The little engine that could is about to get paid.
The question now is – by whom?
From undrafted free agent to making the Bucs on a tryout basis to becoming a coveted free agent one month from now – wide receiver Adam Humphries may have played his last down in pewter and red.
While the Buccaneers would love to have the former Clemson Tiger back in 2019 and beyond the business side of the NFL most likely will prevent it. After setting career highs in receptions (71), yards (816) and touchdowns (five), Humphries has played himself into another tax bracket, and possibly right out of Tampa Bay.
The Bucs looked to extend Humphries on a long-term deal last year, but his asking price was rumored to be in the $8 million per year range. Tampa Bay decided to shelve the extension talks at the time and now with free agency approaching, the thought that $8 million was crazy money appears to be fair market value in a fairly weak class of free agent receivers.
Looking at the list, Demayrius Thomas (31 and injured), Randall Cobb (29), Golden Tate (31) and Cole Beasley (30) are some recognizable names on a fairly unimpressive list of aging veterans. Then you see Humphries at 25 years old and all of a sudden he moves way up the list of players teams will want to talk to in early March. The 2019 NFL Draft isn’t flush with great receivers, either.
How much are the Bucs willing to pay for a guy that may have hit his ceiling with 76 receptions, 816 yards (107 avg.) and five touchdowns? Or the better questions is, how much can they afford to pay Humphries, who also served as the team’s punt returner over the last couple of years? Those are solid numbers, no doubt, but $8 million a year for a receiver who has yet to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving in a season? A more reasonable number for Humphries in Tampa Bay may be closer to $6 million per year, but he’s likely to fetch closer to $8 million on the open market where he will have plenty of suitors.
With the release of defensive end Vinny Curry on Tuesday, the Bucs have an estimated $16 million in cap space, and have a number of other pending free agents that will need to be addressed as well. Left tackle Donovan Smith will eat up around $14 million after the team places the franchise tag on him if Tampa Bay doesn’t sign him to a long-term extension first.
Middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, who is coming off a torn ACL, is another unrestricted free agent the team will need to make a decision on as well, in addition to players like safety Andrew Adams, linebacker Adarius Taylor, running back Peyton Barber, who will be a restricted free agent and other contributors. And even if the Bucs let some of them walk, they will still need to replace them with new players.
Should Humphries depart it would likely leave the Bucs thin at wide receiver as the team will likely part ways with DeSean Jackson either via trade or release this offseason to save $10 million in cap room. Mike Evans and emerging star Chris Godwin would be the starters with Justin Watson and Bobo Wilson – both unproven NFL players – serving as the primary backups, which would facilitate the need to sign another wide receiver in free agency or draft one.
Humphries’ path and story to the NFL should be posted and shared with every youth and high school player in the country. He is the epitomé of hard work, perseverance and following your dream. All he does is come to work, do his job without complaining, seems genuinely happy to be an NFL football player – and produces. He is a dream to coach, and won’t pout or sulk if he doesn’t get the ball.
One thing the Bucs do have going for them is Humphries wants to be a Buccaneer. He loves playing here, loves the area and has a lot of friends inside the locker room. But the opportunity to secure his financial future will be a strong pull, and who could blame him if he takes the bigger paycheck?