NFC South: Vincent Jackson

TAMPA, Fla. -- With free agency starting Tuesday afternoon, it's time for a cautionary tale.

In two of the past three years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have spent more money than any other team in free agency. Last year, the Bucs spent $147.3 million. In 2012, they spent $161.7 million. Consider that proof that spending money doesn't get you to the Super Bowl -- in fact, it hasn't even gotten the Bucs to the playoffs.

While free-agent pickups Vincent Jackson and Alterraun Verner have worked out well, they haven't been the norm. The Bucs have had some huge strikeouts with the likes of Carl Nicks, Anthony Collins and Michael Johnson.

But the Bucs aren't going to be scared off by past mistakes. They have more than $30 million in cap space and they have a bunch of holes to fill on a team that went 2-14 last season. Expect an aggressive approach from the Bucs with a slight twist.

They already have been tied to free-agent defensive ends Trent Cole and Derrick Morgan and safety Ron Parker. They also are likely to be interested in some offensive linemen. Those aren't huge names and that might be a good thing.

Maybe the Bucs have learned it's better to go for role players, rather than superstars, in free agency. They're going to use that cap room, but they'll be better off signing a bunch of mid-level free agents than they have been with big names.
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A closer look at the areas the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could address in the draft. We'll get started with a look at the quarterbacks, who are scheduled to work out Saturday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: The Bucs currently don’t have a starting quarterback and all indications are they’ll address that with the first pick in the draft. They cleared the way for that to happen by releasing veteran Josh McCown, who started 11 games last year. McCown was supposed to be a model of efficiency after throwing 13 touchdowns with just one interception in Chicago in 2013. But McCown was erratic in 2014, throwing 11 touchdowns with 14 interceptions for an offense ranked No. 30 in the league.

Three players the Bucs could target in the draft:

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State: Winston is the early favorite to be selected by the Bucs. He played in a pro-style offense in college and is the most NFL-ready quarterback in this draft. Winston has experience as a pocket passer and could thrive quickly with Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans as his top targets. The questions with Winston come off the field. The Bucs need to decide if Winston is mature enough to be the face of the franchise.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: There are no off-field questions about Mariota. But there are some on-field concerns. He has a low-key personality and might not have the charisma to be a leader. He also has played in a spread offense in college and it remains to be seen if he can thrive in a pro-style offense.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: The Bucs are almost certain to use the first pick on Winston or Mariota because there is a big drop-off in the quarterbacks after that. But Tampa Bay could pull a surprise and use the first pick on another position. In that scenario, Hundley would be the best quarterback available after the first round.

Lovie Smith wants balanced offense

January, 22, 2015
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Dirk Koetter, the new offensive coordinator for the Buccaneers, won’t be running the exact same offense he did in his previous job with Atlanta. And he won’t be using the same system he did while with Jacksonville from 2007 through 2011.

“Dirk is running our offense, but what Dirk would say is that he’s running our Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense that we’re putting together, and it hasn’t been run before," coach Lovie Smith told reporters at the Senior Bowl on Wednesday. “We’re going to put all of our ideas together with that."

Smith said Koetter has a history of being flexible and playing to the strengths of his personnel.

“I think you can go back to everybody’s history and see some things that they like to do," Smith said. “Looking at Dirk, in Jacksonville, they had Maurice Jones-Drew and they were a running attack. And of course with the receivers, Matt Ryan and that crew, Devin Hester and those guys, they passed it more in Atlanta. That’s what we’re looking for. We feel like he can bring balance, and in order for us to win that’s what we need.”

The Bucs have many of the ingredients needed for a balanced attack. In the passing game, they have a pair of 1,000-yard receivers, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. In the running game, there is talent with Doug Martin and Charles Sims.

But the offensive line needs some major work, and it remains to be seen who the quarterback will be. Josh McCown is the incumbent, but the Bucs could use the first overall pick in the draft on Florida State’s Jameis Winston or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.

Whichever way the Bucs go, Smith said the goal will be to have balance on offense.

“To win in the league, you have to be able to run the football when you want to, not just when you have to," Smith said. "You need to be able to pass the football because you want to, not because you have to. Right now, we’re just going to be pretty broad with that."

Bucs need franchise QB with No. 1 pick

December, 28, 2014
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WinstonUSA TODAY SportsJameis Winston and Marcus Mariota haven't announced plans to enter the draft, but they likely will.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The most important game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week might not be their season-ending 23-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

Instead, it might be the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

General manager Jason Licht will be there. Coach Lovie Smith might join him. More importantly, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston will be playing in Pasadena, California.

