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It’s been a brilliant offseason so far for the Bucs, who are just a couple moves away from returning their entire Super Bowl Championship starting lineup during this free agency period around the NFL. Key pieces like WR Chris Godwin, LB Lavonte David, OLB Shaq Barrett, TE Rob Gronkowski and K Ryan Succop have been re-signed, while critical depth in LB Kevin Minter, OG Aaron Stinnie and DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches will also be back in 2021. Perhaps most importantly, a contract extension for Tom Brady will keep the quarterback with Tampa Bay through the 2022 season.

Only one Buccaneer has left in free agency, S Andrew Adams to the Eagles, leaving the team with 15 free agents left to make decisions about their futures this offseason. But while the Bucs focus is surely on re-signing a few more of their own, especially DT Ndamukong Suh, WR Antonio Brown, QB Blaine Gabbert, CB Ross Cockrell and RB Leonard Fournette, the best way to go about that is to issue an extension or two to a couple players already under contract.

As it currently stands, the Bucs are slated to have 14 free agents next offseason, including ten starters and another key contributor. If Suh, Brown or Fournette are re-signed on one-year deals as expected, the number of key 2022 free agents would only increase for Tampa Bay. Here is a full list of the team’s 2022 free agents for next offseason:

Player Position
Chris Godwin WR
Rob Gronkowski TE
Donovan Smith LT
Ryan Jensen C
Alex Cappa RG
Ronald Jones RB
O.J. Howard TE
Carlton Davis CB
Jason Pierre-Paul OLB
Will Gholston IDL
Jordan Whitehead SS
Aaron Stinnie OG
Justin Watson WR
C.J. Prosise RB

Some of these free agents will leave and the Bucs will simply have to be in position to replace them at that point. Right guard Alex Cappa, running back Ronald Jones and safety Jordan Whitehead are good players who will almost certainly get starter money elsewhere (Cappa and Whitehead at least), but are the types of players Tampa Bay needs to be prepared to replace when they move on. You don’t want to overpay role players long term, even good ones, or you end up in a situation like the Saints after they unnecessarily re-signed guard Andrus Peat and weapon Taysom Hill to big contracts. Moves like that will put you in an uncomfortable situation with the cap down the road.

Other free agents, such as Jason Pierre-Paul and Will Gholston, may not be worth extending due to their age and ability to be upgraded upon, especially Gholston. Still, if the team believes both players have another strong year left in them after 2021, short-term extensions should be simple to work out, even if they occur after the season. Both defensive lineman should carry much lighter price tags beyond this season, so retaining them for another year is a possibility.

Where the Bucs really face difficult decisions is with their top players, namely wide receiver Chris Godwin, cornerback Carlton Davis, left tackle Donovan Smith and center Ryan Jensen. All four present much different scenarios for a Bucs front office that has been masterful at getting the team’s salary cap to a point where extensions or re-signings are legitimately on the table for all four stud players.

Godwin is in perhaps the most interesting situation, as the team would have no qualms about paying him long term despite the money they are already investing in Mike Evans, and would undoubtedly love to get a new contract done during an offseason where wide receiver value has been remarkably suppressed on the open market. Godwin is better than every free agent wide receiver available this spring, but watching players like Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Will Fuller – all good receivers – struggle to find a market, has to be a little bit unnerving for Godwin. If he’s banged up again next season, it’s not out of the question that he could be looking at a similar situation as a free agent.

On the flip side, if Godwin stays healthy and posts another 1,300-yard, 9-touchdown season with 100 catches, he’s going to get paid, even if the WR market is hurting. The cap will be up dramatically around the league, and Godwin could be a huge beneficiary, pushing up over Keenan Allen’s recent $20 million per year contract. It’s a risk for Godwin, but the reward could be massive if he waits.

If there is little indication Godwin is looking to sign a long-term deal right now and instead is content to play on the franchise tag, the Bucs’ attention should turn quickly to Smith. Like Godwin, Smith could be looking at major interest in free agency a year from now, especially if he has another great season protecting for Tom Brady as most left tackles do. If the Bucs want to extend Smith, they will likely have to tack on at least three years to his current contract (so four more years total) and pay him handsomely, as this is Smith’s last chance to hit it big in free agency (he’ll be 28 next spring).

