Earlier in the week, Scott Smith created an ideal world where I could add any five players from any other NFL roster regardless of salary or availability concerns for this coming season. It was a fun, albeit unrealistic exercise, as my list included guys like Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, to name a couple.
All of it came from my brain, as Scott mentioned in his usual caveat. It may come as a shock to some, but we are in fact, not involved in actually making any personnel decisions along with General Manager Jason Licht, Head Coach Bruce Arians and their staffs. And as good as the Bucs' front office is with managing the cap, the scenario that played out on Tuesday would have been impossible even for them.
However, that exercise was actually slightly more realistic than the one I'm about to give Scott – though I promise mine hits closer to home. Since Scott is an expert in all things Buccaneers for the last 28 years (at the least), I thought it would be interesting to see who he would want to bring back from the past to help the Bucs this year.
Today's Topic: Identify five players you would bring back from past rosters to help the Bucs' 2020 roster.
The stipulations are this: you can bring back any player that played a down in a Buccaneers jersey (even if it was only a down) and you may assume they are in their prime. So yeah, that makes guys like Steve Young fair game. I'm drawing the line at draft picks, though. Like, if the Bucs traded away their initial pick and said pick became a player like say, Rob Gronkowski, you couldn't claim Gronkowski… oh, wait (yes, I just wanted another excuse to mention that the Bucs have Gronk now).
You get the overall idea, though.
I have at least two guys that jump out at me immediately, but I won't take those away from you so, have at it, Scott!
Scott: I think it's important to understand exactly what this exercise is so that some of my choices – or, rather, players I didn't choose – don't seem crazy. We aren't starting a new team from scratch, in which case you would simply take the best players from franchise history. We have to fit them into the existing roster and the existing schemes. And since I only get to add five, I don't want to waste any of them on incremental upgrades, no matter how good the former Buccaneer was.
The obvious example, and the most glaring omission from my list below, is Derrick Brooks. If you were drafting an all-time Bucs team from scratch, Brooks might go first overall and he would surely go in the top three. He's clearly the best linebacker in team annals and by many measures the best player, period. If you want to make it easy and go by career AV (via Pro Football Reference), he's the franchise's all-time leader and it's not even close.
But Todd Bowles' defense employs two off-the-ball linebackers and those two spots are currently filled by Lavonte David and Devin White. David will go down as one of the best linebackers in team history, too, and he's still playing at a high level. The Buccaneers believe White can be a superstar, and soon. Would prime Derrick Brooks knock one of those two from the lineup? Almost certainly, but is that one of the five best ways we can improve the current team? Probably not.
I would also like to note that the Bucs' 2020 roster is not one with a bunch of holes, particularly if you believe in the second-half emergence of the young cornerbacks and you think the candidates to play safety are promising. ESPN recently ranked the Buccaneers' roster fifth among all 32 teams, with their one question being that safety position. There have certainly been years when one or two glaring needs would have been obvious, such as a left tackle right after the Paul Gruber era (in which case I would have just brought back Gruber) or a cornerback (or two) around the 2014-2015 seasons. For the 2020 roster, I'm going to be making some helpful depth additions but I'm not going to be radically altering the lineup.
As with Carmen's list of non-Bucs additions from earlier in the week, these are presented in no particular order. Also, in addition to not having to worry about the salary cap, I also don't have to worry about egos, since this is an exercise on (virtual) paper and not involving actual humans. So here we go.
5. DT Warren Sapp
So I'm not adding Brooks but I still start with a fellow Hall of Famer and Brooks' partner in Super Bowl glory. While a third off-the-ball linebacker would be a bit superfluous, it's not hard at all to get three talented defensive tackles into the rotation. The Buccaneers' most common defensive alignment last year included two interior down linemen, and the ones who played the most were Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea. The Buccaneers just re-signed Suh this offseason and are expecting Vea to do even more after his quietly strong season in 2019. Those two powered the NFL's best run defense and ate up blockers to give the edge rushers one-on-one opportunities. Between them, however, they accounted for "only" 5.5 combined sacks last year. They might do more in 2020, but we don't have to hope; we can just add a guy who once had 16.5 sacks in a season…and that wasn't even the year he took NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. Vintage Sapp alongside Suh and Vea would likely be the most dominant interior-line grouping in the league.
