Plenty Of Company — And Opportunity

January 17th, 2020

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The rest of the NFC South is backing up to the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay went 2-4 in the division during the first year of the Bruce Arians era, but there are tangible reasons to believe the Bucs are the team on the rise in this group — particularly if Jameis Winston remains under center and fixes his turnover issues.

While there are serious questions concerning the Panthers and Falcons, even the division titans face an uncertain future because Drew Brees just turned 41 and has yet to commit to returning for a 20th pro season.

Teddy Bridgewater filled in nicely while Brees was sidelined, but Bridgewater is a looming free agent and New Orleans fans don’t even want to think about life without No. 9. We’re talking about the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards, TD throws and completion percentage.

Brees has engineered 50 game-winning drives, second only to Peyton Manning, and more than a few of those comebacks have come at Tampa Bay’s expense.

The Saints have ruled over the NFC South in the past three years with a 37-11 record, ranking 3-3-4 among NFL teams in points scored during that span.

The arrival of Alvin Kamara refreshed Sean Payton’s playbook, but it will be back to the drawing board if Brees retires to the safety of the broadcast booth.

When Arians addressed the Bucs after a 7-9 finish, the Crescent City was very much on his mind.

“The biggest message was I think the difference between us and the New Orleans Saints – in September they knew they were going to win the division,” Arians said. “We thought we might, but we weren’t sure and it was too late by October. I think next year when we step on the field we should know we’re good enough.”

South Heading South

The Panthers, simply put, are a mess.

New owner David Tepper is a former hedge fund manager who is now hedging his bets. Carolina doesn’t know what to do with Cam Newton, who had surgery on his left foot in December.

Newton is under contract for one more season at $21 million, but he looks like a broken-down former league MVP. He is 6-10 in the past two years, undermined by leg and shoulder injuries.

Cam Newton is more about outfits now

Backup Kyle Allen orchestrated a 4-game winning streak in Newton’s absence, throwing seven TD passes without an interception in that stretch, but he faded badly and new head coach Matt Rhule won’t like Allen’s tape enough to consider him the 2020 starter.

Then we had the Luke Kuechly shocker as Carolina’s 28-year-old middle linebacker called it quits. You don’t easily replace a potential Hall of Fame player entering his prime, so the Panthers appear primed for another last-place finish.

Coming off successive 7-9 seasons, the Falcons retained coach Dan Quinn because Arthur Blank is a patient man and Atlanta rallied from a 1-7 getaway.

That 2016 NFC championship team seems like a distant memory as Matt Ryan, who turns 35 in May, prepares for another year of bruises.

Ryan suffered an NFL-high 48 sacks and there’s no reason to believe his protection will improve significantly this fall. Atlanta’s ground game was even less productive than Tampa Bay’s and it’s apparent that Devonta Freeman has seen his best days.

Foundation Finish

The future could belong to the Bucs, but only if this team plays smart, disciplined football. A 5-3 second half and a 5-3 road record suggests the talent base at One Buc Place is adequate for a playoff run.

“There’s times we look awesome, one of the best teams in the league,” says Cameron Brate. “Anytime you have a new coach, it’s going to take a little bit of time — unless you have a winning team with an established quarterback like the Packers.

“I think there’s a good foundation here. This coaching staff instills a ton of confidence in everyone. They just believe in you, they really do. They give everyone an opportunity to do what they’re best at. But until we find a way to look like the team we’re capable of being, we’re not going to like the results.”

Click through and shop now at Tampa’s first family of Ford, Bill Currie Ford.

Ira Kaufman launched his professional NFL beat coverage in 1979, back when Earl Campbell was the toast of the league and Lee Roy Selmon was defensive player of the year. After a lifetime at The Tampa Tribune, “The Sage of Tampa Bay Sports” joined in July of 2016. His twice-weekly podcast and three columns per week appear here year-round and are presented by Bill Currie Ford. Tampa Bay’s only Hall of Fame voter is a regular on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio and a part of the FOX-13 Tailgate Sunday show, in addition to his other appearances. 

40 Responses to “Plenty Of Company — And Opportunity”

  1. Says:

    We need the stars to align.

