The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the best offseason in the NFL last year, re-signing outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, in addition to using the franchise tag on outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett. Oh, and general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians were also able to lure the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, to Tampa Bay and also trade for future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: USA Today
Those moves, plus the selection of star right tackle Tristan Wirfs and free safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft culminated in the Bucs making NFL history by hosting and winning the Super Bowl at Raymond James Stadium against Kansas City, 31-9. Despite the team’s supreme success, the Bucs’ coaching staff didn’t get pilfered outside of offensive assistant Antwaan Randle El, who left for Detroit to be the Lions wide receivers coach. That’s a huge plus as Tampa Bay looks to defend its championship in 2021.
The NFC South appears to be there for the taking for Tampa Bay if most or all of the team’s stars can return in 2021. New Orleans is expected to see star quarterback Drew Brees retire and the Saints are in terrible salary cap shape and will have to make some unwanted roster cuts. Atlanta underwent a regime change and isn’t expected to make the playoffs again this year, and Carolina looks to be a year or two away from Matt Rhule took over as head coach last year, and is in search of a new quarterback to replace Teddy Bridgewater.But repeating as Super Bowl champs won’t be easy if the team can’t be kept intact. That will be a challenge this offseason, as Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg have a lot of free agents to re-sign this offseason first. Among them are Barrett, Suh, Gronkowski, running back Leonard Fournette and kicker Ryan Succop among others. The front office has moved quickly, re-signing star linebacker Lavonte David on Tuesday, shortly after applying the franchise tag to wide receiver Chris Godwin.
Explaining The Bucs Battle Plans For The 2021 Offseason
PewterReport.com writers Scott Reynolds, Mark Cook, Jon Ledyard, Matt Matera and Taylor Jenkins have devised their own Bucs Battle Plans For The 2021 Offseason that feature free agent signings, trades, roster moves and draft picks designed to help Tampa Bay repeat as Super Bowl champions. Here’s my Bucs Battle Plan – 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.
Bucs GM Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Licht and Greenberg can create a good deal of salary cap space by doing restructures to the contracts of wide receiver Mike Evans and left guard Ali Marpet, and the team can also extend the contracts of Brady, left tackle Donovan Smith and center Ryan Jensen. We’re going to assume for all of this year’s Bucs Battle Plans that Greenberg and Licht will make some or all of these moves to clear a substantial amount of room, so we won’t be using financials in this year’s free agency period due to the uncertainty.
The big challenge regarding this year’s Bucs Battle Plan is that the 2021 salary cap hasn’t been set yet, although it’s expected to be between $180-$185 million, which is a decrease of about $13-$18 million from the $198 million in 2020 due to the lost stadium revenue from COVID-19. Tampa Bay has between $11 million and $19 million in available salary cap room between OverTheCap.com and Spotrac.com.
Jenkins’ Bucs Battle Plan For The 2021 Offseason
While Licht’s first few years as general manager for Tampa Bay may not have painted a pretty picture, he was able to bring head coach Bruce Arians to the Bucs. And Licht has built a young, extremely talented core through the draft and filled glaring needs through trades and free agency en route to the organization’s second Super Bowl victory. Now the Bucs are taking the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach as they attempt to keep that championship roster together in 2021. And that’s what I tried to do through my Battle Plan. Tampa Bay was even kind enough to handle some of that work for me this week, officially using their franchise tag on receiver Chris Godwin and re-signing linebacker Lavonte David to a team-friendly deal with a cap hit of just $3.5 million in 2021.
Bucs’ Salary Cuts
Bucs TE Cameron Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Defensive end Will Gholston and tight end Cam Brate are both in an interesting position this upcoming season. While they’re both getting older as players in the league with both players set to hit 30-years-old before the 2021 season kicks off, neither player has likely ever seen their value look higher around the league despite both being primarily best suited for rotational backup roles.
Brate still has three years remaining on his deal, loves living in Tampa and has already taken a pay cut once, so he may be an easier nut to crack as far as a restructure is concerned. As important as he was to Tampa Bay following O.J. Howard’s season-ending injury, $6.5 million is far too much to pay a third-string tight end. I cut Brate’s 2021 money from $6.5 million down to $3 million and try to work Gholston’s $5.5 million down to $4 million for the final year of his deal.
