NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

TAMPA, Fla. -- I think John Lynch belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But I have to admit I’m partial.

I had the good fortune to cover the early part of Lynch’s career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I saw plenty of big hits that made the highlight reels. I also saw some big interceptions. Beyond that, I saw one of the nicest guys I’ve ever covered.

But personality doesn’t count in the Hall of Fame voting. If it did, Lynch would have no problem getting in. But the reality is he’s fighting an uphill battle. He made it to the final 15, but he may not make it any further when the voting takes place Saturday in Phoenix.

Safety just isn’t a glamour position in the eyes of the Hall of Fame voters. Only seven full-time safeties are in the Hall of Fame. Guys like Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson don’t count because they split their careers between cornerback and safety.

There hasn’t been a true safety selected since Paul Krause in 1998. And it took Krause, who is the NFL's career leader with 81 interceptions, more than a decade to get into the Hall of Fame.

If it was so difficult for Krause to get in, it probably will be even tougher for Lynch. The most important statistic for safeties is interceptions. Lynch had 26 in his career. That’s a respectable number, but it’s not a Hall of Fame number.

If Lynch is going to have any chance at getting in, voters will need to take a big-picture look at his career. They need to remember that Lynch, along with Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, were the key parts to a defense that was the best of its era. They need to remember that Lynch wasn’t a center fielder. He could play the pass, but his bigger role was to be a hitter.

Lynch was one of the hardest-hitting safeties in NFL history. But that might not be enough to convince the voters to put him in the Hall of Fame.
TAMPA, Fla. – Since Chip Kelly recruited Marcus Mariota to Oregon, it’s only natural to connect the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles to the quarterback.

Rumors already are flying that Kelly is prepared to trade up in the draft to get Mariota. He might have to move all the way to No. 1 and the Bucs hold that pick. But I wouldn’t go predicting a trade between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay just yet.

Mariota
It’s easy to talk about a potential trade, but it would be extremely difficult to pull off. Let’s take a look at the draft trade value chart.

The No. 1 overall pick is worth 3,000 points. Philadelphia currently holds the No. 20 pick, which is worth 850 points. You can add up the value of all of Philadelphia’s picks in this draft and it still wouldn’t come close to 3,000.

The Eagles would have to make multiple moves to even get into an area where they could tempt the Bucs. Philadelphia probably would have to get at least one more first-round pick in this year’s draft and include next year’s first-round choice. Veteran players also could be part of the deal, but they usually don’t carry a lot of weight in these situations.

The Bucs would be wise to listen to any and all offers because they could get a huge bounty for the top pick. But, no matter how much Kelly wants Mariota, he might not have the resources to make it happen.

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."
TAMPA, Fla. -- As the fallout continued from the New England Patriots allegedly deflating footballs in the AFC Championship Game, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Brad Johnson admitted he played a role in altering footballs before Super Bowl XXXVII.

“There was no wrongdoing on my part," Johnson told The Tampa Tribune on Wednesday. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I thought I was doing what was right for everybody involved in the game.”

Johnson admitted he paid two ball boys $7,500 to scuff up the balls to make them easier to throw. The opposing quarterback in that game, Rich Gannon with the Oakland Raiders, said he and Johnson discussed the balls while filming a television commercial before the game. Gannon said the condition of the footballs did not impact the game, which was won by the Bucs.

“And Brad’s a lot like me, a lot like just about every other quarterback in the league," Gannon said Wednesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio, "nobody wants to play with a ball that’s fresh out of the box and has been rubbed down a couple of times with a brush. And, quite frankly, shame on Brad for having to reach into his pocket to pay $7,500, because I wouldn’t have paid $7,500. Five hundred maybe, or a thousand maybe, but $7,500 to doctor the balls?

“And again, ‘doctored the balls’ makes it sound like you’re cheating, but all you’re trying to do is make sure they’re not slick. I think it’s a non-story, quite frankly. And it’s not the reason we lost."
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tuesday’s report that the Philadelphia Eagles are plotting ways to move up to draft Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is nothing but good news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Mariota
Tampa Bay holds the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. But if the Eagles really want Mariota, they might have to trade their way right to the top. Chip Kelly recruited Mariota to Oregon, and word is the coach wants the quarterback to run his spread offense.