  2. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    The Saints have proven they can win without Brees…….they have a very good team all-around….

    I would agree that we are in the best shape we’ve been for talent in years……we have at least an average Oline…….outstanding WRs & TEs……an emerging RB…..defensive front 7 and some young developing DBs…..
    We have all our draft picks and a large amount of cap space to sign most of our stars.
    We do have the question mark at QB……hopefully either we will straighten that out or Winston will straighten himself out…..

  3. Adrnagy Says:

    Per pewter report

    Rumors have begun to spread today that Winston is being signed to a large contract

  4. Adrnagy Says:

    Pewter plank.

  5. Steve in Mad Beach Says:

    I wouldn’t be too quick to write off the Falcons.

    They were 6-2 in the 2nd half of the season with a couple of quality wins against the 49ers and Saints!

  6. Defense Rules Says:

    Very nice positive, HOPEFUL article Ira. Now we just need to get these players to live up to their POTENTIAL on the field on game days.

  7. Defense Rules Says:

    Adrnagy … IF that’s true, the Bucs are screwed from the TEAM perspective. Personally I think BA’s a LOT smarter than that. JL … not so much.

  8. Bucsfanman Says:

    We are DEFINITELY a team on the rise. There is little comparison to this team and the Bucs of ’17 and ’18.
    We just need to figure out how to win, as dumb as that sounds.
    This year we never had all phases of football show up in the same game. Just IMAGINE, offense, defense, AND special teams all show up in the same game?!

  9. 'daBUCisthis? Says:

    Maybe it’s my mind playing tricks on me, but that’s 2xs Brate has thrown a lil shade at #3.
    Earlier he’s saying “gotta stop turning the ball over” and now this…” Established QB ”
    Seems like something, maybe nothing.

  10. Alaskan Abdominal Snowman Says:

    DR, that’s ridiculous, we are not “screwed” inevitably but since you have foresight I wonder why the Buc’s have not employed you.

  11. No Risk It No Biscuit Says:

    The Ice Cream curse is for real. Ask Carolina or OJ Howard!!!!!!!

    2020 is our year!!!!

  12. Mitch Says:

    I read that plank report and i feel like at best it was a whisper and at most he just wanted to drive clicks for the article. In any case, if they sign Winston we still better be able to extend CG12, keep Shaq, JPP, and if he wants to hangout at 7 million for a year – Suh.

  13. Mike Johnson Says:

    Ira, We need to come out of the gate faster next season. Hit the floor Winning baby! A couple of real close ones really did us in at seasons beginning. if we can keep our defense together, even improve it, I see Big things for our Bucs next year. Won’t comment on Jameis here. We all know what he needs to do. I got our division being up for grabs next season. Its anybody’s for the taking. Hopefully its us.

  14. Defense Rules Says:

    Alaskan … IF the Bucs give Jameis … or ANY QB … a $30 mil-Plus contract then they won’t be able to build a strong defense (via re-signing our own FAs) and fix the OLine & running game. Those little thingies cost MONEY, and unless they get priority, why would you expect the Bucs to do any better next year? That’s all I ever hear is ‘the defense stunk’, ‘Bucs had no running game’, etc. Well guess what Alaskan, it costs MONEY and/or DRAFT PICKS to fix those things.

    And BTW, when I say ‘screwed’ that’s in relation to making the playoffs next year. The rest of this TEAM is THAT GOOD IMO.

  15. ben Says:

    Ira , (in the past) I thought you were thinking to move on from Winston with all the bad choices he has made. Joe has a man crush on Winston and because he signs the checks I will accept that opinions can change .

  16. Alaskan Abdominal Snowman Says:

    DR so your either sayin one of two things. You are either saying you are smarter than those who make those decisions or you are saying the Bucs aren’t trying to make the playoffs next year.
    Because if you have it figured out behind your laptop you and these guys in the building everyday don’t, we should petition to have you employed.
    Doesn’t Licht and Arians know that these things take MONEY? And they still want to sign Winston?
    You should let them know, because if they sign Winston they are screwed. Wouldn’t you want them to know about this?
    Maybe we aren’t necessarily “screwed” because we have enough to sign our guys and we have guys we can use to create more cap room. There are ways above both of our level of understanding to get guys under the cap and if they think it’s our best chance to make a winning team (that is their jobs) then I will trust that we are not “screwed “ because of those decisions.