Unrestricted Free Agent Signings
OLB Shaq Barrett – 4-year deal, $74 million
Barrett has made it clear that he would like to come back and the Bucs want him back. Lavonte David’s team-friendly cap hit in 2021, along with a few extensions and pay cuts, allow me to re-sign Barrett on a back-loaded contract that increases year-by-year as the league-wide salary cap is expected to bounce back.
TE Rob Gronkowski – 1-year deal, $5 million Gronkowski wants to play again in 2021 and it seems relatively certain that he only wants that to happen with Brady in Tampa. While the all-time great tight end could likely find a better payday elsewhere, Gronkowski didn’t leave retirement to chase a massive pay day.
DT Ndamukong Suh – 2-year deal, $12 million Following the Super Bowl, Suh stated that he has the fire to continue playing for a few more years and, most importantly, he got the okay from his wife, as twins are on the horizon. Suh showed this season that he still has more than enough in the tank to be a contributor and Tampa Bay needs him in the lineup, otherwise they’re in desperate need of a replacement quickly. This contract will come with $6 million fully guaranteed that allows the Bucs to get out from under any significant dead cap should the two sides go separate ways in 2022.
K Ryan Succop – 2-year deal, $6 million
Succop has the chance to break a dubious streak by the Buccaneers in 2022, a team that has seen a new starting kicker in the lineup for nine consecutive Week 1 kickoffs. NINE. I re-sign him and let Succop continue kicking his way into Bucs’ lore.
Bucs QB Blaine Gabbert – Photo by: USA Today
QB Blaine Gabbert – 1-year deal, $2 million
Gabbert is a strong-armed veteran that knows the system and the organization likes what he brings to the table. I would expect Gabbert to remain the backup for at least one more year in Tampa, if not longer as Arians stays around.
ILB Kevin Minter – 1-year deal, $990,000 Minter is valuable on special teams, comfortable in Todd Bowles’ defense and brings a key veteran presence to the locker room. He returns on a one-year deal keeping him behind David and Devin White in Tampa Bay for at least one more run.
OT Josh Wells – 1-year deal, $1.5 million
Wells has been with the Bucs for two years, making three starts in that time. He’s been the primary spot-starter at offensive tackle and I bring him back to continue those duties.
CB Ross Cockrell – 1-year deal, $2 million
Despite being signed to the Bucs’ practice squad early in the year despite being in his sixth NFL season, Cockrell eventually stepped into the Bucs’ lineup due to injury and proved to be an extremely solid depth piece among a young secondary unit. It would be massive if they could find a way to get him back on an affordable deal.
S Andrew Adams – 1-year deal, $1 million
Adams was signed mid-season by Tampa Bay in both 2018 and 2019 before becoming a full-time fixture on the Bucs’s roster in 2020. He’s a serviceable backup, a veteran in a young safety room and valuable on special teams. I’m not sure if he cracks the roster but I re-sign him to once again battle it out for a spot in training camp.
Bucs QB Ryan Griffin – Photo by: Getty Images
QB Ryan Griffin – 1-year deal, $990,000
Griffin is arguably one of the best quarterbacks to ever play for Tampa Bay – in the month of August. Despite joining the league in 2013 and remaining with the Bucs throughout the tenure of both Arians and former head coach Dirk Koetter, Griffin has thrown just four career passes in a regular season game. He’ll be back for another year to continue his stellar run as the Bucs’ third-string passer.
CB Ryan Smith – 1-year, $990,000
Smith is the lone member of Tampa Bay’s 2016 draft class that remains on the Bucs’ roster. Why? Well, he can step in at cornerback in an extreme circumstance but brings massive value as a gunner and special teams captain.
Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-signed
WR Antonio Brown
I think Brown would be interested in returning to the Bucs and playing for another year, but that will ultimately come down to his price tag. If he’s willing to take another small deal for one season I’m sure that the Bucs would welcome him back but I think that his value on the open market will land him a more lucrative deal after largely staying out of headlines and showing that he’s still a very talented receiver in 2020.
