In a move completely expected, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith after the team’s latest dismal performance on defense in Sunday’s 34 – 29 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Five games into his third season, Smith had been embattled for the last year and a half with a defense that was consistently unable to pressure the quarterback and constantly giving up tons of yardage and points.
The Buccaneers announced Smiths firing in a press release Monday afternoon and then Coach Dirk Koetter addressed the media about an hour later:
Tune in to Dirk Koetter's day-after-game press conference. https://t.co/BurkxVrqov
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) October 15, 2018
“We thank coach Smith for the effort, passion-everything he brought to the Bucs…..This is a production business, and we have to play better on defense.” Koetter was asked whether it was his decision alone to make the move and quickly and tersely answered “Yes.”
Koetter later described the move to fire Smith, as “the second toughest thing that I’ve ever had to do in coaching.”
He hand-picked Smith to come to Tampa Bay, when Koetter was elevated as the Buccaneers head coach in 2016. He had previously worked as Smith’s offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons.
While Koetter was adamant that the decision was his and his alone, there’s been a firestorm of criticism on the airwaves, the internet and elsewhere around Smith and the lack of defensive success this season.
Sunday was the 17th time that Smith’s defense had given up at least 300 yards passing during his 2+ years tenure with the Buccaneers. It also came on the heels of Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky lighting them up for six TD passes in a 48-10 win two weeks ago before the bye.
Sunday was also the fourth consecutive loss to Smiths old team, the Falcons.
During Smith’s first season as defensive coordinator, the Buccaneers were struggling in the first half of the year. However that was being blamed on the new defense taking time to learn and adjust to. And to the credit of Smith, his staff and the players, the Bucs defense was significantly better the second half of that season creating turnovers and getting sacks, as the team won five straight games. The Bucs finished 9 and 7 and just missed the playoffs.
Smith coached the Falcons for seven seasons from 2008 – 14 and had winning seasons in each of his first five years with four playoff appearances. Koetter was his offensive coordinator for the last two seasons in Atlanta before Smith was fired.
Smith had previously been the defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars for five years from 2003 to 2007.
The Buccaneers have named linebackers coach Mark Duffner, as their defensive coordinator on an interim basis. Dufner is a longtime NFL assistant, who was also the Bengals defensive coordinator earlier in the 2000s.
Should RT Jack Conklin be on Bucs free agent radar?
As NFL teams continue to do their due diligence on not only their own potential free agents, but what others might be out there too, an interesting name has emerged that could give the Bucs, and other teams, some offensive line help.
It appears that the Titans, fresh off a tremendous playoff run into the AFC Championship game may be willing to part with former number 1 pick, starting right tackle Jack Conklin. And if they’re going to let the former Michigan State star test free agency, Tampa Bay may have a real interest.
First, the Bucs are looking at options on their line, as the senior member of their roster, right tackle Demar Dotson, who’s played his entire 11 year career in Tampa and will be 35 years old this fall, is slated to be a free agent, as well.
And while Dotson has been a mainstay over the course of the last decade on the Bucs offensive line, GM Jason lick and Coach Bruce Arians maybe looking to get younger and some better play out of that position.
Tennessee elected not to pick up Conklin’s fifth year option on his rookie deal and there are some concerns about his ability to pass block. However, there’s no doubting that with power back Derrick Henry, Conklin was part of the unit on offense that played “smash mouth football” throughout the postseason. And, they scored upsets of the Patriots and the Ravens in part behind their tough ground game before falling at Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game.
Conklin did suffer an ACL injury in his second season but is fully healed from that now, and he could be a very cost-effective option four teams looking to solidify their offensive line. Conklin made only $2.7 million in the final year of his initial four year deal with the team declining his $12.9 million option.
As for the Bucs, they already have massive money invested in center Ryan Jensen, guard Ali Marpet and left tackle Donovan Smith on their line, but at the same time, the Bucs also have close to $85 million under the cap once free agency begins.
Clearly, their top priorities are figuring out whether to bring back QB Jameis Winston (and at what price?) and also, how many free agent to be defensive linemen out of Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre Paul and Ndamukong Suh they can also fit under their cap.
Still, you cannot have enough good lineman, and perhaps grabbing the Titans former starter off a playoff team would improve their run game, which sputtered a lot of 2019.
Peter King- “Bridgewater to Tampa Bay makes sense”
It’s the start of another week, and speculation about “quarterback musical chairs” in NFL free agency continues. And a prominent NFL media member believes that current Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater might leave New Orleans and he sees a possible fit with the Buccaneers.
Peter King, now with Pro Football Talk, gave analysis on numerous quarterback situations and potential free agents to be in his Monday morning column. And, while he is not reporting that the Saints will allow Bridgewater to be a free agent and/or that the Buccaneers would be his destination, he does lay out a solid case for a marriage between the two:
“Has there ever been a year with so many QB questions?” one NFL head coach asked me Friday.
From Tua to Tom, and Teddy to Taysom: Let's make some educated guesses on how all the 2020 movement might shake out.
— Peter King (@peter_king) February 17, 2020
Obviously, the Saints must first decide what to do with veteran Hall of Famer to be, Drew Brees, who is slated to become a free agent and cannot be franchise tagged. And, Bridgewater more than acquitted himself a year ago coming off the bench, when Brees was out with a fractured thumb. That included a four-touchdown performance in October in a a win at home against Tampa Bay.
Teddy Bridgewater: Tampa Bay makes sense
I can hear it now: Bridgewater doesn’t have the deep arm Bruce Arians needs. I would dispute that. When Arians put Carson Palmer in the pilot’s chair in Arizona, his previous NFL yards per attempt in Cincinnati and Oakland was 7.2. Bridgewater’s career NFL yards per attempt: 7.2.
…..I noticed something with Arians this season. He defended almost every (Jameis) Winston miscue for the first three months of the season. In December, though, that changed. Tampa was 7-7 entering the last two games, both at home. In game 15, against Houston, Winston threw interceptions on two of the first five Buc snaps, and Tampa was down 10-0 after four minutes.
The Bucs lost by three. Next week: Overtime against Atlanta. First play, Winston somehow didn’t see lurker linebacker Deion Jones on tight end Cameron Brate. Pick six. “It smells as bad as it could possible smell,” Arians said after the game. The Bucs had a clear path to a redemptive 9-7 seasons, but six interceptions in the last two weeks ruined that.
….. This is the story about Bridgewater I appreciate: After Drew Brees was lost with a hand injury in Week 2 and Bridgewater took over, Bridgewater hosted a dinner in Seattle—site of the next game—for all the offensive players, basically to say, All is not lost. We’ll be fine. Minus Brees, the Bridgewater-led Saints went 5-0.
Maybe the Bucs will think Winston deserves another chance with Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. But I won’t be surprised if they go after Bridgewater or Ryan Tannehill, the best free-agent quarterbacks on the market.”
Definitely a compelling argument, but, again, it still has to play out as to whether the Saints don’t re-sign Bridgewater and how, interested are the Bucs vs. other potential teams when the free agency mayhem begins?
As for Tampa Bay are obviously trying to decide what to do with their own free agent-to-be, Winston. As we wrote late last week, coach Bruce Arians remained non-committal on whether to bring back their starter of the last five seasons. This is mainly due to Winston’s inconsistent play, numerous interceptions and the fact the Bucs have had only had one winning season in his five years at the helm.
It this type of “connect the dots” free agency talk will only continue to build until either Tampa Bay commits to Winston or free agency begins without the Bucs having signed Winston to a long term deal or given him the one year franchise tag. The clearest of indications that they’ve moved on and want a new QB.
And, everyone continues to wait on those decisions.
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