  17. Alaskan Abdominal Snowman Says:

    Ill also say if they let him walk because of $$ I would understand but to say if he’s signed to 30M+ we are “screwed” is the premise that I reject. Maybe we are, maybe we aren’t.

  18. Man of Constant Sorrow Says:

    “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas”, Don Meredith

  19. Mr. Reality Says:

    With Winston at QB, we would have to hope for a fluke situation where a 7-9 or 8-8 team wins the division. Yipee…we have a chance! But alas, just as Winston would gamble and risk his team to an unlikely playoff berth (because the other teams in the division are train wrecks or Breesless), he’d blow it in the playoffs right away, laying TDs going to opposite direction early, and losing badly to a real football team, probably a wild card team coming to RayJay. Winston will never allow the Bucs to beat a good team in the playoffs (just like they didn’t beat any this past season, and almost lost to terrible teams due to his mistakes). So it would be empty. Get a real QB, someone these this coaches can trust with the football, someone the fans will want to come see.

  20. Man of Constant Sorrow Says:

    Ira , (in the past) I thought you were thinking to move on from Winston with all the bad choices he has made. Joe has a man crush on Winston and because he signs the checks I will accept that opinions can change .
    Ben, there was one podcast where crazy Joe literally was screaming at Ira because Ira wanted to move on from Winston. He finally apologized but I literally thought he was gonna assault Ira. Funny how hearts and minds are shaped by a paycheck. Just like Zucker telling CNN how to think.

  21. TouchDownTampaBay Says:

    You are correct Alaskin. There are ways to make the cap work. There will most likely be some casualties like Brate and there is a good chance Suh will be cut as well to create cap room. They just need to draft an offensive tackle, DE or DT in the second to replace Suh and Voila, plenty of cap room to sign JW, Barrett, and JPP and have money left over. It is not at all black and white as Defense and many others imply.

  22. stpetebucsfan Says:

    Wow do we have short memories.

    But not StevefromMadbeach who posted an actual fact about the Falcons.

    “They were 6-2 in the 2nd half of the season with a couple of quality wins against the 49ers and Saints!

    Freeman is old and burnt out…OK…Matty Ice is a “whopping” 35…that’s not old by today’s protect the QB NFL rules. 40 is perhaps old..not 35.

    And while I certainly understand that Steve was only talking about “quality” wins…beating the Bucs is not a quality win…however the Falcons are our rivals!!

    They went 6-2 we certainly improved 5-3…but when it came down to the big game…in OUR crib..what happened? Oh yeah a pick six…even giving the “Blameless Jameis” fans their excuse that the pass was tipped…does it really make a difference. Give the Falcons credit for tipping it.

    It does not matter whose fault it is or whether we simply view it as a great play by a Falcon defending lineman to tip it…BOTTOM line…they beat us in OUR house! We haven’t EARNED the right to disrespect the Falcons!

    How arrogant do we need to be to claim scoreboard over the Falcons…they not only finished better than us…they beat us in OUR house!

    I understand Ira’s post but I disagree at least marginally. I think we all agree that N.O. is the class of our division….also that Carolina is a mess…but as for us and the Falcons I suspect objective folks consider us pretty equal. I believe BOTH we and the Falcons will be better next year making the NFC South one of the toughest divisions again…one breather Carolina…NO and Atl will be tough.
    But so will we!!! GO BUCS!!

  23. TouchDownTampaBay Says:

    StPete you are one annoying poster now that you are off the bandwagon. Gay missed 3 makeable field goals in that game and it never should have gotten to overtime. No one call Jameis blameless, but many of us that aren’t old like you do realize he also puts a lot of points on the board and is better than any other option out there. No none of these game managing QBs that might be available in free agency are better than Jameis. Football is a team sport. I was at the Falcons game and after he missed his third field goal I turned to my son and said he is going to cost us the game. You ever heard of something called momentum? You don’t think it deflates the team when the real football players have to watch a soccer player leave 9 points out there? Just give it a rest.

