MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 07: Wide receiver Steve Smith #89 of the Baltimore Ravens can't catch a pass in the end zone in the second quarter as cornerback Brent Grimes #21 of the Miami Dolphins defends during a game at Sun Life Stadium on December 7, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
The swing-and-miss players NFL teams have signed in free agency is way to too long to try and list, and the Bucs have to be near the top of the list of players mistakenly signed to contracts during the franchise’s 40-year history. Add in the other 31 teams and that list might literally break the internet.
A league source recently told PewterReport.com that if you hit on 35 percent of your free agents you are doing about average. And in the case of the Bucs, that is especially true. For every Vincent Jackson there has been an Eric Wright, Derrick Ward, Alvin Harper and Anthony Collins.
Forgive Bucs general manager Jason Licht, his front office staff and the Glazer ownership group for not throwing millions of dollars around recklessly last Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. when this year’s free agency madness began.
That’s not to say free agency isn’t necessary. Former general manager Mark Dominik said you have to delve into the free agent market to try and make up draft mistakes. And despite Licht and Co. putting together two very good draft classes in Tampa Bay, like virtually every team in the NFL, there ares still holes to be filled on the roster.
And when a team is coming off a 2-14 season, followed by another double-digit losing season (6-10), trying to fix everything through the draft could take years as it takes most most players time to develop.
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
With that said, Tampa Bay did in fact jump into the free agent market, but started things off by signing two of their own, keeping reserve safety Keith Tandy and Doug Martin as part of the Buccaneers organization. Drafting, developing and then re-signing a team’s own players, is the preferred business model, and the Bucs have done that. Not only this season, but the last two years as Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg successfully re-signed Pro Bowlers Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David to lucrative, long-term deals that sends a clear message to the rest of the roster that the Bucs value players who work hard, play harder and produce on Sundays.
With the first wave of NFL free agency coming to close after the first week, PewterReport.com takes a look at what the Bucs have accomplished thus far and places them in order of importance along with expectations and 2016 outlook.
1. RB DOUG MARTIN – 5 years, $35.7 million ($15 million guaranteed)
There were several anxious moments over the last few months as Martin and the Bucs seemed to be on the same page, and then a new report came out in late February claiming that Martin was destined to hit the free agent market. And essentially he did. The league’s 48-hour “legal tampering” period allowed Martin and his agents to get a feel for interest from other teams and most likely get an idea of his mentally worth on the open market. But as PewterReport.com reported since the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. the Bucs had every intention of bringing Martin back into the fold. It was a little more difficult than originally thought and Tampa Bay eventually paid north of $7 million per year, which the team didn’t want to do, but in the end both sides found common ground. And when the Bucs buzzword this season is “continuity,” it made a ton of sense to keep Martin, who was big part of Tampa Bay’s offensive success in 2015 as the league’s second-leading rusher.
2016 OUTLOOK: Martin told PewterReport.com on Wednesday when asked what he would tell fans and some in the media who wondered if his 2015 success was based on the fact he was in a contract year that it wasn’t the case. In fact, he expects to have an even better season in 2016. It’s not uncommon to see players get big free agent deals, and then rest on their laurels and mail it in afterwards, or just wasn’t a good fit for whatever reason as it was with defensive end Michael Johnson and Collins two years ago, and even more recently with linebacker Bruce Carter. But Martin is a high-character person, and no one in the organization believes he will be any less effective in 2016 than he was in 2015. Look for Martin to come close to his 2015 production if he stays healthy for all 16 games. If his level of play does drop somewhat it will more likely be due the continued development of quarterback Jameis Winston, as head coach Dirk Koetter is looking to throw the ball a little more next season.
