NFL free agency is officially a month away, and the Bucs will be one of the key teams to watch as the annual offseason drama between players and teams unfolds. Before the madness begins on March 16, I will be going through each key Bucs free agent to decide if they are worth the cost to re-sign or not, starting with outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul.

The Projected Cost/Factors: Pierre-Paul is probably one of the toughest contracts to project because there are a lot of opposing factors to consider. On one hand, the Bucs standout pass rusher is 31 years old, had a serious hand injury in the past and a broken neck suffered in a car accident last offseason. His play has also been up-and-down throughout most of his career, and he tends to get sacks in bunches against the weakest of competition.

On the other hand, Pierre-Paul’s return to action this season re-invigorated the Bucs defense, as well as providing much needed vocal leadership and effort on the field. He is a presence that would not be easily replaced within the structure of the locker room, which is something the Bucs need to consider given the youthfulness of their defense.

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Then there is the recent uptick in production as well, with Pierre-Paul notching 21 sacks and 36 quarterback hits over his 26 games in Tampa Bay, after managing just 16.5 sacks and 36 quarterback hits in his last 36 games with the Giants before arriving in Tampa Bay.

I talked to a couple of cap experts about what kind of contract Pierre-Paul could garner this offseason, and the results varied a good bit. Everyone agreed he’s tricky to nail down given his age and injury history, and that even if there was a multi-year deal on the table, it would likely be heavily front-loaded so that a team could get out of it easily in a year or two.

One response I got said maybe a one-year deal at $7 million, with incentives that could bump it to $10 or $11 million by the end of the season. Last year due to his neck injury in May, he restructured his deal with the Bucs and went to an incentive-laden deal that totaled $10.75 million after most of those incentives were hit, according to OverTheCap.com. As part of the restructure, the final year of Pierre-Paul’s contract in 2020 was voided, which made him an unrestricted free agent.

I’m guessing Pierre-Paul would be hoping for something a little lengthier in contract to close out his career, so a two or three-year offer wouldn’t surprise me at all, but I doubt the structure of the deal would be difficult for a team to pull the plug on after a year or two. Tampa Bay has plenty of cap room, so if they want him back it’s a done deal, even after signing Shaquil Barrett and their quarterback of choice. It’s just a matter of whether they believe Pierre-Paul is worth the cost.

The Tape/Production: I mentioned Pierre-Paul’s recent uptick in production over his two season in Tampa Bay, despite playing for two different defensive coordinators. But does the tape reveal a player who is hustling his way into sacks, or is Pierre-Paul winning one-on-one due to dominant skill as a rusher?

There was a little bit of both on his tape from this past season, but there is no question that Pierre-Paul still possesses the necessary traits to make an impact off the edge. His best quality has always been the ability to convert speed-to-power, and while JPP has definitely lost a step in explosiveness, his technique will challenge offensive tackles who can’t match his hands and power.

Kaleb McGary had a brutal rookie season for the Falcons, and this Pierre-Paul sack was one of the lowlights. He was just absolutely abused by the hump move and swat from the veteran edge rusher, tossing McGary off-balance by selling speed up the arc and then quickly crossing his face to bully inside the tackle.

Here’s another one against Jaguars left tackle Cam Robinson. This rush is more nuanced, with Pierre-Paul utilizing a long arm to force Robinson to lean and reach to land his punch, then snatching the tackle’s outside arm to yank him forward and win around the edge. Very smooth move that again began with speed-to-power in the long arm bull rush.

Of course, those are two high-points in JPP’s pass rushing repertoire from this past season, but they aptly show the way that he is effective as a rusher. If he faces an offensive tackle who can’t defend their frame and allows him to work power moves on their upper body, the results can be ugly.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned that JPP’s current rate of production as a Buc (0.8 sack per game) might not be sustainable moving forward, or might not suggest the consistent impact that you think.

JPP’s sacks have always tended to come in bunches against overwhelmed opponents, and while beating anyone one-on-one in the NFL is worthy of celebration, you might also be able to get similar production in those match-ups out of a cheaper edge rusher.

In other words, the sacks JPP gets in those situations are as impactful to the team regardless of who gets them, and the reality is that some of the one-on-one match-ups that he stacks up production against could be replicated by several other edge defenders across the league, some of them perhaps cheaper than Pierre-Paul.

