The Buccaneers 41st season was one of ups-and-downs. Although the young team strung together five-straight wins, and nine overall, it wasn’t enough to make a 2016 playoff push.
Having a first-year coach usually comes lower expectations, but not for this team. Coach Dirk Koetter and QB Jameis Winston has repeatedly told the media, that they believe with the talent on this team, that they should be playing football in the postseason. Since it didn’t turn out exactly the way they wanted, there were many positives to take into 2017.
- The 22-year old franchise man, Jameis Winston set records in both passing yards and passing touchdowns. He became the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in his first two seasons, plus he broke Josh Freeman‘s record of passing touchdowns in a single-season by a Buccaneers’ player, with 28.
Coming into OTA’s and training camp back in August, Winston showed up over 20-pounds lighter, and with a chip on his shoulder after having the first losing season of his football career. Since being picked first overall, Winston has changed the culture of the organization, by using not only his God-given football skills, but by his fantastic ability to communicate and relate with people. He changed the mindset of the coaches, players, and fans.
Going into 2017, Winston must work on accuracy. In his second offseason in the NFL, I believe Winston, along with other key offensive weapons, will work hard and try to keep a winning football team in Tampa Bay.
Nice second season for Jameis Winston, entering the franchise record books. pic.twitter.com/GjeNMZxZuE
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) January 1, 2017
- Mike Evans was taken in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft for his great size and the outstanding ball-skill he possesses. This season, I think we saw what kind of product Evans is coming into.
Evans was tied for second for touchdowns with 12, came in fourth in receiving yards, and sixth in receptions.
The Texas A&M wide out called himself a “top-five receiver”, but feels he could’ve been first. Evans found himself not making the best blocks on the outside, plus not meeting expectations while running his routes.
Now going into year four, Evans will be an NFL-veteran and must step up to help this team conquer the nine-year playoff drought.
- Harvard man Cameron Brate was named the starter in training camp over former second-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins. We all know how that turned out.
Brate had arguably the better season than any tight end in Buccaneers history, posting eight touchdowns and 660 yards. He became an outlet-pass for Winston, and really was reliable when Winston fled the pocket.
Last offseason, Brate, Winston and Adam Humphries had personal workouts to improve chemistry and to stay in shape. Brate told the media they went to Skyway Park in Tampa regularly.
This offseason, the TE is a restricted free-agent. So calm down, Brate will more than likely be back in red and pewter in the 2017 season.
- Kwon Alexander showed us in 2016 that he is here to stay. Leading the league in solo tackles, Alexander played nearly every snap on defense, and played every snap with heart and competitiveness.
The LSU Tiger made his number one to look out for, for opposing offenses. In the season opener, Alexander had 21 tackles. He started the year with a bang and didn’t stop. He was voted to the Pro Bowl as an alternate, and Kwon also caught one INT and had one FF in 2016.
He is only 22 years of age, like Winston. The core of the Buccaneers’ team is very, very young. Another plus for Tampa Bay moving forward.
- Noah Spence was quite the catch in the second-round of the 2016 draft. Jason Licht and Dirk Koetter were both high on the Ohio State man, turn Eastern Kentucky Colonel.
In college, Spence had problems with PED’s that he isn’t proud about. With first-round talent, he fell to Tampa Bay with open arms and from the get-go, showed opposing teams he had a chip on his shoulder.
As he watched his good friend Joey Bosa go third overall to San Diego, Spence knew he had it in him to become a premier defensive end in football.
In week five, Spence was told he needed surgery on his shoulder after he dislocated his shoulder, and had a partially torn labrum. Opposed to ending his season, he decided to wear a skin-tight brace all season, and although it took some getting used to, Spence ended up with 5.5 sacks despite only starting three games all season.
Hopefully next August, we can see a healthy Spence back at camp and see what the athletic edge rusher can do when fully healthy.
- Dirk Koetter came into Tampa Bay prior to the 2015 as the new offensive coordinator under Head Coach Lovie Smith. It didn’t take too long for him to show the organization that his offensive mastermind was good enough to be an NFL Head Coach.
Koetter was announced the Buccaneers Head Coach following the 6-10 season, and completely gave Bucs’ fans a new hope.
While Koetter and Winston hit it off during their first year in Tampa, and it wasn’t too long before Coach won the players over for the 2016 season.