2. LG J.R. SWEEZY – 5 years, $32.5 million ($12 million guaranteed)
The Buccaneers knew it was a very real possibility that they would lose Logan Mankins to retirement, and the seven-time Pro Bowler did in fact decide to hang up his cleats last week, leaving a void on the offensive line at left guard. Sweezy comes to Tampa Bay with a reputation for having a nasty streak, something he confirmed in his press conference last week at One Buc Place where he told PewterReport.com he “lives to run block” and “will hit a pile” – two things that he and Mankins have in common. Sweezy admitted he isn’t a vocal, rah-rah type leader, doing more by example, but he owns a Super Bowl ring from his time in Seattle, and comes from one of the more consistent organizations over the last few year. The 26-year old should be a great example for younsters Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith on the Bucs offensive line.
2016 OUTLOOK: Sweezy wasn’t signed to the contract he was to come in and just compete for a job. While the organization may publicly say that, Sweezy was brought in to take over Mankins spot at left guard. And barring an injury or an inability to switch sides, Sweezy is already the penciled in starter. The Bucs hope the duo of Sweezy and Marpet will be even more effective than Marpet and Mankins were in helping to open holes for the running game last season, and at the very least are hoping there is no drop off.
3. CB BRENT GRIMES – 2 years, $13.5 million (guaranteed money not disclosed)
Grimes was a bit of a surprise signing, catching all Bucs beat writers by suprise, but it was an addition that was very much needed. By adding Grimes, a four-time Pro Bowler, via free agency, it opens things up for the Bucs to be more flexible with the No. 9 overall pick in next month’s NFL Draft. Tampa Bay could still draft a corner in the first round if they determine that is the best route to go, and Ohio State’s Eli Apple could be an option, but it isn’t nearly as high a priority as it was prior to adding Grimes. New Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith and Koetter know Grimes from their time with the Falcons prior to Grimes leaving in 2013 and becoming a Miami Dolphin. New linebackers coach Mark Duffner saw Grimes up close and personal as he was a former coach with Miami over the past couple of years. Grimes hasn’t shown any slowing down, notching 13 interceptions with the Dolphins over the previous three seasons.
2016 OUTLOOK: Like Sweezy, Grimes wasn’t brought to Tampa Bay to just try and make the roster. Grimes is a starting cornerback and will lineup in the that position at next month’s first mini-camp. While not the tallest corner on the roster (5-10, 190), Grimes plays much bigger due to his amazing vertical jump and his toughness. Grimes has a track record of success in the NFL against bigger receivers. Since entering the league Grimes has notched 26 interceptions and has made the Pro Bowl four times.
Bucs DE Robert Ayers – Photo by: Getty Images
4. DE ROBERT AYERS – 3 years, $19.5 million ($7 million guaranteed)
After missing out on free agent defensive ends like Trent Cole, Derrick Morgan, Aldon Smith and Greg Hardy in free agency last year, in addition to Charles Johnson this year, the Bucs needed to find an end that can get to the passer. And while Ayers doesn’t have the production of some of the above mentioned players, the organization feels like Ayers will be a good fit in Tampa Bay and will also bring some leadership to the Bucs defense. He has to, as the Bucs were disappointed in George Johnson, whom they acquired in a trade last season. Johnson was a bust, not registering a single sack in 2015 and was demoted from the starting lineup by midseason. Ayers had a career-high 9.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles with the New York Giants last year and notched five sacks in his first year in the Big Apple in 2014.
2016 OUTLOOK: The Buccaneers certainly are hoping Ayers has a much better season than George Johnson did last season, or even Michael Johnson did in 2014. Tampa Bay has lacked a consistent edge pass rusher since Simeon Rice donned red and pewter in 2005, and while they aren’t expecting Ayers to be Rice, they hope he can get to the double-digit sack threshold that is what is considered the benchmark of a very good pass rusher. Ayers is expected be line up opposite Jacquies Smith and the Bucs hope both stay healthy and help the Bucs defense improve dramatically over 2015.
