Ok, everyone can breathe now.
We’re about a week into the NFL free agency period and the “frenzy” has started to calm down. Most of the big time free agents have new teams and the Buccaneers weren’t one of them. Realistically, none of us should’ve been expecting any big splash signings this year. The team was cash strapped for the first time in years with very limited cap space, so there was no way for them to go after any of the big names that were out there. Despite what some Bucs fans seem to think, they have been fairly busy this week re-signing some of their own free agents and bringing in a few others from elsewhere. Since I’ve seen a small percentage of Bucs fans that are unhappy, I’ve decided to do a little recap of all the moves that the Buccaneers have made this offseason so far and give my take on each one from trades to releases to signings. I’m even going to throw in a few decisions that have kind of surprised me up to this point, so let’s start things off with those and hopefully I can help ease some of the tension around here.
Keeping DT Gerald McCoy
With the salary cap situation what it is and Gerald’s age, I didn’t think this was in the Buccaneers offseason plans. The $13.5M that he’s due this season could’ve been used to bring in high priced free agent and Bruce Arians former player safety Tyrann Matheau. Don’t get me wrong. I’m ecstatic that Gerald might be staying. I just didn’t think that it was possible without some kind of contract restructuring. His departure would leave a huge hole on that defensive line and the Bucs would have no choice but to fill it with that fifth pick of the draft. Keeping McCoy gives them a little more flexibility with that pick now. However, I’m not completely convinced that they’re going to keep him. If Jason Licht thinks that he can probably get Alabama DT Quinnen Williams with that fifth pick of the draft, then they could still try to trade him for a mid-round pick or even release him outright.
Keeping T Demar Dotson
As much as I like Dot, I’m still not sure how I feel about this decision. He’ll be 34 years-old in October and he hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since the 2014 season. Meanwhile, he’s due to make about $4.5M this year. It’s not a bad price for a starting right tackle, but he’s coming off of a sub-par year after having knee surgery and he’s not getting any younger. If he can return to his 2017 form, then it will look like a brilliant move. If he struggles again and ends up missing more games, then it’s a fail. It’s a roll of the dice that I’m not so sure was worth the risk.
WR DeSean Jackson to the Eagles
This just had to be done. Yes publicly the Buccaneers organization kept saying that they wanted DeSean back, but I believe this was the plan all along. They had no intention of ever keeping him in Tampa and they needed his $10M to get some stuff done in free agency. The trade consisted of the Bucs sending Jackson and their seventh round pick of this year’s draft to the Eagles for their sixth round pick. It wasn’t quite what I expected them to get in trade for him, which was a fourth or even fifth rounder, but at least it was something. Had it not been for Philly’s interest, Jason Licht likely would’ve been releasing him and not getting anything in return.
FREE AGENCY LOSSES
WR Adam Humphries
This is the heartbreaker of this offseason. I hated to see Hump go, but I’m happy to see him get the money that he deserves. He signed a 3yr/$27M contract with the Tennessee Titans to catch dump passes from Marcus Mariota all day. He never would’ve got that much here in Tampa for being the fourth or fifth receiving option in this offense so more power to him.
LB Kwon Alexander
This one hurt too as Kwon was the heart and soul of the Bucs defense. However, the 4yr/$54M contract that the 49ers offered him was way too rich for the Bucs blood so “LiTiRilla” is taking his talents to San Francisco. Kwon is a good linebacker, but there’s no logical way to justify paying a player who’s whole game is predicated on speed and is coming off of major knee surgery $13.5M a year. Sorry, not happening!
LB Adarius Taylor
This was a bit of a surprise to me. I figured that Taylor would re-sign with Tampa eventually not thinking that another team would express interest in him. I was wrong. The Cleveland Browns snatched him up and signed him to a 2yr/$5M contract. Again, more power to him because he wasn’t going to get anything close to $2.5M per from the Bucs.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
The 36 year-old “Fitzmagic” has a new home, presumably as Miami’s new starting quarterback with a 2yr/$11M contract after the Dolphins traded former starting QB Ryan Tannehill to the Titans. They may still draft a QB with their 13th pick, but for now it looks as though Fitz iz the man on South Beach.
