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.
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.
So now that we have the three types of free agents cleared up, let’s look at how the Buccaneers roster looks contract-wise on offense heading into free agency. Check back tomorrow for PewterReport.com’s look at Tampa Bay’s defensive free agents.
QUARTERBACKS Under Contract: Jameis Winston, Sean Renfree UFA: Mike Glennon RFA: Ryan Griffin ERFA: None
Mike Glennon is the most high-profile free agent the Bucs could stand to lose.
As a rookie in 2013, Glennon started 13 games for Tampa Bay throwing for 2,608 yards with 19 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Statistically, that’s not too bad. However, his 4-9 record over that first year and 1-4 record in 2014 wasn’t very promising – you could make a case that the Bucs roster and coaching staff also contributed heavily to those losing records, even outside of Glennon.
Since the team drafted Jameis Winston in 2015, Glennon has been nothing more than an ideal backup. His name has been floated around trade circles for a year or so, but either the Buccaneers weren’t willing to give him up, or no team really wanted to put up a price that was worth dealing.
The NFL will always covet tall, big-armed quarterbacks and Glennon fits that bill. Though he wasn’t too impressive in his time as a starter, if Brock Osweiler can get a four-year, 72 million dollar deal, you have to imagine some team is going to overpay for Glennon’s services. With that known, and knowing the Buccaneers would be resigning him as nothing more than a backup again, his chances of return to Tampa Bay are slim. However, if he were to leave, the Bucs would likely get a nice compensatory pick for the 2018 NFL Draft. CHANCES OF GLENNON RETURNING: LESS THAN 10 PERCENT
Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers – Photo by: Getty Images
RUNNING BACKS Under Contract: Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Peyton Barber, Russell Hansbrough UFA: Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith RFA: None ERFA: None
Smith is 31 years old, only played for Tampa for one year and was only active in three games last year. With running backs being a dime a dozen, I can’t really see much of a reason to bring him back, but perhaps they will for his veteran presence. It won’t be for anything more than the league minimum and that’s only when he’s fully healed from his torn ACL.
Rodgers is a player that the Bucs have to make sure they lock up. After coming in for the injured Martin and ineffective Charles Sims early in the year, Rodgers led the team in rushing with 560 yards and a 4.3 yards-per-carry average. That average we well above anything Martin had in 2016, even when healthy.
Rodgers is 27. he has relatively low mileage for a guy who has been in the league for six years, but most importantly, he’s the only option Tampa Bay has. Martin is still under contract, and there are talks of the Buccaneers now cutting him because his suspension voids and guaranteed money in his deal, but you never move on from a player unless you know his replacement. If the Bucs can’t hang on to Rodgers, they’ll have to hang on to Martin going into 2017.
His contract will be representative of a fringe starter, and the Bucs have plenty of cap space to make the right bid for him. CHANCES OF RODGERS RETURNING: 90 PERCENT
CHANCES OF SMITH RETURNING: LESS THAN 5 PERCENT
FULLBACKS Under Contract: Alan Cross UFA: None RFA: None ERFA: None
After going undrafted last year, the Bucs signed Cross to enter training camp as a tight end. They eventually released him and signed him to the practice squad, but called him up to the active roster shortly after as a result of cutting Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Cross played in 14 games as a fullback this season catching 6 passes for 38 and even one touchdown. Cross is not an upcoming free agent, and will most likely assume the same niche roll next season as a blocker if there is room on the roster.
WIDE RECEIVERS Under Contract: Mike Evans, Bernard Reedy, Josh Huff, Derel Walker UFA: Vincent Jackson, Russell Shepard, Cecil Shorts RFA: None ERFA: Freddie Martino, Adam Humphries, Donteea Dye
As explained in the ERFA section, players with that tag are almost always retained, so you can expect no chances in the statuses of Martino and Humphries; they’ll be back.
Jackson’s time as a Buccaneer is most likely done. Though he will go down as one of the best free agent signings in franchise history, he’s 34 years old and hasn’t had a 1,000-yard season since 2014 (where he eclipsed the milestone by only two yards). Jackson is no longer a reliable No. 2 wide receiver and he’s too expensive and injury-prone to be a third- or fourth wide receiver.
