Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians had lofty goals for the 2020 offseason and, somewhat incredibly, the two biggest ones have already been met. Now what's next?
During the months between the end of the 2019 season and the beginning of free agency last week, Arians indicated on several occasions that his top priority was keeping as much of the team's defensive front seven intact as possible. That was commonly in response to an inquiry about the Buccaneers' plans at quarterback, and Arians stressed that the quarterback decision wouldn't matter much if they couldn't keep the team's rising defense intact.
Of course, when a pursuit of former New England quarterback Tom Brady gradually became a realistic premise, that definitely created a "Priorities 1A and 1B" type of situation. Rank them in whatever order you want – Arians and the Bucs got both done. Brady is now and a Buccaneer and, as of one week into free agency the team had also found a way to maintain all three of its key defensive free agents: outside linebackers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. Suh was the last piece to that puzzle, re-signing with Tampa Bay on Thursday.
"I wanted the entire defense, if we could, to stay together," said Arians. "They played so well together; each piece of the puzzle knew each other. Suh was a big, big part of it, obviously – not as much in the sack game as much as the interior pressure and the great job he did last year against the run. We were number-one against the run in the league last year, and a lot of it was because of he and Vea."
So now what? Take a victory lap and wait for the day coaches and players are finally allowed to take the field together again? Not quite. There's always work to be done on an NFL roster. Even when you've made the boldest player acquisition in franchise history and surprisingly kept a defense full of coveted free agents intact there's always going to be some corner of the roster that requires your attention.
Here are some team-building possibilities Arians mulled over while conducting a conference call with local media on Wednesday:
Get a pass-catching running back and some more depth in the secondary? Yes, if possible.
Arians spoke about the difficulty of bringing in additional new players in free agency due to the restrictions caused by the Coronavirus outbreak, so it may take some time to plug any perceived holes in the roster. However, he clearly would like to get Brady a back who can put up big numbers in the passing game. The process is a little more straightforward in the draft.
"I'd love to have a pass-catching back, obviously some more depth in the secondary," said Arians. "There are little pieces of the puzzle [to add]. I think the draft is going to be huge for us. Obviously we have a lot of extra time to spend on it."
Both Ronald Jones, who took over the starting job in the backfield at midseason, and Dare Ogunbowale, whose blocking skills made him the primary third-down back, caught around 30 passes last year. They can both contribute in the passing game, but not necessarily as fully as somebody like New England's James White or Arians' best back in Arizona, David Johnson.
"The one thing, our backs did a very good job in the screen game last year, especially RoJo," said Arians. "I thought he really excelled for the first time in the screen game. Dare was pretty solid. But just using backs out of the backfield as wide receivers, as primary receivers, that's not RoJo's deal. Hopefully we can find somebody like that can compete with Dare on third down and become more of a wide receiver threat."
Draft a young quarterback? Not necessarily.
Recognizing that Brady has a two-year contract with the Buccaneers and that could be the extent of his stay in Tampa, the Buccaneers obviously have to start planning for the position down the road at some point. That could involve drafting a quarterback this year but it doesn't sound like the Buccaneers will force that issue.
Arians, of course, is scouting all the QB prospects, as he does every year whether he thinks his team needs one or not.
"That's one of the things I like to do just for fun," he said. "This is a nice class. I don't think it's as good as some of the classes that I've seen, but it's a pretty nice class. No, if the guy is there and he fits what we want at the right price then I'd say yes. You're always looking for a guy that you think is the future. Whether he's in this draft, next draft – I don't think it's a dire need this year, no. But if the right guys is there, yes."
Right now, the Buccaneers have only one other quarterback on the roster other than Brady in seventh-year man Ryan Griffin, who has four career regular-season passes. The team could still look to add another veteran to the picture, perhaps its own unrestricted free agent, Blaine Gabbert.
Rebuild any of the offensive line besides the open right tackle job? That's more a matter of depth
The Buccaneers have four starters returning from their 2019 O-Line, the exception being right tackle Demar Dotson, who remains an unrestricted free agent. The Buccaneers seem likely to have a new starter there in 2020. Arians doesn't think the Bucs need to replace any of the other four of left tackle Donovan Smith, left guard Ali Marpet, center Ryan Jensen and right guard Alex Cappa.
"I don't think so," he said. "When you look back at the grades last year – I don't put a lot of stock into what other people grade our guys – they were graded pretty high. I thought Donovan got a lot better. I think he'll get even more intense with Tom back there at quarterback than he has been, but he did play extremely well last year. I thought he made the most improvement of the things we asked him to do than anybody up front. Ali is solid. Ryan had a heck of a year. Cap, I thought had a fantastic year for a young guy – [he] played with a broken arm and he got better and better."
The Bucs have added one potential right tackle starter in free agent signee Joe Haeg. They still need depth but might be able to find some of that internally.
"Joe Haeg is a solid right tackle," said Arians. "We will see what happens in the draft. I think we'll need some depth. I think we do have some really young guys I like – [Brad] Seaton, [Aaron] Stinnie – some of those guys that practiced us with us all year, like [Anthony] Fabiano. I really like what those guys bring as depth. I don't see it as a glaring need, but you're always looking to upgrade somewhere."