4. WR Joey Galloway
Earlier in the week, Carmen had a chance to add five current NFL players from other rosters to the Bucs' depth chart but declined to pick a third receiver to join Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Her reasoning was sound – the Bucs are so loaded with targets for Tom Brady that there might not be too many opportunities for a third receiver to make an impact. Even last year, third receiver Breshad Perriman saw a relative lack of targets before Evans and Godwin both got hurt. That's all true, but my thought was that the Buccaneers' most common offensive package is "11" personnel, which features three wideouts. In 2019, Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich had that offensive grouping on the field for 59.8% of the snaps, with "12" personnel (two tight ends) next at 20.0%. Since the arrival of Gronkowski, Arians has noted that the Bucs' usage of 12 will probably go up in 2020, but I don't think it's going to totally close the gap on 11. So, therefore, since that third receiver is going to be on the field a lot, I'd like to get one that scares opposing defenses.
Is Galloway the absolute best receiver available from Bucs' history? Maybe, maybe not. You might choose Vincent Jackson, Mark Carrier or Kevin House instead. And from Carmen's cup-of-coffee category, you could even add Hall of Famer Tim Brown, since he had a 15-game cameo with the Bucs in 2004. That's tempting, but for the role I'm envisioning, I like Galloway as my best option. With apologies to House and DeSean Jackson, Galloway might be the best pure-speed downfield option the Bucs have ever had. Put him on the outside when you move Godwin into the slot and let him take the top off the defense. Plus, if he's the third option among receivers then perhaps we could use him extensively as a punt returner, a role in which he produced five career touchdowns.
3. DE Lee Roy Selmon
I just had to add a third edge rusher to team up with Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, and it basically came down to Selmon versus Simeon Rice. My personal bias leans towards Rice because I got to see his dominance in person and I saw first-hand how his addition took the Bucs' defense from great to legendary. But Selmon is a Hall of Famer and he'd also command great respect in the locker room. We added a leader of one sort in Sapp, now we balance that with a leader of another kind in Selmon. Carmen added Chandler Jones in her exercise earlier in the week and explained quite well how a third edge rusher would make a big difference on the 2020 roster. Barrett and Pierre-Paul combined for 28.0 sacks last year, more than any other teammate duo in the league, but behind them there are virtually no NFL-proven outside linebackers on the roster. The addition of Selmon gives us a scary three-man rotation and also protects us from depth issues if either of the two current starters misses any time due to injury or illness. Sure, I saw what Rice could do, but I've also read plenty of quotes about the fear that Selmon would stir in opposing blockers…between the lines, that is. Selmon also happened to be one of the nicest and most caring people you'd ever have the good fortune to meet.
2. CB Ronde Barber
I'm a little nervous about this one. I really don't want to stunt the development of Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting or Jamel Dean, one of whom would be seeing the field less often in 2020 if prime Ronde Barber was in the mix. But it all comes down to one mantra I have repeated over and over again for years: You can never have enough quality cornerback depth. So even though it doesn't look like the Bucs' current roster is in crying need of another cornerback, that can change in a heartbeat. So I'm going to assume that a roster carrying Barber, Davis, Murphy-Bunting and Dean would end up using all four in some meaningful way in 2020.
With that hurdle cleared, why would you not want Barber on your team? He's the best cornerback in team history and he's been a Hall of Fame semifinalist the last two years. He's second to Brooks on that aforementioned career AV list, even ahead of Sapp. He's also just a big play waiting to happen; he's fourth in NFL history in non-offensive touchdowns, and that doesn't even include his most memorable play from the postseason. Bowles would have a blast blitzing Barber out of the slot, a threat Barber practically pioneered. He's the only player in NFL history with at least 45 interceptions and at least 25 sacks. And he would also bring one thing to the cornerback room that it doesn't currently have – veteran experience. I'm doing this not because I want to hold back any of the young corners, but because I want to help them. This is only an exercise for 2020, but I think one season with Barber would help the Bucs' young corners for a long time.