The best thing the Bucs can do right now is to put out as many smoke signals as possible indicating that they want Mariota. There already are rumblings the Bucs prefer Florida State’s Jameis Winston over Mariota, but that perception can be changed with a few well-placed rumors that Mariota is in the mix at No. 1.

The Eagles might be thinking they don’t have to trade all the way to No. 1. But if Philadelphia thinks the Bucs are serious about Mariota, the Eagles might have to think about making a deal with the Bucs.

That could provide a nice windfall for Tampa Bay. Based on recent history, the price tag for the No. 1 pick should be something like three first-round picks.

The Bucs would have to think long and hard about that. They need a quarterback, but they might not be enamored with Winston or Mariota. I’m not sure how far away the Bucs are from turning the corner, but they need more than one player.

If they play their cards right, the Bucs could end up getting several quality players and that might provide more instant help than a rookie quarterback.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Word has been trickling out via various media in recent days that the Buccaneers are higher on Jameis Winston than they are on Marcus Mariota.

That shouldn't come as any big surprise as long as we're just talking about the football aspect. Of the two quarterbacks expected to go early in the draft, Winston obviously is the more ready of the two to play in the NFL.

Winston has spent his career at Florida State in a pro-style offense. At Oregon, Mariota has played in a spread offense. Mariota could be a special player, but it will likely take time for him to develop if he lands with a team that runs a pro-style offense (like the Bucs).

Winston already has the pro-style experience and he could be ready to play right away. That's highly significant because coaches don't get a lot of time to win and they need guys that can play right away.

All that said, it's not a given that the Bucs will take Winston over Mariota. There's another part to the equation that's just as important as football. That's off-the-field issues and maturity.

In that regard, there are questions about Winston. If the Bucs are going to take him, they've got to get all the right answers. Winston's been involved in some off-field issues and that's why the pre-draft aspect that is most important for him will be how he comes off in interviews.

Like any team with the first overall pick, the Bucs are going to invest a lot of time in seeing what kind of person they're getting. That's because they may end up investing millions of dollars in him and making him the face of the franchise.

Teams interview players at the scouting combine and host them on private visits. In a lot of cases, teams will interview people that have coached, played with or known the prospect at various points in his life. That's called due diligence and it's smart.

If the Bucs indeed are sold on Winston as a player, they better be sold on him as a person before they draft him.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Bucs could come out of this year's draft with something they've never had before.

They could come away with a franchise quarterback for the first time in team history. The Bucs hold the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft and Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston are sitting there.

Take either one and the expectations will be high. But maybe Tampa Bay fans should temper their enthusiasm just a little bit.

Their history with highly-drafted quarterbacks isn't great. Let's take a look:

Doug Williams gets tons of credit for taking the team to the NFC Championship Game after the 1979 season. But the fact is Williams, who was taken with the 17th pick in the 1978 draft, wasn't really a franchise quarterback. He wasn't around long enough to qualify for that and his career record was only 38-42-1.

The guy that came in with the most attention was Vinny Testaverde. He was selected No. 1 overall (the last time the Bucs had the top pick) in 1987. Testaverde had good talent, but a sub-par supporting cast. His record with the Bucs was 90-123-1.

Trent Dilfer was supposed to be a franchise quarterback when he was selected No. 6 overall in 1994. Never a fan favorite and perhaps a benefactor of the talent around him, Dilfer actually had a winning record. He was 58-55.

Tampa Bay's last shot at a franchise quarterback was Josh Freeman, who was taken No. 17 in 2009. Freeman had tons of ability, but some intangibles obviously were missing. With Freeman, the Bucs were 24-36.

All that history shouldn't scare the Bucs away from Mariota and Winston. Instead, it should provide more motivation to get the pick right.
TAMPA, Fla. – Wednesday’s news that Marcus Mariota is declaring himself eligible for the NFL draft is no surprise. It also is good news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

They’re holding the No. 1 overall pick and Mariota’s presence will give them a full table of possibilities. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston already had announced his plans to enter the draft.

With Mariota joining him, the Bucs have two solid quarterback options. The next few months should be full of debate between the two by Tampa Bay fans.

So far, there has been no indication from the Bucs about which quarterback they prefer. Winston has more experience in the pro-style offense the Bucs run. But Mariota, who has run the spread offense at Oregon, might have as much or more upside than Winston.

