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One Buc Mailbag: Free Agency Impact

Posted Mar 17, 2017

This week, Buccaneer fans want to know how Mike Evans feels about the DeSean Jackson signing, if Christian McCaffrey could end up in Tampa, and more.

Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from  Buccaneer fans. This week, we gauge the reaction of Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans to the arrival of his new running mate, DeSean Jackson. We also consider a possible offensive addition for the Buccaneers at draft pick #19 and wonder how the locker room will react to the roster changes.

Fans can submit questions for upcoming mailbags via Twitter to @ScottSBucs (#BucsMailbag), through a message on the Buccaneers Official Facebook Page or via email at tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.  The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.

1. Happy Teammates
How does Mike Evans feel about his Bucs signing DeSean Jackson?!?! If I was answering Cody on Twitter, I could probably do so solely through emojis. You know, fire, popping champagne bottles, thumbs up, trophies, etc. But I'm a very serious journalist (!) so I'll use words instead.

Actually, let's use Mike's own words, first as relayed by General Manager Jason Licht and then as texted to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

At last Saturday's press conference to introduce Jackson and fellow Washington-to-Tampa relocator Chris Baker, Licht relayed a conversation he had with Evans after the fourth-year receiver heard the good news. Evans actually reached out to Licht in order to congratulate him and told the Bucs' GM that he "couldn't be happier." Licht said he responded by saying, "You know, Mike, your day is coming." To that, according to Licht, Evans said:

"I'm not even thinking about that. All I'm thinking about is winning a championship, and this is going to help us."

So, that's pretty straightforward, right. Evans is thrilled with his new running mate in the Bucs' passing attack and thinks it puts the team a lot closer to its ultimate goal. So, you know, he pretty much feels the same way virtually every Tampa Bay fan feels right now. In fact, here's what Evans told the Times via text about Jackson:

"He's a game-changer with big-play ability that we need. He can take the top off a defense. I think it's an awesome pick up."

As you can see, Evans is coming at this from a team perspective, rather than from the perspective of how it might affect his own numbers. Assuming that Jackson is approximately the same player he has been during his first nine seasons in the league – and given that he led the league in yards per catch last year and has topped 1,000 yards in two of the last three seasons, that's a fairly safe assumption – he's certain to make the Bucs' offense more explosive. Tampa Bay's longest completion in 2016 was for 45 yards; Jackson had four 50+-yard catches on his own last year and has far more of those (37) over the past nine years than any other player in the league.

With injuries limiting Vincent Jackson to 15 games over the past two seasons, young quarterback Jameis Winston hasn't really had a second target in the passing game that really stressed opposing defenses on every play. As such, Evans led the league in targets last year and was 10th in that category in 2015.

Might that target total come down in 2017? Yeah, there's a very good chance it will. But that won't necessarily be a bad thing for the Buccaneers, or even Evans. So, even if Evans is looking at the Jackson addition from a team standpoint, he might also find that his own results are even better.

Evans was targeted 173 times in 2016 (at least according to Statspass, resulting in a career-high 96 catches. That means Winston successfully got the ball to him on 55.5% of his attempts to do so. Of the top 20 most-targeted players in the NFL last season, that's the second-lowest percentage on the list. As a contrasting example, Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown caught 106 passes on 154 targets, a success rate of 68.8%.

In 2015, that lower completion rate might have made us think of dropped passes, as Evans had a couple stretches that year in which he wasn't as consistent as he would have liked. However, that was not the story at all in 2016, when Evans was lauded for being one of the most consistent players on the team and had no problem at all with his hands. Heck, the guy who made this catch and won Play of the Year for it could hardly be accused of having trouble catching the ball!

So the high-target, lower-percentage combination may have actually been the function of Winston trying too hard to get the ball to his best target. It was no secret that Evans was the Bucs' top weapon last year; opposing defenses made a habit of rolling extra coverage his way. The arrival of Jackson will likely create more open spaces for Evans and more open looks for Winston when he wants to get the ball to his #1 man. As Head Coach Dirk Koetter noted at last Saturday's press conference, most deep routes are a combination attack. There's a deep option, an intermediate option and a checkdown option. With Jackson as that deep option now, Koetter said, teams won't be able to collapse down on top of that intermediate option as much as they have the last couple years.

