Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from Buccaneer fans. This week, we start with a quick look back before discussing the franchise's future. One fan wants to know which player has the most touchdowns at the Bucs' home field, specifically. We answer that, then move on to questions about the team's young offensive core and the possibility of a high draft pick spent on a corner in 2018.
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 **firstname.lastname@example.org*. 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. Stadium Stars Scott- I'm a long-time Bucs fan (since 80's) and I'm a fan of Mike Alstott like most everybody I imagine. I know that he has the most touchodwns in team history. What I'm wondering is, does he have the most TDs at Raymond James Stadium, because thats where I've seen the most games in person. I'm betting he does but my brother thinks it could be Mike Evans or somebody else because the A-Train hasn't played since 05 or so. Can you let us know who has the most touchdowns at RayJay?
Thanks, Mike L. (and my brother Drew) (via email email@example.com*) *
Interesting question, Mike. On first glance, that guess of Mike Evans seemed like a good one to me, given that he has already racked up 27 touchdown grabs in three years. I didn't expect that to beat Alstott, but I thought he might be close. The thing is, Evans has a curious home/road split in his scoring tendencies so far. Believe it or not, only 10 of his 27 touchdowns so far have come in front of the home crowd. And it's only that close because he went on a bit of a Raymond James Stadium tear in the second half of last season. Before that, Evans had notched 16 of his first 21 touchdowns in road games.* *
Anyway, to get straight to the point, yes Mike Alstott is your all-time Raymond James Stadium touchdown king. You have to remember, he only played two years in the NFL before the Bucs moved into their new stadium. Even taking out his 1996-97 totals and figuring he scored about half of his touchdowns on the road (in fact, it was 34 of 71 career TDs), Alstott is still the clear leader with 30 TDs at Raymond James Stadium.* *
It wasn't Evans but another big-play receiver who got closest to Alstott, though not particularly close.That would be Joey Galloway, who visited the Raymond James Stadium end zones 20 times. Galloway scored his 20 touchdowns in 39 career games at Raymond James Stadium, giving him a higher per-game scoring rate than Alstott. Here's the NFL's top 10 TD scorers at Raymond James Stadium so far:
Now, in case you were wondering, I DID include opposing players in the research for that list. I thought one might sneak into the top 10, but that was not the case. Also, for players that played both for and against the Buccaneers, I included both totals. Surprisingly, that only affected one player in the list above. Keyshawn Johnson had 11 touchdowns at Raymond James Stadium as a Buccaneer and two as a visitor. Everybody else on that list got all their Raymond James Stadium touchdowns in Tampa Bay uniforms.
The best photos from the Buccaneers' mini-camp practices.
That surprised me in particular with Warrick Dunn, who played six seasons for an opposing team in the same division as the Buccaneers. Believe it or not, Dunn never scored in his old Buc home while with the Falcons; it helped (from the Bucs' point of view) that he missed his first two opportunities to return in 2002 and 2003 due to injuries. Galloway only played two games as a visitor against the Bucs (one in Raymond James Stadium) and didn't score in either.
As you can see, Keenan McCardell had the highest rate of scoring in the Bucs' current home stadium as he put up 11 Raymond James Stadium touchdowns in just two years with the franchise. The all-time leader in that category is Marshall Faulk, who only played at Raymond James Stadium twice but scored five touchdowns there. Four of those came in that incredible Monday Night Football showdown late in the 2000 season.
Pictures of the Buccaneers' running backs during OTAs and mini-camp.
The all-time leader in touchdowns scored at Raymond James Stadium by an opposing player is Marques Colston, the longtime Saints standout who found the end zone seven times in 10 road games against the Bucs. Cam Newton, notably, has four touchdowns in five trips to the Bucs' current home.
One other note: Had I extended the list above to the top 15, Ronde Barber would have been included, in a tie with Earnest Graham and Dave Moore with nine. That's incredible for a defensive player! Barber scored more times at Raymond James Stadium than LeGarrett Blount, Michael Clayton, Kellen Winslow and Reidel Anthony, to name a few.
2. Keep the Core
I'm going to answer this question the way I think James means it: How long can the Buccaneers keep their current offensive core in place? He mentions the great (and sustained) defensive success of the mid-90s to mid-00s, which was built around a core of Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Ronde Barber and Simeon Rice. All but Rice were Buccaneer draft picks; Rice was the quintessential "last piece to the puzzle" who came on via free agency. Tampa Bay's current offensive core is young and built around draft picks: Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Doug Martin, Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith, etc. Hopefully O.J. Howard, Chris Godwin and Jeremy McNichols will add significantly to that core. In comparison to that last great Buccaneers' defense, maybe free agent wide receiver DeSean Jackson is the "last piece to the puzzle" for this offense.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, I think the Buccaneers can keep much of that core in place for at least 5-7 years. Mike Evans has two years left on his rookie deal, including this one, because the Bucs picked up his fifth-year option a couple months ago. General Manager Jason Licht has not shied away from saying the Bucs intend to get a new long-term deal in place for their 23-year-old star receiver. It would truly be a surprise if that didn't happen.
