Ok Buc Nation, let’s all just take a deep breath.
Even though the 2018 NFL free agency period officially kicked off at 4pm Wednesday, about 25 teams already had deals in place with some of the top free agents a day or two before.
The Bucs were not one of those teams.
Sure they had re-signed some key players, which is great, but the team was never really “linked to” or “expected” to sign any of the “big name” free agents on the market despite some of them being positions of need for the Bucs. Of course that left some Bucs fans a bit perplexed and even somewhat upset.
“What is Jason Licht waiting for?”
“What are the Bucs doing?”
“Why aren’t they signing anyone?”
I know. I get it. Hell, I’m guilty of it. My personal breaking point was Andrew Norwell signing with the Jags after being “linked to” the Giants all week. I don’t even know if he was on the Bucs’ radar. If he was then $13 million a year was apparently too much to pay to protect Winston’s blindside and that’s a shame.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Even though I’m admittedly bitter about Norwell, I’m still not as bad as some Bucs fans who are calling for Jason Licht’s head on a silver platter. The “FIRE LICHT!” crowd has come out of the woodworks. I’m definitely not on board that ship.
Some Bucs fans view free agency as a game of Madden with the salary cap setting turned off. It doesn’t work that way. It’s unrealistic. The Bucs can’t sign every single player that gets released. Why would they want to anyway? A player gets released for one of two reasons typically. The first is for not producing. The second is that they cost too much money. Why would we want the Bucs to sign any player that is too expensive or doesn’t perform? Doesn’t make much sense, does it?
As I type this article, the Buccaneers have about $35 million worth of cap space left. Now while this is good news to some fans ears, they may not be too happy with the reality of the situation. Yes, the Bucs still have a big chunk of cap room on paper. But when you realize that at some point, whether it’s this offseason or next, they’ll have to re-sign Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith and Kwon Alexander that chunk suddenly doesn’t seem so big. When you figure that they could need upwards of $30 million to re-sign that group, that $35 million number disappears. And I didn’t even mention Jameis Winston’s contract coming up in 2020.
Of course, there are ways to manipulate that cap number with bigger signing bonuses that can be spread out over the contract or even performance type bonuses. However, the “safe” assumption is to simply say it’s going to cost the Bucs $10 million apiece to keep those guys in Tampa. I personally don’t see what the hurry is to get them inked this year. I get the desire to “lock up” your core players but next year the cap number will go up again and some big contracts will be up which will add to the number as well. Maybe even Gerald McCoy will be kind enough to restructure his gigantic contract to free up a little cash. Just between Jackson, Grimes, and Ayers alone, the Bucs would pick up an additional $23 million after the 2018 season. It’s doable next offseason, so why force the issue this year?
As I write this, I received an update on free agent center Ryan Jensen who was in Tampa visiting the Bucs. He would give the Bucs a legit starter at center allowing them to move Marpet back to right guard, release J.R. Sweezy and draft Quentin Nelson to play left guard. O-line problem solved, right?
That update on Jensen was to say he had left One Buc and is boarding the Colts private jet on his way to Indy.
Yeah, I said private jet.
Did the Glazers send their private jet? Not that I know of. So what team do you think has the upper hand there?
Breathe in, breathe out…again.
That being said, the Bucs did make a few more moves on the actual opening day of free agency. They re-signed veteran safety Keith Tandy to a two year deal. They signed former Jets kicker Chandler Cantazaro. They signed former Eagle and Super Bowl champion DT Beau Allen as well as former Bears DL Mitch Unrein. Both players were productive, rotational, run stoppers.
I know what you’re thinking.
How does that help their nonexistent pass rush, right?
Well, it can in a roundabout sort of way. If teams can’t run the ball, then it makes them one dimensional and one-dimensional offenses are typically easier to defend. However, I’m not quite buying into that philosophy. It is true, but it doesn’t explain the lack of urgency to address the need for edge rushers.
