The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were pretty good at taking the football away in 2018. The Buccaneers' defense secured 28 takeaways, which was the fifth-highest total in the NFL. Tampa Bay even led the league with 130 points scored off of turnovers.
However, Tampa Bay's turnover differential was still -13, which was fifth worst in the league. That explains why the Bucs were the only team in the top nine in takeaways to finish with a sub-.500 record. Four of the five teams tied for 10th on that list were also .500 or better. Turnovers on offense negated the opportunistic work of Todd Bowles' defense and were probably the reason the team finished 7-9 instead of taking a run at the playoffs.
In fact, over the last two years the Buccaneers have committed a league-high 41 giveaways. The team's turnover differential of -31 from 2018-19 is the worst its ever had in a two-year span. The Bucs have had a negative differential (-1 in 2017) for three straight years for just the second time in team annals. The first time was a four-year run from 1993-96, and the flip of that number to +2 in 1997 contributed to the franchise breaking its long playoff drought.
Obviously, the Buccaneers believe that putting their offense in the hands of quarterback Tom Brady will be a big step in the right direction when it comes to reducing turnovers. Brady has never thrown more than 14 picks in a season and his career interception rate of 1.79% is the second-lowest in NFL history for quarterbacks with at least 2,500 pass attempts. On 58 occasions, Brady has thrown three touchdowns in a game without being picked off, the most in league annals.
The average number of giveaways per team in the NFL in 2019 was just over 22. That's a pretty consistent number; the average per team over the last four years has fallen somewhere between 21.8 and 22.2. So if the 2020 Buccaneers were just able to return to average in turnover differential, that would mean the elimination of about 19 turnovers. In 2019, the Bucs' giveaways resulted in an average of 3.12 points scored by the opposition. Eliminating 19 turnovers at that rate would eliminate around 59 points scored, or around two points per game. That would be a nice start.
Now on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to email@example.com.
SteveT here, Bucs fan since '76 who got rid of all social media and relies on email to submit questions :->
So, IF it's True that Brady is our next Quarterback, can you comment on the observation that (most) every time we let go of a quarterback, they flourish in another team and they end up in a Superbowl while we continue to languish?
For example, Doug Williams, Steve Young, Trent Dilfer
It'd just be our Buc's curse to let Jameis leave he flourishes elsewhere...
Steve Truxton (via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Steve sent this to me last Wednesday, a couple of days before the Tom Brady signing became official, which explains the all-caps "IF." Now we know that previously unfathomable happening is true.
Anyway, as a Bucs fan since the inaugural 1976 season, Steve witnessed the franchise's humble beginning, in which the unforgiving expansion rules of the era led to a talent-deficient roster and a lengthy losing streak over the first two seasons. He also witnessed a meteoric rise that had the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game in just their fourth season and in the postseason three times in a four-year span. Then he watched the rough years from 1983 through the mid-90s, and I think it was in this span that all these supposed "curses" became part of the team's lore.
I started with the team in 1992 and it didn't take long for me to know them by heart. The Bucs can't win in cold weather, they're doomed on the West Coast, they can't beat the Bears. And, of course, the Doug Williams curse. Williams left the Bucs for the USFL in 1983 over a contract dispute with the team's previous ownership, then later resurfaced with the Washington Redskins and then put on a legendary performance in Washington's Super Bowl XXII win over Denver.
Coincidentally (or not if you're a curse believer), the Buccaneers decline started in the exact year that Williams departed and the team didn't make it back to the playoffs until 1997. I'd say that had a lot less to do with a curse then with a series of botched decisions in the draft and at the quarterback position in the years immediately following Williams' departure.
First (in Williams' final year in Tampa), the Buccaneers traded a 1983 first-round pick to get a second-round selection in 1982 in order to draft project defensive end Booker Reese, the player they had meant to pick in the first round before a speaker-phone mix-up. That 1983 first-rounder could have been used to draft Williams' replacement in the most famous quarterback draft of all time. Instead, the Buccaneers traded their 1984 first-round pick to Cincinnati to get quarterback Jack Thompson, who at the time had four career starts and had thrown all of 49 passes over the previous two years. That predictably didn't work out and the Bucs next tried Steve DeBerg and Steve Young, the latter of whom they had drafted from the defunct USFL. That wasn't a bad decision, per se, but Young had no chance to unlock what would prove to be his Hall of Fame talent on a terrible Buccaneers roster. In 1987, the Bucs used the first-overall pick on Vinny Testaverde. Again, that was a very defensible move at the time but Testaverde never developed into the hoped-for franchise savior, though he went on to a nice, long NFL career.