Those are the two quarterbacks the Bucs might be choosing between in May. That much became certain Sunday as the Bucs secured the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft with a loss to the Saints at Raymond James Stadium.

The way the Bucs cemented the pick is up for conversation. They had a 20-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Then they inserted a whole bunch of young players. That led to questions about the Bucs trying to "tank" the game in order to get the No. 1 pick.

"In the second half, we wanted to look at some more football players," Smith said. "We're not going to the playoffs and we have a comfortable lead and we're going to run the football. The guys we had out there fought right up until the end. [The Saints] made some plays to win the game at the end."

In the final analysis, debate of whether the Bucs were playing for the No. 1 pick doesn't matter. What does matter is they have the No. 1 pick, and the debate about Mariota and Winston is only beginning.

More than anything the Bucs have done in years, they have to make the right call with this pick. Sure, there's a chance they could decide to go with a defensive end or an offensive tackle. But the Bucs, who finished 2-14 and were dismal on offense, have to at least consider a quarterback with the first pick.

"Right now, we’re going to evaluate it all," Smith said. "Our play at the quarterback position hasn't been good enough, as it hasn't been good enough at any position, starting with my position. It's a total evaluation of everything."

It's pretty obvious the Bucs already have evaluated their current quarterbacks, Josh McCown and Mike Glennon. It also is pretty obvious that neither one of those guys is the long-term answer. McCown will turn 36 before next season starts and the coaching staff's refusal to take another look at Glennon late in the season shows he is not in the plans.

The Bucs have a chance at a potential franchise quarterback in Mariota or Winston. In theory, you shouldn't have a chance at a franchise quarterback too often because you shouldn't always be at the top of the draft.

Even the Bucs, who have a .385 winning percentage all-time, haven't held the No. 1 overall pick since 1987. That year, they drafted quarterback Vinny Testaverde. Things didn't work out as planned, but that had more to do with the shortcomings of Testaverde's supporting cast than it did with the quarterback.

This situation is different. The Bucs have a defense that showed promise as the season went on. They also have an excellent pair of receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.

It's not much of a leap to say all the Bucs need to turn things around is a quarterback. They just have to pick the right one.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Observed and heard in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room after their 23-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday:

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Coach Lovie Smith and multiple players took offense to suggestions the Bucs might have tanked to make sure they secured the No. 1 pick. But the Bucs did squander a 13-point lead during a fourth quarter in which they were playing a lot of backups, so that's going to lead to questions.

"I don't think anybody tanked it," quarterback Josh McCown said.

As he came off the field, wide receiver Vincent Jackson gave the No. 1 sign to fans. I don't think he was saying the Bucs were No. 1, since they finished their season 2-14. It's obvious Jackson was making reference to the draft, which could bring him a new quarterback.

Smith said he is eager to put 2014 behind him and pledged that it won't be long before the Bucs are winners.

He also said linebacker Danny Lansanah did not start because he violated an unspecified team rule.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Last January, when he was hired to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lovie Smith shared one of his most basic philosophies of football. He said if you play strong defense and are solid on special teams, you basically are starting out with an 8-8 record.

It sounded good at the time, but Sunday's 20-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Raymond James Stadium ran roughshod over Smith's theory.

The Bucs (2-13) played good defense -- like they've done for a good chunk of the season -- and still didn't stand a chance. Even Smith was adjusting his philosophy after the game.

"This just goes to prove you need more than an OK defense," Smith said. "Defensively, when it's a day like that, you've got to do something and try to jump start the offense. A few more takeaways or something with the special teams. When one part is that bad, you need others to step up their game even more."

Against Aaron Rodgers and a high-powered offense, the Bucs held the Packers to 10 points in the first three quarters.

"[The defense] kept us in it," Smith said. "It was a 10-3 game for a long period of time with very little offensive production. This is where we are right now. We're not always going to be down like this."

Smith's optimism is nice. But there is little basis for it from an offensive perspective. And, despite Smith's philosophy, it takes a lot more than good defense.

"To see the defense play the way they played, it's frustrating," quarterback Josh McCown said. "We have to be better than that."

It's hard to be any worse than the Bucs were on offense. They went three-and-out on their first five offensive possessions. They finished with just 109 yards of total offense. They were 4-for-14 (29 percent) on third-down conversions.

"Offensively there was nothing," McCown said.

