The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been down this road before.
The season is over, and they’re once again looking for the right match as they look for the winning combination of talent and personality. Several times, this franchise has been burned by matches that led to drama and substandard performance where it mattered most.
Can the Bucs find the right match this year?
Much like real-life love, it’s all about finding the right fit. A person who meets the needs you have, while you simultaneously fill the need they have. Right now, what the Buccaneers need more than anything is a pass rush.
If the Buccaneers are looking to find a match made in NFL heaven, they need to look no further than Olivier Vernon.
Vernon finished the 2015 season with 7.5 sacks, the second highest total of his career. Coming into his fifth season in 2016, the former Hurricane would be a welcome sight to the Buccaneers 4-3 formation, which currently projects to start William Gholston and Jacquies Smith as its edge linemen.
Outside of Denver’s Von Miller, Vernon is the best pass rusher in this year’s free agent class, and Miller is seemingly bound for the franchise tag if he doesn’t agree to a long-term extension with the Broncos first.
However, with Miami having the hefty contracts of Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake already holding down their defensive front, it’s going to be an eggs-in-one-basket sort of situation if Miami pays Vernon what he’s worth.
When you look at the Dolphins roster, it doesn’t look like they can afford to keep Vernon from wandering elsewhere.
Here’s where the Buccaneers can capitalize. Not only do the Bucs have a need at the position,but they also have the money to make it happen. Yes, the Buccaneers they’ve been burned by free-agent defensive ends in the past. In fact, one of those even played next to Suh the season before coming to Tampa. Despite this, the Bucs have to get back out there and take a chance.
For Mike Smith’s 4-3 base scheme to be successful, there has to be pressure on the quarterback from the front four.
Teaming Vernon up with All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and a healthy Jacquies Smith, who totaled seven sacks despite playing in just 12 games, would give the Buccaneers a solid chance at improving on a pass rush which finished in the middle of the NFL in sacks.
Signing Vernon also gives the Buccaneers more flexibility to address other key areas of need in the upcoming draft if they aren’t in dire need of solutions on the line. Gholston will remain on the roster as much-needed rotational depth, and he proved to be an effective rusher in spurts as long as he can control his penalty problems.
In 2015, the Tampa defense didn’t get much pressure on opposing quarterbacks outside of its 38 sacks. It seemed to be an all-or-nothing kind of year for the defensive line, and they came up with nothing more times than is acceptable.
This, of course, meant opposing receivers had plenty of time to get open, and quarterbacks had plenty of time to find them. Opposing teams averaged 7.5 yards per completion against the Bucs, and threw for 31 touchdowns; good enough to be fifth worst in the NFL.
If the recent Super Bowl winners, and the Buccaneers own Super Bowl victory have taught us nothing, it has shown teams cannot win championships with offense alone.
Vernon will demand a high price-tag, but the risk versus reward balances out, and while past relationships have floundered, general manager Jason Licht can’t ignore the potential for chemistry which could return this franchise to heights it hasn’t seen in more than a decade.