It’s probably realistic to expect Smith’s next contract or extension to bump him into the $16-$17 million per year range, right around the range of fellow left tackles Garrett Bolles and Taylor Lewan’s current contracts. The question that exists for Smith, unlike the other three aforementioned Bucs, is whether his quality of play is worth that kind of money or extension. It’s possible the Bucs could find a suitable replacement for Smith at left tackle, and while his play has improved the past two seasons, consistency will probably never be his strong suit.

Still, Smith is exceptionally durable and the team loves his toughness and play demeanor. Finding quality left tackles is difficult, and the quarterback after Brady may not be able to thrive with a stopgap tackle protecting his blindside. If that is the team’s rationale, it would behoove the Bucs to work out an extension soon for Smith, as the price tag for premium positions like offensive tackle will be the first thing to go up when the salary cap balloons next offseason.

A salary cap increase could also boost the cornerback price tag, which has already seen a more favorable market for its’ high end players in recent years. That could be in the mind of Davis as the Bucs top corner turns his attention to a contract year. There is a ton of value in cornerbacks that can trail opponent’s No. 1 wide receivers with great success, as Davis did most of last season. His growth over the past three years is highly impressive, and his work ethic sets the standard in the room. Head coach Bruce Arians called Davis a “top 10 cornerback” in the NFL last training camp, and then Davis went out there and played like it in 2020.

Because Davis carries a cap hit of just over $2.7 million this season, it’s pretty unlikely the Bucs would target him for an extension right now. There’s no cap space to be gained by the move, and it doesn’t benefit Davis to sign a new contract now when another great year could put him in the conversation to get paid $16-17 million per year next offseason. If Davis’ growth continues, he’ll be atop the Bucs list of priorities next offseason, when the team should have plenty of cap space. But don’t expect any movement on Davis’ contract this offseason.

As for Jensen, a 1-2 year extension for him would seem to make sense for all parties. The stud center will turn 30 in a few months, and he doesn’t play the type of position that will see its’ value rise substantially when the cap goes up next offseason. If the Bucs offered him something in the range of what he’s making now ($10 million per year) for 1-2 more years, it might be in Jensen’s best interest to accept it. He’s already the fifth-highest paid center per year in the league, and at this point in his career he’s unlikely to threaten for the top spot. Jensen has been a culture changer for Tampa Bay’s offensive line, and they might value him more than any other team would moving forward.

Of course, the Bucs may view center as a more replaceable position than the others on this list, and don’t want to tie up big money in a position of secondary value when they could be investing it in Godwin, Davis or Smith. That might be why nothing has happened with Jensen just yet, as the Bucs try to clear cap space to complete their impressive offseason with a few more key re-signings.

When the Bucs extended Brady through the 2022 season, they extended their Super Bowl window at least one more year beyond 2021. While the team can draft or sign free agents to replace players like Cappa, Whitehead and Jones, they would be wise to extend a few of their big name players this offseason. Regardless of what happens in 2021, going into next offseason with more than 11 starters/key contributors set to hit free agency would not be ideal. The Bucs focus should be on extensions for Smith or Godwin, and possibly short term add-ons for Jensen or Pierre-Paul if they can. That should clear much-needed cap space for 2021, and help extend their Super Bowl window by retaining key players beyond the 2021 season.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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Bucs9755
6 months ago

Great article, as always, Jon! The discussion around Donovan Smith’s extension is so wild to me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player for which the sentiment yo-yos up and down like it does for this guy. Mid-year the comments (on boards) were that we’d like Josh Wells to take over for the guy, and even experts like Jon were noting the guy was the weakest link on our offensive line. Now we’re talking about a 16-17M/year extension!! Because he had a couple of good games in the playoffs?! D Smith has been nothing more than an average player… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Bucs9755
Eddie
Reply to  Bucs9755
6 months ago

Totally agree with you comment on Smith. Until there is a good reason explain his “improvement” towards latter part of last season, he is not someone to invest to protect Tom. As I remember he seemed to ‘turn the corner’ during the Washington game when Gronk came over to help contain Chase Young successfully. What happened and why?