That's not an understatement. The Bucs finished with 16 yards rushing. Standout receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson were kept in check. McCown was sacked seven times.

"Who is it?" Smith said when asked what's wrong with the offense. "Who's the culprit? It's all of the above."

Smith is right. Tampa Bay's problems can be blamed on the entire offense. The play of the line has been poor all year. The running game rarely has gotten on track. And McCown (12-for-26, 147 yards) has been struggling to complete 50 percent of his passes.

"It's a combination," Smith said. "We're not playing good enough football up front, pass blocking or running. It's tough when you have less than 20 yards rushing. Of course, when you pass and you can't really protect, and quarterback-wise there's some decisions we'd like to have back. It's a combination of all right now. To blame it all on one particular area wouldn't be right."

Aside from Evans and Jackson, the Bucs need to overhaul their offense in the offseason. The defense is fine. But, as Smith has found out this season, it takes a lot more than defense to win.

QB snapshot: Josh McCown

December, 9, 2014
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A quick observation of quarterback Josh McCown and how he played in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 34-17 loss in Week 14:

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McCown took a horrible pounding from one of the league’s best defensive fronts. He was sacked six times and hit a whole bunch of other times.

McCown had no chance because the Bucs were one-dimensional, with almost no running game to speak of. The Lions knew McCown was passing on just about every down and they came after him hard. McCown clearly was hobbling in the locker room after the game.

He completed 20 of 39 passes for 250 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also lost a fumbled snap, but center Evan Dietrich-Smith took the blame for that. McCown had enjoyed good chemistry with rookie receiver Mike Evans this season. But Evans caught only four passes Sunday.

That’s because Detroit was throwing more coverage at Evans and less at Vincent Jackson. That allowed Jackson to turn in his best game of the season, with 10 catches for 159 yards.

Even if McCown is healthy after all the hits he took, he still might not finish the season as the starter. Coach Lovie Smith has been vague about the possibility of the Bucs taking a look at second-year pro Mike Glennon in the final three games.

QB snapshot: Josh McCown

December, 2, 2014
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A quick observation of quarterback Josh McCown and how he played in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 14-13 loss in Week 13:

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McCown did not have a good outing in Sunday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. In a game in which the Bucs were focused on establishing the running game, McCown completed 15 of 29 passes for 190 yards and was intercepted once.

The game plan and the play calling didn’t help McCown as the Bucs stayed away from the deep passing game and the Bengals took Tampa Bay’s wide receivers out of the game. McCown targeted wide receivers 20 times but completed only seven of those attempts. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson weren’t big factors.

It’s good that the Bucs are trying to establish a running game that has struggled all season. But this offense needs balance, and McCown needs to be able to take shots down the field at Evans and Jackson.
TAMPA, Fla. -- As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get ready to host the Falcons on Sunday, they’ve had to face a lot of questions about their previous meeting with Atlanta.

You might remember that 56-14 Atlanta victory in which the Bucs got humiliated on national television in Week 3.

“You felt like you were playing with the JV on that night,’’ defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said.

In a way, Frazier is right. The Bucs were without All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and middle linebacker Mason Foster, who were injured. Defensive end Michael Johnson also injured his ankle early in the game and played only six snaps.

“It was tough,’’ Frazier said. “The guys that played, they did everything they could. They battled, but we were a little bit outmanned. They did a good job against us. We’ve got to fight back. But it helps to have a Gerald McCoy. He’s a premier defensive tackle in our league, arguably the best in our league. He’ll make a difference on Sunday.’’

But McCoy, who is known for speaking his mind, said injuries weren’t the only reason the Bucs got blown out by Atlanta.

“More importantly than who’s playing our attitude and approach to the game and during the game, we didn’t play with much heart or pride that game,’’ McCoy said. “That has to be better this game. Whoever is out there, we have to do it with more heart and more pride than we did the last time we played them.’’

The memories of the fiasco in Atlanta have been brought back this week as the Bucs have watched film of that game.

“Coach said it leaves a scar, which it does,’’ McCoy said. “All of us have scars. You look at a scar and you remember I got that scar from this happening.’’

Having a healthy McCoy and Foster should help. And the Tampa Bay defense has played well in the past two games. The Bucs also are turning the starting quarterback job back to Josh McCown, who suffered a thumb injury early in the previous meeting and missed five games.

“We know we’re a much better team this time,’’ wide receiver Vincent Jackson said.

“We’re going to be a completely different team when they see us this week,’’ cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “They shouldn’t be looking at that game as an evaluation of how they think this game should go. We’re going to come out blazing and do a lot of good things.’’