Of Pierre-Paul’s 8.5 sacks in 2019, five came over the final two games of the season, and two were coverage sacks. The other three came against Texans’ backup right tackle Roderick Johnson and the aforementioned McGary, who admittedly was a first-round pick (I had a fifth-round grade on him), but did not enjoy a successful rookie campaign in Atlanta.

Pierre-Paul was a part of nine sacks this past year, three of which would be easily categorized as coverage sacks, and a fourth coming against a tight end (Jonnu Smith) on a play where the ball should have been thrown already. A fifth came on a strong bull rush against Jake Matthews that condensed the pocket, but a sack would not have occurred if Matt Ryan hadn’t tried to roll out of the back of the pocket into JPP’s arms.

But sacks don’t tell the whole story at all, as pressures are often even more important than sacks. They can force turnovers, cause bad decisions by the quarterback and considerably aid the rest of your team’s pass rush. Case in point: when Pierre-Paul puts a stud left tackle like Matthews in Ryan’s back with a bull rush, good things like this Carlton Davis’ interception will happen.

Nothing on the stat sheet for Pierre-Paul, but huge impact on the game. I think that impact can be broadened if Tampa Bay is able to kick Pierre-Paul inside more on long and late downs, where his length and hands can be problematic for stockier guards, and his lack of elite pass rush athleticism (burst, speed, bend) will be less noticeable rushing on a linear path to the quarterback.

Aligned as a three-technique against the Jaguars, Pierre-Paul had one of his best rushes of the season.

If the Bucs could find another solid edge rusher, which could be second-year player Anthony Nelson if he develops and replaces Carl Nassib, this role for JPP next to Vita Vea inside could be havoc for other teams. Combine it with Todd Bowles’ vast array of stunts up front, and the Bucs could be a difficult team to scheme pass protection for due to the versatility of their defensive line. More on that another time.

The Conclusion: The specifics may surprise you, but in general I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know about JPP. He’s no longer thought of as one of the league’s top edge rushers, and hasn’t been for a few years now. As a result he should not get paid like one, and isn’t expected to. That doesn’t mean he still can’t help a team on multiple levels.

While Pierre-Paul is just an average pass rusher on tape, the Bucs would not have to break the bank for him, the cap room is there to make the move with ease and JPP’s all-around contributions as a leader and run defender are reason enough to re-sign him as long as his asking price isn’t unreasonable. With Barrett on one side set to attract the attention of opposing team’s pass protection schemes, JPP will be able to operate on an island and move around as Bowles sees fit.

Of course, a full look at any decision regarding JPP requires some knowledge of who else might be available to replace Pierre-Paul if the Bucs did let him walk, and there are definitely some names to note. Players like Jacksonville’s Yannick Ngakoue, Baltimore’s Matt Judon, Seattle’s Jadeveon Clowney and Pittsburgh’s Bud Dupree are likely to either return to their current team or price themselves out of where Tampa Bay would be willing to go (after signing Barrett to a long-term deal of course), but players like Buffalo’s Shaq Lawson, the New York Giants’ Markus Golden, who was drafted by Arians and Bowles in Arizona, or Dallas’ Robert Quinn could make sense if they hit the market.

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

Still, I’m not sure Golden or Lawson are an upgrade from a pass-rushing standpoint, and while Quinn may be, he’s not as well-rounded as JPP, and he has an extensive injury history of his own to monitor. This year’s draft class is also an ill-advised option, with very few quality edge rushers that are ready to make an impact during their rookie season.

Given a different team and cap situation, I might let JPP hit the market if I were general manager Jason Licht. But the Bucs have the opportunity to bring back a starting-caliber, quality duo at outside linebacker without breaking the bank for Pierre-Paul. As long as that remains the case, I would advocate for the 10-year veteran’s return to the Bay area on a short-term deal that would have the team considering his viability after each season.

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft

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SammyRebel
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SammyRebel

I think he is he brings a mindset that the young players feed off of, I hope we bring him back, I met him the night before we played the cardinals in November at parks and rec in Tampa he shook my hand and I told him that I still believe in them (3-6 at the time) and he told me “we gon make something shake right now” Bucs went 5-3 after that so I believe he is a momentum player and brings energy he is worth it and Jason Licht loves him

surferdudes
Member

I think the Bucs should let both him, and Suh test the market. Hopefully there’s enough respect between the parties where we’d be given an opportunity to counter any offers they might get. At this stage of their careers they’re more like one year hired guns. Shaq really wants to have a career here which is good for us. A deal will get done for him, money won’t be an object. It will be with JPP, and Suh, so let the market set their price.

