Bull Rush: Pierre-Paul Trade Brings Flexibility, Clarity to Bucs

New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) during an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 23-0. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Adding a top defensive end gives Tampa Bay options

Thursday morning, the news came suddenly: The Tampa Bay Bucs traded a third and fourth round pick to the New York Giants in exchange for DE Jason Pierre-Paul and a fourth round pick in the upcoming draft.

Pierre-Paul, a USF product, is 29 years old and comes to the Bucs off a season where he played in all 16 games and recorded 8.5 sacks. The trade will fill an immediate and pressing need for the Buccaneers, as their front four could simply not get to the quarterback in 2017.

The Buccaneers recorded 22 sacks in 2017. Of those 22, 11.5 of them came from defensive tackles, including the whopping contribution of 0.5 sacks in 15 games from Chris Baker. Tampa Bay defensive ends recorded 8.5 sacks in 2017.

That is to say, it took five Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the same position to match Jason Pierre-Paul’s 2017 sack total. The poor performance of the Bucs’ DEs was one of the contributing factors to their disappointing season, and if Tampa Bay is to have any hope of turning it around in 2018 they are going to need people to get to the quarterback.

On the field, the move should make Mike Smith’s defense more flexible. Perhaps more to the point, the move should make Mike Smith’s defense more of a Mike Smith defense. The defensive coordinator likes to get creative, showing a combination of different looks and sets to opposing offenses in order to keep them on their toes. In 2017, this failed not because the Buccaneers lacked creativity but because the personnel outside of the linebackers were not up to the task of playing in such an amorphous defense.

Pierre-Paul will help provide a pass rush, and in doing so help take some emphasis off of Gerald McCoy. In recent years, it has been remarkably easy for opponents to just key in on McCoy, knowing that if they take him out of a game it will become difficult for Tampa Bay to build any pocket pressure.

The defensive end is the most successful NFL player to date to have come out of the still-young USF football program. As the Bulls play in Raymond James Stadium, it seems only appropriate that the former Bull would end up playing for the Buccaneers.

That said, he’ll be missed in New York, where he was a critical part of the 2011 team that went on to win Super Bowl XLVI against the New England Patriots. The Giants pulled off the upset over Tom Brady and company by pressuring the legendary quarterback. “JPP” did not have a sack in the game, but he did help the Giants hurry Brady all game, including an early safety for intentional grounding in the end zone.

Jason Pierre-Paul does not need to wait until September to make an impact on the Buccaneers. In fact, the trade will likely change the trajectory of the Buccaneers’ entire offseason.

To this point in the offseason, it looked as though the Buccaneers were going to have to address the pass rush early in the draft. Speculation ran rampant about Tampa Bay perhaps being best served to trade up for all-everything Bradley Chubb, and while Chubb would be a great Draft Night prize for somebody a trade-up would have been costly.

With Pierre-Paul being signed, Tampa Bay can approach the draft with a more open mind. Perhaps a highly-regarded offensive lineman could be in the cards, or an exceptional defensive back.

For the more optimistic draft fan, a trade for Pierre-Paul opens the door ever so slightly for a pipe dream of Saquon Barkley. The lack of a run game was second to only the Buccaneers’ struggle with sacks in specific areas of disappointment, and with Doug Martin and Charles Sims both leaving Tampa Bay there is room for the Buccaneers to add a back.

Of course, Tampa Bay still has holes along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield, so it’s debatable how big a priority the run game really is. On top of that, there is an ongoing debate in the NFL about the importance of a big back, with some teams seeing success with high draft picks at the position and others more inclined to plug in players during the season.

Past all of that, Barkley would have to fall to pick number seven, an unlikely scenario going by most mock drafts.

The point is not that the trade allows the Bucs to draft anyone in specific, but that adding a defensive end opens up the possibility that Tampa Bay could draft anyone they wish.

Speaking of the draft, the Buccaneers got Pierre-Paul at a pretty affordable price given the market. To get him, the Bucs gave up a third round pick and swapped fourth round picks. The Giants actually have a higher draft slot than Tampa Bay, so that’s an improvement in the fourth.

Considering that the Eagles earlier this offseason landed Michael Bennett for a wide receiver and a fifth round pick, the price is about right for the longtime Giant. Jason Pierre-Paul is three years younger than Bennett, and put up the same sack total in 2017.

The Buccaneers have control of Pierre-Paul through 2020 if they want it, having traded for a player who signed a four year deal with the Giants last offseason. At the time, people figured Tampa Bay would be in the mix for the defensive end, but they were unable to close the deal. After a disastrous year of letting quarterbacks just hang out in the pocket all day long, the Bucs made their move and landed the former Bull after all.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.