't do enough to convince anyone that he is the team's franchise quarterback.
The offensive line may need yet another revamp. Some of the Bucs' best players may be due for a pay day or even a pay cut.
Here are the five toughest decisions the Buccaneers face this offseason.
Should the Buccaneers Draft a Quarterback in the First Round?
No NFL team can hope to succeed without a franchise quarterback. Unfortunately, not only do the Buccaneers not have a franchise quarterback, they don't even have the best quarterback in the division.
QB Mike Glennon rarely made big mistakes after becoming the Bucs' starter but he also rarely made the plays the team needed to win. Granted, he could improve under Jeff Tedford's tutelage, but the new regime could very well want their own prospect to develop.
The 2014 NFL draft has a few quarterbacks expected to go in the first round. According to Matt Miller's 2014 mock draft, there are four quarterbacks who could be taken in the first 10 picks.
While the Bucs are not likely in play for the services of Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater, they could land Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, UCF's Blake Bortles or Fresno State's Derek Carr.
Would any of these passers be worth taking with the Bucs' first-round pick? Carr certainly has a personal connection to Tedford as examined by the Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman.
Carr may be the only one available by the time the Buccaneers make their selection at the seventh spot. His performance at the Senior Bowl this week will be vital to scouting Carr, as playing for Fresno State left him without much tape playing against NFL-caliber talent.
It may be wiser for the Bucs to wait until later rounds to select a quarterback. If Smith and Tedford have any faith in Glennon, they won't be looking for an immediate starter in a first-round pick.
Instead, they may want someone like LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Georgia's Aaron Murray or Clemson's Tajh Boyd. While they don't have the upside of a Manziel or Bortles, they at least offer the Bucs options for next season.
Do the Bucs Cut Carl Nicks?
It's never easy to admit to a mistake. It can be even harder if that mistake cost $47.5 million.
Guard Carl Nicks was signed by the Bucs in 2012 to form a juggernaut tandem with guard Davin Joseph. At the time, Nicks was considered one of the best guards in the league.
Obviously, the Bucs' plan didn't really pan out.
The Bucs run game suffered in 2013, averaging only 100.6 yards per game and ranking 22nd overall. Nicks played in only two games in 2013 and played in only nine games over the past two seasons.
Nicks was apparently damaged goods when he arrived in Tampa. His toe problems plagued him throughout the 2012 season and were further complicated in 2013 by a relentless MRSA infection.
Nicks' bad toe now threatens his career. Even if Nicks can persevere and play through the injury, can the Bucs count on Nicks moving forward?
The Bucs' situation at guard is tough. Nicks' contract guarantees him $31 million, the majority of his $47 million contract. Cutting him would have serious salary-cap implications.
Nicks' talent cannot be discounted, either. When he's on the field, Nicks is dominant.
The Bucs also have Joseph, who is coming off a knee injury that sidelined him during the 2012 season. He may not have come back fully healthy, as his play in 2013 was abysmal. His biggest contribution to the team is his leadership.
However, cutting Joseph would have few implications on the salary cap. While Joseph earns $7.5 million a year on average, he is owed no more guaranteed money.
Joseph's health likely guarantees his return for at least one more year. Nicks, on the other hand, may not be able to play football ever again.
With millions still guaranteed, the Bucs don't have much of a choice but to wait and see if Nicks can return to form. If not, it's likely his career is truly over and he could retire. The Bucs can only hope Nicks can prove that signing him was not a mistake.
Should the Bucs Extend Gerald McCoy Now?
It took a few years but defensive tackle Gerald McCoy finally emerged as the best player at his position in 2013. He was voted to his second consecutive Pro Bowl and received his first All-Pro nod, as well
McCoy also shook concerns over his durability. Over the last two seasons, McCoy hasn't missed a single game.
Due to be a free agent in 2015, McCoy would be one of the hottest players on the market. The Bucs can't afford to let McCoy dip his toes in to test the free-agent waters.
