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FAB 1. The Bucs’ Free Agency Plan At Quarterback
A quick glance at the free agent quarterback landscape this year will tell you all you need to know about Tampa Bay’s QB plans in 2021. Barring any surprises, the Bucs will likely try to re-sign backup quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin this offseason, as the team plans to add another year on to Tom Brady’s contract to lower his $28.375 million cap value this year.
Brady is set to receive a $10 million roster bonus in addition to his $15 million base salary, but he earned $3.375 million in incentives last year, which is why his cap value is $28.375 million instead of $25 million. The Bucs need to create some more cap space to sign not only Gabbert and Griffin, but starters like outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, tight end Rob Gronkowski and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who will cost considerably more money.
Gabbert signed for the veteran league minimum last year worth $1.05 million with a $137,000 signing bonus. He only counted $887,500 against the cap in 2020. Griffin had a base salary of $945,000 but also earned $700,000 in per game roster bonus money and wound up with a $1.645 million cap value last year.
The Bucs are interested in re-signing Gabbert and Griffin for two reasons – affordability and experience in the system. With more experienced options available in free agency, such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett and Tyrod Taylor, among others, those veterans all come with much higher price tags. And none of those players have any experience playing in Bruce Arians’ system.
Why is experience important in Arians’ system important? There are two main reasons this year.
The first is the fact that Brady underwent offseason knee surgery and won’t be ready to take the field again until the summer, which means he’ll likely miss OTAs and mini-camp – providing those take place this year as COVID-19 hasn’t gone away. Bringing in a new quarterback that doesn’t have any chemistry or rapport with Tampa Bay’s receivers, tight ends and backs would not allow the Bucs offense to continue to improve at the rate with which it could with knowledgeable QBs throwing the passes.
“I think he’s probably looking [at] somewhere around June, right now, from what I hear,” Arians said about Brady’s timetable to return to a practice environment. “His leadership – he doesn’t have to be out there throwing it anymore. He can be there standing and coach the [mess] out of them. Wherever they meet and workout – I’m hoping we have an offseason for the younger players. Tom doesn’t need it, but for the younger players – first, second-, and third-year players – we’ve missed two years of player development with where we’re at now. We don’t need to miss another one. For him he can learn as much sitting in my golf cart as he can out there throwing the ball. For me it’s just a matter of hopefully having those practices”
Bucs QBs Tom Brady, Ryan Griffin, Blaine Gabbert – Photo by: USA Today
The second is that in the event that Brady were to get hurt in the 2021 season, a more experienced backup like Gabbert, who has spent three years in Arians’ system dating back to the 2017 season in Arizona, could step in and perform better than a newer quarterback. While Brady passed for 4,633 yards and a franchise-record 40 touchdowns in his first season in Arians’ offense, he’s also the greatest quarterback ever to play the game and had 20 years worth of NFL experience to draw from. Expecting a new quarterback to come in as the backup and have the same amount of success as Brady had would be far-fetched.
And if there isn’t an offseason or any preseason games like last year, having quarterbacks that have experience in Arians’ system would hold even more value to Tampa Bay.
Gabbert and Griffin are both 31 with Gabbert entering his 11th year in the league and Griffin entering his eighth year. Gabbert, a former first-round pick by Jacksonville over a decade ago, has far more playing time than Griffin does, along with a better skill set.
The Missouri product has played in 60 career games with 48 starts and a 13-35 record, including a 5-22 mark in Jacksonville in his first three seasons in the NFL. He’s completed 56.2 percent of his passes for 9,206 yards with 50 touchdowns and 47 interceptions.
Griffin, who has mostly been a third-string quarterback, has appeared in just two games in his entire career, completing 2-of-4 passes for 18 yards in the Colts game in 2019. Gabbert was Brady’s backup last year after missing the entire 2019 season due to shoulder surgery from a preseason injury.
Bucs GM Jason Licht and QB Blaine Gabbert – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“We have a lot of faith in Griff (Ryan Griffin), also, but Blaine knows this offense inside out,” Arians said last training camp in anointing Gabbert as Brady’s backup. “He made some great throws today and he’s pretty much entrenched in it.”
