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 Taylor Jenkins 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.
Jenkins’ Bucs Battle Plan For The 2020 Offseason
I’ve gone on record saying it before, and I’ll say it again, the Bucs’ roster from 2019 was not far from being a serious playoff contender. Obviously the play of quarterback Jameis Winston played a significant part in Tampa Bay’s 7-9 finish, but as Bucs’ fans have heard and voiced over and over, a consistent defense and reliable running game are also major factors. That’s why, to the chagrin of some fans and the joy of others, I opt to bring back Winston on a contract extension.
There are a few things that I consider absolutely necessary for them to reach that point however, and in this battle plan I will try to realistically fill those needs through the re-signing of crucial veterans on defense while filling important voids and bolstering depth through the draft.
Buccaneers’ Free Agent Signings From Other Teams
S Karl Joseph – 1 year, $5 million
After taking a safety in each of the past three drafts by way of Justin Evans, Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards, the safety position remains a question mark for Tampa Bay.
In comes Joseph, a former first-round pick by the Oakland Raiders. Joseph didn’t quite live up to his first-round pedigree with the Raiders, but had a promising start to the 2019 season before seeing his year end early due to a foot injury after just nine games. Oakland then declined to pick up Joseph’s fifth-year option.
Joseph is a versatile safety who can play in the box as a strong safety or deep as a free safety, a huge plus for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and the way he likes to rotate defensive backs in his defense. Joseph has four interceptions, three forced fumbles and three sacks over his first four seasons and managed four tackles for loss in his abbreviated 2019 season alone. With a lot of football still ahead of him, I will look to bring in Joseph on a one-year “prove it” deal just like the Bucs did with both Shaq Barrett and Breshad Perriman last season, hoping for anything close to similar results.
There is an obvious risk of injury as Joseph has yet to play a full 16-game season, but this signing comes along with the hope of a healthy and productive season, picking up where he left off in 2019, that could shore up the Bucs’ safety unit. Joseph’s primary struggle, at 5-foot-10 and just over 200 pounds, would be lining him up in man coverage against tight ends.
WR Nelson Agholor – 2 years, $6.5 million
If I was talking about a 26-year-old receiver who ran a sub-4.44 40-yard dash at his combine, was an All-Conference selection in 2014 as a junior in college, was drafted in the bottom half of the first round in 2015 but suffered drop issues at the NFL level and never quite lived up to his potential throughout his rookie contract, you may think I’m referring Breshad Perriman. Although an eerily similar situation, in this scenario I point to Agholor.
Drafted 20th overall by the Eagles in 2015, it was a rocky rookie contract for Agholor. He improved mightily in his third and fourth years in Philly, accruing more than 60 receptions and 700 receiving yards in both the while adding 12 combined receiving touchdowns before having his fifth-year option picked up, but came back down to earth in an injury-shortened 2019 season.
Agholor may just need a change of scenery and a return to Tampa could be the right place for it, especially considering the fact that I see wide Perriman leaving the Bucs for a finer pay day after his strong finish to the season. Agholor would be best suited as Tampa Bay’s slot receiver when Chris Godwin is lined up outside, allowing him to split time with second-year receiver Scotty Miller and the Bucs’ other receivers outside as Godwin slides in to the slot.
While I let a number of players walk in free agency, I don’t see the need to cut anyone specifically for the purpose of cap space in my battle plan and choose to keep both Cam Brate and O.J. Howard, despite Howard making for an enticing part of a potential trade package later in the year. With Howard’s athleticism and natural blocking ability, I’m willing to bet on him having a solid second year in a new offense when given the opportunity to keep a player of his talent level at a cap hit of only $3.5 million.
With that said, and around $71.5 million remaining in cap space after my free agent signings, I will look to restructure Brate’s contract down to $4 million from the $6 million he is owed in 2020 and restructure center Ryan Jensen’s contract down to $8 million from the $10 million he is owed, guaranteeing his contract for the 2021 season.
This leaves me with roughly $75.5 million available to re-sign players that I see as crucial parts of the Bucs’ success this upcoming season.
Trade Back Up Into Round 3
With an extra pick in the fourth round due to the compensatory pick granted to the Bucs after losing middle linebacker Kwon Alexander in free agency last offseason, I seize the opportunity to jump back up into the third round by packaging Tampa Bay’s two fourth round picks, Pick 117 and Pick 139, for one of the Broncos’ third round picks, Pick 95. The Broncos currently hold three draft picks in the third round and five total picks in the first three rounds, making a trade up seem extremely viable at this point in the draft.
This pick allows me to take an athletic play-maker that I fear may be gone by the time Tampa Bay’s pick rolls around in the middle of round four. The trade will look similar to when the Bucs traded with the Rams on draft day last season, giving up Pick 70 in the third round (a selection the Rams used on running back Darrell Henderson out of Memphis) to acquire two third round picks from Los Angeles by way of Pick 94 and Pick 99, picks Tampa Bay would later use to select cornerback Jamel Dean and safety Mike Edwards.