The Bucs also have to do their homework on Winston, who has had several off-field problems.

It also is possible the Bucs could go in another direction and draft a player other than a quarterback. But that’s not likely. The Bucs need a franchise quarterback and the draft might be the only way to get one. The Bucs just have to choose if Winston or Mariota is the right call.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Fans are clamoring for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to take either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota with the first pick in this year's NFL draft.

But the numbers suggest that might not be such a good idea. Winston has declared himself eligible to enter the draft early. Mariota, who has a year of eligibility left, has until Thursday to put himself in the draft.

History has shown that early entrants don't guarantee success.

ESPN Stats & Information's Zach Mariner did research comparing quarterbacks who entered the draft early compared to those who used up their college eligibility. The difference in terms of success is dramatic.

Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, 20 quarterbacks have been taken with the No. 1 overall pick. Ten of them were seniors. The other 10 were early entrants.

The seniors have combined for a .555 winning percentage, 58 postseason games and 19 Super Bowl appearances. The early entrants have a combined .478 winning percentage, 17 postseason appearances and one Super Bowl appearance (Drew Bledsoe).

The list of seniors is highlighted by Terry Bradshaw, Jim Plunkett, John Elway, Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning. All reached multiple Super Bowls.

The list of early entrants includes busts such as Jeff George, Tim Couch and JaMarcus Russell. But it should be noted that some recent early entrants have had success. Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford all led their teams to the playoffs this season.

Could Buccaneers pass on a QB?

January, 14, 2015
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TAMPA, Fla. -- There are an assortment of reasons why Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith hired Dirk Koetter as his offensive coordinator.

But let's break it down to one common belief.

"I do think in the NFL it's easier to win when you have a franchise quarterback, but I don't think it's a necessity that you have a franchise quarterback," Koetter said in a Tuesday conference call with the Tampa Bay media.

Let's keep that in mind for the next few months. The Bucs hold the first pick in the draft and the common belief is they'll take a quarterback -- either Oregon's Marcus Mariota or Florida State's Jameis Winston. That seems likely, maybe even certain. I'd take one of them because you (theoretically) should only get the No. 1 pick once every generation or so.

But let's say the Bucs aren't sold on Mariota's ability to convert from a spread offense into a more conventional pro-style system. Or let's say they're scared off by what might be red flags in Winston's background.

Maybe they don't even draft a quarterback. Would that decision, coming from Smith, surprise you?

Smith has said several times over that you win in the NFL with defense. He has said you can get to eight or 10 wins with strong defense and good special teams and whatever you get from the offense is a bonus.

Let's keep in mind that one of Smith's first moves as Tampa Bay's coach was to bring in veteran Josh McCown. He'll never be confused with a franchise quarterback. McCown is a very good backup and a border-line starter if you have a very good team around him.

The Bucs don't have a very good team. Maybe that's why they went 2-14, although McCown did miss five games with a thumb injury. But Smith has a stubborn strength (let's all remember he believes the Tampa 2 defense still works) and it's not impossible to imagine him skipping the quarterbacks and going with a defensive end or offensive tackle with the top draft pick.

Koetter's first comments didn't shoot down the possibility of passing on a quarterback.

"I mean, other people have won a lot of games and they didn't necessarily have a franchise quarterback," Koetter said. "The thing is, people have to remember, those guys aren't just out there walking around on the street. Franchise quarterbacks are hard to come by and they're few and far between. I do think it's definitely possible to win without it. But I do think your odds go up if you have one."
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The new offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has no better idea who the team’s quarterback will be than you or I.

“Who the Bucs are going to pick with the first pick, I’m the last guy to ask that question to right now," Dirk Koetter said Tuesday afternoon. “I have no idea."

Koetter was speaking with the Tampa Bay media via conference call and made his first public comments since being hired last week. There already is a lot of speculation about whether the Bucs will take Oregon’s Marcus Mariota or Florida State’s Jameis Winston with the first pick in the 2015 NFL draft. There even is some speculation the Bucs could stick with incumbents Josh McCown and Mike Glennon and go in a different direction with the draft pick.

But Koetter wasn’t shedding any light on who the quarterback will be in 2015.

"You’re going to be disappointed in the answer because I have no idea," Koetter said. “That’s somebody else. (General manager) Jason (Licht) and coach (Lovie) Smith will be in charge of making that decision."