Griffin didn’t get the benefit of a preseason to change Arians’ mind, as he’s excelled in the month of August in past years. In 2018, Griffin passed for 518 yards while completing 68 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions. In his first year in Arians’ offense, Griffin completed 65.9 percent of his passes for a league-high 743 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in the 2019 preseason.
It will be interesting to see how much Gabbert is seeking and what the Bucs are willing to pay, as Marcus Mariota made $7.5 million in base salary last year as Derek Carr’s backup, and is scheduled to earn $10.625 million if he stays in Las Vegas for the 2021 season. Browns backup Case Keenum made $6 million in Cleveland, while Chase Daniel made $4.3 million as a backup in Detroit. Nick Foles made $4 million last year in Chicago as a part-time starter.
How much Gabbert gets if he’s re-signed will determine whether or not the Bucs can afford to keep Griffin. This is not a very deep draft at the quarterback position, and with Brady likely playing in Tampa Bay for two more years, it’s not critical to line up his heir apparent right now. Yet the Bucs might be interested in having a younger, cheaper quarterback on the 53-man roster when the regular season rolls around and it’s not just the Top 51 salaries that are counted towards the cap.
Alabama’s Mac Jones is getting first-round consideration, but would the Bucs spend the 32nd overall pick on him if he fell that far? Bucs general manager Jason Licht commented on the team’s “needs” a few weeks ago.
“We felt like we had a very strong team last year and I think last year proved that a lot of depth at key positions helped us get to our goal of winning the Super Bowl. Right now, as B.A. said, we’re trying to keep the core together. Then, if we can keep that core together, we can address other areas. We have to also address areas of future needs.
Bucs QBs Ryan Griffin and Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“We haven’t been in that position for a long time since I’ve been here, where if we are able to keep our core together, there is no immediate need that we’re going to be [addressing]. The picks that Bruce and I, and our staff, could either affect future needs or just be luxury picks that could help us. It leaves us in a position to take really good football players and not just direct our attention to one or two particular positions.”
Would a quarterback like Jones be a luxury pick at No. 32? Likely. Would Jones be considered a future need? Eventually, yes.
There are also a couple of other quarterbacks that would fit Arians’ system like Kyle Trask and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond that could be mid-round picks that could make the roster as the third-string QB instead of spending around $1 million or more on Griffin.
It will be interesting to see how the quarterback position shapes up behind Brady this offseason, but the Bucs would like to have Griffin and Gabbert back – at the right price.
FAB 2. Is Gabbert The Future At The Bucs’ QB Position?
That headline is enough to make some of you cringe, I know. But no one is ready to anoint Blaine Gabbert as the heir apparent to Tom Brady.
Not just yet.
Like it or not, Gabbert has plenty of fans at One Buccaneer Place. Chief among them are general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians, who by the way knows a thing or two about quarterbacks. After all, Arians is called “The Quarterback Whisperer.”
I’m not here to sell you on Gabbert being Brady’s eventual replacement in Tampa Bay. I’m here to explain why Licht and Arians are pretty high on Gabbert as a quarterback – one who the Bucs are targeting to re-sign in free agency if the price is right.
“First of all, I love his energy,” Licht said. “I’ve really gotten close to Blaine this year just being on the sidelines. He’s a really smart guy but he is one guy, my scouts and I talk about this a lot, he’s just one guy that I love to watch throw every day in practice because he has got a cannon. He’s very accurate with his throws as well and he can just really whistle them in in tight windows. If he had been forced to play – he played in the Detroit game – but if he had been forced to play more I think that he would have really opened a lot of people’s eyes about how talented he is, especially being in the same system for a couple of years.”
While the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Gabbert has ideal pocket passer size for Arians’ offense and the big arm capable of throwing the deep ball, accuracy has not been Gabbert’s strong suit. Gabbert only has a career 56.2 percent completion percentage. To put that in perspective, Jameis Winston completed 60.7 percent of his passes in Arians’ offense in 2019, while Brady completed 65.7 percent of his passes last year in Tampa Bay.
In five starts for Arians in Arizona during the 2017 season, Gabbert completed 95-of-171 passes for 1,086 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. That’s a 55.6 percent completion percentage.
