Another eventual NFL Combine is in the books! Here’s what Pewter Report learned about the Bucs offseason plans during our time in Indianapolis.
8. The Bucs Don’t Want To Lose Cappa & Jensen
If I’m a betting man, I’m putting a few bucks on at least one of Alex Cappa or Ryan Jensen returning to the Bucs. Jensen is obviously the better player, and more valuable as a result. But he’ll be 31 years old in May, and he has played through injuries the past two years. At some point in his next contract, his body is going to break down. If the rumors are true that Jensen could be looking for $15 million per season, the Bucs have to pass. That is absurd money for a 31-year old center. I love Jensen, but investing in him at that price would be foolish.
However, that doesn’t mean the Bucs won’t do it. Based on what we heard in Indianapolis, Tampa Bay won’t allow Jensen and Cappa to walk. And keeping Jensen is going to be the priority. The Bucs believe Cappa is a good, not great guard. They’d love to keep him, but are less inclined to overpay for the former third-round pick. But Cappa is younger and has improved every year. He’ll be much more affordable, with PFF projecting his next contract to come in around $9.25 million per year. The Bucs would be wise to think beyond the 2022 season as they make this decision.
7. Interior Offensive Line Could Be A Strong Focus In The Draft
Boston College G Zion Johnson – Photo by: USA Today
If I had to bet right now, the Bucs will try to use the No. 27 overall pick to re-build their interior offensive line. Obviously if Jensen and Cappa return, the need lessens. There’s also the issue of a shortage of quality guard options in the draft. The Bucs won’t be desperate enough to reach for a lesser guard. But if Boston College’s Zion Johnson or Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green are on the board, Tampa Bay might run to the podium.
The Bucs met formally with Johnson in Indianapolis, a meeting in which Bruce Arians participated. Johnson is a Davidson transfer who commanded the podium with outstanding presence at the Combine. He’s got the small school work ethic, physical tools and athletic gifts the Bucs covet up front. On tape, Johnson is remarkably consistent and a nasty finisher. After studying several games, I believe he’s one of the best players in the class.
However, before the Combine Johnson wasn’t a first round lock according to most draft analysts. I think he’ll land in the first 32 picks now, but will he last to the Bucs’ pick? Many had Green ahead of Johnson entering the week. It’ll be interesting to see what changes in the coming months.
6. The Bucs Are Desperate To Keep Chris Godwin
I fully understand the Bucs desperation to keep Chris Godwin. It’s a sentiment I share completely. Losing Godwin would make it hard to say Tampa Bay won the offseason. But that doesn’t mean the Bucs will be blameless if they keep Godwin. Right now, the reports are rolling in from ESPN that the Bucs are likely to put the franchise tag on Godwin by Tuesday’s 4pm EST deadline. That’s somewhat of a shocker, mostly because the tag is well above Godwin’s per year market value.
Bucs WR Chris Godwin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
According to PFF’s Brad Spielberger on the Pewter Report Podcast this week, Godwin is likely to get around $16 million per year. That payout would likely come with a four-year contract. If the Bucs’ tag Godwin, they’ll owe him just over $19 million this season. Now, it’s unlikely that Godwin would play on another tag. The two sides would almost certainly eventually reach a long term deal, but Tampa Bay might lose CB Carlton Davis in the process.
Allowing Davis to hit the open market because the Bucs couldn’t get a long term deal done with Godwin despite over a year to work on it would be egregiously bad. This isn’t a Davante Adams-like contract. Godwin isn’t going to challenge for top-tier WR salary. It should not be this difficult to get a deal done for him. But because it is, the Bucs are looking at the distinct possibility of losing Carlton Davis in free agency. Top cornerbacks rarely hit the market. Tampa Bay can’t allow Davis to get there. He’s way too important to their defense.
It’s hard to consider free agency a success if the Bucs lose either Godwin or Davis. The team clearly needs both players back. Everyone else is replaceable in comparison.
5. Tampa Bay Doing Homework On RBs In Draft
Arizona State RB Rachaad White – Photo by: USA Today
The Bucs are facing an offseason where losing multiple running backs to free agency is a distinct possibility. Leonard Fournette could price himself out of Tampa Bay, while the team doesn’t sound interested in bringing back Ronald Jones. No surprise there. Also, veteran Giovani Bernard could head elsewhere. That means the Bucs could enter 2022 with Ke’Shawn Vaughn as the lone holdover from last season.
As a result, the Bucs are showing major interest in the 2022 running back class. From what Matt Matera and I could glean in Indianapolis, the Bucs met with at least ten running backs. Arizona State running back Rachaad White had a formal interview with the team, with the rest of the meetings either informal or status unknown. NFL teams get just 45 formal interviews, so it can be quite telling to know who the team has asked to meet with formally.
It’s not a premier running back class, but the depth is excellent. A lot of capable backs could emerge from this draft. And the Bucs are almost certain to select one in the middle rounds at the end of April.
4. Bucs Prepping For Overhaul Of Tight End Room
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs are hoping to keep premier free agents at wide receiver, cornerback and interior offensive line this offseason. But they know mass change is coming to at least one other positional group outside of running back: tight end. Cam Brate will likely be back for cheap, while O.J. Howard moves on in free agency. Rob Gronkowski could still be back, but he seems more likely to retire or perhaps land with an AFC contender.
