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.
Jenkin’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.
The Bucs will be in need of a backup quarterback behind Winston as the team moves on from Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2019, and who better than someone who has nine years in the NFL and is already familiar with Arians’ offense?
As with SR’s battle plan, the Bucs will trade a seventh round pick for Stanton here, who is not only in the last year of his contract with Cleveland, but spent four years in Arizona under Arians. Stanton will not only serve as a backup, but will be a veteran presence in the quarterback’s room and yet another important voice in Jameis Winston’s ear as he sets out to learn a whole new offensive scheme. Stanton will charge approximately $3.75 million to the Bucs’ cap.
Next on the list is a move that will hurt the heart of many Bucs fans, but might need to happen to aid their ailing salary cap situation.
Bucs TE Cameron Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
As the Seahawks search for a new weapon at tight end since the departure of Jimmy Graham, Cam Brate could be an interesting addition to the Seattle offense. Brate has been a steadfast producer in the Buccaneers offense since being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014, but with the emergence of O.J. Howard – an athletic freak who is also an elite blocker at the position – and the lack of two-tight end sets typically utilized in Arians’ offense, a trade seems to make the most sense. Howard’s injury also allowed now third-year tight end Antony Auclair to grow and make some sort of impact in all 16 games for the Bucs in 2018, primarily in the form of a blocking tight end.
Licht will pursue a trade that sends Brate and a fifth-round pick to the Seahawks in exchange for a fourth-round pick, freeing $7 million in cap space.
DeSean Jackson will also be a player that should, in a perfect world, be on the way out via trade, but with the assumption that the Bucs intend to cut the three-time Pro Bowler – barring a change of heart from the front office – I believe it will be hard to find a partner unless the team in question really wants to give up assets to lock down Jackson’s final year under contract as opposed to making a push in free agency.
After my proposed trades, the Bucs are up to roughly $20.25 million in cap space with five draft picks remaining, a first, second, third and two fourth-round selections.
This entire offseason I’ve actually looked favorably on the very real possibility that the Bucs will move on from the longtime face of the franchise and defensive tackle, Gerald McCoy.
Regardless of whether the Bucs begin transitioning to a 3-4 defense under Todd Bowles or not, and if he even fits in that scheme, I’m not sure McCoy has earned a solidified spot on this roster at his current price tag. Does he deserve one? Sure. He’s third on the Bucs’ all-time sack list behind only Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp and he’s given everything he’s got over his nine seasons in Tampa since being drafted third overall in 2010. You could look at anything from the coaching styles of Raheem Morris, Lovie Smith and Mike Smith to the lack of talent surrounding him on the defensive line at times in recent years as rationalization, but either way the numbers don’t lie.
McCoy is nearing 31 years old and has never reached double-digit sacks. In fact, his six sacks in 2017 and six sacks in 2018 – two of which were complete freebies as Eli Manning and Nick Mullens were already on the ground when McCoy reached them – are his lowest totals since he had just five in 2012.
With that said, McCoy is loved in Tampa and has done enough in nine seasons to at least get a shot with Bowles and his defensive staff. There is no doubt in my mind that McCoy can still be an impact player that offensive lines have to account and prepare for, and a one-year “prove it” scenario under a legitimate coach and scheme that can only help him improve might be viable as the cap space begins to open up in my scenario, especially if Licht can find a way to restructure his contract.
Best case, McCoy flourishes under Bowles and sticks around in Tampa, but on the other side of the coin he can still be cut after the 2019 season without penalizing the Bucs’ cap.
Keeping McCoy leaves just over $20 million available in cap space and it’s tough to try and make a push toward solidifying all the needs the Bucs have on their roster at that number, so cuts will be key. In my Bucs Battle Plan, wide receiver DeSean Jackson is cut, saving $10 million, offensive tackle Demar Dotson is cut, saving $4.67 million, defensive tackle Beau Allen is cut, saving $5 million, defensive tackle Mitch Unrein in waived injured, saving $3.75 million, punter Brian Anger is cut, saving $3 million, offensive lineman Evan Smith is cut, saving $2 million, and defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu is cut, saving around $620k.
With these projected cuts the Bucs can head to free agency with approximately $48.3 million in cap space.
Unrestricted Free Agent Re-signings
RT Donovan Smith – 1-year, $14 Million Franchise Tag The argument around whether or not Donovan Smith is the answer for the Bucs at left tackle has never been an issue of talent, it’s been about consistency and effort. Smith is a guy that can play great for an entire game before completely imploding on a series of plays. Whether that’s refusing to remain engaged with his rusher and instead opting to wheel them around the edge or seemingly taking plays off, he’s had his fair share of lapses. On the other hand, great left tackles aren’t easy to come by and with 2019 being Winston’s last chance to prove himself, you have to put your best option out there. Franchise tagging Smith will only pay him marginally more in 2019 than the Bucs would if they extended him to a long-term deal, but that long-term deal could handcuff the Bucs to a much worse position if Smith doesn’t work out.