  24. Alaskan Abdominal Snowman Says:

    Mr reality, another absurd statement from a wannabe Nostradamus. We would be hoping for a fluke 7 or 8 win division title?
    Where have you been?
    Jameis has won 9 games already in his career and that was without Bruce Arians. That was without a solid receiving core or solid defense outside of 5 games. They could run the ball that year though.
    We would have won 9 games this year IF one or more of these things happened last year: Winston took better care of the Ball, our kicker didn’t miss vital kicks, our defense wasn’t an absolute matador in the first half of the season, or our run game could close out a game once in a while.
    I agree with touchdowntampabay, stpete has gone senile. I once though he was wise like yoda, now he’s more like that old guy sitting on his porch on a rocking chair in his bath robe telling the garden gnomes to get off his lawn.

  25. Mr. Reality Says:

    Snowman, YES, Winston has won 9 games…ONCE and that is NOT ENOUGH normally to advance to the playoffs. It doesn’t seem Winston cares a whole lot about Bruce, or the Jason or Glazers or fans for that matter. He COULD HAVE shown progression and not blown the last two games doing what he does best: INTs. And yes, Gay goofed up ATL…and he may be gone too if he doesn’t strighten up. But Winston had the game in his hands and he threw it away. Could have shown Bruce and others he progressed. But he didn’t, because he CAN’T.

    Only idiots try to blame the kicker when the “franchise QB” had a chance late in game…in OT…to win it…and COULD NOT.

    Same buffoons that want to blame the refs? Probably.

  26. Mr. Reality Says:

    And snowman…another fluke is Winston ever even dreaming of 9-7 (again, still not good enough to even get a wild card most of the time)…as I said, with Winston at QB we’d have to hope for a fluke season. The best gamblers can do is break even.

  27. Mr. Reality Says:

    Adrnagy…I saw that too…and while I am always skeptical of “sources” I noted the author implied it would be just like the Bucs to sign Winston to a long term deal…as they have historically made really dumb decisions.

  28. Defense Rules Says:

    Alaskan, time will tell. Personally doubt the validity of rumors at this point regarding signing Winston to a large contract. And it doesn’t take a Nostradamus to figure out that when we started the 2019 season, we were in worse shape salary Cap-wise than any other team in the NFL. If you remember, we had virtually NOTHING left; not even enough to buy a cold beer at one of the Glazers concession stands. We were hurting. So much so that we couldn’t add a veteran CB (which many wanted), nor add a RB (which many wanted), nor add a veteran to our OLine (again, which many wanted).

    Yet we ended the year being able to carry-over about $10 mil to 2020 thanks to some ‘creative management’. Add to that the salary Cap increasing by (hopefully) $10 mil & that gives us about $20 extra mil to play with over what we would’ve had last year. Assuming that we essentially keep the same players (or replace them with ‘equivalent’ players), they’ll want a LOT more than they made in 2019; Barrett, Nassib & Perriman especially, and apparently Jameis as well. Plus some of our existing players are due to make considerably more this year than they did last year (example: ME13 & Donovan together will be making about $6 mil MORE than they did last year).

    From what I’ve looked at, it really comes down to having about $20 mil more to play with, but having the ‘initial’ costs increase by at least double that, resulting in a ‘deficit’? Sure we can ‘cut stuff’ … release Brate, don’t re-sign Perriman, yada, yada. IMO ‘cutting’ rarely improves the TEAM. I want to see us be able to bring back all quality performers AND add quality performers where we had weaknesses.

    I really don’t care if you buy that logic or not Alaskan. Matter of fact, I hope you don’t because I enjoy periodic back-and-forths with folks who can back up what they’re saying with some semblance of facts & logic, as opposed to simply emotional arguments. I want to see us build a TEAM that can make the playoffs next year & the year after. And IF we can’t or don’t, then yes, we’re ‘screwed’ because anything less is unacceptable IF you had a chance to do that and blew it.

  29. Buczilla Says:

    Good article Ira.

  30. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    I realize this is unpopular……but I still contend that we may be forced to make a decision on Suh…..if he will come back at a bargain $8 mil….OK……but we may need to draft a replacement for him and for Dotson……that would save us $14 million……this would likely mean we would need a DT in round 1 and a RT in round 2 or at worst round 3……adding a RB to that would be a good

  31. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Adding a running back that would be a good first 3 rounds……I’d like to keep Suh but he is the most expendable between Shaq & JPP….