Last year while playing the second half of the Detroit game, Gabbert completed 9-of-15 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns. That’s a 60 percent completion percentage.
So can Gabbert be considered an accurate quarterback? Not by most NFL starter standards – unless Licht is talking about Gabbert’s completion percentage in practice, which is what he may mean.
Bucs QB Blaine Gabbert and TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: USA Today
To be fair, Gabbert was impressive in Tampa Bay’s 47-7 demolition of the Lions in Detroit. But Gabbert had the luxury of taking over for Brady after he threw four touchdowns in the first half and the game was well in hand. And Gabbert was facing the Lions and their awful defense.
Still, Gabbert’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski and his 22-yard scoring strike to Mike Evans were impressive and showed good zip and accuracy. Gabbert also showed off his wheels on a 16-yard scramble during the game, and that’s an extra dimension that he brings to the quarterback position. In three years with San Francisco, Gabbert rushed for 363 yards and three touchdowns on 73 carries and a 5.0 average while appearing in 15 games with 13 starts.
“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him,” Arians said last year when asked about Gabbert. The two became acquainted during the 2017 season when Gabbert filled in for injured starter Carson Palmer and started five games.
“He played really well for us in Arizona,” Arians said. “When we called on him, he beat two playoff teams that year. It’s really his third year [in our offensive system] because I haven’t gone anywhere, but he’s a very, very solid guy that can make every single throw.”
Gabbert helped beat Jacksonville, 27-24, that year, in addition to Tennessee, 12-7, and was 2-3 as a replacement starter.
Arians believes the 31-year old Gabbert can be a late bloomer now that he’s had some continuity in his career.
“Early in his career I think he had four head coaches and seven offensive coordinators in seven years,” Arians said. “That’s not a good recipe for success for a quarterback. He knows where the ball is going every time and why it’s going there.”
After his stint with Arizona in 2017, Gabbert moved on to Tennessee for the 2018 season before joining the Bucs when Arians came to Tampa Bay in 2019. Gabbert went 2-1 as a starter and completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 626 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions.
Statistically speaking, Arians may be right, as Gabbert has played much better football later in his career. Not having a preseason last year and injuring his shoulder in the 2019 preseason stymied his development in Arians’ offense, but the Bucs like how he’s progressed in practice.
Brad Johnson was on his third NFL team and was 34 years old when he helped the Bucs win their first Super Bowl in 2002. Rich Gannon, the quarterback Johnson and the Bucs beat in Super Bowl XXXVII, was on his fifth team and was age 37 when he won the NFL MVP with the Raiders in 2002.
Bucs QBs Blaine Gabbert and Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Gabbert will only be 34 years old when Brady likely retires in two more years. If he’s re-signed this offseason, Gabbert will have had five years in Arians’ offense to develop and improve. And having two more years to watch and learn under Brady can only help, too.
While the Bucs would have to see more from Gabbert to commit to him being the eventual starter in Tampa Bay – and the team would likely want some competition for the starting job – don’t rule it out.
“I’m not going to rule anything out right now,” Licht said when asked if he thinks Gabbert could possibly succeed Brady under center.
Arians did wonders for Palmer’s flailing career in 2013 in Arizona. He just might be able to do the same for Gabbert in Tampa Bay.
FAB 3. Securing Succop Should Be A Big Priority For The Bucs
Here are a couple of things to think about when it comes to kicker Ryan Succop, who is slated to be a free agent next week unless he’s re-signed by the Buccaneers.
Succop had the best year of any kicker in Tampa Bay, setting a new record for points scored in a season with 136, and connecting on 28-of-31 field goals (90.3 percent) and 52-of-57 extra points (91.2 percent). Succop had a total of three kicks blocked this year due to poor protection up front, so those percentages should be even higher.
He also was perfect on all of his field goals in the postseason last year, going 9-of-9, and was 12-of-13 on extra points (92.3 percent).
Bucs K Ryan Succop – Photo by: USA Today
Against Washington, Succop was 4-of-4 on field goal attempts in a 31-23 win, and was 3-of-3 the next week at New Orleans in a 30-20 win. Succop saved his two longest postseason kicks for Tampa Bay’s final two games, drilling a 46-yard field goal at Green Bay to push the score to 31-26, and connecting on a season-long 52-yard field goal in Super Bowl LV in his lone attempt.