Despite his early dancing, there’s no question Koetter will have plenty of say in what happens at quarterback. He knows a fair amount about McCown and Glennon, but give him a little time to get up to speed on the draft prospects. As Koetter pointed out, Mariota hasn’t declared himself eligible for the draft yet, so he can’t be commented on.

“When you’re coaching in the NFL, you’re watching college football in the distance," Koetter said. “I watch college football for fun. Once we get started and we’re focusing on guys you’re going to draft, now you drill down and really watch guys and put grades on them and that sort of thing. But until then, heck, I watch college football for fun. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you."

But Koetter will have some opinions by the time the draft rolls around. He has several months to watch tape of Mariota, Winston, McCown and Glennon. Koetter is correct in saying the decision will be up to Licht and Smith, but he’s going to have a big voice in this decision.
TAMPA, Fla. -- There’s one small flaw with all this speculation about Rod Marinelli joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the defensive coordinator.

The Bucs already have a defensive coordinator.

That’s Leslie Frazier's job, and I don’t see the Bucs parting ways with him. Much of the speculation about Marinelli comes because of his close friendship with coach Lovie Smith. That’s all true and they have plenty of history together.

But Frazier and Smith also have a strong relationship. In addition to the one year they already have coaching together, they developed a healthy respect for each other back when they were head coaches in the NFC North.

Smith isn’t the kind of guy to dump someone he respects to bring in his buddy, and Frazier didn’t do a bad job in 2014. The defense ended up ranked No. 25 overall, but it showed dramatic improvement over the second half of the season.

If Marinelli leaves Dallas, I still could see him ending up with the Bucs. But I don’t think it would come at Frazier’s expense.

I can see the Bucs bringing in Marinelli as something like a senior defensive assistant. Or maybe Marinelli returns to his roots and coaches the defensive line.

But it’s tough to see him coming in as the defensive coordinator.
TAMPA, Fla. -- There are conflicting reports out there about Rod Marinelli perhaps joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' coaching staff.

Marinelli
Pro Football Talk reported that Marinelli is expected to become Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator. That makes plenty of sense because Marinelli and Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith are close friends.

But a league source told ESPN.com that the report was "pure speculation." Smith told The Tampa Bay Times that he had not spoken to Marinelli and there was no validity to the story.

In an interview with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said the team wants to keep Marinelli, whose contract is expiring.

"I know Rod Marinelli has done a fantastic job for us since he's been here," Garrett said. "He's done a great job coordinating our defense this year. We have every intention of keeping Rod Marinelli in his current role as defensive coordinator. We'll take care of the business things after we take care of the business of today, but Rod's a helluva coach and has done amazing things with our football team this year."
Maybe this time around, we'll see the up-tempo offense Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith promised when he was hired in January 2014.

The Bucs agreed to terms with Dirk Koetter to be their offensive coordinator Thursday night. Koetter has considerable experience as an NFL play-caller and has been a college head coach at Boise State and Arizona State.

This hire should solve what was a very big problem for the Bucs this season, when they were 30th in total offense.

Tampa Bay tabbed Jeff Tedford to be the offensive coordinator in 2014, but he had heart surgery just before the season and did not return to the team. Quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo called the plays with help from the offensive staff, and things didn't go well. The Bucs never really got into an offensive rhythm and the up-tempo scheme was scrapped, except for at the end of games.

With Koetter, the Bucs are likely to run that up-tempo offense. The past three seasons in Atlanta, he mixed in a no-huddle offense to keep defenses off-balance.

Inserting an offensive scheme might not be Koetter's only challenge. The Bucs hold the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and they could use it on Oregon's Marcus Mariota or Florida State's Jameis Winston, so Koetter might have to get a rookie ready in a hurry.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- What was widely considered a mere formality has become reality.

Florida State's Jameis Winston will enter the 2015 NFL draft, the quarterback’s father said Wednesday. Winston had been expected to enter the draft all along..

Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota are considered the top two quarterbacks in this year’s draft. Mariota hasn’t declared himself eligible for the draft yet, but he is expected to follow Winston.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold the No. 1 pick in the draft and already have started doing homework on Winston and Mariota. General manager Jason Licht and other members of the Tampa Bay brass attended last week’s Rose Bowl, which featured the two quarterbacks.

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