Luckily for the Bucs, this class has tons of mid-round tight end options. In fact, the draft’s talent pool lines up pretty nicely with the Bucs’ potential needs. Most of the top tight ends and running backs will be on the board when the Bucs pick at No. 60, and several could be available at No. 91 as well.
In another fortuitous twist, this is one of the better blocking tight end classes in a long time. That’ll be the first priority for the Bucs when selecting a tight end this year. In Indy, Tampa Bay met with San Diego State’s Daniel Bellinger, Nebraska’s Austin Allen and Colorado State’s Trey McBride. Bellinger and McBride are ferocious blockers, with the former really impressing at the Combine. Definitely names to keep in mind for the Bucs moving forward.
3. Tampa Bay Knows They Need A New WR3
The Bucs are under no illusion that Tyler Johnson will suddenly blossom into an ideal WR3 this season. Or that Cyril Grayson’s 2-game breakout will become a trend for the 28-year old. Tampa Bay knows they need to upgrade the No. 3 receiver spot. The struggle is having limited resources available in free agency to do so.
North Dakota State WR Christian Watson – Photo by: USA Today
That might mean needing to use a premier pick on a wideout who can come in and play significant snaps right away. We know the Bucs talked to NDSU WR Christian Watson and Ohio State WR Chris Olave in Indy. I’m sure there were others, but both Watson and Olave are potential targets at No. 27. Watson ran a 4.36 40 at 6-4 1/2, 208 pounds! Olave was impressive too, running a 4.39 at 6-0, 187 pounds.
Another option could be Arkansas’ Treylon Burks. One of the SEC’s premier wideouts ran just a 4.55, but at 225 pounds. Burks is rocked up and has better tape than any wide receiver in the class. He was also clocked last season at nearly 23 miles per hour. The Bucs put a lot of stock in those tracked speeds, especially at wide receiver. It’s what prompted them to draft Johnson a few years ago. Burks could be a legit option at No. 27.
2. The Bucs Will Trade For A Top QB – If They Get The Chance
There is zero question that the Bucs want to be in the market for a top quarterback this offseason. The problem is that none are available. Aaron Rodgers is going back to Green Bay, or to an AFC team. Russell Wilson is staying in Seattle. Deshaun Watson isn’t an option right now. And there’s doubt he will be available this season. Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan are unlikely to be traded, especially to the Bucs.
Bucs QB Kyle Trask – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
That leaves Tampa Bay with painfully few options. Jimmy Garoppolo is facing a lengthy recovery from another injury, and would be a terrible fit in Bruce Arians’ offense. Carson Wentz is just bad, period. He’s played poorly now under two of the better coaches in the NFL. Giving up anything for him in a trade would be egregiously bad.
Tampa Bay doesn’t want to enter 2022 with Blaine Gabbert and Kyle Trask as their top two quarterbacks. But paying out significant money for a Teddy Bridgewater-level option is even worse. It would limit their ability to bring back their own key free agents, all for a shot at going 9-8 as a first round playoff exit. GM Jason Licht doesn’t need to feel any pressure. He’ll get ample opportunity to get the Bucs back on track at quarterback. The worst thing he can do is get desperate to fix the position in an offseason without any answers.
1. Expect Licht & Arians To Look For A Different Mold Next To Vea
For Vita Vea’s entire career, the Bucs have prioritized run-stuffing at all their defensive tackle spots. Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston are capable rushers, but both are much more point-of-attack run stuffers rather than backfield penetrators. Expect the mold of a Vea running mate to change in the coming weeks.
Georgia DT Devonte Wyatt – Photo by: USA Today
“For us right now, it’s quickness,” Arians said when asked at the Combine what the Bucs need up front. “We’ve got strength – we’ve got plenty of strength. We need some quickness in the interior pass rush. We’ve got a good outside pass rush, so for us, it’s watching these guys and seeing whose interior pass rush [fits us]. But also who is still stout enough to stop the run. We don’t need another Vita [Vea]. There’s not another one out there anyway. And if we get our guys back (Suh, Gholston, Steve McLendon), I’m fine too. But we need something quicker in there.”
That’s a shockingly transparent quote, even for Arians. It also helps us narrow the Bucs outlook on the defensive line. Arians’ criteria casts some doubt on the Bucs drafting Jordan Davis or Travis Jones at No. 27. Davis likely won’t be there after an incredible Combine, but he was a pass rushing zero at Georgia, essentially making no impact at all. Jones could be a solid rusher, but he’s 325 pounds of run-stuffing. Both players are much more in the Vea mold than a penetrating type of defensive tackle.
I would expect Georgia’s Devonte Wyatt to be very high on the Bucs board at No. 27. But, in a top-heavy defensive tackle class, I doubt he makes it to Tampa Bay. Houston’s Logan Hall, Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal and Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey could be fallback targets. All have major questions based on tape and measurements though. Later in the draft, Tennessee’s Matthew Butler is probably on the Bucs list.