By the way, Succop has never missed a field goal in the postseason in his 12-year career, going 13-of-13.
Is it any coincidence that the Bucs just happened to win the Super Bowl after finally solving their issues at kicker – a position that has plagued Tampa Bay for a decade?
Is it any coincidence that quarterback Tom Brady has only had three kickers in his storied 21-year NFL career in Adam Vinatieri, Stephen Gostkowski and Succop?
I don’t need to sell Succop’s re-signing to the Buccaneers. General manager Jason Licht tried everything from drafting two kickers in Roberto Aguayo and Matt Gay, to signing two high-profile veterans in Nick Folk and Chandler Catanzaro and then signing some quality, in-season replacements in Pat Murray and Cairo Santos when they didn’t work out. Licht also traded for a kicker in Kyle Brindza.
It would have been easy to stick with Gay for a second season, but Licht signed Succop in September before the start of the 2020 campaign and rolled the dice on the veteran who was coming off an injury that cost him most of the 2019 season in Tennessee. In some ways, signing Succop was second in importance only to landing Brady in free agency because of how reliable he was.
Now that Succop, who has connected on 86 percent of his field goals in five of the last seven seasons, has proven himself, it’s time for him to stick with Tampa Bay and finish his career with the Buccaneers. At age 34 and bouncing back from a leg injury in 2019, Succop showed no signs of slowing down last year.
The question for Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg is how much is Succop worth?
Chicago just signed Santos, who was with the Bucs for the second half of the 2018 season, to a five-year, $16-million contract extension. The last two years of that deal are voidable per Brad Biggs, so it’s really a three-year deal worth $9 million with a maximum value of $11 million.
Bucs K Ryan Succop – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Baltimore’s Justin Tucker is the best in the NFL and a sure-fire Hall of Famer. He’s also the league’s highest-paid kicker with an average of $5 million per year. Next is New York Giants kicker Graham Gano, who is 34 and makes an average of$ $4.66 million.
There are 10 kickers in the NFL that average $4 million per year or more, and Succop, who was the league’s 21st highest paid kicker last year, deserves to make at least $4 million given his successful history in the league. Succop signed a one-year, prove-it contract for the veteran minimum last year, making $1,050,000 and only counting $750,000 this year.
The feeling here is that Succop deserves to be paid among the Top 10 kickers in the league, so that means $4 million or more. Paying him more than Santos would be tripling Succop’s salary from a year ago, but that might not be enough as he’s clearly the most attractive free agent kicker on the market that includes Detroit’s Matt Prater, Cleveland’s Cody Parkey, New England’s Folk and Tennessee’s Gostkowski this year.
The Bucs’ primary attention is focused on extending Brady’s contract and re-signing outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett before the start of free agency on Monday. But trying to retain Succop needs to be next on the list along with re-signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
FAB 4. The Stinnie Situation
The Buccaneers didn’t offer a restricted free agent tender contract to guard Aaron Stinnie, but that doesn’t mean that Tampa Bay doesn’t want him back. Stinnie, who filled in admirably for Alex Cappa at right guard in playoff wins at New Orleans, Green Bay and in the Super Bowl against Kansas City, is a restricted free agent in 2021.
The problem is that that the lowest restricted free agent tender amount is $2.133 million. While the Bucs would have the right of first refusal, which means they could match any offer he would get in restricted free agency, if Tampa Bay didn’t match that offer the Bucs would get nothing in return for his departure. The restricted free agent tender offer that comes with second-round draft pick compensation is $3.384 million.
Bucs RG Aaron Stinnie – Photo by: USA Today
That’s way too rich for such an unproven player. Prior to Stinnie’s three-game stint as a starter in the postseason, he only saw time at left guard in the second half of the Bucs’ 47-7 blowout win at Detroit. Tampa Bay would love to see a larger sample size for Stinnie before making such a large financial commitment – even for one year.
