Mon, 12 Apr 2021

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Bruce Arians and Jason Licht made an 11th-hour call to bring in veteran kicker Ryan Succop last September and he delivered exactly what the team was seeking: reliability Scott Smith

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 7-9 in 2019, the first season that paired incumbent General Manager Jason Licht with new Head Coach Bruce Arians. Despite that sub-.500 record, Licht and Arians thought their roster had serious postseason potential, and they set about making a series of moves in 2020 to unlock that potential, most notably signing quarterback Tom Brady on March 20.

The roster maneuvers that followed - many of which we are examining in this series - mostly kept a rising defense intact, took advantage of unique opportunities to add depth or addressed a specific hole in the lineup. One of them, however, was an attempt to fix a problem the team had been dealing with for most of the decade. It was an issue they couldn't allow to derail the rest of their good work.

That's where we now find ourselves in this countdown of the 15 most significant moves the Buccaneers made in constructing the team that would beat Kansas City, 31-9, in Super Bowl LV last month. Famously, all 31 points Tampa Bay posted in that game were scored by players who joined the team after Brady, including today's subject in the countdown.

Note: The countdown we will be constructing over the next three weeks does roughly progress towards the most impactful moves at the end, but it is not strictly a ranking. There's not much of a distinction to be drawn between moves listed near each other in the countdown, and we're not trying to say that any particular re-signing on defense was more important than the next. There is, however, a clear number one. These are also not in chronological order.

Countdown: Top 15 Transactions in the Buccaneers' Pursuit of the 2020 Championship

8. Signed K Ryan Succop, September 1

Amazingly, the Buccaneers started every season from 2012 through 2019 with a different kicker than the year before, despite spending two draft picks on the position in that span. In 2020, they were about two weeks away from breaking that trend until Arians and Licht decided they needed to explore another option.

The Buccaneers used a fifth-round pick in strong-legged Utah kicker Matt Gay in the 2019 draft. Gay showed a good amount of promise, especially on long attempts, but he finished the season in a month-long slump and wasn't quite as automatic on the shorter kicks as the team would have liked. After the offseason was wiped out by the pandemic, Gay came back to training camp in August of 2020 and struggled a bit with inconsistency.

On the first day of September, at the beginning of the last week of camp, the Buccaneers signed the veteran Succop, who had been released by Tennessee back in March. Succop had a good track record of reliability over 11 seasons with the Chiefs and Titans but had struggled through a knee injury the previous year. In between two stints on injured reserve, Succop tried to make it work in the second half of the 2019 season but made only one of six attempts before being shut down again.

Succop used the 2020 offseason to get his knee back into shape and the Bucs gave him a tryout in late August. Satisfied that he was back to his old form, the Buccaneers then signed him to set up a very brief one-week competition with Gay. Succop looked good in his few practices at the AdventHealth Training Center and the team chose to go with what they felt was the surer option.

Would the Buccaneers have stuck with their 2019 draft pick a little longer if they hadn't gone all-in with essentially all of their other roster moves leading up to the 2020 season? It's possible. As it turned out, however, the decision to go with Succop proved to be a very good one, and Gay even found a new NFL home and a run of success with the Los Angeles Rams.

Succop was exactly what the Buccaneers wanted: near perfection on the kicks coaches expect to be made automatically, and the clarity that brings to a coach making decisions on the sideline. Including the playoffs, Succop made all 26 of his field goal attempts from inside 40 yards. He was eight of 10 between 40 and 49 yards. Succop's first attempt as a Buccaneer was a 54-yarder that was blocked in the season opener at New Orleans, but he soon began a streak of 21 straight successful field goal tries from Weeks Four through 15.

Succop also finished the season making 11 field goals in a row, including all nine of his tries in the postseason. During the eight-game winning streak that took the Bucs from 7-5 to the Super Bowl championship, the veteran kicker only missed once. He would finish the season with a stellar 36-of-39 mark in field goal attempts, the playoffs included.

Knowing that many NFL games are decided by a single score and that one loss can potentially be the difference between making the playoffs and sitting at home, the Bucs didn't want to take the chance that a missed field goal in a key moment would undo all the other roster work they had done. As it turned out, Tampa Bay actually finished 1-3 in games decided by three points or less in 2020, but Succop made all 10 of his field goal attempts in those four games. He was also four-for-four in an eight-point win over Washington in the Wild Card round and three-for-three in the Divisional round victory at New Orleans.

Because he only signed a one-year deal in September, Succop is one of 24 Buccaneers who could become unrestricted free agents on March 17. Given how well he delivered what the Bucs were seeking during their Super Bowl run, Succop would surely be welcomed back in 2021. Regardless of that outcome, he earned a Super Bowl ring in 2020 and made Arians and Licht happy they made that 11th-hour call at kicker.

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