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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Biggest 2024 Roster Need | Point-Counterpoint

As we begin to look ahead in our weekly series of debates, Brianna Dix and Scott Smith offer up their ideas for the most important questions that must be answered for the Bucs to contend again in 2024


We are a week away from the unofficial start of free agency, when teams can spend roughly 52 hours negotiating with representatives of players who are due to become free agents on March 13. At the same time, with the NFL Scouting Combine wrapping up on Monday, we are fully immersed in the league's preparations for the 2024 draft. Most NFL rosters turn over 30 to 40% of their rosters from one season to the next, and we are about to see the groundwork laid for that evolution.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be going through that process, and they'll be doing so with tight cap restrictions for the second year in a row and with the goal of, at the least, winning a fourth straight NFC South title. The team that won the division in 2023 looked quite a bit different from the one that took the crown in 2023, with a new starting quarterback and a host of very young players filling key roles. The 53-man roster that takes the field next September will surely be significantly different from it was the year before.

So what do the Bucs have to get right in order to have a shot at another playoff run? There are plenty of possible answers to that question but what Team Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I are here to debate this week, as we continue our weekly Point-Counterpoint engagement, is what would be at the very top of that list. In the second half of our eight-part series leading up to the first week of free agency we have turned our attention from a review of 2023 to predictions about 2024. Here's the full list of topics we have been and will be debating:

Monday, February 5: Who was the Buccaneers' 2023 MVP?

Monday, March 4: What is the biggest need the Bucs have to address this offseason in order for the team to remain a contender in 2024?

Monday, March 11: If the Bucs are able to do any free agency shopping outside of their own roster, what position should they address?

Monday, March 18: Make one bold prediction for the Buccaneers' 2024 offseason.

Since we have decided not to allow duplicate answers, the order in which we pick can sometimes be significant. Therefore, we're alternating that order week by week, and it's my turn to kick things off.

Scott Smith: Starting Quarterback

This is pretty obvious, both in terms of what the biggest need will be and what the preferred solution to that issue is.

This would have been my answer to this question a year ago, as well, but the specifics wouldn't have been nearly as clear. Following the retirement of Tom Brady, the Buccaneers zeroed in pretty quickly on former first-overall draft pick Baker Mayfield as the veteran they wanted to bring in to compete with third-year quarterback Kyle Trask. That doesn't mean the overall NFL intelligentsia agreed with the Buccaneers' brass on this move. The Bucs were vindicated when Mayfield put together a career-best season, leading his new team to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The thing is, Mayfield essentially signed a one-year "prove-it" deal with the Buccaneers to get his once-promising career back on track, and that means he's a potential free agent again in 2024. Both the quarterback and the team suggested a desire to extend the relationship multiple times in 2023, but that doesn't guarantee it will happen. The same is true of the team's desire to bring back Mayfield's top target in 2023, franchise icon Mike Evans.

"It's going to work out the way it's meant to work out one way or the other," said Head Coach Todd Bowles near the beginning of the Combine. "You can hope for things and wish for things. Like I said, we [have] time now. The league year hasn't started yet, so we have time, and this is a time to talk and meet and try to iron out some kinks. You have to prepare for the worst, you have to prepare for the [best], so either way – and I'm hoping this is the right way in the way that Baker and Mike comes back – because you know, those guys are two great players. You have to prepare for it, as a coach, so and that's all we're doing."

So even if staying together with Mayfield is Plan A, with a bullet, there has to at least be contemplation on Plans B, C and D. One way or another, the Buccaneers need to get the quarterback decision right if they hope to contend again in 2024. If for some reason it's not Mayfield, does Trask get another shot in the final year of his rookie deal? Is there another veteran free agent who could step in and produce the way Mayfield did? Would the Bucs consider some sort of bold move in the draft and start over at the game's most important position?

Mayfield is the easy answer, but that doesn't mean getting a contract done is easy. All of the other options carry a healthy does of the unknown. But finding the right answer at quarterback is the Bucs' top priority in order to contend in 2024.

Brianna Dix: Edge Rusher

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have several key free agents and depending on who re-signs with the team and who does not will weigh heavily on this prompt. As things currently stand for Tampa Bay, I am going to focus on edge rusher. General Manager Jason Licht confirmed at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that the club will move on from Shaq Barrett at the start of the new league year as a post-June 1st move. Licht disclosed details of the call he made to Barrett, informing him of the team's decision.

"He is an incredible person as you guys all know," described Licht. "I could go on and on…We cannot officially release him until the beginning of the year, but he actually calmed me down on the call. He was [talking] about how much the organization has meant to him, what we have done for him, and it should have been the other way around. Just him, Jordanna, his whole family, they will always be Bucs and we will always leave the door open for Shaq Barrett to be a Buc."

His departure will create a void that will need to be filled. The Buccaneers recorded 48 sacks last season, with rookie Yaya Diaby spearheading the unit with 7.5 sacks. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was next, and Head Coach Todd Bowles discussed his desire at the Combine to see more consistency from the club's four-man pressures. The Bucs excelled when five-or-more players lined up and adding another dynamic edge rusher to the team's rotation would help bolster the defensive front and add another dimension to Bowles' inventive blitz/stunt packages. Adding a disruptor to the trenches would be an ideal scenario for the Buccaneers, who are scheduled to pick at 26 in the first round. In a pass-heavy league, edge rushers are held at a premium and Tampa Bay could seek to fortify the defensive line with a young, talented prospect in this year's draft.

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