The Current State Of The Buccaneers
The Buccaneers overcame a brutal travel schedule created by the NFL that played a role in a disappointing 2-6 start in the 2019 season – the first with head coach Bruce Arians at the helm – to finish 5-2 down the stretch for a 7-9 record. While that is a two-game improvement over Tampa Bay’s 5-11 finishes to both the 2017 and ’18 campaigns, the Bucs had a chance to wind up with a 9-7 record, but dropped their two last home games against Houston and Atlanta.
Now Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht and Arians need to make one of the biggest decisions in franchise history – to carry on with former 2015 first-round pick Jameis Winston or move in a different direction at quarterback. Winston is coming off a record-setting season in which he threw for 5,109 yards with 33 touchdowns, but also became the first QB in NFL history to throw at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.
Not all of the Bucs’ nine losses were on Winston, but his seven pick-sixes last year certainly didn’t help, and set a dubious NFL record. Wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin each made it to the Pro Bowl along with outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who led the league with 19.5 sacks, which broke Warren Sapp’s franchise record of 16.5. Barrett was the best free agent signing in the NFL last year, and helped Todd Bowles’ 3-4 defense become a formidable unit by the end of the season after Tampa Bay’s young secondary got shredded in the first half of the year, but improved in December.
The Bucs recorded 47 sacks last year, which was the second-most in team history, and now Barrett, outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib are unrestricted free agents, along with defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh, Beau Allen and Rakeem Nunez-Roches. Aside from figuring out the QB position, Licht and Arians will attempt to re-sign nearly all of the free agents on the defensive side of the ball to keep the defense intact.
Other free agents on the Bucs offense include right tackle Demar Dotson, who will turn 35 this year, running back Peyton Barber and third-string receiver Breshad Perriman, who stepped up big down the stretch for Tampa Bay when Evans and Godwin saw their seasons come to a premature end in December due to hamstring injuries. There is a chance Dotson returns on a one-year deal to provide some veteran leadership and help groom a young offensive tackle as Tampa Bay is likely to address the position early in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Barber likely won’t return unless for a cheap, one-year deal to provide competition in training camp because he knows the offense. He lost his starting job to Ronald Jones II last December and probably won’t have much of a market in free agency.
While Perriman had a career year in terms of production, there are two schools of thought on his potential return to Tampa Bay. First, he may have priced himself out of the Bucs’ reach and could fetch a deal worth in excess of $6 million that the team likely wouldn’t match. Or, with just half a season’s worth of production and a draft that is super deep at the receiver position, there might not be much of a market for Perriman as a result, and he could come back to the Bucs on a similar one-year, $4 million deal once again.
Explaining Pewter Report’s Bucs Battle Plans For The 2020 Offseason
PewterReport.com writers Scott Reynolds, Mark Cook, Jon Ledyard, Matt Matera and Jon Ledyard have devised their own Bucs’ Battle Plans For The 2020 Offseason that feature free agent signings, trades, roster moves and draft picks designed to aid Tampa Bay’s quest to end a playoff drought that has lasted since 2008. 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 begin the 2020 offseason with approximately approximately $80 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.
Cook’s Bucs Battle Plan For The 2020 Offseason
Trade Away TE O.J. Howard
The Buccaneers love Howard’s athleticism, but he wasn’t able to really put it all together in Arians’ offense last year. With that said, the tight end position isn’t exactly a focal point anyway, and the Dolphins – with three first-rounders – are willing to part with the 26th overall pick in return for Howard and Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in 2021.
Tampa Bay feels comfortable heading into the offseason with a healthy Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair and will let some of the young guys battle it out for the backup spot. The Bucs might even grab another tight end late in the draft to develop.
Brate is asked to take a pay cut, and despite having some leverage, I talk Brate into a base salary of $3.5 million to stay in Tampa Bay, saving $2.5 million.