Sure, I could have gone with John Lynch instead, given the greater uncertainty at safety. If you were to swap Barber out for Lynch, I wouldn't really complain. I just happen to value a big-play cornerback a little higher.
1. FB Mike Alstott
Yes, this is a luxury pick, but please hear me out. First, I'll admit, I probably should take Randall McDaniel here. McDaniel made the Pro Bowl during his career-capping two-year stint in Tampa, but he clearly was no longer at his Hall of Fame peak in 2000-01. But if you could add vintage McDaniel from his Viking years to a line that needs to provide better run-blocking in 2020, you probably should, no matter what you think of your current starting guards.
But I'm going to go with what I'm sure will be a crowd-pleaser instead. In her exercise earlier in the week, Carmen added Christian McCaffrey to the Bucs' backfield, and if you had McCaffrey he would instantly become the top snap-eater in that group, reducing the potential roles for Ronald Jones and Ke'Shawn Vaughn. And that's fine, because McCaffrey is a proven star who would produce well in that role. I could perhaps do something similar with James Wilder, Cadillac Williams or Warrick Dunn, but instead I'm going to add a complementary piece.
Yes, the fullback position is becoming increasingly marginalized in the modern NFL, but as Alstott's detractors at the time always claimed, he wasn't really a traditional fullback anyway. What you'd get in Alstott would be the ultimate short-yardage and goal-line weapon, plus a guy you know can catch a lot of passes out of the backfield. When was the last time you felt confident when the Bucs' offense was facing a third-and-inches? They've been missing that short-yardage element for a long time. And I think you can work him into the mix without taking too much away from Jones and Vaughn. We already saw how well Alstott complemented Dunn in that Thunder & Lightning backfield.
If the Buccaneers were at the one-yard line with seconds left and absolutely had to have a touchdown, wouldn't you feel better knowing you had Alstott as an option? His will to get the ball over the line, sometimes with second and third efforts, was legendary. Furthermore, he was a great teammate and a fan favorite. The Bucs' offense is already going to be exciting in 2020, but nothing stirred a Raymond James Stadium crowd more than the A-Train bouncing off of one tackler after the next.
Carmen's Thoughts: Please leave your rationalizations for why Mike Alstott should be on this list at home. I don't need them. Even if you do consider him a 'luxury' player, he would unquestionably be an asset to today's roster and to today's NFL as a whole, quite frankly.
Is my fullback bias showing?
Regardless, I like the way Scott attacked this list very much. Rondé Barber was the first player I thought of who could really take this current team to the next level. I fully understand not wanting to stunt the growth of the young cornerbacks already in place as Scott mentioned, but Barber essentially revolutionized the way the position was played. He's a hybrid type that would fit so well schematically in what Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles likes to do with his defensive backs. There would be more than enough responsibility to go around and I think that would become an instant strength of this team, if it doesn't end up being already. Plus, it would just be downright fun to watch.
I did think there could be a recency bias in play just because the game is obviously different now than it was when say, Lee Roy Selmon was playing. Scott even mentioned his first instinct was to go with Simeon Rice as a complementary defensive piece on the outside because he got to see Rice's dominance in person. That would have been all the reason I'd need to choose him, but I like that Scott went with Selmon equally for his leadership qualities as his on-field abilities – the combination of which made him such a special player and ultimately, a Hall of Famer. Though, Rice could join him in Canton sometime soon.
I also commend Scott for sticking with both Devin White and Lavonte David rather than putting Derrick Brooks in there. Brooks was actually the first player I would have thought Scott would have selected. It was a welcomed surprise, though. Methinks Scott will catch some (unwarranted) flack for that, but his reasoning was as sound as they come. This is about helping the current roster win. And the additions here would unquestionably help the team do just that in 2020.