In this week’s Bucs Briefing, let’s take a look at the current state of the Tampa Bay roster. After 10 days of free agency, everything has changed. The Bucs have legitimately gone from playoff long-shot to Super Bowl favorite. I don’t know how many times that has ever happened before in NFL history during the month of March. Let’s rewind for a look at the Bucs’ wild offseason.
Everything Coming Up Bucs
It’s crazy to think about how many things have gone the Bucs way in recent days.
• Tom Brady returns
• Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio gets obliterated by real journalists everywhere. The Bucs’ Super Bowl odds skyrocket.
• Bucs re-sign C Ryan Jensen, WR Chris Godwin, CB Carlton Davis III, RB Leonard Fournette, DE Will Gholston and G Aaron Stinnie. Also brought back WR Breshad Perriman.
• Signed WR Russell Gage from the Falcons. Then picked up DB Logan Ryan from the Giants.
• Trade just a fifth round pick for RG Shaq Mason.
• Lose only SS Jordan Whitehead and RG Alex Cappa in free agency.
And then there were the moves away from the Advent Health Training Center.
• QB Deshaun Watson stays in AFC
• WR Davante Adams traded to AFC. Packers also lose Za’Darius Smith in free agency.
• QB Russell Wilson traded to AFC.
• EDGE Von Miller leaves Rams for AFC. Rams also trade WR Robert Woods, a serious Bucs killer.
• Cowboys lose out on edge rushers Miller, Smith and Randy Gregory. Also, Dallas trades WR Amari Cooper and cuts RT La’El Collins.
• Falcons trade QB Matt Ryan to AFC. Also, the Falcons forgot to sign wide receivers.
• Saints lose LT Terron Armstead and FS Marcus Williams.
Still, the Bucs roster isn’t perfect. But it’s getting there. Here is where the team currently stands as free agency moves into its’ final stages.
Analysis: Trask could be the Bucs No. 2 quarterback this season, but I still think the team tries to bring Blaine Gabbert back. What’s the harm? If Trask can’t beat Gabbert out for the No. 2 job this offseason, you know everything you need to know about him. And you didn’t have to waste real season to find it out.
Prediction: I think Gabbert re-signs for cheap. Where else is he going to go?
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Analysis: Re-signing Fournette was big. That takes the running back position from a high priority to just a normal one. Fournette was an every down back for the Bucs last season, and likely will be one again. Vaughn could be ready to step into Ronald Jones’ role from last year as a change-of-pace back for two drives a game.
Prediction: I think Tampa Bay will sign a traditional third down back in free agency over the coming days. Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon and Giovani Bernard all remain free agents. Any of the three would be great in Tampa Bay. But McKinnon looked like a difference-maker last year in Kansas City in the playoffs. I’m not sure which of the three the Bucs will sign, but I bet they draft a running back in the middle rounds regardless.
Analysis: Evans, Godwin and Gage have the top three spots locked down heading into camp. Perriman is the leader in the clubhouse for the No. 4 job, but the Bucs could draft someone that would push him for time. Right now, Johnson and Miller shouldn’t be considered locks for roster spots. In fact, both could be cut eventually. Darden could be too, but he has the inside track as the youngest player and the team’s kick/punt returner.
Prediction: I think the Bucs will draft a wide receiver in the mid-late rounds amidst a fairly deep class. But I’m less confident about that than I was a week ago. They spent a lot of money on Gage. Whoever they draft likely won’t play much over at least the next two seasons. That doesn’t mean they won’t draft anyone, but it’ll just likely be with a lower pick.
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski and Saints SS Malcolm Jenkins – Photo by: USA Today
Analysis: Brate is the only real tight end on the roster, and he’s not a No. 1 option for sure. Chances remain high that Rob Gronkowski will eventually re-sign with the team. But that still leaves a third spot open, and the Bucs need to get younger at the position.
Prediction: I will be floored if the Bucs don’t draft a tight end this year. Now, I doubt it will be with their first-round pick. Tampa Bay doesn’t value tight ends like that unless they could be special. There are no tight ends like that in this class. However, I think the Bucs could use their second-, third- or fourth-round pick on the position. It’s a deep class of solid options, and even a few blocking tight ends for a change.