Fire sale might be wise move for Bucs

October, 27, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- There have been reports that other teams are interested in trading for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, and the same goes for running back Doug Martin.

Usually, you can shrug off trade rumors because trades don't happen often in the NFL. But I'm not pushing aside the rumblings about Jackson and Martin.

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That's because trading one or both of them makes sense. The Bucs, who entered the season saying they planned to win now, have shifted gears and they're talking about how young they are and how it takes time to develop. That's what happens when you get off to a 1-6 start.

It's no longer about this season. It's about next year and that's why Jackson and/or Martin could be expendable. Both players should have decent trade value and it might be wise for the Bucs to start stocking up on draft picks for next season.

Trading Jackson might hurt in the short term because he's the team's best receiver. But, in the big picture, dealing him could make sense. Jackson is 31 and receivers generally start declining in their early 30s. The Bucs already have Jackson's eventual replacement in rookie Mike Evans. Jackson also is making $10 million a year and that money could be used toward a number of other areas.

Still, I'll say there's only about a 25 percent chance the Bucs trade Jackson before Tuesday afternoon's deadline. But I'll double the chances on the possibility of a Martin trade.

That one makes more sense than Jackson. Martin clearly is not thriving in the current offensive system. But teams in need of a running back will remember Martin rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012. He's only in his third season and that could make Martin attractive to other teams because he doesn't have a lot of wear and tear.

Backup Bobby Rainey has looked better than Martin this season. And third-round draft pick Charles Sims could return from injured reserve as early as this week. Sims was drafted by the current regime, presumably because the powers weren't completely sold on Martin.

As it turns out, they were right. It's become painfully obvious Martin is not a great fit in this offense. With Sims coming into the picture, I don't think that's going to change. If the Bucs can get a decent draft pick in a trade for Martin, they should make the deal.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- They went through their bye week using phrases such as "fresh start" and pledging things would get better.

So what happened Sunday? Things got worse for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who lost 19-13 in overtime to the Minnesota Vikings at Raymond James Stadium.

Despite taking a lead late in the fourth quarter, the Bucs suffered what might have been their most painful loss in a season filled with painful losses. This one came at home. It came against a bad team. It came against a rookie quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater.

It was more of the same old story as the offense struggled to be consistent and the defense played well, but didn't hold up when it mattered most.

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"Ideally, that's not how we wanted to start it," coach Lovie Smith said. "Fresh start, it says 'home game, home win.'"

Such talk might be getting old, especially when Smith keeps saying his team is improving. The Bucs are 1-6. But maybe that talk about a fresh start needs to continue. The Bucs need to go back to the guy who was supposed to give them a fresh start at the beginning of the season.

They need to go back to Josh McCown at quarterback.

Mike Glennon has done some good things at times. But let's be honest here: At no point this season has the offense played the way the Bucs envisioned it would. I'm not putting all the blame for that on Glennon. The offensive line has been inconsistent in its pass blocking and bad in its run blocking. Running back Doug Martin can't seem to find a hole (if there are any) and the receivers aren't doing a great job of getting open or holding on to passes.

Sunday was just another day the offense spent sputtering. The Bucs had only 72 total yards of offense -- and zero points -- in the first half.

"When you're three-and-out and three-and-out, it's hard to get anything going," Smith said.

"The defense played tremendous," offensive tackle Demar Dotson said. "We've got to help those guys out by putting more points on the board, which we didn't."

Yeah, there was the flurry of 13 points in the fourth quarter -- the same quarter as top receiver Vincent Jackson had his only catch. As has been the case too often this season, Tampa Bay's offense came up with too little, too late.

So how do you solve that?

You start from scratch. McCown, who suffered a thumb injury in Week 3, is healthy now. He was the guy the Bucs went through the whole offseason and preseason thinking would be their quarterback.

McCown wasn't very good in his three starts. But something dramatic has to happen for the offense to get on track.

Before this season gets too far out of control, it's time to go back and start things over. Let Glennon go back to being the quarterback of the future and let McCown try to give this team a lift.
TAMPA, Fla. – Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson reportedly is drawing heavy interest from around the league as Tuesday’s trading deadline approaches.

Several media outlets have reported the Bucs have been getting a lot of calls about Jackson. But coach Lovie Smith said Jackson is not being shopped around the league.