5. FS KEITH TANDY – 2 years, $1.85 million ($250,000 guaranteed)
Tandy hasn’t done many spectacular things in Tampa Bay over the last four years, but he has been one of the more consistent players on defense and a valuable special teams contributors since being drafted in the sixth round out of West Virginia in 2012. The Bucs’ previous two coaching staffs knew that Tandy would usually be in the right spot at the right time and has somewhat of a nose for the ball, nabbing three interceptions as a five-game starter in 2013. Last season, Tandy accounted for 42 total tackles, a sack and one pass breakup in a limited role on defense.
2016 OUTLOOK: Most likely Tandy continues his roles as backup safety and special team player, but with a new coaching staff, and the future of unrestricted free agent Chris Conte, a starter at free safety last year, still uncertain, Tandy could stake a claim to more playing time with a good offseason and training camp.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya’ll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]
Pretty good start to free agency so far. Looks like we bid a little too much for Sweezy based on the Analytics based websites, but Grimes and Ayers came at the right price. All three fill starting roles and open up the draft to take best player available. Glad Tampa stayed out of the front page signings with guys like Olivier and none of these contracts are guaranteed for longer than two years.
I thought Ayers was the strongest pick up but I get the feeling that PR doesn’t feel the same way. Am I missing something ?
Maybe that the guy who has under 30 sacks over the course of his 5 year career got 8.5 of those just in the last 7 games of last season? That in the 89 games over 5.5 seasons prior to that, he pulled a total of 17.5 stats? That’s all of that’s true, AND he’s going to be 31 years old starting this year? I dunno, crazy stuff like that…
Don’t get me wrong – I’m okay with the Ayers signing. But there are plenty of good reasons not to love the deal. I think it would be silly for anyone to be surprised if he has 4 sacks or something like that next year, since that’s about what he was pulling in every season prior to last year. The majority of our sample suggests that he’s not the player he looked like he was over the last half of last season.
Great Analysis Mark. I think the Bucs are off to a good start and agree that these signings take pressure off the Bucs to draft for position. I do want us to take the highest rated player on the board, regardless of position. Even if that’s a WR where the Bucs think they are set. My hope is the that a REALLY good D-lineman is available in the 1st round. In the 2nd round, I hope Braxton Miller is still there and that we take him. Think of all of the explosive plays he can be a part of. He can throw it, run it and catch it. In rounds 3-7 draft position need. I would love that draft.
So it looks like there’s just one hole to fill and that is at linebacker. Since it would be the strong side LB who typically comes off the field in nickel, I can’t see the Bucs making it a priority in the draft. They will probably add a veteran after the draft or during camp.
I’m happy with our FA moves so far. While I was a fan of going after Vernon, Ayers is a much more fiscally responsible move and didn’t hurt our cap too much. Sweezy and Grimes are both solid, starting quality, yet affordable pickups. Tandy may not be a starter but showed good enough consistency to warrant an extension and of course the Dougernaught was a given!
I hope to see Conte resigned as he was the most consistent presence we had in the secondary last year. Although he came in with concussion concerns, he proved he could stay in there most of the season.
The only big hole left is at Sam so hopefully we address that, then we can draft BPA without worrying about position. Id still love to see another solid CB drafted, but the situation will dictate if there is one worthy of the #9 pick.
Things are looking up and I look forward to another year of improvement.
Old coaches never change. They seem to prefer their old players. Yesterday, the Raiders cut LB Curtis Lofton who played well for DC Smith before going to the Saints. Reason stated for cut was failed physical, but was 1 year into 3 year contract at 6mil/yr. For the right money, something to keep an eye on.
If not, Kwon Alexander is campaigning for his old buddy at LSU, LB Deion Jones, likely a 3rd or 4th rounder, to play the strong side. Jones is 6-1, 222, 4.59. The Bucs are supposedly (WalterFootball) taking a hard look at LBs Cassanova Mckinzy/Auburn and Antoine Williams/Georgia Southern for the later rounds or possibly UDFA.
