After signing running backs Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy, wide receiver Antonio Brown, quarterback Josh Rosen, cornerback Ross Cockrell and trading for defensive tackle Steve McLendon since training camp began, the Bucs’ 2020 roster is almost assuredly set in stone for the rest of the season. But with Tuesday’s trade deadline approaching, I detailed three moves the teams could make to better fortify their depth at edge defender, and one move that could ensure a little more cap space for a crucial 2021 offseason.
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1. Trade Cameron Brate For A Late Day 3 Pick
I know the Bucs don’t fit the mold of a typical seller at the trading deadline, and trading Cameron Brate seems a little strange with O.J. Howard lost for the season, but hear me out here. It’s important to note that I’m not necessarily advocating for the Bucs to trade Brate, I just think it’s something they should consider if someone made an offer.
Brate’s snaps have diminished significantly over the past three games, and with Antonio Brown joining the fold next week, the Bucs are going to eliminate all non-blocking tight ends from their offense except Rob Gronkowski. Week 7 already showed signs of a team moving toward heavy three-wide receiver sets and a big increase in the four-wide receiver deployments, which simply doesn’t offer much of a role for Brate moving forward.
The return of Antony Auclair as the team’s number two blocking tight end and the emergence of offensive tackle Joe Haeg as a run-obvious extra blocker have the Bucs well-fortified enough in depth at a position that will become blocking-heavy in order to feature all their talented wide receivers in the passing game. Blocking has never been Brate’s strength, and his already diminished role figures to lose playing time to Auclair as the Bucs move in that direction.
The other compelling reason to trade Brate? He’s got three years left on the rest of a contract he’ll never see another year of (Brate is due $6.5 million next season, and no dead money to cut him loose). It will be tougher to trade him in the offseason when a team will need to pay him for a full year, but to a team like Buffalo or Green Bay trying to make a run in 2020? They might be willing to part with a late Day 3 pick for the sure-handed Brate, who the Bucs will be forced to cut this offseason if they can’t find a trade partner for him.
Moving Brate would also help the Bucs’ rollover cap situation for next year, an offseason during which they will need every spare penny they can get with some huge free agents to re-sign. I asked salary cap expert Ian Whetstone for his thoughts on a potential Brate trade:
“The Bucs would offload his $2.25M in remaining salary for this year, minus whatever they’d take on to replace him on the roster,” Whetstone said. “If that’s a minimum salary guy (or a late Day 3 draft pick) that’s a net $1.7-1.9M extra to roll over into next year. Plus obviously they’d be free and clear of his $6.5M due next year.”
On the flip side, keeping Brate around in case Gronkowski gets hurt might be worth it, even if Tampa Bay ends up with no compensation for him this offseason. I love the idea of stockpiling Day 3 picks because those are the selections that allow a team to be able to move up on Day 2 of the draft and get high-end players, but Brate’s popularity in the locker room and longevity with the team may be enough to keep him around in Tampa Bay despite a minimal role with a very clear end in sight.
2. Trade Late Day 3 Pick For Jets OLB Jordan Jenkins
The weakest spot on the Bucs roster is at edge defender, where they have two strong starters in Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett, but not much behind them. Anthony Nelson has been a solid run defender, but offers next-to-nothing against the pass and still has not notched his first career sack in the NFL.
Jets outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins isn’t a great pass rusher either, but it’s going to be hard to find those for what the Bucs can afford. He is a high-character, hard-nosed competitor who had 15 sacks in his last 30 games, including eight last year, heading into the 2020 season. The 6-foot-3, 259-pound Jenkins played for Todd Bowles in New York during the first three years of his career, so there would be familiarity with the system after four and a half years as a starter with the Jets.
Given how New York is offloading much of their current roster and that Jenkins is probably not likely to re-sign there, the move could make sense for both sides. The compensation could be cheap, and the lines of communication are clearly already open between the Bucs and Jets after Tampa Bay’s trade for Steve McLendon two weeks ago. The remainder of Jenkins’ contract is also extremely affordable, which helps a Bucs team with less than $5 million in cap space. Jenkins has one sack and 12 pressures this year, per Pro Football Focus.
3. Trade Late Day 3 Pick For Ravens OLB Tyus Bowser
Most would not consider the Ravens sellers at the deadline, but Tyus Bowser is slated to be a free agent this offseason, and the team’s recent addition of Yannick Ngakoue in a trade with the Vikings makes Bowser’s role almost non-existent. With Ngakoue, Matt Judon, Calais Campbell, Jaylon Ferguson, Pernell McPhee and even Jihad Ward playing ahead of Bowser, moving him is probably in Baltimore’s best interest.
Bowser should only cost the Bucs a late-round pick, and he’s the type of pass rush specialist the team can actually afford this time of year. Bowser has 17 pressures and two sacks this season per Pro Football Focus, and would be a significant upgrade over Nelson on passing downs. His presence would also allow the Bucs to kick Jason Pierre-Paul inside in pass-obvious situations, which would be perhaps the biggest positive in adding another pass rush threat on the edge before the trade deadline.
The 6-foot-3, 243-pound Bowser is also a good special teams player and a great athlete with some decent upside at just 25 years old. In three and a half seasons as a role player (just under 1,000 career snaps), Bowser has 60 tackles, 10.5 sacks, one forced fumble and a fumble return for a touchdown.
4. Sign Clay Matthews
This has nothing to do with the trade deadline, but if the Bucs’ four-man pass rush continues to struggle to get home against the worst offensive line in the NFL on Monday Night Football against the Giants, help could be on the way. Matthews is still available as a free agent, largely because he doesn’t want to play special teams. That might have mattered to the Bucs in Week 1, but if they’ve got to blitz to get pressure on Daniel Jones in Week 8, Matthews might get a call this week.
Matthews is 34 years old, but managed eight sacks and two forced fumbles last year as a part-time player for the Los Angeles Rams. He’d be a 10-15 snaps a game guy in Tampa Bay, but a solid option to step in as a starter if Jason Pierre-Paul or Shaq Barrett went down. Bruce Arians admitted this summer that the Bucs did consider signing Matthews at one point in the offseason, but noted that price was an obstacle and eventually opted to ride with Nelson, who has just two pressures and zero sacks this season.