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!