The Bucs are still chasing FS Chris Conte. What I’m reading is that it;s between the Bucs and the Giants. Greg Auman say the Bucs have shown no interest in FS Reggie Nelson who will be 33 this year. And FS Eric Weddle has shown no interest in the Bucs – wants to play for a contender – talking with 4 other teams now and will choose on Monday.
Th-Th-Th-That’s all folks!
Sorry, Actually there’s a 3 team race for FS Chris Conte – Bucs, Giants, and Saints. Who knew?
Wow! That was quick. The Bucs have agreed to terms on a deal with FS Chris Conte, per a league source
Well I believe Tampa may now trade down. I like that Louisville Cardinal DE and player could play, plus if GM trades down additional 2nd or 3rd rd would be great I like that CB wm Jackson 3 from Houston would be a perfect fit. I for some reason Robeert Stanley was available at no.9 would be the steal of the draft and the offensive line would greately improve. I can’t wait if Tampa makes more moves this week.Go Bucs
Good Article Mark. There is no such thing as too many good DL or OL.
— Post Conte signing: Let’s see now.
— Of the three, Joey Bosa, Jalen Ramsey or Myles Jack who would the Bucs like most to see fall to 9? Which would the fans most prefer? If the Bucs chose Bosa or Jack how upset would some fans be? How loud would they scream? Would the Bucs be better off trading down (assuming someone wanted to trade up)?
— What if Laquon Treadwell, Ronnie Stanley and DeForest Buckner were all available (and there was no team wanting to trade up)?
— My draft fantasies continue. I cannot be anything but optimistic based on last year and this year’s off season so far! – Go Bucs!!!
I’m with you seat26, of the DE;s who were available I think Ayres was the best available one.
Player most of the year without JPP and even when he came back he was playing handicapped.
Oliver, on the other hand, was playing with Suh and Cameron Wake and only managed 7.5 sacks. Oliver does have the upside of younger, but the Bucs signed Ayers as a stop gap solution, not a long term one.
The same goes for Grimes at 32.
So far, so good and the Bucs have signed the four of their top five FA’s and have tendered an offer to another one so he remains in the fold.
I think DE is our most necessary spot, even IF Ayers is good, would love to move Smith to the bench. But not sure DE makes sense at 9 (Bosa is not slipping that far) and I am not sure if we can move down…So Hargreaves or Treadwell for me (maybe Stanley if he falls)
The Bucs have done better in free agency than I ever expected. Instead of trading down trade off Glennon. He will leave us next year anyway. Take the quick DT in the first round. Best DE in the second round, and BPA the rest of the way. Start Conte and Tandy at Safety. This is going to be a fun season to watch!!!
Hard to get really excited about any signing besides Martin’s. Two of these other guys are either in their 30s at positions where most players don’t do well at that age. Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins have been to the Pro Bowl, too. It’s not an overly exclusive club. The guard has to rely on his team’s accomplishments (Seahawks won Super Bowl) to spruce up his resume rather than his unit’s (one of the worst pass blocking units around) or his own (Pro Football Focus thinks he’s a dud). These guys provide average help at above average pay, with asterisks, over a very short period of time. That is generally what you get from the second tier of free agents.
Mark, if you follow your own reporting then Brent Grimes signing will have no impact on the plans to draft a corner. Why is that? Because Licht looks 3 years out when making those decisions. Licht would be going against his own plan if he altered his draft strategy after giving a 33 year old corner a 2 year contract. CB is as much a priority in the draft to the organization post-Grimes signing as it was before.
I’ve learned over the years to keep any skepticism and enthusiasm in check. Glad we are looking to keep our own players who warrant being retained.
This is a very good start to FA. I suspect there will be a couple of mid-ranger LB’s signed to give experience to that group as well, along with another OL and DT later. But what I like most of all is how the Glazer haters have tempered their venting for the time being. Seems that they want to win after all, eh?
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