TAMPA, Fla. -- With the 14th overall draft pick, a projected $87.5 million in salary-cap space and 19 players set to become unrestricted free agents, 2020 is shaping up to be a pivotal offseason for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here’s a closer look at their biggest needs:
Keep the front seven intact
Shaquil Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks in his first season as a full-time starter. He shouldn’t even be allowed to leave the team facility, as he’s unquestionably the Bucs’ biggest priority. Coach Bruce Arians already said, “He’s not going anywhere.” But the key will be signing him to a deal that will still allow for the Bucs to keep the rest of their front seven, which is a priority for Arians.
Some team sources ESPN spoke to a few weeks ago were unsure if Tampa Bay could afford to bring back Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, but after Pierre-Paul finished the season with 5.0 sacks in the final two games and 8.5 in eight games, he’s become what Arians called a "huge" priority -- "one of the highest." Arians also put defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in that same category with Barrett and Pierre-Paul. Outside linebacker Carl Nassib will also become an unrestricted free agent.
Make a decision on quarterback Jameis Winston
Winston led the NFL not only in passing yards but also in interceptions, creating a real conundrum for Arians, general manager Jason Licht and the Glazers -- who own the Bucs and will unquestionably have a big say in whether to extend the 2015 first overall draft pick. At times this season, Winston has looked prolific. In other moments, he looked downright dreadful.
Will another year in Arians’ offense help? Arians seems to think so, based on what he’s seen from previous quarterbacks he's coached. Former Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer’s touchdown-to-interception ratio went from 1.09 in 2013 -- his first year in Arians’ system -- to 3.67 in 2014 and 3.18 in 2015 (Palmer played only six games in 2014). Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went from 2.91 in 2007 to 1.13 in 2008 but was back up to 2.17 in 2009. Former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning went from .92 in 1998 to 1.73, but some of that could also be attributed to the natural jump from Year 1 to Year 2 for an NFL quarterback.
Address right tackle
Winston was sacked, hit or under duress on 157 dropbacks this season -- second in the league behind only Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Starting right tackle Demar Dotson, the longest-tenured Buc, is 34 and now a free agent. His pass block win rate in 2019 was 88.9% -- 28th among offensive tackles in the league -- and he had 6.0 sacks attributed to him, according to ESPN’s pass-blocking metrics powered by NFL Next Gen Stats.
Starting left tackle Donovan Smith's pass block win rate was actually lower at 87.2% -- 33rd in the league -- and he had 8.0 sacks attributed to him, but his contract is fully guaranteed in 2020. It’s not guaranteed beyond that, though, and he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2022. Should the Bucs use an early draft pick on a right tackle, which might be an ideal solution considering they have so many other needs, it would not only help solidify that right side but also give them options as a potential Smith replacement.
Other areas to keep an eye on:
Wide receiver Chris Godwin might not be a free agent until after the 2020 season, but the team still considers him a high priority to extend after his 1,333-yard season. So while he’s not among the 19 players set to become an unrestricted free agent, the team will need to factor him into its budget.
Running back Peyton Barber is an unrestricted free agent. Ronald Jones wound up overtaking him for the starting job midway through the season; Jones averaged 4.21 yards per carry compared with Barber's 3.05. But Jones is still a liability in blitz pickup. Dare Ogunbowale, the Buccaneers' third-down back, also surrendered 5.0 sacks. This is a group that needs some improvement.