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Three things to watch as Bucs take on Panthers Thursday night

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s an NFC South showdown, where the loser knows they’re already off to an 0 – 2 start after Thursday night. And, the Bucs know that one of their former teammates is ready to help put them there.

With that in mind, here are three things to watch his Tampa Bay travels to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers:

McCoy goes against his old team

For the first time in his 10-year career Gerald McCoy has a new place to call home, and will play his second game with the Panthers tonight against the team that drafted him third overall in 2010, and he went to six Pro bowls for over the course of the last nine seasons. McCoy (above) was unceremoniously shown the door for salary cap reasons earlier this offseason and signed a one-year deal with the division rival Carolina.

McCoy did little of consequence in the opening loss to the Rams last week, but the Bucs have had a history previously, of players leaving them and succeeding elsewhere. We’ll find out if he starts making an impact tonight against Jameis Winston & Company.

Cut down the mistakes.

If the Bucs weren’t busy turning the ball over, which they did four times, including three Winston interceptions last week, they were committing penalties and having blown assignments on their offensive line.

Throw in: Tampa Bay cost themselves three different times with penalties on third down on defense that kept 49er drives alive, and you can see why head coach Bruce Arians has been stressing for the last few days that those kind of mistakes cannot be overcome.

The Buccaneers will have their hands full with a road environment against a division rival as it is, but as Arians said, if it’s “the Bucs beating the Bucs,” they won’t stand much chance anyway.

Contain McCaffrey

Clearly Cam Newton is still trying to get back to full health with a surgically-repaired throwing shoulder and an injured foot and everyone now realizes the biggest key to get the Panthers going is running back, Christian McCaffrey.

McCaffrey had over a hundred yards from scrimmage in the opening loss to L.A. last week and had likewise over a hundred yards combined catching and running a football in both games last year against the Buccaneers.

Look for Tampa Bay to try to shadow him with Pro Bowl linebacker Lavonte David and rookie linebacker and former number 1 pick out of LSU, Devin White. Those two will be heavily counted on to neutralize the guy that has become the Panthers best offensive weapon.

If they do, it will go a long way towards helping the Buccs win their first game of the season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Peter King- “Bridgewater to Tampa Bay makes sense”

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Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

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:

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.

King wrote in part, these thoughts Monday,

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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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL analyst- Bucs DE Shaq Barrett top player in free agency

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off an amazing first season with the Bucs, defensive end Shaq Barrett is in line for a huge payday. And, a respected NFL analyst says Tampa Bay better be ready to pay, because he believes Barrett is the top free agent upcoming for the entire NFL.

Brian Baldinger, a former 12 year player and now analyst with the NFL Network, posted on social media Saturday evening what he loves about Barrett’s pass-rushing skills and then made his declaration:

There is no exaggerating that Barrett surpassed anyone’s expectations off of a one-year, modest free agent signing from the Broncos by Bucs GM Jason Licht. His four sack game in week 2 against Carolina put the entire NFL on notice.

And, Barrett continued to be a dominant pass rush force for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles the entire season. He ultimately broke Tampa Bay’s single season sack record held by Hall of Famer Warren Sapp in the final game of the season. Barrett finished with 19.5 sacks, which led the NFL.

Now, the Bucs and Licht have to decide whether they’re going to give Barrett a massive contract or perhaps, entertained putting the “franchise tag” on him to ensure that he’s one of the top five paid defensive ends in football. If Licht and the Bucs choose to do that, Barrett will be making in the neighborhood of $18-20 million per year.

One concern for the Buccaneers is that Barrett’s breakout 2019 with the 19.5 sacks is more than he had in his previous five years in Denver combined. So, naturally, there is some skepticism that he will be able to produce at that high of a level for multiple years.

Still, it’s going to take that kind average per year deal to keep him from being available via free agency for someone else to sign. And, a further benefit to the franchise tag is at the Buccaneers could always reach a long-term agreement later this off season after tagging Barrett, too.

Now, we wait to see what Tampa Bay can get done.

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