In 2010, McCoy signed a rookie contract worth $55 million over five years. Though he is already the second-highest paid defensive tackle in the league, McCoy will be worth at least $11 million per year going forward.
McCoy's current salary may actually work in the Bucs' favor. While McCoy certainly deserves a raise, it doesn't have to be exorbitant if they sign him soon.
What could make McCoy expensive is if the Detroit Lions re-sign Ndamukong Suh before the Bucs can extend McCoy. Whether Suh or McCoy is the better defensive tackle is debatable. However, their value is intrinsically linked.
Suh and McCoy were drafted only two spots apart at the start of the 2010 NFL draft. Almost four years later, they are arguably the best at their position (along with Cincinnati Bengals DT Geno Atkins).
The Bucs and the Lions are now in a race to re-sign their prize interior pass-rushers. Whoever signs first will set the market (read: raise the price) for the other.
McCoy and Suh's agents surely know this as well and will tell their clients to hold off. McCoy comes off as a genuine team-first guy, so provided the Bucs offer a respectable deal, he might very well take it just to stay in Tampa.
Which Strong-Side Linebacker Do the Bucs Re-Sign?
It's rare for an NFL team to find itself potentially losing two starters at the same position. That's the dilemma the Bucs face with strong-side linebackers Dekoda Watson and Jonathan Casillas.
Watson was drafted by the Bucs in the seventh round during the 2010 NFL draft. Previous coaching staffs tried to make Watson a pass rush specialist but he proved in 2013 he could be a full-time Sam linebacker.
The Bucs signed Casillas following the 2012 season both for his special teams prowess and to compete for the strong-side linebacker spot.
Both men performed admirably during their turns as the starting Sam linebacker. As they become free agents this offseason, the Bucs must decide whom to bring back.
Could the Bucs bring both back? Sure, but it's unlikely. Both have aspirations to be full-time starters. Signing one will likely preclude signing the other.
Watson might be more likely to walk, as he could be a good fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker. However, he has stronger connections to Tampa than Casillas.
In terms of production, Watson would be the better choice. He's a superior pass rusher and plays the run better. Casillas is better in pass and special teams coverage.
Either way, the signing should be made with a budget in mind. Strong-side linebacker is not an every-down position these days. The Bucs' decision will come down to whoever can be signed for the best bargain.
Should the Bucs Renegotiate Revis' Contract?
Here's a touchy subject. Any New York Jets fan would say this is a topic no team ought to broach with CB Darrelle Revis.
They might be right. Revis was essentially run out of New York after his episodic contract dramas with Jets management became fixtures on ESPN.
Former Bucs general manager Mark Dominik gambled big when he traded first- and third-round draft picks to the Jets for Revis last season. He rolled the dice again when he signed Revis to a six-year, $96 million deal after Revis was recovering from ACL surgery.
While Revis averages $16 million a year, not a cent of his contract is guaranteed. If the Bucs wanted to cut him tomorrow, there would be no penalty against the salary cap.
Cutting Revis outright would be a major blow to the Bucs' credibility with future free agents and would waste their surrendered draft picks. Restructuring his contract would only bring that New York drama to Tampa.
Much has been made of the implications of Lovie Smith's hire as it relates to Revis, especially as it relates to Revis' distaste for being used in a zone scheme.
Smith moved quickly to dispel any rumors of dumping Revis. Nonetheless, the concern remains.
$16 million a year is a lot of money to spend for a guy who might not be used to his biggest strengths. At least, that is the assumption.
The prevailing theory is that Lovie Smith only runs a Tampa 2 defense. Smith would say otherwise. If Smith can't put Revis in a position to maximize his potential, is he really all that much of an upgrade over former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano?
The Bucs need to do themselves a favor and just pay the best cornerback in the NFL. A few saved dollars are not worth the headache that a contract dispute with Revis would entail.