Nine Cornerstones And Eight Hopefuls

April 13th, 2023

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The Bucs are taking a Pilates approach to roster construction.

When Jason Licht looks at the depth chart, he can’t help but think the Bucs need to strengthen their core. They’ve got some solid players, maybe even a few elite ones, but not enough difference-makers to be considered a championship contender — even in the relatively weak NFC.

At the moment, Tampa Bay appears to be the No. 3 team in the Sunshine State behind the Dolphins and fast-charging Jaguars. Vegas oddsmakers have the Bucs pegged for the NFC South basement as salary-cap issues shredded the depth chart.

Licht points to the roster core as reason to believe the Bucs can pull off a third consecutive division crown.

Let’s take a look at the quality and extent of this core heading into a draft that needs to produce immediate contributors.

If you define a core player by reliability, health, commitment and NFL resume, Tampa Bay’s current roster has only nine players who meet the standard — Tristan Wirfs, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Lavonte David, Antoine Winfield Jr., Vita Vea, Carlton Davis, Ryan Jensen and Jamel Dean.

Antoine Winfield, Jr.

The good news is only David and Jensen will be older than 30 when the season begins. Wirfs, Godwin, Winfield Jr., Davis and Dean will be 27 or younger. The bad news is this core isn’t big enough to challenge conference bullies like the Eagles, 49ers and Cowboys.

The Bucs are working on their core, knowing there’s a group of wannabes eager to prove they belong.

The Outer Circle

Where’s Devin White? While he’s still under contract, White is no longer under the spell and allure of being a Buccaneer. He craves a long-term extension and Tampa Bay coaches understandably want to see more before the Glazers pony up the big bucks. Even if he’s still on the roster when training camp starts, White may look like he’s got one cleat out the door.

Shaq Barrett was left out of the inner circle solely for medical reasons. Tampa Bay’s best edge rusher tore his Achilles in late October. That’s a difficult injury to overcome for a player who relies on quickness and agility. Besides the rehab factor, let’s note that Barrett had registered only three sacks before he was sidelined in Week 8.

Baker Mayfield would love to be part of Tampa Bay’s core, but he’s dragging a lot of baggage into One Buc Place.

Since a stellar year with the Browns in 2020, Mayfield has thrown 27 TD passes and 21 interceptions. He’s got a lot to prove if and when he beats out Kyle Trask under center.

Wide receiver Russell Gage needs a bounceback year to be considered a core Buccaneer, writes Ira Kaufman.

Russell Gage needs a strong bounce-back year to be considered a core Buccaneer, writes Ira Kaufman.

Russell Gage was no stranger to the end zone late in the season, but his overall production lagged in terms of his contract. Bottom line: it’s hard to be considered a core player when you’ve averaged 34 receiving yards per game in your NFL career.

Rachaad White made some plays as a rookie and with Leonard Fournette jettisoned, White has to be considered Tampa Bay’s No. 1 back. Still, that 3.7 yards per rush attempt is a concern and his longest run in 129 carries was a mere 20 yards.

By the end of the season, Cade Otton had gained Tom Brady’s trust. That’s no small accomplishment for any rookie, but Otton caught only 10 passes for 112 yards and zero touchdowns in the final five weeks. Don’t be shocked if he finds himself competing against a skilled rookie because this draft has some serious tight end prospects.

This will be a make-or-break season for Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, who has yet to fill Todd Bowles with confidence because of his inconsistency. Is seven sacks too much to ask from a first-round draft pick?

Anthony Nelson re-signed with the Bucs and he’s a nice role player who hasn’t missed a game in the past three years. Posting 10 1/2 sacks off the edge since 2021 in limited playing time is impressive, yet the Bucs view him as a solid backup. If Barrett isn’t ready to go in September, Nelson is likely to see plenty of snaps.

So there you have it … the current core and the would-be members.

Licht’s core belief is that this roster is good enough to win another division title — especially if the Bucs have a successful draft.

Yes, the Bucs have good players. The question remains: do they have enough of ’em?