S Andrew Adams
Adams played well for the Bucs last season after replacing Chris Conte at safety. So well, in fact, that the Detroit Lions decided to sign him to a one year deal when he hit the free agent market. It’s unfortunate for Tampa since they lost their chance to re-sign the 2018 team leader in interceptions.
DT Beau Allen
I thought that Allen would end up being a cap casualty for sure. He was due $5M for this season, which I thought was too much money for a guy who lost his starting job to a rookie and finished the year with 20 tackles and zero sacks. But apparently he was given the option to restructure his deal and he took a $1M pay cut to help the team out a little bit. It’s a good thing. He’s not a bad rotational player and it’s one less hole to fill on the d-line.
P Bryan Anger
I think letting go of Anger was on everyone’s “battle plan” this offseason. He was 30 years-old, due to make $3M this year and was ranked 30th in the league in punts inside the 20 last season.
DL Mitch Unrein
This was another no brainer for this offseason as far as I was concerned. This guy was signed as a free agent last year and paid $3.75M for…nothing. He sat out the entire 2018 season with what was apparently the worst concussion in the history of sport so the Bucs really had no choice but to cut him loose.
DL Vinny Curry
After a one year stint in Tampa, Curry was released and immediately signed to a 1yr/$2.25M contract by his old team the Philadelphia Eagles. He made $6.5M in 2018 and was set to make another $8M this season. He only played in 12 games with the Bucs and totaled just 21 tackles and 2.5 sacks. There was no way they were keeping him on at that price as broke as they are.
S Isaiah Johnson & OL Mike Liedtke
Both guys were exclusive rights free agents and were tendered offers to return this season. There’s no guarantee that either of them make the final roster, but they both add depth to their respective positions. Liedtke probably has a better chance to make the team as a reserve offensive lineman than Johnson does as a safety. Especially after the Bucs signed Deone Bucannon and Kentrell Brice in free agency. With Justin Evans, Jordan Whitehead and now MJ Stewart at safety, Johnson will have a tough time sticking around in training camp (if he even makes it that long).
LB Devante Bond
This was a bit of a head scratcher for me. The Bucs brought him back on a 1yr/$720K contract and I’m not sure why. He’s missed more games in three years than he’s played in and even when he does play he’s not very impressive. I suppose they figured that their LB corps has taken enough hits already and they needed to keep somebody around. He’s a depth signing that may or may not make the final roster after training camp. That’s all.
K Cairo Santos
Santos proved himself to be a reliable kicker last season going 9 for 11 in field goals of 50 yards or less and 17 of 17 on extra points in 7 games with the Buccaneers. He was signed to a 1yr/$1M deal.
QB Ryan Griffin
The Bucs can and probably will bring in an inexpensive veteran quarterback to compete with Griff for the backup QB spot, but for now it’s his job to lose. Despite never taking a live snap in a regular season game in six seasons, the team re-signed him to a 2yr/$2.9M deal.
RB Peyton Barber
This had to happen. Barber played well enough last year to earn another deal and the Bucs rewarded him with a 1yr/$2.125M contract. The verdict is still out as to whether he’ll actually be the starting running back this season. Rumor has it that the Bucs are interested in free agent RB Isaiah Crowell and there’s still the draft coming up so there’s a good possibility that they could add more talent to their backfield. For now though, the starting RB job is tentatively his.
CB De’Vante Harris
I like this signing. The Bucs needed to either add or keep some experience in their young secondary with the departure of Brent Grimes and re-signing Harris accomplished just that. He gives them some depth at cornerback and on special teams. It’s a one year deal, but I haven’t seen a dollar figure just yet.
LB Kevin Minter
This is another good decision by the Bucs. Minter played decently for the Bucs last season, but he should be able to add even more production now that he’s back in Todd Bowles system with Bruce Arians. He fills the vacancies at inside linebacker that were created with the Kwon and Adarius departures. Look for him to play a much bigger role this season and with a 1yr/$895K deal, he’s a bargain.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches
“Nacho”, as he’s called by teammates, is a big, run stuffing defensive tackle who the Bucs seem to be interested in developing further. He adds some decent depth to the interior d-line and he signed a one year deal, probably for league minimum.
