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.
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.
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.
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 director of football administration Mike Greenberg and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
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.
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.
Ledyard’s Bucs Battle Plan For The 2021 Offseason
My Bucs Battle Plan strategy each year is to keep it as realistic as possible, while sprinkling in a few of the moves I would make within the more gray areas of the roster, where the Bucs’ plan might not be as obvious. Similarly to Licht, the first part of my Battle Plan will be to re-sign my own key free agents, even if it means pushing some money into future cap years. The Bucs have plenty of space in 2022 and 2023, so it shouldn’t be a debilitating issue, even when the team prepares for life after Brady during those years.
Bucs Trade Out Of The Second Round
Licht has never been afraid to trade down if an offer presents itself, and in my Bucs Battle Plan it has. The Cowboys are offering their fourth-round pick (No. 115) to move up 10 spots from No. 74 to No. 64 and swap their third-round pick for the final pick in the second round. With a run on offensive tackles in the top 63 picks, let’s pull the trigger on a deal to move back to No. 74 in the third round and add a fourth-round pick.
Tampa Bay doesn’t have a sixth-round pick this year due to a trade in a previous year, but is expected to get a compensatory draft pick in the fifth or sixth round this year. However that compensatory pick was not factored into the mock draft in this year’s Bucs Battle Plans because it’s not yet official.
Bucs TE Cameron Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Last year tight end Cam Brate took a $2 million pay cut to earn $4.25 million in 2020, and he ended up making some clutch plays for the team in the playoffs. But with Rob Gronkowski almost certain to be re-signed, O.J. Howard returning from a torn Achilles and the Bucs in need of all the cap space they can muster, it is hard to see Brate staying in Tampa Bay this offseason. He would have to take a very significant pay cut to stick around, which would be unusual considering that he could definitely make more money and see the field more often elsewhere, especially with the need for pass-catching tight ends around the NFL right now. The Bucs will head into the offseason looking to replace Brate and find a No. 3 tight end, preferably one who can block.
Use The Franchise Tag On Godwin
After using the franchise tag on Barrett last year, the Bucs used the franchise tag on Godwin this year. The value of the tag this offseason is expected to be around $16 million, which the Bucs should be able to manage while still working toward a long-term deal with their star wide receiver. The Bucs and Godwin have until July 15 to work out a new contract before he is forced to play on the tag, which the former Penn State receiver has said he will do.
Unrestricted Free Agents Re-Signed
OLB Shaquil Barrett – 4-year deal, $76 million
Barrett wants to be back in Tampa Bay and the Bucs have made it very clear they want him back as well. The 28-year old pass rusher’s price tag won’t be cheap however, as it costs Tampa Bay $19 million per year to lock up Barrett on a long-term deal. The lower cap hit in 2021 will help them re-sign other key free agents however, and allow Barrett’s biggest hit against the cap to come in 2022 and 2023, when the team is among the league leaders in cap space.
LB Lavonte David – 2-year deal, $25 million
My original prediction for David was 3 years, $39 million, which is very much in line with the average per year of his new contract in Tampa Bay. David ended up signing just a 2-year deal for $25 million, for an average of about $12.5 million per year. He probably would have been a little over my numbers (per year) on the open market, so David took even more of a hometown discount than I anticipated to stay with the Super Bowl champions. The void years on his deal means his cap hit is just $3.5 million this season, which should help the team retain Barrett, too.
Bucs K Ryan Succop – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
K Ryan Succop – 2-year deal, $6 million
Succop is 34, but is coming off the best season for a kicker in Bucs franchise history. Tampa Bay needs to be careful not to chase Succop in free agency if he is after the most money he can get, as kicker performance has proven to be highly volatile in the past. That being said, I think Succop is inclined to stay in a great situation at this point in his career, and $3 million a year will work just fine.
TE Rob Gronkowski – 2-year deal, $12 million
If Brady gets extended as anticipated, expect Gronkowski to look at a two-year deal as well. The future Hall of Famer doesn’t have a lot of leverage this offseason, as everyone knows he wants to stay in Tampa Bay, live near his mother and finish his career with the only quarterback he’s ever known. Still, expect the Bucs to pay him a reasonable $6 million per year, with incentives that could take him up a bit more if he hits certain marks.
DT Ndamukong Suh – 1-year deal, $5 million
The Bucs want Suh back and Suh wants to be back, but it’ll have to be for the right price. Structuring Barrett and David’s deals to push cap hits into 2022 and 2023 were easier, but these one-year deals are tricky unless the player is willing to work with the team. At this point in his career, already one of the richest defensive players of all-time, Suh settles for less to get a shot at another ring.
QB Blaine Gabbert – 1-year deal, $1.1 million
The Bucs have made it clear that they appreciate Gabbert, and at this point in his career, why would he go anywhere else? They’ll offer him a slight increase in pay, same as they did last season, and he’ll likely accept it and return as Brady’s back-up.
Bucs CB Ross Cockrell – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
CB Ross Cockrell – 1-year deal, $1.3 million I’d love to see Cockrell back with the Bucs as their CB4, but I think he’ll look for more opportunities to see the field somewhere else. In this offseason though, it might behoove him to return to Tampa Bay for a season and try his odds again on the market again next year, when the cap is higher.
CB Ryan Smith – 1-year, $1.3 million
Smith has been a strong special teams contributor for the Bucs, and I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t continue after he didn’t see the field on defense in 2020. Interest elsewhere should be minimal.
QB Ryan Griffin – 1-year deal, $1 million
I’m not sure if Griffin will make the final roster or not, but it makes sense to keep him around as the third-stringer going into camp, if for nothing else but competition purposes.