LVBUC2
Member
LVBUC2

I hope we can sign him for no more than 12 million. If not than our GM screwed up by re-working his contract.

BDOG
Member
BDOG

Attitude is everything, JPP is a stud and cant measure size of his heart and effort when most relied upon. No doubt best years past athletically, but no doubt wisdom and experience critical for development of this team looking to turn corner. He is absolutely needed on this young team and makes everyone else around him better. He produces and is dependable, so if price fair, no brainer to resign. It’s all about the money, but what’s the price on availability, and he is always on field, unless unusual event like accident, and who hasn’t had them? Please sign him,… Read more »

Pete
Member
Pete

JPP should be healthy this year and lets hope the Bucs can work a fair deal. Hard to compare the stats because playing for the Giants, JPP had to see alot of Dallas, washington and Phillys Offensive line. I wouldnt let either Suh or JPP test the open market unless the Bucs offer isnt acceptable

BigSombrero
Member
BigSombrero

I like JPP but to use an Arians phrase: What’s behind door number 2?

awwdembucs
Member
awwdembucs

I would like to see JPP return if the price is right. His leadership alone is worth something.

chefboho
Member
chefboho

Bring him back for two more years if you can get him at or under $10mil a year. It’s not just his production on the field, but his leadership in the locker room that makes a huge difference for the young guys. I just think his market will be too high and he’ll test free agency. So many what if’s over the next month till free agency starts.

bucballer
Member
bucballer

Shaq will have a somewhat different year if JPP and Suh are gone. Opposing teams have to account for their whereabouts on any giving play due to their experience and abilities. Not to mention their leadership and reputation! I’d sign them both to 2 year contracts if I could get a bit of a discount per season. U don’t let quality and productive defensive players go unless u have a replacement ready for them which the Bucs don’t currently have.

MikeJ813
Member
MikeJ813

agreed barrett started hot cause he caught teams off guard, once they realized he was a threat there was a bit of a dip production until JPP returned so i think if we cant have a equal threat on the opposite end barrett could take a hit in production next year. same with Suh and Vea plugging the middle

Dman
Member
Dman

Great post. Too many fans miss that although this is a team sport, individuals thrive in large part because of their teammates and the roles they each play.

fredster
Member
fredster

9 sacks on a partial year is average? Anyways I’d bring him back if it’s a fair price.

BigSombrero
Member
BigSombrero

I projected JPP could kick inside last year to RDE and thought Josh Allen would fall to the Bucs at 5 and play ROLB behind JPP. Although Im very happy with the production and talent that Devon White showed last year, and he was rightfully in the conversation for DROY, he wasnt my first choice on draft day. Allen had a fantastic year also, so there was no wrong answer. I’m not sure who the Bucs and Bowles covet in the draft, but with Nassib, JPP, and Barrett all being free agents, it feels certain the Bucs will use a… Read more »

BigSombrero
Member
BigSombrero

Bucs have $85 million in cap space which is the most in the NFL currently according to Spotrac.com, but have 24 free agents. The rookie pool is projected to be around $8 million for Tampa according to overthecap.com. That leaves about $77 million to sign free agents.

The main list is:
QB: Winston, Gabbert, Grif
RB: Barber
RT: Dotson, Watford, Wells, Hawkins
WR: Perriman
DT: Suh, Nunes-Roches, Allen
DE/OLB: Barrett, JPP, Nassib, Acho
ILB: Minter
CB: R.Smith
FS: D.Stewart, A.Adams

Restricted free agents include TE Auclair, TE Hudson, OL Liedke, and CB O.Stewart

BigSombrero
Member
BigSombrero

Could the money spent on free agents break down like this? All rookie salaries count toward rookie pool.

QB: $28m for 2 veterans, plus draft 1
RB: Draft 1
RT: $8m for 3 vets, draft 1
IOL: 1 drafted
WR: None
DT: $14m for 3 veterans, 1 rookie
DE/OLB: $23m for 3 veterans, 1 rookie
ILB: 1 rookie
CB: None
FS: $4m for 1 veteran

That totals up to $77 million on veterans and drafting DE, RT, RB, DT, ILB, OL, QB

If the Bucs pay Shaq $16 million, that only leaves $7 million to sign JPP and another vet in this scenario.