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Eddie
5 months ago

It was definitely before the playoffs. PFF’s grades are only tabulated for the regular season, and Donovan put up a 72.1 grade, the best of his career, marking another season that he improved on his grade from the season before (which he’s done ever year of his career). I do get where you guys are coming from, 100%. I’ve been among the biggest Smith downers on the planet since his rookie season. He was AWFUL for his first couple years. 2019 marked the first time he ranked roughly as a middle of the road starting LT, and he exceeded that… Read more »

Buc76
6 months ago

That’s why this draft is important. Unless there is a player sitting there they are targeting at 32 Licht needs to trade back and get multiple 2nd round picks. Get 2 second rounders for 32 and get 2 third rounders for the 64th pick. They should be able to get 4 good players like that who come in and develop in case we lose people next year.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Buc76
5 months ago

That would be awesome, but it takes two to tango. To get two second rounders, you’re going to have to move back something like twenty picks, which is difficult to stomach. And then, who has two picks in that range to offer? Answer: nobody. The most we could net in a move back out of the first round would be a 2nd and a 3rd, and again, we’ll have to move decently far back to get that much. Then, when looking at moving back from the 64th pick, that’s even more true – the most we’re likely to get is… Read more »

The Freeman
5 months ago

ask Saints edge rushers how much Smith is worth!
those two-year guaranteed was the worst choice made by Licht in the last two offseason, missing better or less expensive option in 2020!
don’t make the same mistake twice, that’s why i’m not kissing Licht’s ass like PR do.
if Smith want a new deal, he needs to take a paycut or sign Villanueva and trade him now!

FLBoy84
5 months ago

Anticipating the team re-upping Smith for a few years, though not in favor of it. Don’t put much stock in PFF’s grades, as they gave Devin White a laughable 43.4 last season, but will admit Smith’s play did seem to improve a touch as the season progressed. Still a fan of installing Wirfs as the franchise LT and finding a FA/rookie replacement at RT asap. Having both tackles on rookie deals is a major $$ saver for the next few years and allows the team to use that money elsewhere.

Bucs9755
Reply to  FLBoy84
5 months ago

I don’t see any reason to just throw out PFF grades because they have a bad miss on one player. That’s like saying you shouldn’t listen to Warren Buffett’s advice on stocks because he didn’t see value in Amazon’s stock for a very long time!
PFF is a solid starting point for player evaluation in my opinion. They’re too harsh on Devin White, but despite his splash plays, he wasn’t a great player this year. He was well below average in coverage as Jon documented over and over.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Bucs9755
5 months ago

I didn’t even see your reply before replying myself, lol. Yea, the tape doesn’t lie. Devin’s got a nice stats page. For 20 or so plays in a season, he’s amazing and does things few LBs can. For the other 1,000 snaps in a season, you have to hold your breath and pray he doesn’t hurt us more than he helps us. The casual fan doesn’t notice him getting killed over the middle, they just see an intermediate depth completion and yell about a cornerback at their TV. But he’s straight up bad far more often than he’s really good.… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  FLBoy84
5 months ago

I think their Devin grade is a little rough, but they’re much closer to right about him than the mainstream perception is. He makes some excellent, eye-catching plays, but for every one of those, he is badly out of position in zone or getting roasted in man coverage. The guy can’t capable cover RBs, much less slot receivers or TEs. He is literally a liability in pass defense at all times unless he’s blitzing. That’s pretty tough to manage in na league that throws the ball 60% of the time. I know Bucs fans don’t want to hear this, but… Read more »

Spitfire
5 months ago

There’s a solid chance Wirfs would lock it down at LT but replacing him with someone as good as him or Smith is a huge question. I would t make that move while Brady is here unless you were certain. So that puts them in a tough spot. They could maybe extend Smith through Brady’s contract and try to Draft OTackles before then. I wonder if now that Cappa has gotten stronger and seems to have turned a serious corner in his ability and skill if they could put Wirfs at LT, Stinnie at RG and Cappa at RT? I… Read more »

Dave
Reply to  Spitfire
5 months ago

Well he really didn’t hold things down, and quit all the penalties. He was just as bad in penalties and sacks allowed as he’s ever been. In fact he allowed the same amount of sacks as last year(6), but with 2 more penalties than last year(11). So the change in QB didn’t change anything. He’s as league average today as he was yesterday, and as average as he’ll be moving forward. It would be a complete abomination to pay this guy 16-17 MIL per. The number 1 reason to pay a guy that amount, should NEVER be: “oh, well look… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by Dave
toofamiliar17
Reply to  Dave
5 months ago

His run defense took a significant step forward last season. Part of that is that we FINALLY stopped running zone concepts away from him (something he can’t capably execute at all). But anyways, he was better in the running game than he ever had been before. And he was better in the passing game, too. Although he may have given up the same number of sacks and penalties, he gave up pressures at the lowest rate of his career. Look, I’m not a Donovan Smith fan, by any means. But your reasoning is problematic. Of COURSE the availability of alternatives… Read more »