It was undeniably bad that the Buccaneers weren't able to keep Williams in the prime of his career, but let's not exaggerate how much he "flourished" elsewhere in the NFL. You can never take that incredible Super Bowl away from him, and that's what everyone rightfully remembers about his post-Buccaneers playing career, but he only started 14 regular-season games after leaving Tampa, with a 5-9 record in those contests.
In terms of former Buc quarterbacks, Young is the one who went on to the most success with another team. He had to spend about four years as Joe Montana's backup but he eventually won a Super Bowl as a starter and now has a bust in Canton. Dilfer also won a Super Bowl as a starter, and in the very year after he left Tampa, but that was with a Ravens team that featured one of the best defenses of all time. I like Trent and I'm happy that he got a ring, but he started all of 12 games for Baltimore and had a passer rating of 76.7 in the regular season and 83.7 in the postseason. He was replaced by Elvis Grbac the next year in Baltimore. Are Bucs fans, who saw their team win a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson a couple years later, really that upset that Dilfer got away? And, to your point, this one doesn't fit the theory because the Bucs did not "continue to languish' after Dilfer's departure.
And Brad Johnson is the main example of the point that I'm taking forever to get to. Minnesota and Washington let him get away and then he won a championship in Tampa. Neither the Vikings or the Redskins have won a Super Bowl since Johnson left. If we tried, I think we could find a couple "ones that got away" for a lot of NFL franchises. At least the Bucs did win a Super Bowl, and Brad Johnson has as many Super Bowl wins as Williams, Young and Dilfer.
San Diego let Drew Brees walk and he won a Super Bowl in New Orleans and is now the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes. The Chargers found a very good replacement in Philip Rivers but have not won a Super Bowl since Brees left (or ever). Jim Plunkett played for the Patriots and 49ers first but then went to Oakland and won two Super Bowls. If you want to be literal about it, Kurt Warner got away from the Packers, though they've handled that just fine.
Look, the Bucs were a bad team for a long time, from 1983 through the mid-1990s. All of the quarterbacks you mentioned overlapped that period. It was inevitable that some players – quarterbacks and others, like linebacker Winston Moss and tackle Ron Heller – were going to go on to some success elsewhere when they landed in better situations. Meanwhile, we're conveniently forgetting all the QBs who started in Tampa and left, only to not do anything more of note: Craig Erickson, Shaun King, Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski, Josh Johnson. Even Testaverde's success is best measured by his longevity; he played 21 years and snuck up close to 50,000 passing yards but won exactly two playoff games in that span. Every franchise is going to have players "get away;" some of them are going to have better careers elsewhere.
Oh, and Super Bowl is two words. Sorry, that's a pet peeve of mine! Loved the question, though! Thanks for being a fan through all the thick and thin of 45 seasons (so far), Steve. And if you still disagree and believe there's a Buccaneer QB curse, I guess you do have some ammunition. I'd say I hope that you don't get any more ammunition, but I also don't want to actively root for Jameis Winston to succeed. A Trent Dilfer situation would be just fine – he wins, the Bucs win, everybody wins.
As the NFL Draft inches closer, a look at NFL Network Lance Zierlein's 2020 mock draft. Photos by AP Images.
*What other piece do we need to add to make this team a contender? *
- @ajlewis2_qb, via Instagram
(The usual disclaimer for this question and the one that follows: These are my opinions and are not meant to reflect the opinions or strategies of Jason Licht, Bruce Arians or any other of the Buccaneers' personnel decision-makers.)
AJ doesn't include the words "Tom Brady" in his question but I assume that the use of "other piece" implies that the first piece was the signing of the greatest quarterback of all time. And you're not being a biased Buccaneers fan if you think that addition alone makes Tampa Bay much more of a contender in 2020. The latest power rankings on NFL.com have the Buccaneers shooting up from 19th to 12th based solely on Brady's arrival. Remember, 14 teams will make the playoffs in 2020 and beyond, so 12th is good!
So, by some estimation the Buccaneers don't necessarily need another key addition to be contenders in 2020. There's certainly a lot to like. Brady has a potent cast of offensive weapons around him, better than he had last year in New England, and there's no reason to expect a decline from the likes of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. In fact, there's reason to believe that tight end O.J. Howard will improve significantly over 2020. The Bucs' offensive line has its detractors but not everyone agrees. Pro Football Focus ranked it as the league's seventh-best line last year and called out the strong play of left guard Ali Marpet and center Ryan Jensen.
