The Current State Of The Buccaneers
After a promising start to his head-coaching career with a 9-7 record during his first season leading the Buccaneers in 2016, back-to-back 5-11 campaigns ultimately cost Dirk Koetter his job. Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht was given one more year to turn the Bucs’ ship around, and hired former Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians to lead the way.
Arians inherits a Bucs offense that features a plethora of weapons, including Pro Bowler Mike Evans and rising star Chris Godwin at the wide receiver position, in addition to future Pro Bowl tight end O.J. Howard and the red zone threat Cam Brate. Arians’ main objective on offense is to improve the offensive line – and perhaps more importantly – turn Jameis Winston into a the franchise quarterback and winner the team expected when it selected him with the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Winston is in an ever-important fifth-year option contract this season, and Arians, the noted “quarterback whisperer,” will likely know by October if he can turn Winston around.
The Bucs will have some big decisions to make with pending free agent left tackle Donovan Smith and wide receiver Adam Humphries, and whether or not to keep wide receiver DeSean Jackson and his $10 million salary for one final year in Tampa Bay.
On defense, new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is expected to run a 3-4 Under front with some four-man defensive line mixed in. The Bucs are crippled at linebacker with pending free agent Kwon Alexander coming off a torn ACL, in addition to last year’s rookie Jack Cichy, who had an injury-riddled past at Wisconsin. Strongside linebacker Kendell Beckwith missed all of last season after breaking his ankle in an offseason car wreck last year, and his future in Tampa Bay is currently unknown. The only healthy, starting-caliber linebacker on the team is Lavonte David.
Defensive end Vinny Curry was released to create $8 million in salary cap, which the team desperately needs this year after big-money extensions were doled out last year to Evans, Brate, left guard Ali Marpet and Winston’s big cap number this year, which is $20.922 million. More cap space is needed and the Bucs may have to part ways with six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy, who just turned 31 and is due a $13 million salary, and nose tackle Beau Allen, who is scheduled to make $5 million this year.
Tampa Bay needs veteran help in the secondary where 35-year old cornerback Brent Grimes and strong safety Chris Conte are expected to move on. The Bucs have drafted four cornerbacks – Vernon Hargreaves III, Ryan Smith, M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis – in addition to two safeties – Justin Evans and Jordan Whitehead – over the past three years. There are plenty of young defensive backs on Tampa Bay’s roster. What are needed are experienced playmakers.
On special teams, the Bucs haven’t gotten the return on investment from Bryan Anger the last two years, and might be better off going with a younger, cheaper alternative and save Anger’s $3 million base salary. Kicker has been a huge problem area for the Bucs during Licht’s tenure in Tampa Bay, and newly signed Philip Andersen is not the answer. The Bucs may look to re-sign Cairo Santos or take a chance on aging veteran Matt Bryant, who made 92 percent of his field goals last year in Atlanta at the age of 42.
Cook’s Bucs Battle Plan For The 2019 Offseason
PewterReport.com writers Scott Reynolds, Mark Cook, Trevor Sikkema, Taylor Jenkins and Matt Matera have devised their own Bucs’ 2019 Offseason Battle Plans that feature free agent signings, trades, roster moves and draft picks designed to aid Tampa Bay’s quest to end its 10-year playoff drought. I’ve got the first Bucs’ Battle Plan, so let me know what you think of it in the comments section below.
Remember, these Bucs Battle Plans are how the PewterReport.com staff members would reshape the team this offseason – not necessarily what we think Tampa Bay will do in free agency and the draft, although there could be some overlap with certain players the team may be targeting.
The Bucs start the 2019 offseason with approximately $16 million in available salary cap space, according to OverTheCap.com. Salary cap information and contract data from both OverTheCap.com and Spotrac.com were used in the Bucs Battle Plan series.
While Reynolds was optimistic that the Buccaneers could get some compensation by trading defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and wide receiver DeSean Jackson, most teams know the Bucs will most likely release them and will wait to claim them off of waivers or sign them as free agents after they clear the waiver process. Licht will be throwing those names out there next week while in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, but will find it tough to move these two due to their salary and the fact teams know the Bucs are in a cap crunch.
With that said, the Bucs will be once again be looking to add an experienced player at a position of need, and just as he did last year at the combine with Jason Pierre-Paul, Licht will get the ball rolling on an even bigger blockbuster trade than the one for JPP.
