A year removed from the worst record in football, Tampa Bay saw a resurgence last season with Winston under center, seeing a bump in wins with a 6-10 record. Though they were much improved, Tampa Bay had needs in several areas as free agency approached at the beginning of March.
1. EDGE RUSHER
While the Buccaneers found success with Jacquies Smith and William Gholston at the defensive end position, the team was in clear needs of someone who could get to the quarterback. With several pass rushers off the edge available, Tampa signed former New York Giants defensive end Robert Ayers to a three-year contract as an outside linebacker. In 12 games with the Giants last season, Ayers recorded 9.5 sacks to go along with 41 tackles.
2. OFFENSIVE LINE
The Buccaneers offensive line had several weak points last year after starting a pair of rookies, including tackle Donovan Smith. Ranking 23rd overall, according to Pro Football Focus, Tampa Bay signed former Seattle Seahawks guard J.R. Sweezy to a five-year deal in hopes to help remedy the struggles of the trenches in the wake of Logan Mankins retiring.
Just 26 years old, Sweezy will be looked to bring consistency to the Tampa Bay offensive line. Though he has had his struggles in pass protection, Sweezy has been solid in the run game, opening up holes for running back Marshawn Lynch since being drafted on the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
With the Buccaneers in need of a starting-caliber cornerback after a year of instability at the position as well as help at safety, Tampa Bay filled both of those needs by re-signing Chris Conte for one year and bringing in former Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes on a two-year contract.
While Grimes has baggage (mainly due to his wife’s Twitter usage), he was considered by many as the Dolphins best cornerback last season. Grimes is a huge get for the Buccaneers, bringing in his 49 tackles and four interceptions from a season ago. Having a knack for the turnover, Grimes has picked off 13 passes and forced one fumble over his last three seasons.
Tampa Bay also brought in former Minnesota Viking cornerback Josh Robinson to add depth at the position. Robinson played just five games last year in an injury-shortened season. In 2014, he had 41 tackles and three interceptions to go along with eight pass deflections.
4. MUSCLING UP THE BACKFIELD
The Buccaneers re-signed running back Doug Martin for five years a season after rushing for more than 1,400 yards rushing and six touchdowns. Martin gives the Buccaneers their lead horse back in the stable to go along with Winston in a talented backfield.
5. LOOKING TOWARDS THE DRAFT
As the 2016 NFL Draft approaches later this month, Tampa’s needs have slimmed down since the successful free agency period. There is still one position the team could look to add depth to in the first couple of rounds—getting another reliable pass catcher for Winston on the outside. While Mike Evans has proven to be a young asset, Vincent Jackson’s best days may be behind him at 33 years of age. Getting Winston another weapon in the passing game to grow with may be one position the Buccaneers key on early in the draft.