With the 2017 NFL Free Agency period now less than one month away, PewterReport.com figured it would be a good idea to give Buccaneer fans a complete, one-stop-shop guide to what Tampa Bay’s roster looks like currently, and which players are set to hit which type of free agency in less than 30 days – yes, there are different kinds of free agents.
Bucs LBs Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David – Photo by Cliff Welch/PR
With franchise players like quarterback Jameis Winston, wide receiver Mike Evans, linebacker Lavonte David, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander all under contract for the foreseeable future, the list of possible signees for the Buccaneers is relatively stress-free, but there are 26 players who are entering one of the three types of free agency, some more pressing than others.
The three types of free agents are: unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents and exclusive rights free agents. Here’s how they differ.
Unrestricted Free Agents: These are the players who have totally played out the length of their contracts. UFAs, as they’re abbreviated, have played at least four years in the NFL and are free to sign with any team they would like without any limitations from their current team. The only restriction that may keep them on the team they last played for without a new contract is being given the Franchise Tag. UFAs lost also go into the equation the NFL examines when giving compensatory picks – for example, if the Buccaneers lose Mike Glennon, they’ll most likely get a compensatory pick in 2018.
Restricted Free Agents: RFAs, as they’re abbreviated, have played three years in the league and are still controlled to some extent by their current team. There are layered rules for different kinds of restricted free agents, but the gist of it is this: If a player under a RFA contract were to be offered a contract with another team and the team currently holding them did not want to match it, the team that signed them would have to give up a draft pick to the player’s former team in order to do so – the draft pick penalty is usually higher than where said player was drafted in the first place. Because of this, most restricted free agents are retained by their teams.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents: ERFA, as they’re abbreviated, are almost an afterthought or not even known by casual football fans, and there’s a reason for that. The reason is because only in rare cases do players under ERFAs not play for their current team the following year. The ERFA label is used mostly on players who were late additions to a roster who the team wants to keep for the following year. However, ERFA contracts are all non-guaranteed and are set at the league minimum salary which means most active roster contracts are worth more anyways. You’ll see some bigger name players have this label every now and then, but it’s really only designed for players with less than two years in the league who a team just wants to make sure they have as backup depth for the following season.
DEFENSIVE ENDS Under Contract: Robert Ayers, Noah Spence, DaVonte Lambert, George Johnson, Ryan Russell, Channing Ward UFA: William Gholston RFA: Jacquies Smith ERFA: None
There has been plenty of talk over what Gholston’s value is – or should be – for the Buccaneers going into 2017 Free Agency.
Typically the defensive ends that get the most attention are the pass rushers. Anytime one of the top 20 pass rushers in the league are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, fans of any team play the “what if” game about acquiring them. That’s not as often the case with defensive ends like Gholston, who is more of a big-bodied, run-stopping edge setter.
Gholston most likely isn’t going to be a guy who gets the Buccaneers double digit sacks. However, with him being one of the top tacklers on the team, as well as one of the best tackles for loss players on the defensive line, that could boost Gholston’s demand higher than general manager Jason Licht would be willing to go to retain him.
The Buccaneers know the value they have in this young, reliable defensive lineman, and when pairing that with Gholston’s willing attitude to return to Tampa, it’s probable that a fair deal will be agreed upon by both sides to keep him in red and pewter for a few more years.
In terms of Smith, knowing that any team would have to give up a draft pick in order to sign a player who tore his ACL early in the 2016 season, he’s not going anywhere (at least in free agency). Smith, who is progressing nicely from surgery to repair a torn ACL back in September, will receive a one-year tender without draft pick compensation, but the team can always match the offer. He’s not going anywhere. CHANCES OF GHOLSTON RETURNING: 75 PERCENT
Bucs DT Sealver Siliga – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
DEFENSIVE TACKLES Under Contract: Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald UFA: Akeem Spence, Sealver Siliga, John Hughes RFA: None ERFA: None
Defensive tackle is where the most shaking up could happen in terms of position depth.
Spence is the most recognizable defensive tackle name set to hit unrestricted free agency. Since being drafted by the Buccaneers in 2013, Spence has been a constant rotational player within that interior defensive line at the nose tackle position. He started 14 games in his first season, but has been an on-and-off starter since rotating with McDonald – which isn’t a bad thing.
If it were up to Spence, he’d be back next season:
Akeem Spence on his up coming UFA status: "If I have a chance to come back, I'll definitely be wearing the Red & Pewter" pic.twitter.com/PKKKvwS0rq
But, Spence also knows it’s a business. Knowing his attitude about returning, and assuming his price tag won’t be too high relative to how much cap space the Buccaneers have (third most in the NFL), his wish of remaining in pewter and red should be granted.