Bucs’ 2020 Draft Picks
Round 1, 14 overall
Round 2, 45 overall
Round 3, 76 overall
Round 3, 95 overall (Acquired from Denver, Acquired from San Francisco)
Round 5, 162 overall
Round 6, 195 overall
Unrestricted Free Agent Re-signings
OLB Shaquil Barrett – Franchise Tag, $16.27 million
After being signed to a one-year deal before 2019, I don’t think anyone could have envisioned the impact that Barrett would have. With 19.5 sacks, Barrett led the league in quarterback takedowns and set the franchise record for sacks in a season. Despite becoming the first sack leader since 2010 to not be voted a first-team All-Pro, he put himself squarely in the conversation for defensive player of the year where he finished in fourth place.
In this scenario I opt to franchise tag Barrett. This not only gets Barrett back at a lower cap hit as he will likely be counted as a linebacker instead of a defensive end, but it also gives Tampa Bay another year to review his performance and work on a suitable extension for the talented edge rusher.
QB Jameis Winston – 3 years, $63 million
Much like I see the Bucs doing in reality, I’m taking a home run swing at the legendary Tom Brady while letting Winston go out and test free agency.
With that said, I believe that the chances of Winston finding a team willing to pay him what he desires on the open market slim, and the chances of Brady landing in Tampa even slimmer. This allows me to bring Winston back on a three-year deal worth $21 million per year, reminiscent of the deal that Blake Bortles struck the Jaguars in 2018, with only the first two seasons being guaranteed. While I’m sure Winston may be intrigued by the potential of greener pastures and a change of scenery elsewhere, he’s built a life in Tampa and there are few destinations in the league where he will be in the position to get anywhere near the combination of quality coaching and elite downfield targets that he would have alongside him with the Bucs.
OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – 2 years, $20 million
Pierre-Paul will be 31-years-old for the 2020 season and despite multiple freak injuries and the natural wear and tear of a 10-year career he’s still got some gas left in the tank, as shown by his 8.5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits in 10 games last season.
Playing in Tampa, where he attended his final year of college football at USF, re-signing with the Bucs also allows him to be close to his family. I believe Pierre-Paul wants to return where he can play for Bowles and keep the Bucs’ defensive front intact. Along with his play on the field, Pierre-Paul provides strong, outspoken veteran leadership in the locker room with Super Bowl experience and an ultra-competitive spirit.
DT Ndamukong Suh – 1 year, $7.5 million
Suh wants to return to Tampa, general manager Jason Licht said as much in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine. The problem being, will the Bucs’ money match what Suh can get on the open market? For a player of his caliber and what he means to Tampa Bay’s front seven as a unit, I’m willing to try or at least get close. Now a year removed, and a year older, from the one-year, $9.25 million deal that he signed with Tampa Bay, I’m inclined to try and get a deal done for another year, as long as his asking price doesn’t break the bank.
While it may not show up in the stat sheet, Suh’s presence up front alongside the Bucs’ first round pick in 2019, Vita Vea, is invaluable. He’s a dominant run stopper and played a significant part in the Bucs’ top-ranked run defense.
RT Demar Dotson – 1 year, $2.5 million
Despite my plan to draft a replacement for Dotson early in the 2020 draft, I opt to bring the veteran tackle back on a one year deal where he can still be a valuable asset to the team. A one-year deal allows Dotson to be a mentor, a competitor in camp at the right tackle position and ever-important depth on the offensive line.
CB Ryan Smith – 1 year, $1 million
While Smith leaves a lot to be desired as a cornerback, he’s been one of the most impactful players on the Bucs’ special teams unit for years as their gunner. He’ll be one of the closest things the Bucs have to a veteran in a very, very young cornerback unit and a last ditch option at defensive back.
ILB Kevin Minter – 1 year, $850,000
Minter is important to the Bucs for a number of reasons and that’s precisely why I choose to bring him back for at least one more run. He played under Arians and Bowles for multiple years in Arizona after being drafted by the Cardinals in the second round of the 2013 draft, he’s spent the last two years in Tampa and even managed to come up with two tackles for loss in a hard-fought win against the Rams in 2019 while stepping in to start at inside linebacker for two games when Devin White was forced to miss time during his rookie campaign.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches – 1 year, $850,000
Nunez-Roches is a solid rotational player along the defensive line and his versatility makes him that much more important. I opt to bring him back on a one-year deal primarily for depth at defensive tackle.
OG/C Earl Watford – 1 year, $850,000
After playing under Arians in Arizona, Watford joined the Bucs last season as an extremely versatile depth player. Watford has the ability to not only step in at either guard position or center if needed, he could also slide over and play tackle in a pinch. While he’s not the optimal choice at any one spot, that brand of positional flexibility is worth its weight in gold in the NFL.
OT Josh Wells – 1 year, $800,000
Wells was an important part of the Bucs offensive line in 2019, even though he only had one start and limited snaps. He was the Bucs’ designated swing tackle and bringing him back will afford the Bucs’ a fill-in option at left tackle, should the ever-reliable Donovan Smith go down with an injury.
