Point/Counterpoint: Who will be the Buccaneers’ MVP in 2013?

The Buccaneers had a nice rebound season in 2012 under new Head Coach Greg Schiano, after a very tough 2011 campaign.  While the team faded from the playoff race down the stretch after a heady midseason run, it definitely sparked a lot of optimism heading into this year’s campaign.

When the dust had settled on 2012, it was legitimately hard to decide which player was the team’s MVP.  While there were a number of potential candidates, it probably boiled down to five men: Lavonte David, Josh Freeman, Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and Gerald McCoy, the latter three of whom ended up in the Pro Bowl.

If you think it was hard to pick the one winner from among that group last year, I’ve got an even tougher task for you, Andrew: Predict who will be the Buccaneers’ MVP this coming season.  The level of difficulty is pushed higher by the fact that we’re only a few days into April, we haven’t even had the draft yet and free agency is ongoing.  It’s certainly possible that a strong 2013 MVP candidate has yet to join the team – after all, Doug Martin wasn’t a Buccaneer until late April last year – but I think there’s enough information available to at least begin the debate.

Obviously, only one player can win the award (we’re going to ignore the possibility of a voting tie), so it should be emphasized that picking one particular candidate is not intended as a slight towards any of his teammates.  If you thought Vincent Jackson was the engine that drove the Buccaneers last year, for instance, that doesn’t mean you ignored the absolutely vital contributions made by Gerald McCoy.

I’ll let you have first pick, Andrew, since you’re at an inherent disadvantage in a debate with me.  Please explain your pick in detail, keep your eyes on your own work, use only a #2 pencil and raise your hand if you need to visit the restroom.

Andrew Norton: I’m interested to know your reasoning on this “disadvantage” that I’m in. Maybe we’ll debate that next week. And if it’s all the same to you, I think I’m going to leave my pencil in the drawer and write this up on the computer. I know that technology can be scary sometimes, just let me know if you need help. I feel it will be easier for our readers to digest this way.

I think that whenever you are talking about MVP discussions, there is really one position that instantly comes to mind: the quarterback. And here, for me at least, the argument is no different. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense starts and ends with Josh Freeman. After seeing the progress from last year, I firmly believe that the upcoming season should be a very successful one for the Bucs offense as they capitalize on the strong potential shown. If this is the case, and the offense and the entire team is clicking on all cylinders, then Freeman, the heart of the offense, has to go down as the MVP.

The 2013 season is a contract year for Josh Freeman. It is his year to prove himself. While some weeks in the 2012 campaign were shaky, there were games where Freeman showed he can be exactly what the Buccaneers need under center. Plus, the signs pointing to a year that surpasses his record of last season are all there.

First and foremost, Freeman spent the majority of the season without his two Pro Bowl guards, Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph. He still ended the season with 27 touchdowns and was the first quarterback in Buccaneer history to throw for over 4,000 yards. With free agency and the draft still upcoming, it remains to be seen if more offensive weapons will be added, but the Buccaneers have already signed a promising young running back to help in blocking and the run game. They have also brought in Steve Smith and Kevin Ogletree who will be fighting for a third receiver role.

Freeman did have a great, though inconsistent, season in 2012 with missing pieces. Once those pieces are filled, I see him gaining confidence, getting comfortable and capitalizing. You can even add to the confidence knowing that this will be his second season in this offensive scheme.

With the weapons around him, it is on Freeman to get this offense to go. And there is no reason to expect that it won’t. If Freeman can make 2013 more like the middle of last season than the bookends, which I solidly think he can, then there is no doubt he goes down as the 2013 MVP.

Scott Smith: It is part of your disadvantage that you don’t understand your disadvantage, and I think I’ll keep it that way.  As for computers, thanks for introducing me to these new-fangled devices that I’ve been using since before you were pulling the string on your See ‘n Say.

And just like the cow is going to say, ‘Moooooo!!’ every time, it was utterly predictable that you would go for the quarterback.  Never mind that I think it’s a good pick and that it will be an extremely good sign for the Buccaneers in 2013 if you are right.  Doug Williams was the MVP of the 1981 playoff team, despite the defense having better numbers than the offense that year.  Trent Dilfer was the MVP of the 1997 team that broke the franchise’s long playoff drought, and we know what kind of defensive talent was just bubbling to the surface on that squad.  Brad Johnson was the MVP of the 2002 Super Bowl team, despite the fact that Derrick Brooks was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year and the Bucs’ defense was one of the best of its generation.  Jeff Garcia was the MVP of the 2007 playoff team, which happened to boast the league’s #2 ranked defense and #1 ranked pass defense.

Seeing a pattern here?  When everything comes together and the team makes it to the postseason, MVP voters want to give it to the overall team leader, which is usually the quarterback.  (All of those MVPs, by the way, were the ones named by the Bucs’ assembled media at the end of the regular season.)

So, yeah, I didn’t mean to start my part of the debate with several paragraphs about why you’re probably right.  What I’m getting at is that I expected you to go with Josh, and thus I prepared a rebuttal with a different choice: RB Doug Martin.

You may notice that I skipped a few of the Bucs’ playoff years when I was running down those QB MVPs above…specifically, 1979, 1982, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2005.  Well, in ’79, ’00 and ’05 – half of those remaining years – the chosen MVP played the same position: running back.  It was Ricky Bell in 1979, Warrick Dunn in 2000 and Cadillac Williams in 2005.

Now, in each of those three seasons, the Bucs’ running game was the highlight of an otherwise pedestrian offense that didn’t put up great passing numbers.  That is probably NOT going to be the case in 2013, with Freeman, Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and the rest returning, but I also think that Martin is capable of putting up MUCH bigger numbers than Bell, Dunn or Williams did in their MVP campaigns.  In fact, Martin’s rookie season last fall was already better than all of those other back’s performances.

