April 17 Updates
On Monday, the Buccaneers slid into Phase One of their offseason program, a two-week period in which team activities are limited to meetings, injury rehab and strength and conditioning work. Outside of the strength team, Tampa Bay's coaches are not yet allowed to offer any on-field instruction to the players, nor can specific positions gather and run drills for another two weeks.
Of course, that doesn't stop a player from taking some time on his own to, say, drill down on his footwork. Thanks to the current unsettled state of the Buccaneers' offensive line lineup, that's exactly what fourth-year tackle Tristan Wirfs has been doing.
After the cap-related lease of longtime left tackle stalwart Donovan Smith, the Buccaneers are looking for a new starter at that critical position. One of the options they've discussed is moving Wirfs, who has already been both a Pro Bowler and a first-team All-Pro at the right tackle position in his young career, to the other end of the line. The final decision will depend upon possible additions to the group in the draft or free agency and how some of the Bucs' other young linemen perform in the months ahead. Either way, Wirfs wants to be ready so he got a head start on his own work this offseason.
"I've definitely been working it, just in case," said Wirfs on Monday. "I've been working both [positions], just covering my bases. Not that anything's been confirmed. I've been seeing what everyone on Twitter says. We'll wait until the draft, we'll wait until we sign somebody or whatever happens. Whatever happens, happens. I'll be ready. But yeah, I have been working it."
CLICK HERE for a photo gallery featuring Wirfs and other Buccaneers working hard on the first day of the offseason program.
Dozens of players returned to the AdventHealth Training Center on Monday as the Buccaneers kicked off their 2023 voluntary offseason program, which begins with two weeks of meetings, rehab and strength work. Two of those players had another bit of business to take care of: defensive back Dee Delaney and offensive lineman Nick Leverett signed the tender offers the team had extended to them just before the start of free agency in March.
Because Leverett and Delaney had fewer than three years of accrued free agency credit, the tender offers served to make them exclusive rights free agents, meaning they could only negotiate with the Buccaneers. By signing those offers upon returning to team headquarters Monday, Leverett and Delaney converted them into one-year contracts for the 2023 season.
Leverett originally joined the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent out of Rice in 2020, and after one season on the practice squad and another as a lightly-used reserve he emerged as a starter in 2022. He opened the last 11 games, playoffs included, at left guard, first taking over for injured rookie Luke Goedeke and then retaining the job after Goedeke's return to health.
Delaney played in all 17 games in 2022 and carved out a big role on special teams, playing 66% of the team's snaps in that phase of the game and contributing four kick-coverage tackles. He also played 215 snaps on defense and used his versatility to help the Bucs weather a series of injuries to its defensive backs in the middle of the season. Logging action at both cornerback and safety, he contributed 25 tackles and two tackles for loss.
Delaney and Leverett were the Buccaneers' only exclusive rights free agents this year.
CLICK HERE to review the Buccaneers' roster moves this offseason.
April 13 Updates
The Buccaneers may have found a long-term starter at tight end on the third day of last year's draft, taking Washington's Cade Otton with the first pick of the fourth round. As the offense adjusted to the absence of the retired Rob Gronkowski, Otton quickly emerged as the tight end getting the most snaps, largely because he offered value as both a pass-catcher and a blocker. He finished the season with 42 receptions for 391 yards and two touchdowns, leading all rookie tight ends in catches.
The tight end position is one at which young players usually needed a few seasons before they are producing at a high level. Otton's 42 catches, for instance, are the second most by a rookie tight end in franchise history. It was undoubtedly a promising start for Otton, who the Bucs hope can continue to develop into a true two-way 'Y' tight end. In addition, sixth-round tight end Ko Kieft proved to be every bit the punishing blocker the Bucs projected him to be, and his role in the offense could grow as well.
However, even after drafting Otton and Kieft a year ago and feeling good about both outcomes, the Buccaneers could still dip back into the tight end well in this year's draft. That's largely because this year's crop of tight ends appears to be particularly deep and talented. In his pre-draft press conference on Thursday, General Manager Jason Licht called it the deepest tight end class in at least a decade.
"Cade could've had 100 catches last year and we'd still be looking at tight ends," said Licht. "We love the role that Ko has, and we love the role that Cade has, [but] it's always good to have more weapons."
Veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph, who played sparingly for the Bucs in 2022, has not been re-signed. Other than Otton and Kieft, the only tight ends on the Bucs' 2023 offseason roster are Dominique Dafney and David Wells, who have a combined four NFL receptions. Tight end may not be the Bucs' most pressing need in the 2023 draft, but the list of prospects is enticing enough that they could address the position for the second year in a row.
CLICK HERE for more from Jason Licht about the upcoming draft.
April 6 Updates
Twenty-five safeties received votes in last year's Associated Press All-Pro voting. Two of them will be playing together in the Buccaneers' secondary in 2023.
Former Seahawks standout Ryan Neal signed with the Bucs on Thursday and spoke excitedly about the opportunity to play in Tampa Bay's defense. He's particularly looking forward to joining forces with Antione Winfield Jr., with whom he shared some All-Pro attention at the end of last season.
"Oh yeah he's got game, I love his game," said Neal of his new teammate. "In the post he's a dog, anywhere you put him he's a dog. But I just love the way he hits, he's physical, he goes after the ball, [and] he can do everything you ask him to do. So, I'm excited to pair up with him, I can't wait to reach out to him and say what's up and build this chemistry up. I'm looking forward to it and trying to get this thing rolling so, I'm excited to play with him."
Neal also had high praise for Tampa Bay Head Coach Todd Bowles, whose work he admired from up close when the Bucs and Seahawks met in Germany last fall.
"One thing about him is he's a mastermind," said Neal. "He never ran the same thing so it was kind of hard trying to figure out what was going on. It was like, who's doing what? You don't know who's doing what, who's going where. I think it'll be really cool for me. I've done a lot of different things in [the Seattle] defense for the past four years, been in multiple positions. It'll be cool to see how [versatile] I can be. I'm looking forward to the challenge, man. I'm always looking to see if I can affect the game anywhere – that's always been a goal of mine. I'm excited to play for Coach [Bowles] – it'll definitely be exciting."
CLICK HERE for more on Neal's arrival in Tampa.