Look at Washington's Pierre Garçon as an example. Last year, while Jackson was racking up 1,005 yards and 17.9 yards per catch, Garçon led the team with 79 catches on 114 targets, a success rate of 69.2%. In the three years that Garçon played with Jackson, he caught 219 passes on 330 targets, a rate of 66.4%. In his other five, non-Jackson seasons, Garçon caught passes on 57.7% of the plays he was targeted. At his press conference on Saturday, Jackson praised Garçon and some of his other previous wideout mates, including Jeremy Maclin, but suggested that Evans might be the most talented receiver with which he's ever been paired. There's a good chance that Jackson's presence will make the 23-year-old rising star even better.

And, yeah, that should make Evans happy. Multiple-emoji happy.

2. McCaffrey to the Bucs?
First, please scroll back to the top and read that little disclaimer about how whatever you read here is not meant to reflect the thoughts or strategies of team management. You know, like Jason Licht? Good? Okay.

Now, if you're asking me, I'd guess the chances aren't that high. Now, to be fair, when you're picking in the lower half of the draft, it's usually pretty easy to say that about any given player. Have you ever tried doing a mock draft? You're lucky if you get seven or eight of the first-round picks right, and one or two after the midway point of the round.

I'll try to be specific on McCaffrey, though. I just thing a number of things have to happen, or be true, for the Stanford running back to land in Tampa and I don't expect all of them to happen. First, assuming the Buccaneers aren't so enamored of him that they trade up, McCaffrey would have to fall to #19. Will that happen after a pretty good Combine performance. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah's latest mock draft, just updated a couple days ago, has McCaffrey going to the Saints at #11. Now, in Jeremiah's write-up, he does essentially admit that it's more of a "selfish" wish than a solid prediction, but if the Saints happen to feel the same way, maybe that will happen.

A lot of other mock drafts, however, have McCaffrey going later in the round, so I don't think it's far-fetched to think he'll be available at #19.

Second, the Bucs need to believe that running back is a big enough of a need to be willing to use their best draft asset on the position. Are we sure that's going to be the thinking by late April? Jacquizz Rodgers was re-signed and the team is taking a wait-and-see approach on Doug Martin and his status. The Buccaneers might be more set in the offensive backfield than you think, leading them to use that first-round pick on a cornerback, pass-rusher, tight end or wide receiver. Remember, too, that this is considered a very deep class of running backs, so teams can be forgiven for thinking they can address that position in later rounds.

Third, the Bucs need to believe that McCaffrey is a potential every-down force as a running back. McCaffrey certainly believes that and he has a strong college resume backing him up. Again, I can't really speak for whether or not that's the belief in the Buccaneers' draft room, but it certainly is a topic that is being openly debated about the 6-0, 205-pound back. I do not believe the Buccaneers would use a first-round pick on a player they didn't expect to use often on first and second downs.

So, you need McCaffrey to fall to #19, you need the Bucs to look at running back as a big-time need, you need them to believe that McCaffrey is a sure-fire every-down back and you need them to believe that he's head-and-shoulders above some of the other running backs they could get in later rounds. I could see some of that being true. Perhaps even all of it will be true, but I tend to doubt it.

3. Locker Room Reactions
Well, the truth is there has been no reaction in the Buccaneers' locker room…because there's not really anyone in the locker room yet. Yes, a handful of players are coming around team headquarters, but mostly to continue on their rehab from 2016 injuries. At most, you might find one or two guys in the locker room at the same time. The offseason program doesn't begin until next month.

But I get your point. There have been some pretty big signings and some notable departures since the team last convened, and surely there will be some ripples in the locker room. Hopefully everyone will be thrilled about the additions of Jackson, Baker and safety J.J. Wilcox, and pleased that some of their teammates (Will Gholston, Josh Robinson, Jacquizz Rodgers, etc.) are still around after signing new deals. And, sure, people will be sorry to see Mike Glennon, Russell Shepard and a few other guys leave, but for the most part players understand that is an inevitable part of the business. That's true also when a player retires, as tackle Gosder Cherilus has done.

Really, the best way to find out how Buccaneer players are feeling about roster moves is to scour twitter. Here's a couple examples:

Gerald McCoy on Mike Glennon and Akeem Spence:
Kwon Alexander on DeSean Jackson:

Donovan Smith on Will Gholston:

Ryan Russell on J.J. Wilcox: