Much To Savor

December 26th, 2016



Amid all the hand-wringing about another disappointing December for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, let’s not forget about the progress made in 2016.

At the very least, Tampa Bay will post its best record since 2010, when a young quarterback named Josh Freeman generated hope that better days were ahead.

With Jameis Winston under center, the feeling is similar, with one important difference.

Unlike Freeman, Winston is the hardest worker on his team. Unlike Freeman, Winston is a natural leader. Unlike Freeman, Winston won’t self-destruct.


Arrow up

Whether or not they beat the Panthers in Sunday’s suddenly dreary season finale, the Bucs gave their fans a lot to cheer for in Dirk Koetter’s first season as an NFL head coach.

There is much to savor — and much work to be done in a busy offseason for GM Jason Licht.

The Bucs aren’t there yet. Let’s not even debate that point.

Those back-to-back road losses against Dallas and New Orleans with a playoff berth on the line clearly showed Tampa Bay is not a complete team.

But the Bucs are getting there.

The emergence of tight end Cameron Brate provides a massive lift at a key position that was problematic with Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who has the look of a perpetual underachiever.

Kevin Pamphile held his own at left guard, replacing Logan Mankins and giving the Bucs a solid effort. Right guard Ali Marpet is a star in the making.

Mike Evans took the next step in his ascension, earning Pro Bowl honors.


Took next step

I’m not writing in Evans on my All-Pro ballot for the Associated Press next week, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he makes it in 2017. He’s that skilled and that driven to be the best.

On defense, rookies Noah Spence and Vernon Hargreaves flashed intriguing potential.

Unlike Da’Quan Bowers and Gaines Adams, Spence has an assortment of pass-rush moves that could make him a double-digit sacker with more playing time in 2017.

Just look at the monster year Vic Beasley turned in for the Falcons in his second pro season.

Hargreaves took his lumps at a very demanding position, but he never lost his confidence while learning how to be a pro by observing Brent Grimes.

Winston will continue to grow, especially with more weapons around him.

Adam Humphries is miscast as a No. 2 receiver threat. He’ll be more effective as a slot target, complementing Evans and a speedy wideout added through the draft or free agency.

The running back situation is now murky because Doug Martin returned to the Doug Martin of 2013 and 2014 … injured and ineffective.

The fact Martin was benched in Tampa Bay’s biggest game of the season doesn’t bode well for his place on the depth chart going forward.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles warned us that a taste of honey is worse than none at all, but I don’t second that emotion when it comes to the 2016 Bucs. Sure, they teased us with a 5-game winning streak before the crash, but better days are ahead.

If Licht can duplicate the success of his first three drafts, this could be the start of something big.

Ira Kaufman, Tampa Bay’s only Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, pens columns for every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his award-winning podcasts fire on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Ira also eats all the french fries and pizza at world headquarters.

19 Responses to “Much To Savor”

  1. Gilhealy Says:

    You’re right, Ira. Nice to see optimistic thoughts. Thanks.

  2. Ray Rice Says:

    I’m not even thinking about next season. I am thinking about Carolina and how much I want them to whoop Newtons a*$. I wouldn’t hate to see him dabbing in the end zone with his dumb a*$ grin on his face.

  3. Ray Rice Says:


  4. Gilhealy Says:

    that’s true, RR. we don’t need to see that.

  5. Mort Says:

    FA or the draft? We need a competent WR in both FA and the draft. Not either / or.

    Aside from that, our roster sets up pretty well to draft best player available. We could use help at safety, defense of line, corner… But really our needs are relatively similar in terms of urgency at all of those positions.

  6. Philip Says:

    This should be a huge offseason for Licht. With the current cap space (which should only grow when we release some players right?) and the bucs on the brink of being great, the agents of free agents and the free agents themselves should be salivating over the Bucs.

  7. Patrick in VA Says:

    I think that the development of Benenoch this off season will go a long way toward telling us what we need to do in the draft and FA. If he can come along, then there’s a chance that we could relocate Marpet in to a C role and only have to get a RT this year, which could easily be found on the second day of the draft. I don’t know how long Sweezy’s contract was for, but it would be great to get at least some use out of him next year.

    That leaves the rest of the draft and FA to fill voids at DE, WR, S, and bring in some quality backups at DT. I’d also love to see us get in a quality LB that can give LVD the proper motivation to stay on his game. He seems to be a little too comfortable in his starter role these days.