Jameis Winston is also 23 years old. He's farther away from needing a new deal, and in fact the Buccaneers couldn't even start working on one now if they tried. Under the current CBA, draft picks can't negotiate a new deal until after the third year on their original contract. Will the Bucs' eventually re-sign Winston to a second deal? Assuming his career trajectory continues upward – a fair assumption, in my opinion – it seems a near certainty. When do teams ever let talented young starting quarterbacks get away?
Marpet and Smith came in during the same draft as Winston but there is no fifth-year option on their contracts because they weren't first-round picks. The Bucs are probably earmarking cap space for new deals for those players in the not-too-distant future. Tampa Bay's current salary cap situation is pretty good – there's room to add several big deals – and there aren't too many lucrative long-term deals on the books. Defensive cornerstones Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David already have deals that run through 2021 and 2020, respectively. There are only two players on the roster right now whose salaries account for more than 5% of the cap: McCoy and Jackson.
If Howard, Godwin and/or McNichols prove to be important parts of the offense relatively quickly, they will represent very nice cost-controlled assets for four or five years. The Bucs will have to re-sign breakout tight end Cameron Brate if they wish to keep him beyond 2017, but he's only a restricted free agent next fall so that should be easy to do for at least the 2018 season.
Even during the Bucs' defensive "dynasty" days, there was plenty of turnover on the depth chart. Donnie Abraham was a star cornerback when that unit was on the rise, but he was gone before the Super Bowl. The strongside linebacker starting job changed hands nearly every year. Anthony McFarland replaced Brad Culpepper as Sapp's running mate at DT. Dwight Smith replaced Dexter Jackson. The left end job went from Chidi Ahanotu to Marcus Jones to Greg Spires. Hardy Nickerson was the middle linebacker at the forefront of the Bucs' rise but Shelton Quarles was the starter there in the Super Bowl and beyond.
No team can or expects to keep 10 or 11 players intact on an offensive or defensive unit for five to 10 years. If you can amass five or six star-quality players, keep them and tweak the lineup around them when needed, you can have sustained success. I think there's a pretty good chance the Buccaneers can do that with a core of something like Winston, Evans, Marpet, Smith, Howard, Godwin and perhaps one or two others. Maybe Martin, although the running back position generally has the most turnover. Maybe Brate or McNichols or Kevin Pamphile. If those players continue to develop as they have so far, I think you're looking at a five-year core, at least.
3. Cornerback Future
Honestly, that's a tough one, Charlie. Let's look at where the Buccaneers stand right now.
Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes are the starters. Hargreaves, a first-round pick in 2016, had a predictable rookie season with some ups and downs but steady progress, and he has looked fantastic in his first full NFL offseason. Grimes proved to be a great addition in free agency, leading the NFL in passes defensed. You would expect Hargreaves to be a cornerstone player on defense for years to come, but Grimes is in the second year of his two-year deal and is heading into his age-34 season. That's not to say he can't keep going for several more years, but realistically he's not a long-term solution at one of the two starting spots.
Pictures of Winston during the Bucs' OTA practices.
After that, the Bucs like what they see so far from Smith, who was drafted in the fourth round a year ago and initially converted to safety. He moved back to cornerback late last season and has the inside track to be the primary backup to Hargreaves and Grimes on the outside. Jude Adjei-Barimah and Javien Elliott are still young and promising but may be best suited in the slot rather than as potential starters down the road.
In that scenario, if you don't spend a high pick on a cornerback next year, you're asking for a lot from Smith. If Grimes and Hargreaves play in the upper 90% of snaps like they did last year, how much real game experience is the young Smith going to get this fall. If he does play a lot, that would likely mean he's preparing to take over a starting spot in 2018, and then you wouldn't have much depth behind him.
If the hype around the Bucs proves justified, then presumably you would have a team heading into next year's draft that doesn't have a lot of glaring, immediate needs. In such a situation, a team can be more comfortable using its high picks to address the near future of one or two positions. To me, the two positions most likely to need an infusion of future talent in that scenario are cornerback and offensive tackle. I'm not sure Ryan Smith, no matter how well he plays and how much exposure he gets in 2017, can change that.