RB Leonard Fournette
Fournette had a great run in the playoffs but looked largely replaceable following the regular season. He was a valuable addition to the team in 2020 and his performance in the post-season will likely get him paid somewhere other than Tampa Bay when free agency rolls around.
RB LeSean McCoy
McCoy was brought in to be a designated pass-catching back for the Bucs and could barely find his way onto the field this season. It’s likely the end of the line for the once-great back unless he can find yet another one-year deal elsewhere.
Bucs DT Steve McLendon – Photo by: USA Today
DT Steve McLendon
I wouldn’t be surprised to see McLendon ride off into retirement with a Super Bowl ring at age 35.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches Nunez-Roches has been a nice depth piece for Tampa Bay but he’s ultimately replaceable on the roster.
OT Joe Haeg
Haeg started the season as a bit of a Swiss Army knife on the offensive line, able to step in and play at guard or tackle in a pinch, but it took just one start against the Saints for the Bucs to relegate him to an extra blocker role in jumbo packages.
TE Antony Auclair Auclair has been with the Bucs for four seasons now and primarily served as a blocking tight end, hauling in just 10 passes in that time. With season-ending injuries to Auclair and Howard in 2020, the Bucs proved that they could make do without him and room is quickly running out in a deep tight end unit.
OL Earl Watford
The Bucs signed Watford again late in the season and he rode his reserve role to a Super Bowl victory. He may be back at some point, again, but for now he won’t be re-signed.
RB T.J. Logan Arians likes Logan and he may be back at some point, either on the practice squad or as a return man, but he won’t be re-signed this offseason in my Battle Plan.
Bucs RB Kenjon Barner – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
RB Kenjon Barner
Barner served a short stint as the Bucs’ primary returner but they simply have other options that can fill that spot and there won’t be any room for him left as a running back this season.
LB Deone Bucannon
Bucannon has joined Tampa Bay mid-season the past two years and may see that circumstance happen again if an injury occurs in 2021, but for now he won’t be re-signed.
LB Jack Cichy
Cichy primarily serves on special teams and just can’t find a way to stay healthy, unfortunately.
New Unrestricted Free Agents Signed
DT Gerald McCoy – 1-year deal, $2.5 million I briefly mentioned this possibility on the Pewter Report Podcast last week in jest and I don’t think there’s any way this realistically happens, but it’s my Battle Plan and I can do what I want. McCoy is a great guy in the community and a leader in the locker room. While his split from the Bucs was ultimately an ugly scene after nine seasons, he wasted away on losing rosters for nearly a decade and has shown a potential desire to return. I bring him back on a short, one-year deal to serve as a rotational, pass-rushing defensive tackle with an opportunity to get a ring with the team that drafted him.
C-G Ethan Pocic– 1-year deal, $1 million Pocic is average at best, but the Bucs need an emergency center after a season-ending injury to A.Q. Shipley because they would prefer not to shuffle around the offensive line around after an injury. Pocic started 14 games for Seattle last season and can also play at guard, making him a key addition for depth.
RB James White– 1-year deal, $1 million The Bucs need a real, effective pass-catching back. They made multiple attempts at landing one last season by drafting Ke’Shawn Vaughn and signing McCoy, but Fournette eventually proved to be Tampa Bay’s third down back. They’ll address the need in my mock draft, but bring another one of Brady’s buddies to Tampa in White as well.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Re-signed
Bucs DE Pat O’Connor – Photo by: The Buccaneers
DL Patrick O’Connor – 1-year deal, $850,000
O’Connor has already been retained.
TE Tanner Hudson – 1-year deal, $850,000
Hudson is more of a receiver than a blocker but the Bucs clearly like what they’ve got in him. He’s found playing time here and there, even coming up just short of a touchdown catch in the Super Bowl. Hudson comes back for another year and serves as an insurance policy behind Gronkowski, Howard and Brate.
LS Zach Triner – 1-year deal, $850,000
Are long snappers hard to replace? I’m not sure what that process is like but I can’t remember ever saying a bad word about Triner. For that reason, I bring him back.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Not Re-signed
DL Jeremiah Ledbetter
Ledbetter seems to make waves every year in training camp but injuries have recently derailed that forward momentum. While the Bucs like him and may bring him back, there is just less and less room for him as my Battle Plan moves forward.
