How Can the Bucs Overtake the Jags for Professional Football Supremacy in Florida?

TAMPA, MAR 9, 2018 – Rivalries continue being an enduring part of football.  What fans may not truly realize is Florida football rivalries has evolved from the college ranks to the pros, especially since 1976 when the Bucs came on the scene and pushed the Dolphins aside as the ‘only professionals on the block.’  With the addition of the Jaguars in 1995, the Sunshine State turf war became three-sided, with the Jags VS Bucs enmity especially growing quite nasty indeed.  For those keeping score at home, that’d be Miami 2, Tampa Bay 1, and Jacksonville 0 in the all-important Lombardi count…

… Although the Jags have built themselves quite a team of late, acquitting themselves quite well this past season with a trip to the AFC Championship Game and a second-half lead which couldn’t hold up against the New England Bradys… errrrr… Patriots.  The Bucs haven’t tasted any post-season success in over a decade, so many fans in the Bay area have asked what would get the Pewter Pirates back to the tournament.  How far off are the Bucs in building towards the playoffs many thought they’d be playing in this past season?

Taking a quick look at the building of the Bucs and Jags over the last three years (2015-2017) finds some interesting similarities between the two clubs.  Record-wise, there is very little difference – the Jags were 18-30 while the Bucs were 20-28, so even though the Jags actually made the playoffs in the time frame in question, the Bucs had the better (regular season) record.  If you add the two playoff wins for Jacksonville, they had the same 20 wins though.  CONCLUSION – PUSH

So let’s dig deeper.  Both teams drafted their franchise quarterback within the last four years as both teams delved into the college ranks of Florida for a proverbial ‘local product’ to lead the way.  The Jaguars tapped Blake Bortles from UCF in the first round of 2014, playing 62 games with a 59.1% completion percentage, 90TDs and 64INTs.  The Bucs’ Jameis Winston, the #1 overall pick in the 2015 Draft from Florida State, has played 45 games with a 60.8 completion percentage, 69 TDs and 44INTs.

Both quarterbacks have had anything but stellar careers to date and can be characterized as mediocre to streaky at times…  pretty good at best.  In fact, both quarterbacks have been highly criticized as to being a detriment keeping their team from success, although Winston is regarded to having more ‘upside.’  No matter, Bortles just signed a lucrative long-term contract less than a month ago, so the overall success of the Jags appears to rest on his shoulders.  CONCLUSION – PUSH (with a slight lean towards Winston’s potential and big arm over Bortles’ game management).

Has it perhaps been their drafts? Since 2015, the Jags have primarily loaded up their defense with impressive players – 2015 brought OLB/DE Dante Fowler and DT Michael Bennett DT; 2016’s impressive haul of CB Jalen Ramsey, OLB Myles Jack, and DE Yannick Ngakoue; and 2017’s DE Dawuane Smoot, LB Blair Brown and CB Jalen Myrick.  When you figure in the fantastic additions of RB Leonard Fournette and WR Dede Westbrook in 2017 to keep the defense fresh while chewing up the clock (particularly with Fournette) you can say the Jags have done very well in building through the draft.

Let’s compare to the Bucs’ drafts since 2015, which has primarily focused on the offense, starting with the pickup of Winston, C Ali Marpet and T Donovan Smith; 2016 brought another lineman in T Caleb Benenoch, although the Buc’s haul that year on defense gave them plenty in CB Vernon Hargreaves, DE Noah Spence, and CB Ryan Smith; finally 2017 again shown plenty of offensive potential with TE O.J. Howard, WR Chris Godwin and RB Jeremy McNichols.   Since we all have seen how the Jags’ Defense was instrumental in their push to the playoffs this past year, and how the Bucs’ Offense actually regressed in 2017, it’s easy to score this one… DECISION – JAGS

Free agency for the Jags has garnered them stalwart defenders in DE/DT Calais Campbell, CB A.J. Bouye, S Barry Church, DE/DT Malik Jackson, and S Tashaun Gipson since 2016, while the Bucs have added S Chris Conte, DE Robert Ayers, CB Brent Grimes, CB Josh Robinson, G J.R. Sweezy, P Bryan Anger (from the Jags), QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and WR DeSean Jackson amongst others.  Considering the impact the free agents from the Jags’ played in their success compared with the Bucs’ additions, this decision to score is again pretty easy… DECISION – JAGS

The Jaguars used their strong defense in their successful trek towards a Conference Championship in 2017, grabbing 21 INTs, 24 Fumbles recovered, 55 sacks and seven Defensive scores compared with the Bucs’ 13 INTs, 27 Fumbles recovered, 22 sacks and four Defensive scores.  The Jags’ offense severely lacked stars in the skill positions overall, whereas the Bucs have some solid weapons, especially comparing the receivers/tight ends between both teams.

Don’t worry Bucs fans… it’s not all doom and gloom.  Jacksonville has less than $30M of cap space for 2018, spending quite freely and frequently the last several years.  The Bucs on the other hand have almost $70M (actual number $69,775,263 as of the 6th of March) to spend in free agency, so if they can solidify and build their defense towards the strong defenses they had in their build up to their lone Super Bowl win… and bring their offense on track near what they looked to build these past few years in the draft and free agency, they could once again make a run towards the post season within a year or two.  It’s a big task for Tampa Bays’ General Manager Jason Licht… but there’s nowhere to go but up for the Bucs.

Jay “Captain Jack” Levy, BCP Contributor