“In this business, those things get talked about quite often," Jackson said. "Each and every year there are going to be guys [who] are moved around different teams. I’m not surprised by it. Obviously, I appreciate, I guess, the interest. But I’m happy here in Tampa. I’ve heard nothing here that would suggest that I’m going anywhere. So I’m just going to let that pass on and keep doing my job.

It would be understandable if Jackson, 31, wanted to go to a playoff contender. But Jackson said Thursday he wants to stay in Tampa. Even though the Bucs are off to a 1-5 start, Jackson said he believes things will turn around under Smith, who is in his first season, and the Bucs soon will be winners.

“That’s exactly what I want to do here. I think bringing Lovie in and the staff that he’s brought and his mentality and his goals are aligned with mine and I think a lot of guys in this locker room. I hope for us to start the tradition here of winning football in Tampa Bay. I hope to stay in this uniform and this jersey and help bring that.’’
TAMPA, Fla. -- When the trade deadline starts to approach, there is always a lot of speculation about possible deals.

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Oct. 28 is the deadline and the Buccaneers are getting their share of speculation. NFL Network reported over the weekend that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been fielding a lot of calls about wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

It’s important to note the report said other teams were calling. It did not say the Bucs were shopping Jackson.

On the surface, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to trade Jackson. He’s the team’s best receiver and a captain. He’s respected in the locker room and in the community and seems to be the exact type of player coach Lovie Smith wants on his team.

But it’s not difficult to figure out where the speculation is coming from. Jackson would be a good addition to just about any team, especially one that’s in playoff contention. It’s pretty clear the Bucs probably aren’t going to the playoffs this season.

When a team is in that situation, it is often open to building toward the future, and that’s why Jackson’s name is coming up. He’s 31 years old and the Bucs have his heir apparent in rookie Mike Evans.

The Bucs likely don’t want to part ways with Jackson. But they at least have to listen to what other teams have to offer.

If they can get an early-round draft pick in return, this type of move suddenly could make a lot of sense.

Buccaneers at the bye: Offense

October, 16, 2014
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It’s the bye week for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and that means it's time for a position-by-position analysis.

Let’s start with the offense:

Quarterbacks: Veteran Josh McCown opened the season as the starter, but never was able to get the offense into a rhythm. McCown suffered a thumb injury in the third game and remains out. Second-year pro Mike Glennon has stepped up and done a nice job. Glennon has given the Bucs a downfield passing game. Coach Lovie Smith might think differently, but I think Glennon should remain the starter even after McCown gets healthy. GRADE: C

Running backs: This was supposed to be a position of strength, but it hasn’t been anything close to that. Doug Martin returned from last year’s shoulder injury, but he hasn’t looked anything like he did as a rookie in 2012. Martin is averaging only 2.5 yards per carry. Most of the blame goes to the offensive line for not opening enough holes, but Martin deserves to be partly to blame. GRADE: F

Wide receivers: Vincent Jackson has been quiet by his standards. The Bucs need to do a better job of getting the ball to their top playmaker. Rookie Mike Evans has shown plenty of potential. Louis Murphy was signed off the street and has made a nice contribution. Rookie Robert Herron has been brought along slowly, but the Bucs gradually have increased his role in recent weeks. GRADE: D+

Tight ends: Rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins has taken over as the primary tight end with Brandon Myers also playing a key role. Seferian-Jenkins has flashed some promise, but also has dropped some catchable passes. GRADE: D

Offensive line: This unit hasn’t clicked. The run blocking has been poor. The pass blocking was good for a few games, but it fell apart in a five-sack game against Baltimore. The Bucs have a lot invested in this offensive line and they should be getting better results from it. GRADE: D-
TAMPA, Fla. -- Both of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting wide receivers are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against Baltimore. But don’t go shuffling your fantasy team just yet.

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The signs were encouraging Friday as Vincent Jackson (ribs) and Mike Evans (groin) participated on a limited basis in Friday’s practice. Coach Lovie Smith seemed optimistic Jackson and Evans will be able to play.

Smith wasn’t as optimistic about safety Dashon Goldson (ankle) and linebacker Jonathan Casillas. They both have been ruled out for Sunday. Defensive end Larry English (hamstring) participated on a limited basis and is listed as questionable.

Center Evan Dietrich-Smith also is listed as questionable. Dietrich-Smith was ill Friday, but Smith said he is confident the center will play Sunday. Quarterback Josh McCown (thumb) is listed as doubtful.

Middle linebacker Mason Foster, who missed three games with a shoulder injury but has practiced fully three times this week, is listed as probable.

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