Many people expected the Bucs to draft a running back high in last year’s draft, with Jonathan Taylor on their radar. But Tampa Bay ultimately landed offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs in the first round and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. in the second round – both immediately becoming full-time starters. This year, the Bucs have far less needs on the roster and will forego trading out of the first to land Harris, who leaves Alabama as one of the most complete backs in the draft. He’s capable of running between the tackles, outside of the tackles and is a natural pass-catcher out of the backfield. Harris’ production matches his talent as he racked up 1,466 rushing yards and an insane 30 total touchdowns over 13 games in 2020. And the best thing for Harris is that he won’t have too much on his plate as he enters the NFL. Ronald Jones II is still a capable starter, who can handle a majority of the workload on early downs. James White is a seasoned third-down back who can handle most of the passing downs, allowing Harris to slowly and comfortably ease his way into more snaps as the season wears on. A game-changing back is a need the Bucs have had for a while now, and they finally fill that need with Harris.
Perkins is a quick, strong edge rusher that will bring depth to the Bucs’ outside linebacker position and possibly prove as a replacement to Jason Pierre-Paul if he can progress the way Tampa Bay hopes he will. He’s got the speed to get up-field quickly and good hands, despite a limited bend, but will be better served as a pass-rusher than defending the run. Perkins is also a versatile edge rusher, who can play standing up or with his hand in the dirt as a traditional 5-technique defensive end.
Round 3 – Texas A&M DT Bobby Brown III
Junior • 6-4, 315
Brown is a massive interior defensive lineman who will land with Tampa Bay in the third round. He’s effectively a replacement for Steve McLendon as a backup nose tackle behind Vita Vea. Brown will find most of his playing time on early downs by swallowing up double teams and creating pressure through brute strength up the middle. While he may be a work in progress with questionable three-down potential, his size and natural ability will be a welcome addition to the Bucs’ defensive line.
Round 4 – East Carolina OT D’Ante Smith
Junior • 6-5, 291
Smith was ECU’s starting left tackle in 2018 and 2019 before an injury limited him to just one game in 2020. He brings length and athleticism with good hands. He’s a developmental offensive tackle with a wealth of college experience at the ever-important left tackle spot. Tampa Bay is set at offensive tackle for now, even as far as depth goes, but the Bucs hope Smith can put on some additional size and soon be ready for NFL playing time in case of injury or a departure from Donovan Smith after the 2021 season.
Round 5 – TCU ILB Garret Wallow
Senior • 6-2, 230
A safety converted to linebacker, Wallow is an athletic work in progress but has a ton of raw ability at the position. He’s a physical and reliable tackler, a plus downhill player with great blitzing ability and has above average speed to chase down ball carriers and make plays over the middle of the field. In the past, Tampa Bay has turned to Jack Cichy or Deone Buccanon to round off the inside linebacker position behind Kevin Minter, but Wallow will allow them to solidify that spot and eventually move on from Minter with a younger option behind White and David.
The Bucs have hit on multiple receivers late in the draft over the past couple of years with Justin Watson, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson and here they land another talented speedster in Stevenson. Obviously being a late-round pick there are parts of his game to improve, most notably his route-running. But Stevenson has the speed to get behind defenders and the agility to make plays when given the ball on jet motions or in the open field. In addition to playing receiver, Stevenson could immediately step in as the Bucs’ primary return option on kickoffs. Stevenson took three of his 34 career kickoff returns for touchdowns in college with an impressive 26.1 yards-per-return average. Injuries have been a concern, but despite just five games as a senior, Stevenson totaled 22 touchdowns over four seasons, with 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns in his best season as a sophomore.
Round 7 – Indiana S Jamar Johnson
Junior • 6-1, 197
A Sarasota native, Johnson had an impressive junior season at Indiana, being voted first-team All Big-10 by the media and second-team All Big-10 by the coaches. Finishing second on the team in tackles last season while adding four interceptions, one forced fumble, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack, Johnson is a well-rounded safety who could step in and compete for the fourth safety spot on the Bucs’ active roster if he can find a way to produce on special teams.
