Arians says offseason priority is defense, not QB

Bruce Arians’ Tampa Bay Buccaneers have plenty of personnel decisions to make this offseason, one that could be pivotal for the future of the franchise.

With Jameis Winston headed toward free agency, it starts with the quarterback position. Actually, it doesn’t, according to Arians.

"Oh, yeah. To me, it’s the whole defense," Arians said Thursday, via ESPN. "You can’t get ’em all, but … those young guys grew. We can’t let that go. I don’t care who’s my quarterback. We’ve gotta have a defense."

Once the shock wears off, take a look at the Buccaneers’ depth chart. Yes, quarterback will be a huge area to address, but in terms of sheer volume, Arians isn’t wrong.

      ▶ Rookie grades for all 32 teams
      ▶ Offseason wish list: Rivers to Vegas?
      ▶ Top 5 prospects by position
      ▶ Cut candidates for all 32 teams

The Buccaneers’ defensive depth chart from 2019 is filled with key players who will become free agents in March: Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, Carl Nassib, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Beau Allen. Most important, though, is retaining the services of Shaquil Barrett.

The 2019 sack king arrived in Tampa via a one-year contract and proved himself worth much more than that, and he’s been vocal about staying with the Buccaneers for the long haul. He’s undoubtedly at the top of Tampa’s list of priorities, but the Buccaneers are also going to need to decide which of the aforementioned defenders they want to keep.

If Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht is going for a youth movement, he’ll bid adieu to Suh and Pierre-Paul, unless he could retain the latter at a lower number. He’ll sign Barrett and Nassib, keep Nunez-Roches and Allen for depth and use his first pick on an interior defensive lineman in the draft (Javon Kinlaw, perhaps?). And if it sounds like we might think it sounds, he’ll evaluate all of his options before considering committing to Winston, on whom his feelings have not changed.

"No, because you don’t know who’s available," Arians said when asked if he had a better idea of what his team will do at QB. "You’re just sitting and waiting to see, is there someone available? And is he a better option? That’s the problem. You get about three days to decide — the legal tampering [period]. Is somebody else gonna get let go? What’s the trade values? It’s really monotonous right now because you don’t really have any answers."

That sounds as if there might be a few strategies Tampa could explore: sign a coveted replacement (Ryan Tannehill, Teddy Bridgewater, etc.) and trade Winston, sign a veteran bridge quarterback (Philip Rivers), let Winston walk and draft a successor, or decide it’s better to keep Winston and his recently improved eyes for another go-around at a reasonable pay rate.

The Buccaneers will handle that right around the start of the new league year. It’s clear Arians is interested in vetting options other than Winston. But first, he wants his key defenders signed before the madness begins.

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