MLB Kwon Alexander – 4-Years, $32 Million Numbers have been floating around that Kwon Alexander could garner offers of up to $10 million on the free agent market this year, but I’m not sure if that’s completely realistic given the circumstances.
Bucs MLB Kwon Alexander – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Alexander has been a great linebacker with Tampa Bay but his read-and-react style has been criticized as he has a tendency to miss or overcommit on reads. Most importantly, he’s coming off of an ACL injury and there’s no telling if he’ll come back with the same intensity, on top of the fact that we aren’t sure exactly when he’s going to be ready to step on the field in game fashion again.
With that said, he’s a fiery competitor and personality that’s been voted a defensive captain in the Bucs’ locker room numerous times, Kendell Beckwith’s uncertainty actually puts the Bucs behind the eight ball when it comes to linebacker depth and Alexander embodies the sideline-to-sideline, sure-tackling linebacker that Tampa Bay drafted him to be.
He wants to be in Tampa Bay, the Bucs want Alexander in the locker room and I think he’s willing to take a slight pay cut to stay. Also, as mentioned in Trevor Sikkema’s Bucs Battle Plan, the possible restructuring of McCoy’s contract could go miles toward the Bucs locking down Alexander.
MLB Kevin Minter – 1-Year, $1 Million As previously mentioned, injuries to Beckwith, Alexander and 2018 sixth-rounder Jack Cichy has left the Bucs scrambling for depth at the linebacker position and Minter can fill that role perfectly for the time being. Minter also played under Bowles in 2013 and 2014 in Arizona, so his knowledge of the Bucs’ new defense only helps his cause.
LB Adarius Taylor – 1-year, $2 Million Taylor has been with the Bucs for four seasons since signing as a free agent in 2015, working primarily as a special teams guy and backup linebacker, but started 10 games in place of an injured Beckwith in 2018 and might be the Bucs best option to step in and fill the strongside position for the time being.
K Cairo Santos – 1-year, $1 Million Santos joined the Bucs in week 10 last year and was a serviceable fill-in for the remainder of the season. In eight games with the team he nailed all 17 of his extra point attempts and put nine of his 12 field goal attempts through the uprights, with two of his three misses coming in the Bucs’ week 13 matchup against the Saints. Those numbers have earned him a chance to, at minimum, compete for the starting job in training camp.
Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-Signed
Adam Humphries It’s a bittersweet situation for the Bucs and Humphries as the undrafted wide receiver out of Clemson is coming off of his best season in the league, unfortunately for the Bucs that offensive burst came in a contract year and he’ll always play third fiddle to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. His 76 receptions for 816 yards and five touchdowns in 2018 will likely net him a good payday going into next season, but it just plain won’t be one that the Bucs can afford right now.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick Fitzpatrick turned to Fitzmagic in his stint as the Bucs starter to begin the 2018 season, but midnight eventually struck in Chicago and his carriage turned into a pumpkin. He clearly has the ability to continue playing in this league, but after hearing Arians’ thoughts on how Koetter’s staff handled the rotating door approach to the quarterback position last year, it’s unlikely that Winston could realistically enter 2019 with the 100% comfortable confidence he needs if Fitzpatrick sticks around.
Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
S Chris Conte Conte was brought in by Lovie Smith’s regime and kept around by Koetter’s regime. He’s a good guy but the results have never been short of average at best. With Justin Evans, Jordan Whitehead, perhaps M.J. Stewart and a possible addition through free agency, Conte’s time in Tampa is likely over.
CB Brent Grimes No, no, no, no, no. Last year was flat-out a 13-game long poor performance from Grimes, and his comments following the season didn’t endear him to anyone. Need I say more?
QB Ryan Griffin Griffin works as a serviceable third arm in camp, but he’s yet to play a regular season down in the NFL and with his contract now up, I don’t see that ever happening with the Buccaneers.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers Rodgers was brought into the Bucs’ locker room after playing under his Koetter in Atlanta. He was a serviceable change-of-pace and third down back who made an easy transition into the Bucs’ offense, but it seems as though Andre Ellington will fill that role going forward.