FLBoy84
Member
FLBoy84

Not trying to be snarky at all, just want to point out that the Bucs are 3rd in cap space behind Miami with $93.7M and Indy with $86M per Spotrac and OTC. Nice take though. Know we need to leave some $$ for mid season additions due to injury or performance, but the layout overall makes sense. Think #3WR is a bigger priority than some think though if Perriman leaves. The draft is pretty deep at the position, so wouldn’t be surprised if it’s filled from there.

BigSombrero
Member
BigSombrero

The Bucs ranking changed in the last 2 days. I linked it in a conversation a few days ago. The Bucs dollar amount with rollover is correct at about $85 million. It will go fast if the Bucs sign Barrett, JPP, Suh, Rivers/Brady, or add free agents like Lewan, Ngoukwe, Clowney, Gordon, Henry, etc.

My projection only filled 19 of the 24 free agents, so there’s still more players needed including a new #3 WR as you pointed out.

Bucfannomatter
Member
Bucfannomatter

Yes, to the headline. The big question is, is Winston worth the money, and that answer is No.

Horse
Member
Horse

Winston, JPP, Suh, it’s all about the money for me. They all should be medium guarantees with medium incentives.

Captain Sly
Member
Captain Sly

I like JPP’s Presence and the Leadership qualities that he brings to this team, but Yannick Ngakoue or Jadveon Clowney are massive upgrades for this defense.

Free Agent Priority List:
1) Shaquille Barrett
2) Ndamukong Suh
3) Jason Pierre Paul

Alldaway 2.0
Member
Alldaway 2.0

Bucs can’t pay Shaq and Clowney/Ngakoue. JPP is going to command a lot less money which is why signing JPP to team with Barrett is the way to go.

Actually Suh+ JPP is what Clowney/Ngakoue will cost. I prefer to have Suh +JPP over Clowney/Ngakoue IMO.

Then draft a young pass rushing specialist to groom behind JPP and Nelson is already on the roster.

Alldaway 2.0
Member
Alldaway 2.0

JPP is going to be one of the better bargains on this market IMO. Unless a team backs up a brinks truck I think there is a good chance JPP stays a Buc.

The Dolphins have the cap space to make a run at JPP and Seattle is going to make it a priority to re-sign Clowney IMO.

But other than that I think JPP is in play for the Bucs because Arians made it clear he wants to keep this defensive nucleus together.

BigSombrero
Member
BigSombrero

I wonder if the Bucs were quietly upset with JPP after his late night accident kept him out for half the season? You’d have to think JPP proved he could still play after a terrific last 8 games, but are the Bucs still PO’ed? They did shorten and lower his deal when they could have kept him under contract through 2021.

FLBoy84
Member
FLBoy84

BA and Bowles have been effusive when talking about JPP, so don’t think there’s any animosity there. Believe they had very limited cap space in late-Sept and reworking his deal helped create $3M more. Maybe his agreeing to it hinged on the Bucs dropping a year of it. He was still rehabbing and hadn’t rejoined the team yet, so his ability to return wasn’t even a certainty at that point. If anything, maybe his refusal to rehab/be around the team might’ve struck a nerve at some point, but that seems to have past.

BigSombrero
Member
BigSombrero

Makes sense. It will be interesting to see how they proceed. There are definitely some tough decisions in the teams future regarding the front 7, the OL, and QB of course.

FLBoy84
Member
FLBoy84

Agreed. While being a GM and building a team sounds like fun, most of the time just glad I’m not the one doing it. 🙂

Pete Wood
Member
Pete Wood

We need to keep him. Bucs don’t have enough veterans. You can’t discount JPP’s leadership. When Bucs pulled it together halfway through the season last year, I think JPP had a lot to do with that.

mbrown758
Member
mbrown758

Hell Yeah, it’s worth it to bring him back. Silly question. Who is Jon Ledyard? I wonder if we should bring him back.

Bucsfan1983
Member
Bucsfan1983

Yes, without question. His production is there when healthy. His leadership, work ethic and character that he brings to the locker room, is very valuable.

twspin
Member
twspin

We can’t keep;em all. And somebody will pay him close to what he wants. Only so much money to go around. Bucs might serve themselves well to go for a DE in the 2nd or 3rd rd of the draft.

bucballer
Member
bucballer

I agree CaptainSly and in that order!

aStrayPirate
Member
aStrayPirate

To answer the question: Yes.

His play on the field is good and he is apparently a strong leadership presence in the locker room.

It seems every time JPP’s worth or value to the team is in question, all he does is continue to prove what a valuable asset he is to have on the roster.

Get him a deal.