Buccaneers’ Free Agent Signings From Other Teams
QB Tom Brady – 3 years, $90 million
Here is the big one – quarterback Tom Brady. I still feel it is a huge gamble to allow Jameis Winston to walk away, and like in the case of the QB ghosts of Tampa Bay past (Doug Williams, Steve Young, Trent Dilfer) this one might come back to bite them in the rear. But I am able to convince Brady to end his career in Tampa where he can get out from underneath the shadows of Bill Belichick and make an even bigger case that he is the best quarterback of all-time by helping to turn around the Bucs.
That, combined with no state income tax, a great offensive mind in Bruce Arians, and weapons galore makes the Bucs the right choice. The Titans, 49ers and the Raiders all make a play for the future first-ballot Hall of Famer, but in the end it all falls together for a Brady-to-the-Bucs scenario. Season tickets sales immediately are the hottest commodity in Tampa Bay and the Glazers are beyond pleased.
S Tony Jefferson – 2 years, $8 million
The safety position remains an unknown with the prognosis for Justin Evans still up in the air. The Bucs are still high on Mike Edwards and Jordan Whitehead, and think D’Cota Dixon has a chance to develop, but with thew window of opportunity for a deep playoff run with Arians at the helm, it’s time to secure the secondary with a veteran presence to team up with a lot of young players. Jefferson is coming off knee injury but should be ready for training camp and will fit in nicely in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ scheme. I get Jefferson cheap who likes the idea of a one-year drive it deal and the thought of reuniting with Arians and Bowles.
With roughly $48.5 million in salary cap space after signing Brady and Jefferson, and Brate’s pay cut, I don’t have to make any roster moves for the sole purpose of creating more cap space. I would restructure center Ryan Jensen’s contract from $10 million to $7.5 million, but guaranteeing the last year of his deal also at $7.5 in 2021. That gives Tampa Bay an additional $2.5 million in camp space. That leaves Tampa Bay around $51 million in cap space.
Unrestricted Free Agent Re-signings
OLB Shaquil Barrett – 4 years, $64 million
Barrett was the most important defensive piece to be re-signed. At $16 million person season on average, its is a great value for a player who led the NFL in sacks in 2019. While Barrett may never see that many sacks again, his presence on the field will help create sacks for other players.
OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – 2 years, $22 million
There are some concerns about Pierre-Paul’s health over the course of a full 16-game schedule, but the need for his leadership and will to win was too much to risk losing in a critical year for the franchise. I allow JPP to see what else is out there, but his desire to play for Bowles and finish what he started beings him back in red and pewter on a two-year deal.
WR Breshad Perriman – 1 year, $4 million
Perriman will test the open market and there could a team gamble on offering the former first round draft pick a multi-year deal, but with such limited and inconsistent success, Perriman banks on putting together a full 16-game highlight reel with hopes of cashing in next offseason.
DT Beau Allen – 1 year, $3 million
Although he will be 29 this year, Allen’s commitment to the team and his bond with his teammates is impressive enough to being back on a one-year deal to help provide depth and leadership to a fairly young defensive line.
RT Demar Dotson – 1 year, $3 million
The old man comes back for one last hurrah and the Bucs are glad to have him. While I plan to draft his successor next month, starting a rookie can be a gamble and Dotson’s value will be as a mentor and a backup. Dotson deserves to be part of what I hope is a playoff run in 2020.
CB Ryan Smith – 1 year, $1 million
You hope Smith doesn’t have to see a whole lot of action as a cornerback, but his value is on special teams where he remains one of the NFC’s best. It was no coincidence that the Bucs special teams improved once Smith returned from his four-game suspension last season.
ILB Kevin Minter – 1 year, $800,000
Minter was invaluable to the team as a fill-in and also a mentor to rookie Devin White. Minter should be back to continue to share his knowledge and in an emergency, take over for White or David at any point.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches – 1 year, $800,000
Well liked among his teammates, Nunez-Roches is signed for one season with an opportunity to show he deserves more snaps – and money – down the road. His versatility and toughness are attractive qualities and another year in Bowles’ scheme should produce even more success.
