The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off an impressive 9-7 season in 2016, which was the first under head coach Dirk Koetter. With a few upgrades to the team’s roster, the Bucs should have the talent to make the playoffs and compete for the NFC South title this season.
PewterReport.com writers Scott Reynolds, Mark Cook and Trevor Sikkema have all come up with their own versions of the Bucs’ 2017 Offseason Battle Plans that feature free agent signings, trades and draft picks designed to help get the Bucs get double-digit wins and into the postseason. I’ve got the second Bucs’ Battle Plan, so take a look and let me know what you think in the article comments section below.
Remember, this is how I would reshape the team this offseason – not necessarily what I think the Buccaneers will do in free agency and the draft, although there could be some overlap with certain players Tampa Bay may be targeting.
The Bucs enter the 2017 offseason with approximately $61.9 million in available salary cap space, according to OverTheCap.com. While that seems like a lot of money – and it is, fifth most in the league – the Bucs have a number of their own players that need to be re-signed. When your team is 9-7, I would want to keep as many of them together as possible. Continuity.
First and foremost is making star wide receiver Mike Evans a very happy – and a very rich – man. I would get this deal done prior to the beginning of free agency for a very specific reason. More on that later.
As mentioned above, while the Bucs have tons of cap room, I would make more by cutting running back Doug Martin ($7 million) and cornerback Alterraun Verner ($6.5 million), adding $13.5 million to the available money the Bucs have. Martin let the team down with his suspension that would carry over into the first three games of 2017, and Verner, who can still play in the league, is just in a log jam position with too high of a salary to be a backup and won’t have a problem finding a new home.
I agree with a number of the offseason moves that Scott Reynolds proposed on Wednesday with a few changes. Here are the specifics of the offseason moves I would make if I was the Bucs’ general manager.
BUCS’ PLAYERS DESERVING OF REWORKED CONTRACTS
Tampa Bay WR Mike Evans – 5 years, $65 million ($13 million per year average)
Getting Evans locked up and in the fold for the next five years should be – and is – a priority for the Bucs this offseason. Getting it done prior to free agency would allow the Bucs to pursue another high-priced free agent wideout without potentially risking hurting Evans’ feelings.
Before you say why does that matter, let me ask you this. Say you are an insurance salesman, one of the very best in the entire country, and your boss hires someone that does the exact same job as you, has a desk right next to yours, but isn’t quite as good as you. In fact, he is hired knowing you are the best in your company, knows you are the focus in the industry, yet the new guy will make double or more than you do? How would that sit with you?
Get Evans locked up and don’t even risk it. He has earned a lucrative contract extension, and doing it now if possible, would keep Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from setting the market first, which could cost Tampa Bay even more money down the road.
BUCS’ UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT RE-SIGNINGS
Tampa Bay DE Will Gholston – 4 years, $6 million per year
Like when the Bucs rewarded Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, and Martin with new deals, drafting, developing and then paying second contracts to a player like Gholston sends the right message to young players that the team is serious about rewarding those that deserve it.
Tampa Bay RB Jacquizz Rodgers – 3 years, $2.5 million per year
While Rodgers performed well when given the opportunity last season, the jury is still out on if he is a 300-a-carry, 1,200-yard running back. I am drafting a starter anyway, so paying more that $2.5 million a season doesn’t make much sense, but having security if the new starter goes down is worth every penny of a new deal for Rodgers. Just not too many pennies. I would let him test the market if he chooses, but wouldn’t be held hostage by his agent.
Tampa Bay S Bradley McDougald – 2 years, $3 million per year
McDougald and safety teammate played well at times in 2016, but with Keith Tandy’s emergence, and the team looking to upgrade the position in free agency (see below), someone had to go and McDougald will compete with Tandy for the right to start.
Tampa Bay WR Russell Shepard – 2 years, $2 million
A jack of all trades kind of player, and a favorite in the locker room, Shepard deserves at least two years and $2 million per season. Quarterback Jameis Winston is pleased to have his friend Shepard back.
Tampa Bay CB Josh Robinson – 2 years, $2 million per year
A special teams standout, Robinson has found a niche in the NFL and capitalizes on in with a two-year deal to stay in Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay DT Akeem Spence – 3 years, $2.5 million per year
A great teammate and steady contributor, the Bucs give Spence a three-year deal and he and Gholston who came into the league together in 2013, are teammates for at least three more seasons.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENT RE-SIGNINGS
Tampa Bay DE Jacquies Smith (tender) – 1 year, $1.75 million (estimated)
Smith is coming off a torn ACL that he suffered in the 2016 season opener, but should be able to participate in training camp. If he is 100 percent after hid return, Smith could be a bargain for the Bucs.