QB Blaine Gabbert – 1 year, $1.5 million
Gabbert played fine last preseason for Tampa Bay, completing 15 of his 25 pass attempts for 125 yards before dislocating his shoulder against the Cleveland Browns, which led to long-time practice squad quarterback Ryan Griffin stepping in as the de facto backup to Winston for the remainder of the season.
Gabbert was placed on the injured reserve and never returned, but for the sake of familiarity and comfortability in a backup quarterback, I opt to bring Gabbert back for one more year under Arians (and alongside Winston) in Tampa Bay.
Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-signed
RB Peyton Barber
Arians sang Barber’s praises when he stepped in as head coach prior to last season, envisioning the Auburn product as the thunder in Tampa Bay’s backfield while second-year back Ronald Jones provided the lightning. While Barber’s a hard runner, he averaged a measly 3.1 yards per carry and 29.4 yards per game over seven starts and 16 games played in 2019. If the Bucs find themselves in need, Barber could make his return for next season, but unfortunately for him he’s just another guy in the backfield and could be easily replaced through the draft or free agency.
OLB Carl Nassib
While I would personally love to see Nassib make a return to Tampa Bay if I was the general manager, and the current locker room and organization surely feel the same way as he was voted a defensive captain for the 2019 season, the former third round pick may likely be a cap casualty as it would be tough to justify re-signing him with the competing contract offer he will probably receive and his hopeful replacement in second-year edge rusher Anthony Nelson currently on the roster.
DT Beau Allen
While Allen serves as a good locker room guy and good rotational defensive tackle, specifically in run-stopping situations, I chose to instead re-sign Nunez-Roches for depth.
With money running short, it would be tough for me to bring back Allen when it would be cheaper and more efficient to find his replacement through the draft.
S Darian Stewart
With the signing of Joseph and the return of Dixon and possibly Evans, there just isn’t much room left at the safety position for another player and Stewart will likely find himself as the odd man out.
OLB Sam Acho
Acho was brought in midway through the 2019 season due to a need for depth at outside linebacker in Nelson’s absense. He was added for his familiarity with Bowles after playing in his defense in Arizona, but his role was mainly to provide a veteran presence and a body on the field if need be. All that being said, while Acho combined for just two tackles in 2019 he was able to come up with a sack and a forced fumble against Jacksonville, but unfortunately it won’t be enough to keep him around next season.
RT Jerald Hawkins
Hawkins was a reserve offensive tackle in 2019 but with the return of Wells and Dotson and a new starting right tackle coming in by way of the draft, Hawkins doesn’t make the cut.
FS Andrew Adams
Adams has been signed mid-season by the Bucs for two straight years to start at free safety and while he’s been a suitable starter, with some huge moments like a three-interception game against the Panthers in 2018, he isn’t the ideal starter at safety. Much like the situation surrounding Stewart’s departure, an addition through free agency and players returning from injury leaves little room for Adams.
Restricted Rights Free Agents Re-signed
TE Antony Auclair – 1 Year, $2 Million
While his third season with Tampa Bay, after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017, came to an end prematurely following a turf toe injury, Auclair has solidified himself as a go-to blocking option for the Bucs at tight end. With Howard and Brate remaining on the roster, Auclair will round out the position as the third active tight end on game days, barring injury.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Re-signed
WR Bryant Mitchell – 1 year, $750,000
After starting his career with three seasons in the Canadian Football League and signing a reserve/future contract with the Arizona Cardinals in 2019, Mitchell made his way to Tampa Bay last offseason. An Achilles injury ended his season before it could truly begin, but I’ll bring him back to fight for a spot at the bottom end of the depth chart at receiver.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Not Re-signed
OL Michael Liedtke
Liedtke has spent at least parts of three seasons with Tampa Bay but has managed to play just three offensive snaps, all coming in 2018. He had no snaps on offense or special teams last year and likely doesn’t hold enough value to stick around.
TE Tanner Hudson
While I keep O.J. Howard and Cam Brate around and re-sign Antony Auclair, Hudson simply lacks enough to remain on the roster despite becoming a fan-favorite catching passes from Griffin during the 2019 preseason. He’s a below average blocker and failed to produce in the regular season the way he did in the preseason when given his chance. The late 2019 addition of Codey McElroy effectively takes Hudson’s spot on the practice squad.
S Orion Stewart
Stewart suffered a torn ACL in training camp, was designated to the injured reserve and will likely not return to Tampa Bay for the upcoming season.
Results After Free Agency And Re-Signings
After I finished re-signing the players I intended to keep and gathering a couple of assets in free agency, my roster for the Bucs’ 2020 campaign is beginning to form. The team is left with just under $10 million remaining in cap space and most of that will be tied into signing the rookie draft class and adding any potential fill-in players as the season progresses and inevitable injuries strike.
Heading into he draft I’m left with six draft picks after trading both of the Bucs’ fourth round selections to the Broncos in exchange for Pick 95.
While I try to be as realistic as possible when attempting to fill holes and provide insight into what I would do as general manager, our predictions are rarely spot on when it comes to the draft. Some of the Pewter Report squad will likely nail a few picks, as SR has done numerous times in the past through the “Bucs Best Bets” section of his recurring Mock Drafts, but these are the moves that I would personally make moving forward.