  32. stpetebucsfan Says:


    Wow and I even accepted the tipped pass EXCUSE.

    Gay did not lose the freaking Atlanta game!!!!!!

    He certainly COULD have won it by converting those three kicks…but he never had the chance to lose it. If “Blameless” had taken us to the 30 in OT and Gay missed the kick….THAT would be losing it.

    A game is not LOST until it’s over right? The deciding play in a close game is the LAST play whether it’s the QB or the kicker or a fumble by another player or a pick six by one of our guys.

    IT’S NOT OVER TILL IT’S OVER!!! Seriously to you disagree with that?

    The ball was in the hands of our 30 million dollar QB who had five years of experience! Did we win or lose? If you wish to credit Atlanta rather than discredit “Blameless”…NDOG”s position…I understand that.

    BUT GAY COULD HAVE MISSED A DOZEN KICKS! IF the ball is in the hands of your 30 million dollar QB….the FRANCHISE QB…to start OT…it’s on HIM.

    Blaming Gay is silly. How about the touchdowns that ROJO did not score…the passes that were dropped…all of the plays that went before OT. How about the penalties…there are dozens of things THAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED besides Gay’s kick that COULDA SHOULDA won that game. Did we drop any potential ints? I honestly forget.

    ONE thing that neither me nor a majority of Bucs can’t forget…we WIN the toss. Last OT we LOST that toss and Russell Wilson a true franchise QB led his team down the field for the win. We get the ball for “blameless” and it takes all of one play for him to end the contest and our season! It was an exclamation point to our season. A record setting 7th pick six! No other QB in the history of the league has done that!

    Atlanta beat us! As Lovie would say…”It’s as simple as that”. All the woulda coulda shouldas in the world will not change that. We will have a 7-9 LOSING record for 2019 forever and again that will never change…excuses or not.

    BTW…yeah I’ve fallen off the wagon. “Blameless” delusional comments after that “record setting” performance…his reported belief that he deserves 30 million greased the skids for me. Having said that…if BA thinks he should be back…I’m a Buc’s fan and I’ll cheer for him.

  33. TouchDownTampaBay Says:

    There is no sense in talking to you anymore StPete. Jameis and the offense got him into field goal range 3 motherfking times during the game. You choose to say they needed to do it for a 4th time and then and only then is it not Jameis’ fault. LOLOL at your madeup name of blameless while you blame him for everything. Mariota will be a back up somewhere next year and I suggest you root for that team.

  34. Miller5252 Says:

    I really want to believe the Bucs are a team on the rise. My biggest issue is when they finished the season with the run of wins and the 2 loses the Bucs couldn’t beat a quality team. The games they won weren’t against the good teams. The above average teams they beat but the really good teams they played Tampa just didn’t look good. I wanna believe just as much as anyone else that they have turned the corner but the last 11 years they have showed different. I’m going believe and say they turned the corner…… but I hope they don’t crush everyone’s belief, including mine! Sign the front seven and let’s start seeing a dominate D again!! Go Bucs!!! 2020 playoffs are in sight and coming!!!

  35. GhettosOfSiberia Says:

    Good piece Ira,#59 will be missed but glad he left on his terms..Watching the defense mature over the season was impressive,T.Bowles will remain here a
    few years I hope..Does anyone else think Tampa missed the boat when #47
    was looking for a job as a GM ? Enjoy #3 at any price,a QB with a .10 cent head
    in the NFL is great entertainment…

  36. D1 Says:


    I agree with you that missing 3 field goal attempts was a factor in the bucs not winning.

    But one thing you wrote caught my attention. You said winston puts points on the board. Obviously, there’s no debate on that point. But since the focus is on a single game I believe it’s fair to point out that although winston had a historic season for the franchise , on that particular Sunday afternoon, winston was only able to put up 15 points.

    Ive acknowledged the missed kicks played a role in not winning the game. No question about it. But I hesitate to heap all the blame on gay. Winston , in an offense that’s purpose built around him , was limited to just 2 touchdowns on the afternoon. This wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from jameis and this offense.