And especially this year with so many of the team’s top players slated for free agency and the Bucs and the entire league having to operate at a salary cap shortfall – from $198 million down to $182.5 million. Factor in the fact that the salary cap usually increases by $10 million each year and this year’s cap downturn isn’t just $16.5 million – it’s actually $26.5 million.
Due to playing time incentives, Cappa’s base salary increases from $750,000 in 2020 to $2.183 million this season, which is the final year of his contract. Cappa’s cap hit in 2021 is actually $2,381,426, so investing another $2 million for an inexperienced reserve like Stinnie is a stretch. Stinnie made $750,000 last year and I think the Bucs would love to give him a pay bump somewhere between $1 million – $1.5 million on a one-year, prove-it deal and bring him back to compete with Cappa for the starting right guard spot this season.
But right now with the Bucs paying three offensive linemen – left tackle Donovan Smith ($14.25 million), left guard Ali Marpet ($10.25 million) and center Ryan Jensen ($10 million) – $10 million or more, Tampa Bay can’t afford to have over $4 million invested at right guard between Stinnie and Cappa from a financial standpoint.
FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots
• TOP 10 PLAYS OF THE BUCS’ 2020 SEASON: The Buccaneers’ awesome social media team is at it again with a great video montage of all of Tampa Bay’s Top 10 plays from the Super Bowl LV season. I forgot about some of these amazing plays until watching the highlights. Be sure to check it out.
• DICKERSON COULD BE A FIT FOR THE BUCS EARLY IN THE DRAFT: I had the Bucs drafting Alabama center Landon Dickerson in the second round of the draft in my Bucs Battle Plan this week. Take a look at the versatility he brings to the NFL.
Landon Dickerson has started games at LT, LG, C, RG, RT in his college career while at FSU and Alabama… His versatility is remarkable. He's physical. He's nasty. He's a tone setter.
• BUCS BATTLE PLAN EDITIONS OF THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week in the offseason – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at our original 4:00 p.m. ET time slot. This week we’ve got five Pewter Report Podcasts with NFL free agency on the horizon and five Bucs Battle Plans to discuss.
Next week’s Pewter Report Podcasts go back to prime time as we break down all of the Bucs’ free agent moves. Join us Monday – Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET during the start of NFL free agency.
Here are the four latest editions of the Pewter Report Podcast to watch in case you missed an episode.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and Scott Reynolds broke down Reynolds’ Bucs Battle Plan on Monday’s Pewter Report Podcast.
Scott Reynolds and Mark Cook discussed Cook’s Bucs Battle Plan on Tuesday’s Pewter Report Podcast
Jon Ledyard and Scott Reynolds analyzed Ledyard’s Bucs Battle Plan on Wednesday’s Pewter Report Podcast.
PewterReport.com’s Jon Ledyard and Matt Matera discussed Jaydon Mickens’ arrest and Matera’s Bucs Battle Plan on Thursday’s Pewter Report Podcast.
Watch the Pewter Report Podcasts live on our PewterReportTV channel on YouTube.com and please subscribe (it’s free) and add your comments. All of our Pewter Report Podcasts will be archived there so you can go back and watch the recorded episodes if you missed it live.
The audio versions of the Pewter Report Podcasts will can be found on iTunes and Soundcloud. There is no better time to listen to or watch a new Pewter Report Podcast – energized by CELSIUS – than Friday afternoon on the way home from work, or early Saturday morning during your workout or while running errands.
• DAVID WILL RETIRE AS A BUCCANEER: Congrats to linebacker Lavonte David and the Bucs organization for coming to terms on a two-year contract extension worth $25 million with $20 million guaranteed. That means that the 31-year old David will likely retire as a Buccaneer and spend his entire career in red and pewter. David joins Ray Lewis in some select historic company – see the Twitter post from CBS Sports below.
Only two players in NFL history have 1,000+ tackles, 20 sacks, and 10 INT through their first eight seasons.
• WILLIAMS IS AS SMART AS THEY COME: North Carolina running back Javonte Williams, who was featured in PewterReport.com’s initial 2021 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, is one heck of a rusher, but I didn’t realize how smart he was. Check out the latest tweet from PFF’s Austin Gayle.
UNC RB Javonte Williams (5’10”, 220)
– Graduated with a 4.6 GPA and was valedictorian of his class
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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