13 Responses to “Nine Cornerstones And Eight Hopefuls”

  1. Goatfarmer Says:

    If there was a coaching leader who had a track record of anything besides regression and losing, I’d say yes. Alas, The Bowels movement.

  2. Mike C Says:

    One more time, how feel about the Bucs coach? Lol

  3. Voice of Truth Says:

    9 and 8 is 17 and we need 22 starters….5 GAPING holes and relatively little depth anywhere

    Only in POP Warner can you hide that many weak spots

    Six wins max with the challenged one at HC and this underwhelming collection

  4. Defense Rules Says:

    Goatfarmer … Congratulations on adding absolutely nothing to an excellent analysis. But then again, you practice multiple times each day adding nothing but negative bullspit, so you’ve gotten to be quite good at it. Wow, what an accomplishment.

  5. Defense Rules Says:

    Voice of Truth … I agree with your bottom line, but I think there may be more than ‘5 GAPING holes’ and undeniably we have ‘relatively little depth anywhere’. That’s not a prescription for being a competitor in any division … right now.

    Ira’s 9 core players sounds about right, for now at least. The other 8 that he mentioned (D White, Shaq, Mayfield, Gage, R White, Otton, JTS, Nelson) vary from very good to very questionable IMO, so that one’s hard to gage.

    But there are others who could definitely make an impact this season. Greg Gaines is one of them. Our new Safety Ryan Neal is another. Several other players COULD step up and show solid improvement this year (guys like Hainsey, Goedeke, Hall). Plus we’ve got the draft (I hope that we’ll add 3-4 solid contributors). None of that solves our depth problem, but there was no way we were going to rebuild this thing in 1 year anyways.

    Far as our HC goes, what I care most about from him is that he get this defense squared away & operating as a Top-10 defense. That all by itself will be no easy task, largely because of lack of impact players at several positions (pass rush?) and lack of depth. I’m pinning my hopes on Canales to get this offense squared away (I’d be happy with a Top-15 to Top-20 performance this year given the ‘talent’ that we’ve got).

  6. Mike C Says:

    Superbowl Champion teams don’t have 22 top line starters, they will usually have a few people on each side of the ball that are kinda filling in, (Brad Culpepper was just a dude, Dex Jackson was the mvp in the SB because we had the Raiders play book, other than that nothing special. Michael Pittman had 4.0 ypc average that year 4.3…. not exactly top flight.

  7. Mike C Says:

    The most penalized O line man for past decade was on the 2020 team, and nacho and Gholston are not by any stretch all pro, might not start on half the teams around the league.

  8. Jeebs the Honey Bear Says:

    Great article Uncle Ira! This team is talented… It has potential! But can Bowels be a better head coach this season? Is Dave Canales the answer at OC? To me, these are the bigger questions. Good coaching and great players can win a championship, but so can good players and great coaching. Can our coaches be great?

  9. Mike C Says:

    Goatfarmer??? What do you think?

  10. Goatfarmer Says:

    Bowels. On his way to a 5th consecutive losing season. Accomplishments like that are rare.

    Four losing seasons in a row in the books, and that is fact. Look it up. Maybe Licht can trade Toad to the Texans with Diva White for DeMeco Ryans. Purveyor of the Fog, enjoy reading your own posts, they are effective at curing insomnia for sure.

  11. Jack Burton Mercer Says:

    Good analysis. And No, not enough. Need RB/LT and DL/DE/LB/CB etc. We can make some noise but it won’t be very loud this year. 9-8 would be a good year and will require very good QB play.

  12. Alanbucsfan Says:

    In addition to the points made by the Sage, Bucs need 4 of their 2023 draft picks to make a significant contribution this year. Perhaps another FA signing is on the horizon.
    Of the veteran players that need to produce- none is more important than Mayfield/Trask.
    This season could be surprisingly good or disappointingly bad.
    I have some faith in Canales to improve the offense 5-6 points per game.
    Bowles is a good defensive coach
    This isn’t a Championship caliber team at this point, and whether they become one in the future will depend on the young guys .

  13. Mike C Says:

    Love the Bull, but not exactly a game breaker, actually the definition of a game manager has his picture next to it.