In my Bucs Battle Plan, Licht will begin preliminary talks with the Cardinals, and like the JPP trade, will eventually make a deal before the draft to bring in eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson. Adding one of the best secondary players in the last decade in the NFL to the Bucs won’t come easy – or cheap – but new head coach Bruce Arians isn’t here on a 10-year plan.
The Bucs want to win and win soon, and shoring up the secondary with Peterson will make Todd Bowles’ transformation of Tampa Bay’s defense go from one of the worst in the league to a Top 10 defense in 2019. The Bucs give up two No. 2 picks (2019, 2020) and a conditional pick in 2020 (a fourth- or fifth-rounder) and take over Peterson’s contract which pays him $11 million this year and $12.05 million in 2020.
The Bucs will part ways with McCoy and also Jackson, which gives them another $23 million in cap room and with what they had they now have – approximately $28 million in cap space – defensive tackle Beau Allen is also released to save $5 million, offensive tackle Demar Dotson is cut to save $4.8 million, defensive end Will Gholston is gone to save $3.75 million, defensive tackle Mitch Unrein is waived injured, which clears $3.75 million, punter Bryan Anger is released to save $3 million, and the team parts ways with veteran offensive lineman Evan Smith, which saves an additional $2 million.
Now Tampa Bay has approximately $50.3 million in salary cap space to work with. Here are the roster moves I would make in free agency:
Unrestricted Free Agent Re-signings
LB LT Donovan Smith – 4-Years, $44 Million
The Bucs contemplate sticking the franchise tag on Smith, but talks with his agent turn into a long-term deal for Smith, who decides to take the security of guaranteed money over a one-year contract. Smith sees the money players lose when injured while playing on a one-year deal and wants to be part of the future under Arians.
WR Adam Humphries – 4 Years, $26.5 Million
Humphries, like Smith, likes what he sees from the new Bucs staff and gives a considerable hometown discount to remain a Buccaneer. While Humphries knows he will always be a third option for the most part in Tampa Bay, he loves his role and signs for four years on a deal that averages $6.6 million per season with $13.2 guaranteed.
LB Kwon Alexander – 1-Year, $5.5 Million
Alexander and his agent Drew Rosenhaus were hoping to break the bank in free agency, but as it approaches, the market for a player coming off of an injury isn’t very good. The Bucs want to sign Alexander to a long-term contract, but too many questions remain, so they offer him a one-year, prove-it contract, that included incentives that could boost the value up to $8 million in 2019. If things go well, the team will look to sign him to a new long-term deal after the 2019 season.
LB Adarius Taylor – 1-year, $1.5 Million
The team needs linebackers and Taylor showed enough on film to the new staff to earn a one-year deal. While the team doesn’t plan on Taylor to be a starter, they also know injuries are always a concern and at the very least Taylor is a proven special teams standout and captain who is well liked and respected in the locker room.
QB Ryan Griffin – 1-year, $1.25 Million
The Bucs flirt with the idea of a proven veteran backup, but there is a shortage of those around the league and decide to roll with Griffin one more year despite the fact he has never thrown a regular season NFL pass. The team also realizes that if Winston goes down, their season is most likely over anyway.
Kevin Minter – 1-year, $1 Million
Familiarity is the key here in the decision to bring Minter back. After having played for Arians and Bowles previously, Minter knows the system, and what is expected of him and can also be a mentor on the field to some of the younger Bucs players as well.
After retaining a number of their own players, the Bucs need more room to work with before free agency arrives, and they go to a couple veterans to help free up some space. Tight end Cam Brate was set to make $7 million in 2019, but agrees to restructure his contract ($2 million less in 2019) he signed last year in order to help the team, including his friend Humphries. The Buccaneers also approach Lavonte David who is on the books for almost $10 million in 2019 and the veteran captain pushes some of his 2019 money out ($3 million) to help his team make improvements in the upcoming free agency period. This gives the Buccaneers an additional $5 million in cap room, leaving them with just under $29 million.
Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-Signed
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick showed he can still play in the league at age 35, especially the first three weeks of the season when he passed for over 400 yards per game. The problem is that this is Winston’s team and Arians won’t win his starter looking over his shoulder at Fitzpatrick for another season.
S Chris Conte
The Bucs have had Conte around for years with mediocre results. It’s time to move on and see if the team’s young crop of safeties can play.