Jenkins’ “Way Too Early” Bucs 53-Man Roster Projection
QUARTERBACKS – 3 QB Tom Brady QB Blaine Gabbert QB Ryan Griffin Analysis: The Bucs have their franchise quarterback and they have two backups that they’re familiar and comfortable with, no need to make any big changes here.
RUNNING BACKS – 4 RB Ronald Jones II RB James White RB Najee Harris RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn Analysis: Despite Jones still being the Bucs’ top dog at running back, much of the unit has a new look with White coming in to serve as Tampa Bay’s pass-catching back while Harris is added in the first round to be their running back of the future. Vaughn still has room to grow but will have to find his niche if he wants to find the field in 2021.
Bucs WR Scotty Miller – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
WIDE RECEIVERS – 6 WR Mike Evans WR Chris Godwin WR Scotty Miller WR Tyler Johnson WR Jaydon Mickens
WR Marquez Stevenson Analysis: With the departure of Antonio Brown due to a steeper price tag, this will now open up a spot for Johnson to step in and take over as the Bucs’ regular WR3 and allow Miller to see his snaps jump up as well. Mickens will return but may be phased out if they can find a better option at punt returner and receiver now that Stevenson takes over kickoff return duties.
TIGHT ENDS – 4 TE Rob Gronkowski TE O.J. Howard TE Cam Brate TE Tanner Hudson Analysis: The Bucs just have acquired just a ton of talent at the tight end position and by finding a way to make Brate’s cap hit more manageable, they’re able to keep the best tight end unit in the league together for another season.
OFFENSIVE LINE – 9 LT Donovan Smith LG Ali Marpet C Ryan Jensen RG Alex Cappa RT Tristan Wirfs C-G Ethan Pocic G Aaron Stinnie OT D’Ante Smith OT Josh Wells Analysis: The starting unit will stay the same with Stinnie and Wells continuing to serve as spot starters. Outside of that, Smith will be added as a backup tackle prospect and Pocic will replace A.Q. Shipley as their emergency center.
Bucs DE Will Gholston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
DEFENSIVE LINE – 7 DT Ndamukong Suh NT Vita Vea DE William Gholston DT Gerald McCoy
DT Bobby Brown III DT Khalil Davis DL Patrick O’Connor Analysis: Suh and Vea will be back with some new faces behind them. Well, one is new in Brown while McCoy returns as an old face but this time as a rotational backup and not a franchise cornerstone.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS – 4 OLB Shaquil Barrett OLB Jason Pierre-Paul OLB Ronnie Perkins OLB Anthony Nelson Analysis: Last season the Bucs’ reserve outside linebackers saw nearly no playing time due to the consistency and durability of Barrett and Pierre-Paul. That’s a great problem to have as the duo has combined for 45.5 sacks over the past two seasons, but now they’ll have a better option behind them in Perkins.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS – 4 ILB Devin White ILB Lavonte David ILB Kevin Minter ILB Garret Wallow Analysis: The Bucs were able to get David back on an extension and keep together arguably the best inside linebacker unit in the NFL. Minter remains the primary backup with Garret Wallow now a young and upgraded option to round off the position over Cichy or Bucannon.
CORNERBACKS – 5 CB Carlton Davis III CB Jamel Dean CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
CB Ross Cockrell CB Ryan Smith Analysis: Tampa Bay still has a ton of youth in their starting cornerbacks and won’t have any reason to replace them. Cockrell played great in his few starts and will be back to shore up the position while Smith sticks around for his special teams value.
Bucs Ss Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield Jr. – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
SAFETIES – 4 FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. SS Jordan Whitehead FS Mike Edwards SS Jamar Johnson Analysis: Another young unit, the lone change will be Johnson stepping in and taking over the last safety spot for Adams if he can beat Javon Hagan out in training camp.
SPECIAL TEAMS – 3 K Ryan Succop P Bradley Pinion LS Zach Triner Analysis: Once again, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Succop finally provided consistency at the kicking position for Tampa Bay and they should do whatever they can within reason to keep him around.
What Did You Think?
Did you like my Bucs Battle Plan for the 2021 offseason? Does it adequately address Tampa Bay’s needs? Which additions did you like best? Let me know what you think in the article comments section below.
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