State of the Union 2017 – Running Back

Where oh where to start? How about with Doug Martin’s drug suspension? It’s speculative to assume the degree his drug use had on his performance, but needless to say his production in 2016 wasn’t up to snuff.

Martin’s 2.9 yards per carry was the worst of his career. Was it laziness after securing a big contract? Was it injuries like the lingering effect of his Week 2 hamstring? Was it the drugs? Was it the offensive line?

By indications from people in the know, the first is unlikely. The second and third are certainly possible but unlikely to be proven. The fourth helped to hinder not just Martin, but the other running backs and the offense in general.

The Bucs got most of their ground production from free agent pickup Jacquizz Rodgers, but even then, it wasn’t much. Rodgers averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per carry, but he had to battle for every yard.

According to Sporting Charts, Rodgers was stopped at or before the line of scrimmage on 13.2 percent of his rush attempts. Martin was stuffed for a league-high 16 percent of his rushes. Running backs don’t get hit in the backfield that much if they have solid blocks in front of them.

There’s a strong possibility Doug Martin won’t be a Buccaneer next season. His PED suspension will likely void the guaranteed money in his contract so the Bucs can cut him at any time without penalty. To stay in Tampa Bay, he may have to agree to a significant pay cut, thanks not just to his suspension but his year-to-year inconsistency.

If Martin is cut, the Bucs will need to look for options beyond Rodgers and Charles Sims. Sims is dynamic in space and as a receiver, but he lacks the vision and strength to be the between-the-tackles runner Tampa’s offense needs. Rodgers is solid but not irreplaceable. Peyton Barber is unlikely to rise above the 3RB spot.

Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson floated the possibility of landing in Tampa Bay this offseason. Five years ago (or 10 if you ask Jon Gruden), this would have been a dream for the Bucs. Now, they would get a 32-year-old with nearly 2500 carries and three major knee injuries under his belt. He’s a very short-term option.

The only free agent option who would actually elevate the position would be Le’Veon Bell. Unfortunately for Tampa and the rest of the league, he’s not likely to get out of Pittsburgh. The rest of the free agent market wouldn’t be any better than what the Bucs already have.

The draft is where the Bucs will need to upgrade their tailback stock. Half the state of Florida prays the Bucs take FSU RB Dalvin Cook. Appropriately, it would take a miracle for Cook to make it to Tampa. There’s a strong chance he’s gone within the top 10 picks to teams like the Jets or the Panthers.

Even if Cook is gone, this year’s draft is brimming with quality ball carriers. LSU’s Leonard Fournette could also be gone before the Bucs pick at 19, but he’s comparable to Cook, talent-wise. Tennesse’s Alvin Kamara, Texas’ D’Onta Foreman or even Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon could give the Bucs’ run game an injection of youth and power it sorely needs on day 2 or maybe even day 3 of the draft.

The running back position is the Bucs’ least certain. There may not be any clear resolution until deep into training camp. If the past month proved anything, Tampa’s ground game is anything but predictable.

State of the Union 2017 – Quarterback

Jameis Winston’s second year was a dichotomy of stability and consistency. He set a league record by being the first passer to record 4000 passing yards in his first two seasons in the NFL. He made incremental improvements to his touchdown total, completion percentage and yards per completion.

He also threw more interceptions and took more sacks, either of which can be attributed to poor play by the offensive line and his lack of pass-catching options. While the rest of the offense does appear to hold Winston back to a degree, so does his spotty ball placement, questionable decision-making and tendency to lose control of his emotions.

Nevertheless, Winston remains the driving force behind the offense. Given he’s only 21, Winston has plenty of time to grow into the Bucs’ franchise leader and become one the league’s top quarterbacks.

Mike Glennon, on the other hand, appears destined for, well, not-as-green pastures. Name a team that needs a quarterback and there’s Glennon name right next to it. Jets? Bears? Bills? Take your pick.

Glennon is this year’s free agent quarterback heir apparent, like Brock Osweiler last year. Good thing for Glennon the NFL generally doesn’t learn its lesson about unproven free agent quarterbacks. Adam Schefter even suggested he may snag up to $15 million a year.

For the Bucs, Glennon’s future contract is significant for one reason: he might provide Tampa with their first compensatory pick in years. While much of this depends on what else the Bucs do in free agency, his contract numbers could net the Bucs another mid-round pick in a few years.

There’s always the chance he stays in Tampa Bay. Still, money talks and the Bucs already have a firm investment in a pretty durable Winston. Jason Licht is unlikely to give Glennon top backup quarterback money.

Ryan Griffin appears to be the heir apparent to the backup role, but that could change this offseason. The Bucs just signed former Falcons QB Sean Renfree to a futures contract per the Tampa Bay Times’ Greg Auman. Renfree was with the Falcons when Dirk Koetter was offensive coordinator so he will be familiar with the offense.

If anything, the Bucs will keep both Griffin and Renfree to let them compete for the QB2 spot. It’s academic anyways: if Winston goes down for any length of time, the offense will be neutered regardless of who the backup is.

State of the Union 2017

For only the second time since they fired Jon Gruden, the Bucs finished the season with a winning record (9-7). Unlike their now flukey 10-6 season in 2010, Tampa Bay is poised to rejoin the NFL’s contenders for years to come.

2016 was the story of two Bucs teams: the mediocre squad stubbornly clinging to nearly a decade of losing and the upstarts with a near-elite defense and a truly elite wide receiver. The latter gave way to the former in just enough games to keep Tampa Bay out of the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season.

What the Bucs displayed in their nine wins, particular from Week 10 to Week 14, should tantalize the fan base. Collecting 14 turnovers and averaging 12.8 points during this stretch, the defense under Mike Smith recalled some of the best years under Monte Kiffin.

Jameis Winston buoyed the offense but inconsistency plagued the unit, thanks largely to the struggles of the running game. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Doug Martin obviously had his personal problems, but the offensive line wasn’t as strong run blocking as last season.

It’s important to remember that the offense is a young unit. Over half of the offensive starters have less than four years experience in the NFL. Dirk Koetter was a rookie at the head coach position. Room for growth is certainly available.

Tampa Bay got a good start to the offseason by extending Mike Smith’s contract. Smith was pursued by several teams for their vacant head coaching positions. His decision to stay in Tampa solidifies the foundation the defense built this season.

Entering the offseason with $78 million in cap space according to Spotrac.com, the Bucs have plenty of room to sign and re-sign free agents. Tampa’s 9-7 finish earned them the 19th overall pick in the draft which is likely not good enough to pick up Dalvin Cook, as I’m sure many Bucs fans will be sorry to hear.

On offense, the State of the Union will cover the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive line and tight end positions. On defense, we’ll examine the defensive line, linebackers, and secondary. Updates should appear a few times a week. Stay tuned!