Meanwhile, the defense will once again boast a very potent edge-rushing duo of Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, who combined for 28 sacks last year despite Pierre-Paul missing six games. The inside linebacker duo of Lavonte David and Devin White could be the best in the NFL if White fulfills his considerable potential. And the secondary, once a trouble spot, appeared to come together into a playmaking unit in the season's second half, with potential rising stars in the likes of cornerbacks Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Carlton Davis.
That doesn't mean everything is rosy, of course. Even if that power ranking of 12th proves prescient, that's still not first, which is where the Bucs want to be. The Buccaneers need to sort out the options at the safety position. They didn't get much out of the return game in 2019. They need their young placekicker, Matt Gay, to perform like he did for most of the season before a slump at the end. But I'm not sure that any of that requires high-profile additions.
So, to me, there are three potential answers to your question and I'll rank them from most to least important:
1. A right tackle. This is almost by necessity. Incumbent Demar Dotson is an unsigned free agent. The team did sign Joe Haeg, an addition that looks quite good on paper, and perhaps he wins the right tackle job. Perhaps the Bucs find one in the draft. (More on that below.) Whatever the solution, the Buccaneers need to make sure that there isn't a weak link in their protection of Tom Brady.
2. A down lineman to pair with Vita Vea. Personally, I hope that man is Ndamukong Suh, who had a very strong 2019 season with the Buccaneers but is currently an unsigned free agent, at least as of Thursday morning. It's clear the Buccaneers want Suh back but until that happens one could also consider an some analogous replacement would be nice to keep the interior of the Bucs' defensive front as rock-solid as it was last year. The tandem performance of Vea and Suh was a big reason Tampa Bay led the NFL in rush defense and its edge rushers got one-on-one opportunities. [UPDATE: DONE DEAL!]
3. A pass-catching running back. Maybe that proves to be Ronald Jones, or maybe the Buccaneers make an addition in free agency or the draft. I wrote about this on Monday. Brady has commonly made good use of his running backs, and that has specifically been James White in recent years. Given all the other ways that the Bucs' passing attack can hurt defenses, if you were to add a back who can give you 60-70 catches out of the backfield, it could got to yet another level.
Out of all the FA OT's remaining, who should the Bucs sign and why?
- @rchrdachmd, via Instagram
I mean, maybe none of them?
I never expected the Buccaneers to shop at the top end of the offensive tackle free agency market this year, even though they had a glaring opening at right tackle. The team already has large contracts tied up at three of the five starting spots (Marpet, Jensen and left tackle Donovan Smith), which in my mind makes it hard to justify another top-dollar acquisition at right tackle when there are other roster needs. The free agents who were considered the top available tackles – Jack Conklin, Bryan Bulaga, Anthony Castonzo, Andrew Whitworth – all quickly got very big deals. Even some of the free agents that one might have expected to be a bit more affordable, like George Fant and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, were rewarded rather handsomely on the market.
The signing of Haeg makes sense, though. It's a one-year deal and while the Buccaneers don't often release salary figures it is likely a mid-tier payout. The next logical step to me would be to use an early draft pick, perhaps number 14 overall in the first round, in order to get a potential high-level starter at a price that will be much more affordable for at least four years. As we've discussed several times before, it's a good year for the Buccaneers to take that approach because the crop of offensive tackle prospects is top-heavy in 2020. Tampa Bay would seem to have a good shot at someone from the group of Jedrick Wills, Anthony Thomas, Tristan Wirfs and Mekhi Becton (in no particular order), or perhaps nab the likes of Josh Jones or Austin Jackson.
In such a scenario, Haeg and the draftee could be the primary competitors for the starting right tackle job, with the other becoming the active "swing tackle" on game days. Now, the Buccaneers could still use some more depth at tackle since Josh Wells and Jerald Hawkins are also currently unsigned free agents. Perhaps that means the return of one of those two or Dotson, or another value signing like Haeg.
I'll admit that there is one tackle remaining on the market that is intriguing to me: Jason Peters. The downside, of course, is that Peters is 38 years old, and he has missed 12 games due to injury in the last three years. There would obviously be a risk of further injury or the inevitable decline in signing Peters, but on the other hand he still played quite well last year in Philadelphia at the age of 37. Perhaps if the price is right the Bucs could pursue Peters to protect his fellow long-time veteran and perennial Pro Bowler at quarterback.
Could we sign Edelman too?
- @official_jojo_23, via Instagram
At the moment, no. Julian Edelman is still under contract with the Patriots for 2020 and 2021. And I wouldn't expect the Patriots to release him, as doing so would leave them with $8.33 million of dead cap space, according to Spotrac.