2024 Bucs offseason preview: Outside linebacker

2023 was a transitional year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ edge defenders.

Veteran Shaq Barrett returned from an Achilles injury. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka entered a pivotal third season. Tampa Bay added rookies YaYa Diaby and Markees Watts. While they were one of the least productive edge rushing groups in the NFL, the Bucs’ outside linebackers did give the team a road map heading into the 2024 offseason.

As is typical with Achilles injuries, Barrett’s clearly had an impact on his burst and overall effectiveness as a pass rusher in 2023. He recorded just 49 total pressures per Pro Football Focus, his least in a full season in a Bucs uniform. At 31 years old, the likelihood that Barrett will fully regain his pass rush effectiveness is low.

That is likely why Tampa Bay released Barrett with a post June 1 designation per Fox Sports’ Greg Auman. The move saves the Bucs around $5 million in 2024 while leaving $17 million in dead cap in 2025. While the Bucs did “leave the door open” to re-sign Barrett according to ESPN’s Jenna Laine, his return should not alter any long-term moves at the outside linebacker.

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Tampa Bay’s original 2023 starter opposite Shaq Barrett, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, needed a big season to prove himself a viable starter. With just five sacks and 26 total pressures in 2023 per PFF, Tryon-Shoyinka does not appear to be the next marquee edge rusher in Tampa Bay.

The Bucs coaching staff apparently came to that conclusion around Week 13 when they replaced him in the starting lineup with 2023 third-round pick YaYa Diaby. The rookie earned the starting job with impressive play against both the run and pass. He led the team with 7.5 sacks, which was also third-most among all rookies, and was second on the team with 12 tackles for a loss, which led all rookies.

Diaby will no doubt start the 2024 season. The question is who will start opposite him.

Finding a starting edge rusher in free agent is rarely an inexpensive proposition. Tampa Bay does not have a ton of flexibility to bring in a free agent as they make efforts to bring back their own players like Mike Evans, Baker Mayfield and Antoine Winfield Jr.

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The Bucs will have to approach the free agent edge rush market like they did when they signed Shaq Barrett in 2019, forgoing the top of the market to find value deep in the free agent class. Veterans like Markus Golden and Yannick Ngakoue are not every-down players but would make useful additions to Tampa Bay’s edge rotation, particularly as pass rushers.

The draft is where the Bucs will be looking to truly upgrade their outside linebacker room. With the 26th overall pick, they will likely miss on the premiere edge prospects like Dallas Turner, Jared Verse and Laiatu Latu, who is probably the best fit for Tampa Bay given their immediate need for pass rush help. A trade-up would likely be needed to grab the UCLA edge rusher.

Barring a trade-up, the Bucs will have Penn State’s Chop Robinson and Adisa Isaac, Kansas’ Austin Booker and Alabama’s Chris Braswell in range of their picks in the first and second rounds. None would likely be full-time starters come Week 1, but they would be slated for major contributions in 2024 and beyond.

Story originally appeared on Buccaneers Wire