As for Siliga and Hughes, they’re purely depth players. Siliga has bounced around with five teams since 2011, most recently being claimed by Tampa Bay off waivers in early November of 2016. In the three games he was on the team, he recorded two tackles and a sack. Hughes, on the other hand, played four year in Cleveland before being released early in the 2016 season. He was picked up by the Patriots, then the Buccaneers, but in four games never saw action for Tampa.
Those guys will be signing near league minimum deals, if they return, which will all depend on whether or not Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith think they’re good back-end depth players. Siliga will be 27 years old and Hughes will be 28 by the time training camp rolls around. The team could go for younger options. CHANCES OF SPENCE RETURNING: 75 PERCENT CHANCES OF SILIGA RETURNING: 50 PERCENT CHANCES OF HUGHES RETURNING: LESS THAN 20 PERCENT
LINEBACKERS Under Contract: Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, Devante Bond, Cameron Lynch UFA: Daryl Smith RFA: None ERFA: Adarius Glanton
Smith is an unrestricted free agent this year after signing only a one year deal with the Buccaneers last offseason.
The 34-year-old veteran played most of his career in Jacksonville from 2004 to 2012 where he was named an All-Pro in 2011. Following his time as a Jaguar, and after spending three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens from 2013-2015, Smith landed in Tampa to aid the young, budding linebacker duo of David and Alexander.
With the Buccaneers playing mainly out of the nickel formation with only two linebackers, and judging by how both David and Alexander have come into their own, the chance of Smith returning is slim. If anything, it would be on a deal close to or right at the league minimum for a veteran player. The Bucs also like what they have in Bond, who missed all of his rookie season last year to a hamstring injury. Expect him to take over for Smith rather than Smith being re-signed. CHANCES OF SMITH RETURNING: LESS THAN 20 PERCENT
Bucs CBs Ryan Smith (29) and Josh Robinson (26) – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
CORNERBACKS Under Contract: Brent Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves III, Alterraun Verner, Ryan Smith, Javien Elliott, Cody Riggs UFA: Josh Robinson RFA: ERFA: Jude Adjei-Barimah
The biggest uncertainty for the Bucs cornerback situation doesn’t lie in their upcoming free agents, but rather, in what they’re going to do with Verner.
Verner, who was became a backup last year with the emergence of Hargreaves, is about to enter the final year of the four-year, $25.75-million dollar contract he signed back in 2014. The deal for Verner is backloaded, which means he made the most money in that deal last season, and will again this upcoming season ($6.75 million in 2016, $6.5 million in 2017).
Cutting Verner would give the Buccaneers an extra $6.5 million in cap room for the upcoming season, which could instead be used to either sign a big-name free agent or even go towards extending the likes of Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans later this summer, if the team chooses to do so. Whatever it is, the truth right now is that Verner is being overpaid, and paying a nickel starter $6.5 million is not getting the most bang for your buck. His days could be numbered in Tampa Bay – as much as the fans –and his teammates – love him as a person off the field.
In the case of Robinson, a player who is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency, his value to the Buccaneers was made known by his great work on special teams. Robinson, along with rookie Ryan Smith, had great chemistry with punter Bryan Anger, which gave the Buccaneers one of the best punt coverage units in the NFL in 2016. As long as he’s willing to return under that same role, he’ll be back next season. However, if he desires a better chance to be a starting nickel corner elsewhere, the Bucs don’t have the room for that.
It’s all on him. CHANCES OF ROBINSON RETURNING: 75 PERCENT
SAFETY Under Contract: Keith Tandy, Isaiah Johnson UFA: Bradley McDougald, Chris Conte RFA: None ERFA: None
Going into the season, McDougald and Conte were the team’s starting safeties. Smith switched from safety to cornerback after thee preseason, making Tandy the primary backup at the safety positions. As the safety position became somewhat of a liability early in the season and Conte sidelined with a chest injury towards the end of the season, the door was opened for Tandy to make his mark – and he certainly did.
Now Tandy is the unquestioned starter going into 2017, and the other safety spot is up for grabs.
McDougald comes in as the odds-on favorite to not only return, but ultimately challenge for the starting strong safety spot. He will be 26 years old when the 2017 season starts, and has spent all four years of his pro career in Tampa Bay. He’s familiar with the team and the scheme and has been a good fit. McDougald showed the most improvement down the stretch, coming up with a big, victory-clinching interception against Seattle.
Conte, on the other hand, is about to turn 28 years old. He spent his first four years in Chicago before coming over to Tampa in 2015 to play for Lovie Smith. He’s been spotty coverage-wise, but made some huge interceptions against Chicago and Kansas City to help the Bucs win both games at mid-season. If he’s all right with signing a contract that will reflect his non-starting role, he could be back. But don’t expect this team to give him starter money. They can find depth – and a possible starter – in the draft. CHANCES OF McDOUGALD RETURNING: 50 PERCENT CHANCES OF CONTE RETURNING: 40 PERCENT
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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