Analysis: It feels like the Bucs might be done on the offensive line? Four of five starters are set in stone and under contract until at least the 2024 offseason. Stinnie will compete with Hainsey, Leverett and Hutcherson for the left guard spot. That’s four young players the Bucs like for one spot. Of course, if they get the chance to draft Zion Johnson they should take it. But if he’s off the board, Tampa Bay could ride with this group for 2022.
Prediction: The Bucs will likely eventually re-sign swing tackle Josh Wells to be the team’s reserve swing tackle again.
Interior Defensive Line
Bucs DT Will Gholston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Analysis: Re-signing Gholston was big, as it ensures the Bucs will bring back at least two-thirds of their starting interior defensive line. Now will Ndamukong Suh return as well? The outlook seems positive. But even if he does, the Bucs need to get younger up front. They also need more pass rush ability, even if it comes in the form of a hybrid player in the draft.
Prediction: I think the Bucs will re-sign Suh for another year. But I also think they’ll pour resources into their defensive line during the draft. I could see the team draft an edge rusher who has the versatility to kick inside, too. Minnesota’s Boye Mafe, Houston’s Logan Hall, South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare or UAB’s Alex Wright could be options at various stages of the draft.
And the team could still draft a true defensive tackle at some point too. If Georgia’s Devonte Wyatt is off the board at No. 27, the Bucs could target developmental linemen later in the draft. Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey, Iowa State’s Eyioma Uwazurike and Tennessee’s Matthew Butler should all be names on your radar.
Analysis: So much is riding on the development of Tryon-Shoyinka this offseason. If he makes a leap in 2022, the Bucs’ edge pass rush will be the best it has been since 2019. Nelson clearly took a step forward last year with five sacks, and Gill has impressed in limited snaps. It’s a good enough group to roll into Week 1 with, but will the Bucs want even more depth.
Bucs OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Prediction: I have no prediction that I feel strongly about when it comes to Tampa Bay’s edge defender group. If I had to guess, the team won’t draft a traditional outside linebacker type with their first three round picks. But could a player like Mafe, who can move around, be on their radar? That makes sense to me.
Listening to Bruce Arians and Jason Licht at the Combine, it sure sounded like the Bucs wanted to improve their four-man pass rush. They blitzed far more than any other defense last season, and they know they have to pull the reins back in 2022. If the draft doesn’t fall their way on the defensive line, look for a late offseason veteran signing. Melvin Ingram, Justin Houston or even a reunion with a (healthy) Jason Pierre-Paul are all possibilities.
Bucs ILB K.J. Britt – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Analysis: Kevin Minter remains a free agent, and he’ll probably stay that way. The Bucs seem interested to find out what they have in Britt as a No. 3 linebacker. That’s not an experiment I want to see, personally.
Prediction: Maybe I’ll be wrong, but I don’t expect the Bucs to draft a linebacker. They seem to be all in for 2022, and there are simply greater needs elsewhere. David is expected to be a free agent next offseason, but if he wants to keep playing, he’ll almost certainly be back in Tampa Bay. The Bucs will at least bring another veteran to camp as competition for Britt. But I think this might be your foursome for the season.
Carlton Davis III
Analysis: Like linebacker, the Bucs could be pretty settled at cornerback. Their top four are entering their third season together, and the addition of Logan Ryan give them another slot option if something happens to any of the team’s top three corners.
Prediction: Nothing would shock me, but I won’t be predicting a meaningful addition at cornerback. More or less, this is probably the team’s 2022 group. After the season they’ll evaluate whether to sign Dean or Murphy-Bunting to a new contract.
Antoine Winfield, Jr.
New Bucs S Logan Ryan – Photo by: USA Today
Analysis: The Bucs could probably roll into 2022 with this group and be okay, but I still have questions. Is Ryan really a strong safety? He’s never predominantly occupied a role like Jordan Whitehead’s in his career. And I doubt Winfield is switching positions. Ryan could make the Bucs better at slot cornerback, but the team may use him at safety early on. Also, Mike Edwards is at his best at free safety, so how he fits alongside Winfield remain to be seen.
Prediction: Ryan and Edwards will be free agents next offseason, and there is no guarantee either is back. I also think there could be a path to 2022 playing time for a safety if the Bucs took one early in the draft. Ryan can play in the slot, and Edwards could fulfill his ideal third safety duties. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Bucs add Georgia’s Lewis Cine or Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker with one of their first two draft picks.