BucRy
Member
BucRy

I really like jpp and his leadership. We should try to bring him back for
Sure.

awwdembucs
Member
awwdembucs

There will be a trade or cut especially at the TE position. This will increase FA money. Keep building the Defensive line, and add some depth at LB.

revfish
Member
revfish

Throughout the season we heard resign Shaq and JPP. Then make a decision on Suh or Nassib. We are solid upfront.

Plan for the future, but keep them now

CrackerBall
Member
CrackerBall

Pay the man… sign Shaq Barrett, JPP and Suh (if he’s reasonable). They all did their job, so keep the band together.

buddah
Member
buddah

JPP is a freak. I don’t care about his age. Effort/strength/class–he improved the team markedly over the last 8 games. Of course, money will be a factor, but we know he is. Don’t want Clowney. He has never played to his draft number.

geno711
Member
geno711

I agree. Did you see that last game where after a sack, he was on his back and just flipped his whole body off the ground into a stand up position. That is a freak athlete. More a freak than 24-28 year old NFL football players. Shows me that age 31 has not caught up to him. I think signing him will cost over 10 million per season but I would do it for this freak. 2 years on the Buc’s team and he has made a difference both years!

Dman
Member
Dman

The improvement in the defense coincided with JPP’s return. Sure the guys on the back end grew into their roles, Devin White came back and we ditched Hargreaves. But like Suh, JPP sets an attitude on D. Agree the price needs to be right, but he brings intangibles and intensity.

Allanh1
Member
Allanh1

For sure, hopefully these two men ( JPP and Suh) want to be back and have a self realization moment to get paid accordingly.

fredster
Member
fredster

Agree defense improved when he returned and he’s not average at all to me. You won’t replace his production for much under 10 million IMO.

Allanh1
Member
Allanh1

That’s my guy, love JPP. He has a fire that this team and fanbase needs. The defense changed for the better when he came back to play. JPP was still disruptive and I bet would have rivaled Shaqs sack total. He ages very well and other coordinators cant ignore him. Bring the man back!

sidetrack
Member
sidetrack

Is JPP worth the money?
Yep

seat26
Member
seat26

Sign him. Before Barrett, we didn’t have anyone who could get over 6 sacks. JPP is a beast.

plopes808
Member
plopes808

We NEED to keep this front 7 together. The odd man out may be Nassib, but we for sure need to keep Shaq, JPP, and Suh. The only way I can see letting JPP or Suh walk is if they’re asking for crazy money which I don’t think will be the case

scubog
Member
scubog

There’s something to be said about continuity and familiarity and should be factored into any discussions about our own free agents. It’s just that in the NFL the dollars are also part of the decision making process. I suspect the Bucs would like JPP to return. I also suspect JPP wants to remain in his college town. It just gets down to what the team is willing to pay versus what JPP is willing to accept. As Lovie would say, “It’s as simple as that.” I personally hope he returns.

Captain Sly
Member
Captain Sly

I hope you are right and JPP returns! Free Agency is an exciting period for these guys because they get to showcase their brand on the open market. We will soon find out what’s his value because some team will make him an offer…. Last year everybody was screaming like their hair was on fire when we lost Kwon, Humphries & said bye bye to Mcoy. Meanwhile Bruce Arians and Jason Licht were sitting back like a couple of Possum waiting for the FA dust to settle. Once everything settled like expected Shaq Barrett & Ndamukong Suh were sitting there… Read more »

jongruden
Member
jongruden

Scu- I would like to have JPP back two edge rushers is lethal and would like to add a DT in draft and a corner in later rounds

surferdudes
Member

JPP helped the Bucs improve defensively when he returned, but they were going to improve anyway. It took the very young secondary time to adapt to the NFL. We needed to shed VHBust, White missed time early on. It was a new defense, and considering our age, we would’ve still struggled the first 8 games even if JPP was healthy. Yes he helped, but they were bound to get better regardless. He is healthy now, but it’s a long off season, especially for a player who doesn’t show for OTA’s. What I’m getting at is we still have to get… Read more »

chefboho
Member
chefboho

Disagree surfer. This defense has been bad for almost a decade and at no point did they ‘just get better’ jpp made a difference plain and simple

Captain Sly
Member
Captain Sly

Chef I’m not going to speak for surfer but nobody’s arguing whether or not “JPP made a difference”
The question posed is how much Money is that Worth?

Captain Sly
Member
Captain Sly

Haha The 4th of July!!! 😂😂😂