The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a relatively new NFL team. They entered the league in 1976, failing to win a single game in their first year. However, it wasn’t long before the Bucs were a competitive side. In 1979 they won their division and made it all the way to the NFC championship game before falling to the Los Angeles Rams. This was the first of three playoff appearances in four years, but soon the team was back at the foot of the NFL. They won just 8 games in a three year stretch from 1985 to 1987, and wouldn’t return to the playoffs until 1997, the second year of Tony Dungy’s rein.
Under the tutelage of Tony Dungy, the Buccaneers became a competitive team with a remarkably strong defense. The birth of the Tampa 2 scheme under Monte Kiffin and Dungy, along with Hall of Fame talent like Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, saw the Bucs embark on a lengthy run of playoff appearances. In 1999 they reached the NFC championship game again, only to come unstuck against the Rams and their all-powerful offense. In 2000 and 2001 they lost in the playoffs in Philadelphia, at which point Dungy was replaced with John Gruden. Using the might of Dungy’s defense and an improved offense, thanks to Gruden’s presence, the Buccaneers were finally able to get over the hump and won the Super Bowl in 2002. However, that Super Bowl triumph still stands as the teams last playoff victory. They made the playoffs twice more under Gruden as inconsistency and internal strife set in. Gruden would be replaced in 2009. In 2019 the Buccaneers hired their fifth head coach since the Gruden era in the hopes of rebuilding the team and finally winning a playoff game again.
In Madden 19’s Franchise Mode you get to take over the Buccaneers at the start of the 2018 season and try to lift the team up from the foot of the NFL all-time standings. Unfortunately, that won’t be a simple task. The Buccaneers come into Franchise Mode with a 79 overall rating. This is made up of an 85 rated offense and a 79 rated defense. These ratings speak to a lack of depth and a big gulf in quality between the offensive and defensive units that you will need to fix. Let’s start the investigation of how you can do that by looking at the teams salary cap situation.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Salary Cap
The Bucs start Franchise Mode with a massive 67 players on their roster but just $19.9 million in cap space. This isn’t a good position to be in given the relative talent level of the roster. That said, you don’t need to start making financially based cuts just yet. You will need to cut 14 players to get down to the regular season limit of 53.
Thankfully, there are 29 players that can be cut without incurring a cap penalty. Just trimming the roster down should clear $5-6 million in cap space, but there are also several players that can be moved on to really free up space.
DeSean Jackson still has 2 years, each at $11.2 million, left on his contract but can be released with no penalty. He is a 31-year-old wide receiver that is extremely reliant on his speed which will soon begin to disappear, so putting him on the trade block and trying to get a draft pick back for him is a smart move. That transaction alone will clear enough space for you not to worry too much about the cap.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Impending Free Agents
Tampa have 31 players beginning the final year of their contract when you start Franchise Mode. Most of these players can be allowed to leave with little fuss, but there are few that you need to consider keeping or actively seeking to replace.
The top impending free agent is cornerback Brent Grimes. At 35 years old it would be unlikely Grimes remains a useful cornerback for very long and he may well retire after season 1, but he will leave a hole in the Bucs roster that they have been trying to fill for a while now. Young corners Vernon Hargreaves and Carlton Davis III are not yet ready to take over the #1 spot, so either you will have to invest heavily in their development during season 1 or actively seek a direct replacement for Grimes.
The next player you’ll need to consider is starting middle linebacker Kwon Alexander. At just 24 and 80 OVR he is worth keeping around if his asking price is reasonable enough. He is by no means the highest-rated linebacker around, but with 87 speed he is a good user option on defense.
After Alexander is #4 wide receiver Adam Humphries. If you trade DeSean Jackson, then some of the savings can be spent on retaining Humphries. He isn’t an amazing talent, and with only a “normal” development trait he won’t improve dramatically, but he is worth holding onto otherwise you’ll be adding wide receiver to the list of needs.
Other key impending free agents: Peyton Barber (HB), Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB), Cairo Santos (K), Andrew Adams (FS)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Roster Needs
This Tampa Bay roster is dotted with stars, but it does have serious holes. The first thing you have to decide is if Jameis Winston is good enough for you to use long term. The former first overall pick has 2 years left on his contract and is reasonably priced, but at just 80 OVR he is hardly impressive. Quality quarterbacks never hit the open market, so the only route you have to find an improvement under center is to draft one. If you choose this route, then it will have to be in the first round and it will have knock-on effects for how you can rebuild the rest of the roster.
Outside of the quarterback position the Bucs have a few elite players. Mike Evans (WR), Lavonte David (OLB), Gerald McCoy (DT), and Ali Marpet (G) are all cornerstones that can help this team get back on top, the key is to plug the gaps around them.
The Bucs drafted Ronald Jones II in 2018 to play running back, and while he is only 72 OVR, he should be given season 1 to see if he can do the job for you. If he can, then you just have to find cheap backup options for him rather than a starter.
If you trade Jackson and don’t keep Humphries then you’ll need a new option at wide receiver. It doesn’t need to be a superstar as Mike Evans is terrific, but you need 3 receivers in Madden and having someone behind Chris Godwin would be good.
The biggest place the offense needs improving, other than quarterback, is the offensive line. Ali Marpet and Demar Dotson are good, but they need a big improvement at left tackle over Donovan Smith, while they are currently lining up 68 OVR rookie Alex Cappa at right guard.
Defensively, the Bucs biggest need is a pass rusher. They added veteran Jason Pierre-Paul and a few others last offseason but it isn’t nearly enough. If you don’t opt to draft a quarterback in the first round then finding a quality pass rusher would be a very wise route to take. If you don’t re-sign Kwon Alexander, you’ll need a new middle linebacker too. They are usually pretty easy to find on draft day but the elite athletes go early, so if you scout a player you really like then you may have to make a tough choice.
The secondary is also a mess for Tampa. Their young corners need concentrated development or the secondary will just leak touchdowns, while both safeties are something of a liability. The safety market is pretty soft so getting a solid improvement at strong safety shouldn’t be too tricky, but free safeties are harder to find. If you are struggling to find a solution there, then moving your best zone coverage cornerback to free safety is always a viable option.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a long way from competing for a Super Bowl, not least because the other three teams in the NFC South are highly competitive. Just beating them will be a big achievement, so developing your young players and nailing your season 1 draft will be crucial. Most of Tampa’s best players are secured to long-term deals which means you don’t have to worry about paying Mike Evans or Lavonte David any time soon, but it does limit your free agency options somewhat. Be prepared to shop at the bottom of the market and use free agency to fill in depth roles rather than trying to grab one superstar.