Simply put, Martin is going to put up numbers that the voters won’t be able to ignore.  He nearly became just the third rookie in NFL history to put up 2,000 yards from scrimmage in 2012, partly because he is so good in the passing game.  If Freeman does get better, as you say, Martin’s numbers are going to go up, too.  In addition, if you can claim that Freeman is going to benefit from the returns of Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, I think you would have to concede that Martin is going to benefit even more.  Everyone thought the Bucs’ running game was going to go down the drain after Nicks joined Joseph on I.R. last year.  Instead, he kept right on truckin’; now imagine what he will do with the wider lanes that Nicks and Joseph are going to provide this fall.

This past NFL season, the overall league MVP vote pretty much came down to a quarterback versus a running back, both of whom were also incredible bounce-back stories from injury.  Despite what Peyton Manning did in Denver, however, the award went to Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson.  If both Freeman and Martin have huge years in 2013 in a Bucs’ offense that takes another step forward, I expect voters to apologize profusely to the prolific quarterback and give it to the unstoppable running back.

Say, it’s kind of boring in a way that we both picked offensive players.  What say we go another round and choose who we think the Bucs’ 2013 MVP will be if it happens to be somebody representing the defense.  Again, you first.

Andrew Norton:  That was a decent dig. I’ll give you that. Though it did lose most of its bite when the following 220 words were in support of my argument. Yep. I’m definitely at a disadvantage when 30% of your rebuttal is making claims supporting me.

That aside, I like the Doug Martin pick, and he would definitely be my other choice on the offensive side of things. The sky really seems to be the limit for Martin. With this offense healthy, I expect a lot of well-deserved attention on the Bay in 2013.

So now, certainly, you are thinking that for my defensive MVP I would select the quarterback on that side of the ball. The play-caller. The man in the middle. Mr. Lavonte David. And I would like to, and I’m debating in my head. But there is one more player and he is the one getting my prediction: Dashon Goldson.

Just to refresh some memories, I wrote up a nice little argument on Mr. Goldson when we debated the “Most Coveted Free Agent.” And while that article wasn’t necessarily about whom should the Bucs go out and grab, I still feel that some bragging is in order.

The first argument in the case for Goldson is a fairly obvious one. Unless the Buccaneers end 2013 ranked 32nd in passing defense, then the season is an improvement. And I feel that with Goldson lining up at safety, you already have that in the bag. The Buccaneers already have incredible run support up front, and speed in the linebackers. Keeping the running game at bay and putting pressure on the quarterback will give Goldson plenty of opportunities to show what he does best: wreak havoc on defenses.

He makes his way to Tampa coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl campaigns and first-team All-Pro honors. In those two seasons, Goldson made an absolute mess for opposing quarterbacks, collecting 9 interceptions, 20 passes defended and 109 tackles. Numbers don’t jump out at you? Consider that the QB rating for those throwing his direction is 44.8. So not only is he a big hitter, he can definitely play in coverage.

Add to this that he will be pairing with second-year safety Mark Barron. Barron had his struggles as a rookie in coverage, but stepped up at the end of the season and was a terror in the run game. With Goldson coming in as a top-10 coverage safety, Barron now has someone to help him develop and allow him to be more of a run stopper.

Anyways, Dashon Goldson gets my pick as defensive MVP here because he can seriously come in and make this a different and better defense from the start. Along with the individual talents that he possesses, he also makes those around him better. He should most definitely live up to his billing as one of the best safeties in the game. Add a dynamic safety to the mix and… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. On to you, Mr. Smith.

Scott Smith: Mr. Smith? Now you’re showing me the respect I deserve.  These debates would be a lot more fun, though, if your name was Mr. Anderson.  /matrixed

Anyway, I didn’t see that pick coming, but I’ll admit it was a fun one.  It’s exciting to think about what Dashon Goldson can bring to this defense, especially, as you say, when combined with the up-and-coming talent that is Mark Barron.  I think other teams are really going to “dread” the back end of our secondary.  Get it?

However, it just seems like Goldson is too much of a new commodity to be the frontrunner for team MVP.  While I think the results are going to be very good, it’s hard to predict exactly what Goldson’s contributions will be.  What if his presence actually leads to one of our other defenders having a bigger year?  Like, maybe Goldson’s cover skills free up someone like Barron or David to be even more of a monster in the middle of the field.

Me, I’m going with the guy who’s really trending up: Gerald McCoy.  Yes, David would be an excellent choice, too, especially if he turns in a few more interception/sack type of big plays.  Combine an eye-catching sack or pick total with the tackles and TFLs that he racked up last year and you’re going to have a stat line that is hard to ignore.  But I’m trusting the voters to be sophisticated enough to realize that, if the Bucs’ defense has a very good year in 2013, it probably will begin with the play of Gerald McCoy.

Listen, Gerald McCoy is not Warren Sapp and he’s not trying to be.  Even if McCoy eventually puts together a Hall of Fame career, just like Sapp has now officially done, he won’t do it in the same way that Sapp did.  But he does play the same position, and there may have been nothing more important to the decade-long dominance of the Bucs’ last great defense than what Sapp did from the under tackle spot (apologies to Derrick Brooks and several others).  If McCoy is playing as well as he did against the run last year AND getting significant up-the-middle pressure – maybe even approaching double digits in sacks, it’s going to make the whole defense work, just like Sapp’s presence used to.

“If, if, if,” right?  That’s a lot of ifs, and I get that.  But we’re making predictions here, and so I guess I’m making a dual one: Gerald McCoy is going to step his game up even another level from last year’s Pro Bowl performance, and by doing so he’s going to be the leading team MVP candidate on the Buccaneers’ defense.

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