Since Koetter is now the fourth head coach in Tampa Bay since 2008, many players had made it obvious they’d grown tired of the bad habit of losing their coaches. Some players took their unhappiness to Twitter, others leaving the organization. With new leadership, it seems Koetter and his regime will last more than another season.
- Jason Licht’s third season as the Buccaneers’ GM was a success to many. Since drafting impact players such as Jameis Winston, Kwon Alexander, and Ali Marpet, and signing outstanding free agents like Bryan Anger, and Brent Grimes, Licht has become, in my opinion, a top General Manager in football.
From bringing the team from 2-14, to a winning 9-7 football team in three seasons is quite impressive for a first-time GM.
Going into his fourth offseason, Licht has no choice but to keep improving, and push this football team into the playoffs. Which is not only a motive for himself, but for players, coaches and many Buccaneers’ fans.
- Doug Martin‘s 2016 campaign was set for greatness, until a hamstring injury in week two sidelined Martin until week 10. After his return, the Dougernaut’s productivity dropped off massively. Averaging only 2.9 yards per carry on the year, it was more than a disappointment.
Onto week 16, where Martin was a healthy inactive prior to the biggest game of the Buccaneers’ season in New Orleans, which they lost. Just to find out later that week that the former first-round pick had been suspended the next four regular season games, going into next season.
Martin failed a drug test given by the NFL, and in his official statement, said that he’d be entering a rehabilitation center immediately to receive help that he ‘truly’ needs.
Yes, Martin’s suspension carries into next season, and he will lose some of the guaranteed money he would’ve received had he played in the four games he’ll miss.
Another question is, does Tampa Bay’s front office bring in outside help in the running back position this offseason, whether it be in the draft of free agency. Only time will tell for the Boise St. standout.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 28, 2016
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins had the potential to be one of the greatest TE’s in the league today. On Friday, September 23rd, Seferian-Jenkins was pulled over and arrested for a DUI charge, hours before practice.
On that same Friday, Jason Licht and the Bucs’ front office decided to release the Washington product.
The 38th overall pick in 2014 NFL Draft had major problems with alcohol prior to being selected by the Bucs’ and obviously it did not stop going into his third NFL season. Although the Bucs’ lost out on so much talent, they found a gem in Cameron Brate.
- Mike Smith was announced the Bucs’ Defensive Coordinator last offseason. During the first half of the season, Smith took blame for many of the defenses mishaps and a few losses the team took after going 3-5 in the first half of the season.
The defense really showed improvement, sparking a five-game winning streak, and holding Seattle and the Saints to no touchdowns during that streak.
Tampa Bay had found the DC they needed, but for what it’s worth, Smith has interviews with Jacksonville and San Diego for their Head Coaching vacancies moving into the 2017 season.
Coach Koetter and the front office may have another whole to fill if Smith ends up leaving the team, which at this point, looks likely.
- Roberto Aguayo had many eyes on him going into the 2016 season. After being the highest kicker drafted in the NFL draft since Mike Nugent was taken in the second-round, plus being the most accurate in NCAA history, Aguayo made 22-of-31 kicks, with his longest being a 43-yarder.
Now although I’m not on the, “Cut Aguayo” bandwagon. I do believe Aguayo did not live up to his potential. He was the MOST accurate kicker ever in college. I see Aguayo coming back into 2017, with a stronger and more accurate leg.
- After an above-average 2016 season, the Tampa Bay offensive line was determined to be the focal point of the offense, and push the team into the next level.
After Doug Martin finished up as the second-leading rusher in 2015, only behind Adrian Peterson, and signing a new contract to stay in Tampa Bay, the Bucs’ line needed to repeat what was done last season. They couldn’t do it for Martin, or protect Winston as they wanted to.
Moving into the offseason, the front office will look to add more pieces to the offensive line to help Winston, and whoever next years running back may be.
Overall Grade: B-
Given the opportunities the team had to push themselves into the playoffs, they failed. I believe coaches and players would agree, that they should be playing this weekend.
Dropping games to the Rams, Saints and losing the way they did to Oakland, showed why the team was not ready to make the playoffs, although it would’ve been a big step forward for the organization.
At the end of the day, Tampa Bay had their first winning season since 2010. Be that as it may, the team must come together in 2017 and push together not only a winning season, but a division-winning season.