FREE AGENT SIGNINGS
S/LB Deone Bucannon
This free agent signing was inevitable. His best years were under Todd and Bruce in Arizona, so it only makes sense for him to join them in Tampa. He played safety in college, but Bowles created a new position for him with the Cardinals called the “moneybacker”. I’m sure he’ll play a similar role again here in Tampa after signing a 1yr/$2.5M contract.
RB Andre Ellington
Ellington didn’t even play football in 2018, but Arians apparently liked him enough from his Arizona days that he wanted him here in Tampa as well. Even though he’s only played one full 16-game season in 5 years due to an extensive injury history, he did have two fairly productive seasons in his first two years in the league under Bruce reaching 1,000 total yards in each. Maybe Arians thinks that he can rekindle that magic here in Tampa. It’s a relatively inexpensive roll of the dice since they signed him to a 1yr/$805K deal and he could end up filling the role that Jacquizz Rodgers had in this Bucs backfield as a reserve back.
WR Breshad Perriman
Losing Humphries and Jackson left a huge void at wide receiver for this team. It also left the Bucs without a speedy deep threat. In steps Perriman, who is 6’2″/210lbs and runs a legitimate 4.25 forty. He hasn’t had eye popping production over his first three years, but he did average over 21 yards per catch in 2018 with the Browns. That’s 6 yards more per catch than DeSean averaged over his two seasons in Tampa. I think Arians will figure out exactly how to use him and he will end up having a career year. He signed a 1yr/$4M deal with the Bucs.
P Bradley Pinion
With Anger gone, the Bucs had a vacancy at punter and they filled it quickly with Pinion. However, he doesn’t just fill that position. He will also fill in as the Bucs kicker on kickoffs as well. Pinion has been called the best “combo kicker” in the NFL because not only was he in the top ten in punting average, but only 15 of his 79 kickoffs were actually returned in 2018. This signing makes perfect sense when you consider that Cairo Santos isn’t the best at kicking off. He’s younger than Anger at 24 years-old. He’s bigger than Anger at 6’5″/240lbs. He’s cheaper than Anger at $2.75M per year. And he’s more versatile than Anger. He signed a 4yr/$11M deal.
OLB Shaq Barrett
I love this signing for the Bucs. Barrett played sparingly for the Broncos, but there was a good reason for that. He was playing behind Von Miller and Bradley Chubb at outside linebacker. He’s only missed 3 games in four seasons and has totaled 14 sacks and 25 tackles for loss in limited action. He will add solid depth behind Jason Pierre-Paul and could challenge Carl Nassib for starting OLB all for the decent price of a 1yr/$5M deal.
G/T Earl Watford
This is another one of Bruce Arians former Cardinal players who he drafted back in 2013. Watford offers versatility with the ability to play both guard and tackle positions, so he adds solid depth on this offensive line and will likely be in the competition with second year player Alex Cappa for the starting right guard position unless the Bucs draft a guard early on in this draft.
S Kentrell Brice
I don’t know much about Brice other than he had 50 tackles last season with the Packers. According to Rotoworld.com, he was a “shaky reserve who’s only had one pick in 36 career games and is not an asset against the run”. Hopefully, Todd Bowles has big plans for the young man who signed a one year deal.
CAP SPACE SITUATION
As they sit right now, the Buccaneers have just under $2M in cap space. That’s not even enough money to sign their first round pick, let alone the rest of their draft picks. They’re going to have to free up some more cap space in order to do so and in my opinion, there’s only a few options on the table.
#1. Trade or release Gerald McCoy
If they could find a team willing to give up a mid-round pick for him, then I would consider it. Getting his contract off the books would free up $13.5M in cap space and would give the Bucs enough money to not only sign their draft picks but also sign a few more free agents.
#2. Trade Cam Brate or restructure his contract
I’m not a big fan of this move, but it is an option. Some fans see Brate as this team’s “backup tight end” and not worth his $7M price tag, but I disagree. Even with OJ Howard, Brate is still one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets and he’s a touchdown scoring machine. I consider Howard and Brate to be a TE 1A/TE 1B situation. Unless they had a team willing to give up a second or third rounder for him (which wouldn’t happen) I wouldn’t do it. Another option with Brate would be to restructure his deal and take him from $7M down to $5.5M for this season. That is if he’s willing to do so.
