A breakdown of the first week of free agency for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Most significant signing: By far, DeSean Jackson. There was a huge drop-off in receiver production last season behind Pro Bowler Mike Evans, who was targeted more than any other receiver in the league (175). The Bucs also haven’t had this level of speed on offense since Joey Galloway, to whom, interestingly enough, head coach Dirk Koetter likened Jackson. Jackson should go a long way in helping the offense generate more explosive plays (he averaged nearly 18 yards per catch last season, the most in the NFL). The running game should also improve by having Jackson as a downfield threat.
Most significant loss: Backup quarterback Mike Glennon. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 18 of the 32 teams started multiple quarterbacks last season. That’s up from 15 teams that used multiple starting quarterbacks in 2015 and is the most since 2010, when 20 teams used multiple starting quarterbacks. Injuries happen, and given the way last season panned out, where one game would have made all the difference for the Bucs, the last thing anyone wants is for Jameis Winston to go down with an injury and not have a reliable backup waiting in the wings. In reality, however, the Bucs knew they weren’t going to be able to keep Glennon, even with a very generous offer of more than $7 million per year.
Player they should have signed: Defensive lineman Calais Campbell would have been an incredible addition to the Bucs’ pass rush. Nick Foles would have been a terrific backup to Winston and possibly even an upgrade over Glennon. Tony Jefferson and Micah Hyde are two safeties who could have been very impactful for the Bucs, but Jefferson will earn nearly $9 million a year for the next four years, making him the sixth-highest-paid safety in the league. Hyde would have been more reasonable at five years and $30 million. Keep in mind though, there’s no floor for salary-cap spending, and that money can be rolled over for the next few years when they need to re-sign Evans to a big, long-term contract.
What’s next: The Bucs still have needs at safety and at backup quarterback, both of which could realistically be addressed in the NFL draft, especially if they want a young quarterback to groom in Koetter’s system for the next four years behind Winston. Depending on what happens with Doug Martin, running back could be addressed in the draft, too, although re-signing Jacquizz Rodgers will go a long way toward helping the position. They still need a “Y” tight end who can block and catch to pair up with their “F” tight end, Cameron Brate.
Koetter and general manager Jason Licht told reporters at the NFL combine that they were happy with their current crop of offensive linemen, and re-signing center Joe Hawley helps. But realistically, even when that unit was near full strength last season (aside from J.R. Sweezy), the protection for Winston and blocking for the ground game were simply not good enough. If Daryl Smith doesn’t return, there’s a need at strongside linebacker, but sources say the Bucs are very high on second-year linebacker Devante Bond, who spent all of last season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.
Overall grade: B-plus. The Bucs got the guy they wanted in Jackson, bolstered their interior defensive line with Chris Baker and also re-signed William Gholston, who will continue to help the Bucs against the run. Re-signing Rodgers helps ease concerns about the situation with Martin. There are still question marks about some of the projections along the O-line, even with Sweezy back. They could have gotten some more “sizzle” with some of the names mentioned earlier, but they addressed the majority of their needs — meaning they won’t pigeonhole themselves in the draft — and did so without overspending.