  8. NewTampaChris Says:

    Yes, there is plenty of detail to analyze but at a high-level, the Bucs just aren’t good enough yet. But as I remarked many times this season, it was such a pleasant feeling to even be IN games in the second half, much less reel off five straight wins. So yes, cause to celebrate a good season — with the realization that the Bucs need better players at several positions to be able to do consistent damage to top teams.

  9. Cobraboy Says:

    Smokey Robinson and the Miracles warned us that a taste of honey is worse than none at all, but I don’t second that emotion when it comes to the 2016 Bucs.
    What a great line, Ira! Kudos!

  10. LakeLandBuc Says:

    I don’t see us beating the Falcons for the NFC South during the next 5-7 seasons. They have too many young weapons in place, and they draft good.

  11. Harry in Costa Rica Says:

    Right on the money Ira. And “…a five game win streak…” against good competition, too! We need (in order, IMO):
    * DE (don’t forget Gholston is a FA, besides, we need one on each side, right?)
    * WR
    * S
    Now, as long as Licht does not move up to draft a Looooonng Snapper, he will find us what we need. I have full confidence.

    Winston will grow, bc he has that burning desire to be the best. Can’t teach that!!! Same with Evans, Brate and Hargraves & Kwon.

    First time in years I am excited about next year based on this year’s results!! GO BUCS!!

  12. Pelbuc Says:

    No matter who you draft, get rid of GMC and LVD, serial loafers and losers that infect the roster, if Bucs want to change the culture

  13. Ocala Says:

    The BUCs are in phenomenal shape going into 2017.
    they need to draft well and be aggressive in free agency

    Especially considering they have the most cap space of any NFL team going into 2017.

  14. Patrick in VA Says:

    @Pelbuc – Once they have quality replacements, I have no problem with that. Neither have proven to be indispensable. Absent quality replacements, we cannot get rid of them yet. We have other positions that need to have NFL starter quality talent infused in to them. Once those are addressed, I can see addressing positions where the players simply aren’t motivated enough

  15. Kobe Faker Says:

    8-8 and 9-7 is easy

    getting to the next level to the playoffs is fvking pulling teeth

    we are part of a great division

    almost half the season against cam, ryan, and brees. i would bet my beer tab that all of them will be HOF QBS when their career is over

    only a competent and brilliant GM can bring us superbowls. Forrest Gump has it easy right now. In a few years we will be paying Jameis and ME13 max contracts. these 2 will be almost a third of the teams cap

  16. BigPoppaBuc Says:

    I’m with rayrice… I’m over the fact we aren’t playoff bound. I want to see this team come out and stomp the panthers. I want to see them set the tone for next season. I think they will and it’s going to be an off season full of hype. But for the first time in a long time I feel it’s deserved. The coaching staff, the players and our management have this franchise poised to make big moves in the next 5 years. Great time to be a Bucs fan.

  17. JonBuc Says:

    Color me dubious…and not sure what to expect next season. They laid yet another egg vs a Saint team with so much on the line just like last season. Many of the wins during the 5 game streak seem fortuitous in retrospect. Will Winston be the ultimate tease…looking fantastic one series only to implode at critical times? Was making Martin inactive a smart call for morale? Limit him to 3rd down back if you want but the Bucs are somewhat married to him next year. Unless of course they want to pay out 8 million in “severance” like they did Sweezey and VJax. Can we trust Licht’s out with the free agency check book again? After marinating on this for a few days…I’m more skeptic than optimist. I guess that makes me more of a Lee fanboy than that of Steve. 🙂

  18. mike Says:

    kobe.. you are right.
    Jameis needs to take another step next year. He makes plays that aren’t there but at times can’t make the plays that are there. His year 2 wasn’t quite as good as Blake Bortles year 2 or Josh freeman’s year 2 so I’m not sure why people are thinking he’s on his way to 10 years of pro bowls. He let a golden year slip away and it will take a lot to get back. Need to sign a few proven players in the off season but most importantly, the guys from the 2015 and 2016 draft need to keep getting better

  19. Kobe Faker Says:

    GM Kobe

    1st round- move up and give !st and 3rd for Mike Williams

    2nd round- dede westbrook

    all FA and rest of the draft defense and oline

    *Kobes #1 rule for drafting- Always pick a clemson receiver and never ever draft a USC receiver

    = Gump picks Juju smith