CB Brent Grimes
Grimes was actually done last year, but the Bucs talked him into one more regrettable season, in which he played poorly. His bad attitude isn’t needed in Tampa Bay anymore – or elsewhere.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
Rodgers was a favorite of former head coach Dirk Koetter because he knew his system, but the Bucs can upgrade the running back spot here, and might have done so with the signing of Andre Ellington.
LB Cameron Lynch
Lynch is a great, high-energy special teamer, and the Bucs wouldn’t rule out signing him to the league minimum later after the draft if necessary, but don’t do it now.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches
Nunez-Roches is a decent player, but the Bucs will take advantage of a deep draft at defensive tackle to bolster this position.
K Cairo Santos
Santos could be brought in to compete with a free agent kicker, but his kickoff depth is worrisome. A strong legged punter could be a remedy, if an upgrade isn’t found.
S Josh Shaw
Shaw was signed as a late-season, emergency safety and there are more talented players on the roster right now that need to be developed by the new coaching staff.
LS Garrison Sanborn
Sanborn could return later if a comparable, cheaper alternative isn’t found in free agency.
Restricted Free Agent Re-signings
RB Peyton Barber – 1-Year $3 Million
Barber had a career year and was the team’s leading rusher in 2018. He deserves to come back, and the team should tender him an offer that comes with a second-round draft pick compensation.
SS Andrew Adams – $1-Year, $2 Million
Adams was a pleasant surprise as a midseason pick-up, and led Tampa Bay with four interceptions. Adams deserves a one-year low tender and come to camp to compete for a roster spot.
CB Javien Elliott – $1-Year, $2 Million
Elliott was given a chance to play the nickel cornerback spot and played it better than M.J. Stewart, who was a second-round draft pick. The coaches love his tenacity and heart and give him a chance to earn a roster spot.
Restricted Free Agents Not Re-signed
FB Alan Cross
Cross retired from football to join the coaching staff at Memphis, his alma mater, as a graduate assistant coach.
LB Devante Bond
Bond is a decent special teams player, but hasn’t shown the ability to be anything more than that over the past couple of years.
OT Leonard Wester
The Bucs won’t tender Wester an offer, but as Reynolds suggested sign him to a one-year, league-minimum deal after the draft so he can come to camp to compete for a backup offensive tackle role.
CB DeVante Harris
Harris had a nice, brief stint in Tampa Bay last year and it would be interesting to see what new cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross could do for his game. The Bucs shouldn’t throw a $2 million tender on him, but sign him to a league-minimum deal after the draft.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Not Re-signed
OT Michael Liedtke
Liedtke is a project player who might have reached his potential. The Bucs could bring him back later towards training camp, or as a injury replacement.
S Isaiah Johnson
Johnson could be back, but the Bucs let him walk for now with a crowded room of safeties.
These roster moves leave the Buccaneers with approximately $23 million in salary cap space, and the team will need approximately $6.5 million to sign its rookie class.
Bucs’ 2019 Free Agent Additions
New York Giants Safety Landon Collins – 5 Years, $45.5 Million
The Buccaneers considered trading for Collins last October before the trade deadline, but wisely waited until the offseason to make a deal. Collins, a three-time Pro Bowler and 2016 first team All-Pro, the signing of Collins, combined with the trade for Peterson, now makes a unit that was a liability in 2018, a strength going into the new year. The Bucs don’t have much money to spend in free agency, but find enough space to get one of the best young safeties in the game to Tampa Bay.
New York Giants DT Mario Edwards – 1-Year, $1.1 Million
With no more McCoy, Allen and Unrein on the roster, the Bucs are very thin up front, and with little salary cap room the Bucs have to go bargain basement shopping. Edwards has never been a superstar in the NFL but will provide some experience and size on the defensive line. The team likes the possibilities of what the coaching staff can do with Edwards, who was a former 2015 second-round pick of the Oakland Raiders.
Atlanta K Matt Bryant – 1 Year, $1.5 Million
The “Welcome Back Kotter” theme song should be played when Bryant steps onto the turf at Raymond James Stadium for the first time later this fall. Of course in hindsight the Bucs should have never allowed Bryant to get away and have struggled at the kicker position for the most part since he left for Atlanta. While age is a factor, Bryant’s production defies Father Time, or at least has so far in his career. If nothing else, signing Bryant should break the kicking curse in Tampa Bay for one year anyway.