Shepard shouldn’t be going anywhere. He’s a special teams leader, and a great player to have in a locker room. His fellow teammates love having him there for motivation and to get the team focused. Shepard was even given some time at wide receiver this year, and, honestly, if Winston’s passes to him were better, he would’ve had a year well above expectations. He’s a guy you’d expect them to keep.
You have to feel for Shorts. After having a nice start to his career in Jacksonville, he signed a two-year deal with the Houston Texans where he only played one season, then was signed by Tampa Bay, only to have an injury-riddled year that ended with him tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL. The Bucs won’t bring him back in 2017. CHANCES OF JACKSON RETURNING: LESS THAN 5 PERCENT CHANCES OF SHEPARD RETURNING: 75 PERCENT CHANCES OF SHORTS RETURNING: LESS THAN 5 PERCENT
Bucs TE Brandon Myers – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
TIGHT ENDS Under Contract: Luke Stocker, Kivon Cartwright, Tevin Westbrook UFA: Brandon Myers RFA: None ERFA: Cameron Brate
Head coach Dirk Koetter sure loves his tight ends, which actually bodes well for Myers possibly returning. Myers contract won’t be one that breaks the bank. He’s a block-first tight end who can be decent, but not a focal weapon in the passing game. With the Buccaneers offense trying to get more dynamic, you wonder if there’s room for a guy who would surely be the third- or fourth-best pass catcher in the tight end group come training camp.
Myers is 31 years old, and him returning really depends on whether or not he wants to finish out his career in Tampa. If he does, Licht could throw him a low-end deal to keep him around. If not, they could easily replace him with a pass catching tight end that can also block.
Brate will be re-signed this offseason, likely to a long-term deal as he has emerged as one of the best tight ends in the league. CHANCES OF MYERS RETURNING: 50 PERCENT
LEFT TACKLES Under Contract: Donovan Smith, Leonard Wester UFA: None RFA: None ERFA: None
As much as Bucs fans would love to see some change on the offensive line, it’s most likely not going to happen. Almost all of the team’s core big men are both young and under contract. Expect this to be their development year before any big chances are made.
LEFT GUARDS Under Contract: Kevin Pamphile, Josh Allen UFA: None RFA: None ERFA: None
Pamphile was moved all over in 2016, but the team really like what they have in him as a versatile lineman. He should be the starting left guard going into camp. Don’t expect the team to bring in an big-name competition for him this free agency period.
CENTERS Under Contract: Evan Smith, Ben Gottschalk, James Stone UFA: Joe Hawley RFA: None ERFA: None
The Bucs would certainly like to have Hawley back, but everything has to come at the right price.
Hawley was in Atlanta at the same time Koetter was the offensive coordinator, so the two know each other very well. Due to injuries, not only at center, but all across the line, he and Evan Smith split time at the center position. However, Hawley is three years younger than Smith, and I believe he’s the desired starter for this team going forward.
On the flip side, the team does like what they have in Benenoch, who saw limited playing time during his rookie season. The question is, do they like it enough to ride with just him and Smith going into 2016 knowing how quick offensive line depth can diminish. CHANCES OF HAWLEY RETURNING: 50 PERCENT
RIGHT GUARDS Under Contract: J.R. Sweezy, Ali Marpet, Caleb Benenoch, Jarvis Harrison, Michael Liedtke UFA: None RFA: None ERFA: None
PewterReport.com was the first to report that Sweezy has been fully cleared medically and should open up training camp in contention to be a starting guard. That means the team is basically getting another free agent signing as he was unable to play last year due to a back injury.
RT Gosder Cherilus – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
RIGHT TACKLES Under Contract: Demar Dotson UFA: Gosder Cherlius RFA: None ERFA: None
Dotson only played in six games in 2015 and played in 13 games in 2016 due to injury. The man who was brought in to be his replacement, Gosder Cherilus, didn’t do so hot – most notably in the game against Dallas where he made second-year defensive end David Irving look like a Hall of Famer.
With Cherilus now 32 years old with bad knees, and with him not exactly proving his worth as a potential backup to the established starter Dotson, him returning with Wester, Pamphile and Marpet as right tackle option doesn’t look good. The team will most likely pick up a younger player as his replacement, knowing those other guys can slide in at any time. CHANCES OF CHERILUS RETURNING: LESS THAN 5 PERCENT
Tomorrow: PewterReport.com’s look at Tampa Bay’s defensive free agents in 2017.
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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