The 2016 NFL season was a roller coaster ride for Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans. Finishing at 9-7, the Buccaneers were left on the outside looking in come playoff time. But only by a small margin, and there is newfound hope for the future of this young core of talented players. A few off-season additions and potential moves via trade could help strengthen the team’s chances for next season and beyond. Here are the three key areas in which management should look to bolster the Buccaneers roster.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017 Off-Season: Top 3 Needs
Heading into last season, the Buccaneers felt confident in their rushing attack to help lighten the load on their young defense and quarterback during the 2016 season. However, with multiple injuries to several of the team’s running backs, the team’s overall ground game underwhelmed in key football situations. Doug Martin, particularly, under performed when he was on the field. Only playing in eight games, Martin rushed for a measly 2.9 yards per carry, and three total touchdowns. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Martin in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft. However, he has only played all 16 games in a season twice (2012, 2015). In each of those seasons, Martin accumulated over 1,400 rushing yards and at least seven total touchdowns.
The truth is, Tampa Bay needs to find a talented young running back who could serve as a change of pace back right away, and even potentially take Martin’s job in the near future. Because there were no signals that Martin would return to his previous form during last season, the Buccaneers would be wise to add depth at the position. Even though Martin is under contract through the 2020 season, that doesn’t mean he would necessarily be on the Buccaneers roster for that duration. Look for Tampa Bay to try and find their running back of the future in the early rounds of this year’s draft.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have struggled to maintain a consistent and productive offensive line for several seasons running now. But the unit as a whole, considering the talent on the roster, actually held their own last season. Adding a legitimate right tackle via free agency or the NFL draft would help solidify the trenches up front for the Buccaneers. Gosder Cherilus and Demar Dotson are two of the better offensive linemen on the team, but they are both over 30 years old. Getting younger and more talented up front would help aid in quarterback Jameis Winston’s growth as he enters his third full season as the Buccaneers starter. At pick 19 in this year’s draft, Tampa Bay may be looking to select an offensive tackle; assuming they don’t like the running backs left on the board at that point.
With safety Chris Conte set to hit the free agent market, the Buccaneers will be without a key contributor on defense if the team chooses not to re-sign him for his services. Conte, originally a third round pick by Chicago in the 2011 NFL draft, signed with Tampa Bay before the 2015 season. He played in 14 games each of the last two seasons for the Buccaneers, and he has amassed 178 total tackles and four interceptions during his stint in Tampa Bay. All signs now point to the Buccaneers choosing not to re-sign Conte due to the fact that he has raised his overall value from his play on the field. Thus, driving his financial value up above what he had been making playing for the Bucs. If the team doesn’t re-sign him, it will be hard for Tampa Bay to adequately replace Conte, since they have other needs as well.
To conclude, Tampa Bay has a few holes to fill on their roster with players retiring and leaving. But this is a transition that every team goes through each and every year. The management of the Buccaneers should trust their scouts during player evaluation leading up to, and during, the NFL draft. If they pick the right players in the draft and sign a talented free agent or two, there’s no reason the team can’t make the playoffs next season. With quality wins over the super bowl bound Atlanta Falcons in week one, the Kansas City Chiefs in week 11, and the Seattle Seahawks in week 12 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear to be on the right track.