Tampa Bay QB Ryan Griffin (tender) – 1 year, $1.75 million (estimated)
The backup quarterback market is weak one, and that benefits Griffin, who hasn’t been particularly impressive in preseason games when given a chance. Still, the Bucs will have an open spot after losing Mike Glennon in free agency.
BUCS UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS NOT RE-SIGNED
WR Vincent Jackson
At age 34, Jackson leaves the Bucs as one of the best free agent additions in team history. Unfortunately, Father Time catches up with everyone, and Jackson is no longer the player signed from the Chargers back in 2012.
C Joe Hawley
A fan favorite, not signing the “great bearded one” hurts a little. The Bucs think Marpet could shift over to center, and think Evan Smith or even Ben Gottschalk could become a full-time center in 2017. If Hawley doesn’t find many suitors in free agency he could be brought back. These are the tough decisions that you sometimes second guess.
S Chris Conte
There was a lot to like in Conte’s game in 2016, once the defense as a whole started playing better under Mike Smith. The Bucs didn’t necessarily want to lose Conte, but with big money tied up in a new safety (see below) it was a crowded barn, and Conte moves on.
QB Mike Glennon
Glennon my not get Brock Osweiler money in free agency, but it only takes a couple teams bidding for his service to drive the price sky high. Either way he will be way too expensive for the Bucs’ taste and Glennon ends up a starter elsewhere.
OT Gosder Cherilus
Cherilus is a well-liked and respected teammate inside the Bucs locker room, but his days as a NFL player are most likely behind him due to the wear and tear on his body over the years.
WR Cecil Shorts
Shorts sustained a severe knee injury that could unfortunately cost him his NFL career. Coming back from his injury could take more than a season.
RB Antone Smith
Smith suffered a torn ACL during the season and at age 31, you have to wonder if he wants to even attempt a comeback.
DT John Hughes
The Bucs opt to re-sign Akeem Spence but keeps Hughes in mind when training camp approaches.
DT Sealver Siliga
Siliga was Tampa Bay’s short-yardage defensive tackle, but wants too much money for such a limited role. He’s expendable with Spence’s return.
TE Brandon Myers
Myers was a dependable blocker with good hands, but the team decides to get younger and allows him to test free agent waters. If the Bucs have an injury at tight end, Myers is the first guy they’ll call.
LB Daryl Smith
Smith was a great veteran presence at the Sam linebacker spot but didn’t make much of an on the field impact. The team will miss his leadership but like at tight end, decides to go younger at the position.
FREE AGENT ADDITIONS
Los Angeles WR Kenny Britt – 4 years, $6 million per season
Had former head coach Greg Schiano been given a third season, he wanted to bring his former college player, Britt, in as a wide receiver. Many scoffed at the idea when PewterReport.com first reported it in 2013, with Britt’s early legal trouble in the league. But Britt has matured and been a solid receiver for the Rams the past two seasons, and had over 1,000 yards receiving in a putrid Rams offense in 2016. Britt gives Winston two 1,000-yard receivers and also gives the team more options for the draft. He’s not DeSean Jackson buzz-worthy, but for the price and what he will be asked to do, he could be a steal.
Arizona S Tony Jefferson – 4 years, $5.75 million per season
The Cardinals would love to keep Jefferson around but already have a ton of money tied up in their secondary and most likely will lose the talented young safety. Jason Licht is familiar with Jefferson (former front office member of the Cards) and knows he is an immediate starter in Tampa Bay. While he isn’t exactly Eric Berry, Jefferson, who had six forced fumbles, five sacks and two interceptions for Arizona, also won’t cost the Bucs $12-14 million that Berry might command if he makes it to free agency.
Carolina DE Charles Johnson – 2 years, $5 million per season
Tampa Bay did their best to sign Johnson last offseason, even offering more money than the Panthers, but when the dust settled, Johnson chose to return to Carolina on a one-year deal. This time the Bucs get their man, and while Johnson’s production has slipped, the former Georgia standout might benefit from a change of scenery. He still contributed four sacks and three forced fumbles last season.
After the Bucs re-sign their own players, and add additional ones, their salary cap number sits at just over $27 million. They will need approximately $5 million for their draft picks and will need some reserve money for camp injury replacements but are sitting in pretty good shape as the season begins.
You can expect a few more lower-tier free agent signings, and most likely they will bring in a kicker or two during the offseason to compete with Roberto Aguayo, but don’t expect them to drop big money on a free agent kicker.
See my 7-round Bucs mock draft on the next page.