#3. Restructure the contract of Mike Evans
This option would obviously depend on Mike’s willingness to restructure so it may or may not be an option. With Evans making $20M this season, I’m sure there’s something creative that Mike Greenberg could work out that would be beneficial for both sides to free up some cash to help out the team. I would try to get his cap hit down to $15M somehow so that it saves the team $5M in cap space and keeps him making top 5 wide receiver money.
#4. All of the above
Doing all three of the suggestions above is not out of the question either. If they trade both McCoy and Brate, that alone would free up $20.5 million in cap space. Then if they could restructure Evans deal down to $15 million for this season, it would give them an additional $5 million in cap room. The total for these three moves would be $25.5 million, which puts them up just over the $27 million mark. If they trade McCoy, restructure Evans down to $15 million for this season and restructure Brate down to $5.5 million for this year, then it saves them about $20 million and gives them almost $22 million in cap space.
NAMES TO WATCH OUT FOR
QB Mike Glennon
Don’t freak out Bucs fans. Even though they re-signed Ryan Griffin, they are still probably going to sign a veteran QB to at least compete for the backup quarterback position. Why not bring “Napolean Dynamite” back to Tampa for next to nothing? He’s got starting experience and familiarity with the organization, so it would make some sense.
RB TJ Yeldon
Yes, the Bucs just signed free agent RB Andre Ellington and re-signed Peyton Barber. However, they could still use some more talent in this backfield. Especially since they still don’t know what they have in second year player Ronald Jones. Word on the street is that they have shown some interest in former Browns and Jets running back Isaiah Crowell. He wouldn’t be a bad addition, but he’s very similar to Barber in size and running style. Yeldon would give them a legitimate pass catching threat out of the backfield and a third down back to replace the recently departed Jacquizz Rodgers. At 6’1″/223lbs, he has similar size to Arians former superstar running back David Johnson (6’1″/224lbs) so maybe Yeldon could be the Bucs version of him in their new offense.
WR Michael Floyd
I know the Bucs just signed speedy deep threat Breshad Perriman, but that was just to replace DeSean Jackson. They still need to fill the position of slot/possession receiver that was vacated by Adam Humphries. I had Floyd in my offseason battle plan originally and I still like him for the job. He’s bigger and faster than Hump with more experience and working knowledge of Arians offense. Plus he would come with a much more affordable price tag.
DT Rodney Gunter
If the Bucs do trade or release Gerald McCoy, then they’ll need to get some more help on the interior of their d-line. Gunter is another former Arians player from Arizona that I had Tampa signing in my battle plan and I still think it’s a good fit. He’s nowhere near the level of player as McCoy, but he would be a solid rotational player on the inside and it shouldn’t cost them much. They would have to find the actual replacement for McCoy with their fifth pick in the draft with either Alabama’s Quinnen Williams or Houston’s Ed Oliver.
CB Morris Claiborne
I’m not a huge fan of Claiborne, but if the Bucs can get him cheap then I’m all for it. They could use some veteran experience in that cornerback room and he played under Todd Bowles with the Jets so he has familiarity with his system.
S Tre Boston
Even though they seem to have plenty of depth at safety after signing Kentrell Brice and Deone Bucannon and also moving MJ Stewart from nickel, it may not be a bad idea to bring in Boston for the right price. He’s only 26 years-old and has good size at 6’1″/205lbs. He’s also coming off of a decent season with the Cardinals finishing 2018 with 79 tackles, 3 interceptions and 9 passes defensed.
The Bucs were busy in the first week of free agency despite some fans saying otherwise. Now that the first wave is over, look for them to be even more active during the second wave IF they can clear up some cap space. They are taking a different approach this year than they have in years past. Instead of signing high priced free agents to multiple year, big money contracts, they’re signing players who fit roles on this team to one year, “prove it” deals. Instead of bringing in new players, they’re re-signing their own players. It’s a different way of thinking this offseason and we’ll see if it works out soon enough.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!