LB Cameron Lynch Lynch was a good special teams player and backup linebacker for the Bucs, but if it comes down to Lynch or Adarius Taylor making the Bucs’ roster for linebacker depth, I give Taylor the edge. Lynch could be brought back to training camp, though.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches Nunez-Roches did his job filling in for an injury riddled defensive line in 2018, but I wouldn’t keep him around just yet. It’s a very deep draft class for defensive tackles and while he could return for training camp it’s likely that he will be replaced through the draft.
S Josh Shaw Shaw was signed to the Bucs late in 2018 after multiple injuries at the safety position left the team needing extra help, but he made just eight total tackles in four games for Tampa and there likely won’t be an open spot for him going forward.
LS Garrison Sanborn I’m not sure what teams generally look for in long snappers but I honestly don’t know enough about Sanborn to differentiate him from his competitors in the free agent market. Sanborn might return to training camp, but after earning over $1 million last season he’ll probably be replaced by someone Arians has in mind or someone who can provide the best value.
Restricted Free Agent Re-signings
Peyton Barber – 1-Year, $3 Million Barber ran well as the lead back for the Bucs in 2018 and only seemed to improve as the year went on. With the Bucs unlikely to bring in another high-profile running back before giving Ronald Jones a chance to prove himself, Barber seems to be a safe bet to remain in Tampa for another year.
Restricted Free Agents Not Re-signed
SS Andrew Adams Adams stepped in and played great at safety for the Bucs last year, leading the team in interceptions, but he might be a casualty of young depth and free agent additions at the safety position.
FB Alan Cross Alan Cross, and notable Mark Cook lookalike, retired from football and took a coaching job at his alma mater, the University of Memphis.
LB Devante Bond Bond has served as primarily a special teams player. I’m not ruling out his return, but it will likely be a return to camp after the draft if he comes back.
Bucs LB Devante Bond – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
OT Leonard Wester Wester probably isn’t quite worth the tender to resign him (in the Bucs’ eyes) but could be someone who returns to compete for a backup spot in training camp.
CB Devante Harris Harris is another guy who likely won’t be tendered but could return to camp on a league-minimum.
CB Javien Elliot Elliot has been one of the more exciting young, fringe players on the Bucs’ roster the past couple of years and his speed and athleticism puts him in a great spot to compete for a backup spot at the nickle corner role. He shouldn’t receiver the tender from the Bucs, but return for a chance to compete for a spot in training camp.
Exclusive Rights Free Agent Re-signings
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Not Re-signed
S Isaiah Johnson Johnson is a guy that’s played well for the Bucs when needed, and added depth at a safety position that really needed it with a number of injuries last season. He can play either safety position if needed, which provides value, but he might not stick around unless he’s brought back to camp to compete for one of the roster’s final spots.
OT Michael Liedtke Liedtke is a guy that the Bucs can afford to lose as they bolster their offensive line through the draft.
Bucs’ 2019 Free Agent Additions
SS Tyrann Mathieu – 3-Years, $21 million I know Mathieu is the “easy” pick for the Bucs to add in free agency, but that’s just because it makes so much sense. Mathieu is a game changing talent at a position of need for the Bucs, he would be a veteran player and presence in the locker room and he’s also got a great relationship with Arians. It would be an easy transition to Bowles defense for Mathieu and the Arians/Mathieu relationship dates all the way back to the Cardinals giving Mathieu his first shot in the NFL after drafting him in the third round of the 2013 draft, despite the safety being a year removed from college football.
“He’s a great guy,” Mathieu said about Arians in 2017. “He definitely believes in his players, he believes in loyalty and respect and trust and you need a guy like that when you’re playing in the NFL.”
I mean, come on.
I think the best way the Bucs could make this situation work is to increase the amount of guaranteed money in Mathieu’s contract in order for them to backload the salary and give the Bucs some cap relief in Mathieu’s first year with the team.
Former Cardinals SS Tyrann Mathieu – Photo by: Getty Images
CB Jason McCourty – $2 Years, $8.5 Million McCourty isn’t the “sexiest” free agent the Bucs could go out and get at cornerback, but I also don’t think the Bucs are necessarily as starved for elite talent at the position as they have been in years past.
McCourty is getting older –turning 32-years-old this upcoming season –and will bring veteran, Super Bowl experience to a young secondary. He won’t be the elite CB1 that most would want the Bucs to go out and push for, but these are the sacrifices you make if you intend on keeping both McCoy and Alexander. I also think the team already has a legit outside starter in Carlton Davis, a player who played great for a rookie and will will only get better in his second year, and an athletic, cerebral player in Vernon Hargreaves that I still believe can grow into a very good – if not great – nickel corner.
I would sign the veteran McCourty and include an option to get out from under the contract after one year, should the Bucs choose to replace him and move on.
Click on the next page below to see which draft picks I make for Tampa Bay.