Buccaneers eager to use the NFL draft to narrow the gap between themselves and other top teams

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers believe they’re close to being Super Bowl contenders again and hope to use the upcoming NFL draft to narrow the competitive gap between themselves and some of the league's other top teams.

The Bucs have four picks in the first three rounds — seven overall — and are confident they’ll be able to upgrade the roster with prospects capable of taking advantage of opportunities to make a difference right away.

The three-time defending NFC South champions rebounded from a 4-7 start last season to win five of their last six games and earn a playoff berth for a club-record fourth consecutive year. They went on to beat the Philadelphia Eagles in a wild-card matchup before losing to the Detroit Lions in the NFC divisional round.

The team’s primary focus this offseason has been retaining as many of its own free agents as possible, including quarterback Baker Mayfield, franchise career receiving leader Mike Evans and veteran linebacker Lavonte David.

Negotiations aimed at a long-term deal for All-Pro safety Antoine Winfield and contract extension for left tackle Tristan Wirfs are ongoing.

Still, there are plenty of holes to fill.

“And that’s OK to have a lot of needs. I think it’s a good thing actually,” general manager Jason Licht said.

“We came very close to going to the NFC championship game last year, we signed our (key) guys back and we still have a lot of needs,” Licht added. “I think if we do this right, pretty soon, the next couple of years — or even this year — (we) could be competing.”

Three draft picks from a year ago were either full or part-time starters in 2023, including first-round defensive lineman Calijah Kancey and second-rounder Cody Mauch, who started every game on a re-tooled offensive line.

Third-round linebacker Yaya Diaby became a starter at midseason and finished with a team-leading 7 1/2 sacks.

Licht said coach Todd Bowles’ willingness to develop and play young, inexperienced talent has been one of the keys to the Bucs remaining relevant since the Bucs lost seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady to retirement after the 2022 season.

“One of the things I love about Todd and his staff is that they’re not afraid to coach up a rookie and put him out there. We saw that last year,” Licht said. “It’s very comforting as a GM to know that your coaching staff loves the challenge of getting rookies ready to go.”


Edge rusher, cornerback, offensive line, running back, wide receiver.


Safety, inside linebacker, tight end.


With Mayfield returning on a three-year, $100 million contract that could be worth up to $115 million, the Bucs aren’t necessarily looking for their QB of the future. Kyle Trask and John Wolford remain as backups, however that doesn't mean the team will refrain from adding another QB in later rounds.

“I would never say that we wouldn’t take a quarterback because you could take one and be glad that you did at some point,” Licht said.


The Bucs released OLB Shaquil Barrett in a salary cap-trimming move. Veteran Randy Gregory joined the team on a one-year deal in free agency, however bolstering the pass rush remains a priority. The team had 48 sacks last season, tied for seventh in the league.

“We wanted some depth there, but it’s not going to affect how we approach the draft,” Licht said of signing Gregory. “We could always use a higher-end pass rusher. I think every team can.”


Barrett isn’t the only starter the Bucs have to replace on defense. Inside linebacker Devin White, the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft, was allowed to leave in free agency. Cornerback Carlton Davis III was traded to Detroit.

“If there’s a great cornerback that’s sitting there and he’s staring us in the face, and he’s clearly a better player than what we have at other positions, it would be hard to resist,” Licht said.



Fred Goodall, The Associated Press