    Additionally, the fiscal investment in the offensive side of ball combined with a coach who doesn’t hold back his QB’S gunslinger style of play , the offense is expected to produce by putting TD’S on the board. That day , it didn’t happen. Gay is not the teams primary weapon and this team , unlike teams of the past, doesnt play to get into field goal position.

    This team plays to score TD’S and if that fails, Gay is there to collect the consolation prize. 3pts. Check down QB’S and game managers rely on kickers to score points and win the game. Gunslinger’s are embarrassed by the mere thought of that style of play.

    Gunslingers and game managers win games. Obviously, the team and many fans prefer the gunslinger style to winning. Check down game manager’s has become a pejorative with the fan base. So it’s rather disingenuous to abruptly switch styles mid game based on the failure of the stated preferred preference in order to avoid confronting the fact that it didn’t work out that specific game.

    The game is 60mins and it’s a team game. To select a couple plays or individual players to blame for a loss is discounting or ignoring the other 59mins and the other 52 players. Btw, I don’t put any losses on winston as a result of this belief . I prefer avoiding situations that negate the team and reduce the game into an contest of individuals.

  37. Defense Rules Says:

    @D1 … “Winston , in an offense that’s purpose built around him , was limited to just 2 touchdowns on the afternoon. This wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from jameis and this offense.”

    Interesting perspective D1, and you made some outstanding points that are easy to agree with. I think the last 2 games should’ve showed us something that’s very significant. Although the 2019 Bucs’ offense performed very well IMO against ‘average’ defenses when it had all its ‘weapons’ , against stout defenses it often struggled. And without its primary ‘weapons’ (ME13 & Godwin) in the last 2 games of the season, the Bucs’ offense saw its productivity go down significantly … 1 passing TD & 1 rushing TD plus 2 FGs in the Houston game (plus 5 turnovers), and 2 passing TDs & 0 rushing TDs in the Falcons game (with 3 turnovers).

    The big key in BOTH games however was TURNOVERS, and more specifically TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL … MINUS 2 in the Falcons game and MINUS 3 in the Texans game. Hard to recover from that. Bucs’ defense kept it close in both games, but close only counts in horse-shoes as they say.

  38. Defense Rules Says:

    TBBF … In my mind, there’s no guarantee that Suh even wants to return for another year in the trenches. After all, he is 33 years old & from what we’ve all read really doesn’t need the money. Personally I think he signed on here because of Todd Bowles (his 2019 $9.3 salary was a bargain IMO). But assuming that he does want to return, will he want to return to the Bucs? If the answer to that is YES, I think it’d need to be for at least what he made last year. He more than earned his keep IMO, and if we don’t pay him, I’d bet that some team will be willing to pay him at least that.

    Yes we can draft his replacement by spending another 1st Round pick on a DT, but should we expect a ROOKIE to provide us with the same level of performance as Suh did? And would that pick be better used on ‘something else’? Like a DE, or OLB, or OT, or even a RB? Folks forget that the Bucs have to replace THREE FREE AGENTS from our 2019 DLine: Suh, Allen & Nunez-Roches. We saw how those guys perform in TB’s defense. I’d much prefer to see us replace them one at a time, rather than replace 2 or even 3 in a single year.

    I’m just hoping that Ndamukong WANTS to come back to the Bucs, and that he’s willing to accept $10 mil for his services. This defense NEEDS HIM. I’d love to see him retire as a Buc … AFTER the 2021 season ends with us winning the Super Bowl.

  39. Hodad Says:

    The Saints draft better then us, and coach better then us. Who would you rather have their HC, and GM, or ours? The Saints aren’t going anywhere. Atlanta is a very talented team, and Carolina just hired the young OC from LSU, who was trained by Peyton, and knows our division very well. None of those teams are on the way down, with the Bucs pointing up. If the Bucs prove one thing year, after year is they F up a wet dream.

  40. Ed Says:

    Let’s see how ex-backups Ryan Tannehill and Jimmy G perform. Tenn dropped Marriotta and Niners gave up on Smith. Both very high draft picks.

    Winston is in the class of being overpaid based on past performance.