Alldaway 2.0
5 months ago

Durable, average LTs have value and Smith is fine as a stop gap for 2 more years. So, I wouldn’t oppose an extension if the Bucs start drafting and stacking OL talent to groom and develop.

scubog
5 months ago

Let’s see. Our 43 year old, QB, who opponent’s have no fear of his running prowess (except the QB Sneak) and should be an easy target, goes comparatively unscathed. Then our team, with its’ oft criticized offensive line, wins the championship. Yet some think Donovan Smith is “average” and would prefer to merely inject Josh Wells (guess you folks didn’t see him against N.O.) or virtually anyone else instead of paying market value for a known, albeit imperfect, entity. What I don’t quite get is the inference that Cappa, Whitehead and RoJo would be likely to depart in Free Agency… Read more »

Bucs9755
Reply to  scubog
5 months ago

I don’t think anyone on this board said that they want to replace Donovan Smith with Josh Wells. I doubt there are many who would say that now since Smith had a couple good games in the playoffs. Brady went comparatively unscathed compared to whom? Winston? Not a big deal. The key thing for this discussion is that when Brady was scathed, and it was due to an Olineman, that Olineman was usually Donovan Smith. But we should still make him our highest paid lineman because he’s a “known entity”–again, known to be average? And, yes, D Smith is very… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by Bucs9755
aredsoxfan1
Reply to  scubog
5 months ago

I believe the author was saying Cappa, Whitehead and Rojo would all likely depart because they are little more than average players at positions that are not highly valued. There is a likelihood that some team will overpay each of them, especially if we make another deep run next year. Average players on top teams are often overvalued. The smart move is to let these replaceable players move on. I happen to agree with the author, none of those players would be a priority and would only be signed if they came cheap.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  scubog
5 months ago

When it comes to the players you listed, you can’t pay everybody. If we count Donovan, Carlton Davis, Godwin, and at least one of OJ and Howard (which we should), then as of now, looking at 2022, we have a grand total of 12 players who are among the top 11 highest paid players at their positions, plus Brady making $25M – Evans, Godwin, Howard/Gronk, Brate, Donovan, and Marpet on offense; Shaq, Vea (5th year option), Lavonte, and Carlton on defense; and Succop and Pinion on special teams). And we may add JPP to that list, bringing it to 14… Read more »

aredsoxfan1
5 months ago

I would be trying everything possible to get Godwin signed while the WR market is at a low point. I think he will be a $20mil+/year player in the next 2 years. As for Smith, I assumed from day one that Wirfs would take over LT next year. It would be great if we could draft a RT this year. I would let Cappa walk next year also, he can be replaced either through draft or free agency. Davis is going to be a tough one. Personally, I don’t see him as a shutdown corner, nice player but not someone… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  aredsoxfan1
5 months ago

Yea, this season is crucial for Davis. Last year was interesting. He’s tough to figure for me. He got destroyed by some WRs (Allen Robinson and Tyreek Hill come to mind) and he absolutely killed others (hello, Davante Adams and Michael Thomas, the latter of whom totaled 8 receptions on 15 targets for 68 total yards across three matchups against Davis). If he has a great season, he could push close to the $20M number Jalen Ramsay just signed for in a long term deal. And he could be worth it. But it also wouldn’t stun me for him to… Read more »

toofamiliar17
5 months ago

I appreciate what Jensen has brought to Tampa. But for a team with as many pressing needs as we have coming up to fill, whether with resigning a bunch of the guys listed here or bringing someone in from the outside, we need to find an affordable alternative to him beyond this year, IMO. Center is and has always been one of those positions that’s relatively easy to find capable starters with mid-round picks. We should be identifying such targets for this draft and viewing them as long term replacements for either Cappa or Jensen. And we should do the… Read more »

scubog
5 months ago

Like Hugh Culverhouse, you folks fret way too much over a player’s salary. The market place will sort that out. Here I thought all along a successful Draft was to find players beyond the first and second round who quickly develop into at least average starters. Now when guys like Cappa and Whitehead become examples of that goal, we want to let them walk so someone else benefits, while we hope to draft a cheaper, inexperienced, unproven replacement. I realize the available $ need to be distributed commensurate with the player’s value to the team. My preference would be to… Read more »

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