Enter Saints free agent DE Alex Okafor who is visiting One Buc as I type this. Is he the answer to their pass rush problems? Not necessarily. But he would help. At 6’4″/260lbs, he’s had 18 sacks in 52 career games. The problem is that in his short 5-year career, he’s never played a full 16 game season missing 28 games in that span. The talent is there, but the injury history is slightly unnerving. (*UPDATE- Okafor re-signed with the Saints for $5M per*)
Another edge rusher being mentioned with the Buccaneers is former Buc turned Falcon DE Adrian Clayborn. Also linked to the Bucs are CB E.J. Gaines, S Tyrann Mathieu, CB Morris Claiborne, C Mike Pouncey and DT Dontari Poe.
Oh no wait, Poe just signed with the Carolina Panthers for a measly $3 million a year so he’s out. Cool!
Breathe in, breathe out…again.
Oh no wait, Claiborne re-signed with the Jets so he’s out. Awesome!
Breathe in, breathe out some more.
With needs at running back, defensive end, cornerback and interior offensive line what is the thought process here? What exactly is swirling around in Jason Licht’s diabolical mind? Does he have a plan? I’m sure he does. It may differ from anything any of us fans can conjure up, but I’m sure he has one. There’s a method to his madness.
Most of us may not have been familiar with Beau Allen or Mitch Unrein before yesterday because they’re not “household names” like a Mo Wilkerson or Dontari Poe. That doesn’t mean that these two players weren’t part of Jason’s offseason plan from the beginning. Maybe he got two of the guys that he wanted this offseason all along. Maybe he’s learned his lesson about going after those “big name” free agent signings. Maybe he’s learned to stop chasing the expensive players and start signing the right ones.
Some Bucs fans don’t want to hear this, but despite what they think they don’t really know what’s actually best for this football team.
Harsh, but true. I know I don’t.
However, I believe that Jason Licht does. He and his staff know more about this team, their scheme, their needs, their players, their contracts, their salary cap situation and every player that is or even might be becoming available in the offseason than all of us fans put together. He knows the salary cap rules and regulations and how to manipulate them to create more space. They probably already have a pretty darn good idea of what they want to do in the draft which means they know what positions to address and what players to pursue in free agency. They know. Better than any of us. Better than all of us.
Look, the reality is that it’s not just Bucs fans. All fans do it. I’ve seen plenty of fans from other teams complaining about the same thing. It’s not exclusive to Tampa Bay by any stretch.
I don’t blame any of them. I can’t. I’m one of them. I may write about sports, but I’m not unbiased by any means. I’m a Bucs fan first. I’m as passionate about the Buccaneers as I am about just about anything else in my life. It’s hard for me to control my emotions about this team. It’s impossible for me to silence my opinions about this team. I want what’s best for this team. I’m sure that’s all any of us want. We just want the best. The best players. The best stadium. The best practice facility. The best of everything. Why shouldn’t we? It’s OUR team! I don’t fault any fan for wanting what’s best for their team. Especially when it’s the Buccaneers. But let’s keep it realistic. At least stay within the realm of possibility.
With the $35 million or so that they have left, the Bucs could still sign a few players if they so choose. They re-signed most of their key free agents so far. They inked Big Mike to his new deal. They signed a new kicker. They signed two of the top five defensive linemen versus the run from last season. If they can sign a center, a corner and a defensive end over the next few days I think we can call this a very successful free agency. I don’t think any Bucs fan could argue with that.
I may FB rant. I may angry tweet. I may express my opinions about the team that some Bucs fans disagree with. But I believe in our GM.
We all should.
I believe in his staff. I believe in their abilities to evaluate players. And I believe in Jason Licht’s plan and vision for this team. And that’s all I ask any Bucs fan to do.
Trust him. Trust his process.
Follow the Licht to the end of the tunnel and we just may find another Lombardi Trophy waiting for us.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!