OT Josh Wells – 2 years, $1.5 million
Wells showed enough in 2019 when he filled in for Donovan Smith for a start at Detroit to be brought back at a modest salary with a second year option. Wells isn’t likely to develop into more than just a short-term fill-in player, but depth is key and Wells is worth the price. He has the ability to play both left and right tackle, and the versatility helps the Bucs’ offensive line.
Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-signed
QB Jameis Winston
This is the biggest gamble I take. Allowing Winston to walk could be the worst decision of the offseason, and had Brady not been available I would have brought Winston back, no question. But it a win-now mentality under Arians, and the opportunity to being the top QB of all time to Tampa Bay swayed me in this decision. I have little doubt Winston will succeed in the NFL and perhaps even one day win a Super Bowl.
DT Ndamukong Suh
This will be one of the more unpopular decisions, but football is a business and paying Suh what he made last season was too much to handle to allow me to sign Brady and Jefferson. I will look to replace Suh in the draft and wish him well in the future.
RB Peyton Barber
Great kid and great story, but just mediocre results. This team needs to be more dynamic moving forward at the running back position to help create more balance for Brady and the offense and Barber just isn’t the guy to be impactful enough to justify bringing him back.
QB Blaine Gabbert
Arians loves Gabbert and he will stay on my radar as camp opens and if depth is needed he will be the first person I call.
S Darian Stewart
With D’Cota Dixon hopefully staying healthy this year and the addition of Jefferson, Stewart is expendable.
OLB Sam Acho
Acho was an injury replacement player last year, but the Bucs don’t have a need for him this season with Barrett and Pierre-Paul, plus the development of soon to be second-year player Anthony Nelson.
RT Jerald Hawkins
Hawkins was a reserve offensive tackle last year, but Wells proved to be the better player in practice and got the playing time when injuries hit.
FS Andrew Adams
Andrews has been one of the most dependable players in the secondary, but just being dependable isn’t enough. Like last season, if the position is hit hard with injuries, Adams could be brought back if he remains a free agent.
Restricted Rights Free Agents Re-signed
TE Antony Auclair – 1 Year, $2.5 Million
The Bucs like Auclair’s run blocking and have seen improvements in his receiving ability and route-running. He’s worth bringing back on a cheap, one-year tender offer. Doing so gives Tampa Bay about $7.6 million left to sign draft picks and in-season injury replacements.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Re-signed
TE Tanner Hudson – 1 year, $750,000
With Howard being traded, Hudson moves up a spot on the depth chart but will need to develop quickly as a more well rounded tight end to make the final 53-man roster. That means improving as a run blocker.
WR Bryant Mitchell – 1 year, $750,000
Mitchell was having a solid camp in 2019 before an Achilles injury derailed his chance to prove his worth. Enough to intrigue me to see what he can do if he can stay healthy. If healthy, Mitchell could end up with a final roster spot.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Not Re-signed
OL Michael Liedtke
Liedtke is already reportedly not in the team’s future and just hasn’t developed into anything more than a practice squad-caliber player.
S Orion Stewart
Stewart missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL and won’t return to Tampa Bay this offseason.
The Bucs stand at under $10 million in salary cap space but will need a large chunk to sign their rookie draft class and also have cash on hand to sign any free agents they may need to sign during the season. During the period between now and the start of the season I would look at clearing some more space by renegotiating the contracts of some higher cap players like Mike Evans, Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith. I would also look to extend the contracts of Chris Godwin and Lavonte David.
With 2020 free agency over with, it’s time for the Bucs to hit the 2020 NFL Draft to acquire more talent. Tampa Bay has seven draft picks after adding a fourth round comp pick, and a first rounder in the trade with the Dolphins.
This is not a mock draft of players that I necessarily believe the Tampa Bay will choose. That’s what the PewterReport.com 2020 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft articles are for, and we will have our fourth edition in early April after free agency. This mock draft is my own personal selections for the Bucs based on their remaining personnel needs and the players I like in this year’s draft class.