If we’re being totally honest, I spend far less time thinking about the Buccaneers than any other team in the NFC South. That’s not because there aren’t decent reasons to think about them—Brent Grimes, Mike Smith, Dirk Koetter, and Jacquizz Rodgers all have connections to the Falcons, for example—but because they are easily the worst team in this division.
To wit: In the first year of the NFC South, Tampa Bay won the division and their only Super Bowl, and they won the division again in 2005. Since that triumph, they haven’t made the playoffs a single time in the subsequent 13 seasons. Over that same span, the Falcons have made the postseason seven times, the Panthers six times, and the Saints five. Simply put, while the NFC South has grown into a powerhouse, the Buccaneers have remained a mediocre team.
While they were once again popular picks to make the playoffs a little earlier this year, it’s becoming clear even earlier than usual that this Bucs team is headed nowhere fast in 2018. In fact, it may be that the current regime and the franchise quarterback are about to be swept out in a tide of ineptitude, stubbornness and lies, and that is a salty tide indeed.
We have to start with Jameis Winston. The Bucs clearly ignored the cloud over the young quarterback at FSU, where he was accused of rape (and the much lesser charge of stealing some crab legs), and elected to make him the first overall pick. Since then he’s mixed solid stretches with poor ones on the field, has gotten hurt, and has gotten snarled up in controversies both minor (that ridiculous, bewildering “Eat the W” speech) and more major (a sexist speech to schoolchildren). The latest is that Winston may have lied to the NFL about a widely-reported incident where he was accused of grabbing the crotch of a female Uber driver, an incident that is going to earn him (at minimum) a three-game suspension.
Winston’s extremely sketchy history and lack of top-tier play genuinely put him in danger of looking for a new job after his first contract, and he’ll especially find himself without champions in the organization if the team sweeps out Dirk Koetter and Jason Licht. Koetter is a fine enough coach who has not been able to coax much out of a sometimes solid defense and fairly talented offense, while Licht has made a raft of poor decisions that include trading up for a kicker in the second round. If the Bucs fall short of the playoffs again, as seems likely, there’s a good chance they’ll go into 2019 with a new GM, new head coach and coaching staff, and a quarterback they’re not interested in retaining.
With the Falcons, Panthers and Saints all looking relatively stable at the moment—though Sean Payton and Drew Brees could choose to ride off into the sunset anytime—the Bucs are the black sheep of the division. That doesn’t seem likely to change in the short term, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.