OG Aaron Stinnie – 1-year deal, $850,000 Stinnie doesn’t get the RFA money, but he still earns a pay bump after hanging tough in the playoffs.
OT Josh Wells – 1-year deal, $950,000
Wells returns as the team’s top backup tackle.
LB Kevin Minter – 1-year deal, $1 million
The Bucs bring back their special teams captain and a respected leader in their locker room.
Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-signed
Bucs WR Antonio Brown – Photo by: USA Today
WR Antonio Brown
I’ve gone back-and-forth on if Brown returns or not, recently writing it seemed likely that he would be back in Tampa Bay on a small contract. But looking at Seattle’s situation with Russell Wilson and his desire for the team to pursue Brown this past season, I can’t help but think they might out-bid the Bucs by a little bit, perhaps enough that Brown opts to go elsewhere.
RB Leonard Fournette
The Bucs can’t afford to spend money on a non-valuable free agent, especially one who will be looking for a decent pay day in Fournette.
RB LeSean McCoy
It seemed pretty obvious last season that McCoy’s days in the NFL are numbered. As Vontae Davis once told him, “when you can’t cut on a dime anymore, it’s time to go.”
DT Steve McLendon
McLendon was the oldest defensive tackle in the NFL to play a snap last season at 35, and he’s in the kind of shape that could play a few more years if he wanted to. I think he hangs it up after getting a ring, though.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches At some point the Bucs need to realize that for all Nunez-Roches’ may provide the team with his energy and trash-talking, his value on the field just isn’t great enough to warrant a roster spot.
OT Joe Haeg
Haeg was the biggest offensive reason why the Bucs were so bad in the first half against New Orleans in Week 9. There’s not much point to bringing him back.
Bucs OT Joe Haeg – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
TE Antony Auclair
A year ago the Bucs thought Auclair could develop into a key blocker. Haeg playing tight end over him pretty much sealed the deal for Auclair. There’s no point to bringing him back.
FS Andrew Adams
Adams is quietly a solid depth piece, but Javon Hagan is able to replace him for cheaper.
OL Earl Watford
Watford got his ring. Back to free agency he goes.
RB T.J. Logan Arians definitely likes Logan, so maybe he’s around for camp following his season-ending injury suffered in last year’s training camp practice. But hard to see him sticking around long-term.
RB Kenjon Barner
The Bucs have better returner options than Barner, and they should have better running back options, even at the bottom of their depth chart.
LB Deone Bucannon
Bucannon was an emergency signing down the stretch and won’t be back in 2021.
LB Jack Cichy
Cichy just can’t stay healthy, and the Bucs need a healthy special teamer in his spot.
New Unrestricted Free Agents Signed
TE Marcedes Lewis – 1-year deal, $1.5 million
The Bucs need an upgrade at blocking tight end, especially after losing Haeg in free agency. Even at 37, Lewis can provide better blocking for the Bucs’ run game and a reliable target in the red zone too. In Tampa Bay’s duo-heavy run scheme, it’s critical to have tight ends who can block, especially when they run out of heavy personnel looks. Lewis wants to keep playing and has never won a ring. The fit makes sense.
RB Jamaal Williams – 2-year deal, $6 million
Packers RB Jamaal Williams – Photo by: USA Today
Williams was a great part-time back for years in Green Bay, but there was no sign he’d be an ideal load-carrier for a backfield, either. That’s perfect for the Bucs, who could really use his reliable hands and excellent pass protection skills to complement Ronald Jones II’s rushing skills, as the former second-round pick enters a contract year. If the Bucs can make it work with the cap, Williams would be a great pick-up.
LB Justin March – 1-year deal, $900,000
Bucs get another special teams demon to add to their linebacking corps.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Re-signed
DL Patrick O’Connor – 1-year deal, $850,000
O’Connor has already been retained.
TE Tanner Hudson – 1-year deal, $850,000
The Bucs are convinced Hudson can become a match-up receiving option for them, and he sticks around to help fill the Cam Brate void in case of an injury.
LS Zach Triner – 1-year deal, $850,000
I don’t know anything about long snappers, but it sure seems like Triner doesn’t screw anything up.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Not Re-signed
DL Jeremiah Ledbetter
The Bucs have other plans along the defensive line and let Ledbetter hit free agency in my Bucs Battle Plan.
The best pass rusher in the 2021 draft shouldn’t still be on the board when the Bucs pick in the first round, right? Well, past off-the-field questions with Phillips from his time at UCLA, as well as a stint away from the game and a history of concussions could scare teams off. But for my money, Phillips’ talent is worth the risk, especially given how he seems to have matured at Miami and the dedication it has taken him to get back in football shape after a year off. Phillips has all the tools and traits to become a future star, and he’s heading to the perfect locker room to help get him there.
The Bucs trade back with the Dallas Cowboys, adding a fourth-round pick and still getting the running back they targeted in UNC’s Michael Carter. Carter isn’t a big back, but he runs with excellent power and balance between the tackles, while also showing toughness and technique in pass protection and soft hands in the passing game. Carter’s ability to help the Bucs on all three downs will be a welcome addition to the running back room, especially in passing situations, where the team desperately needs his contributions right away.
Meinerz and the Bucs feels like a match made in heaven, so I had to pull the trigger on the pairing. Using a Top 100 pick on a D-III player definitely has some significant risks to it, but GM Jason Licht values small school linemen who plays with Power 5 toughness, physicality and technique. Meinerz may not have any 2020 tape due to COVID-19 cancelling the season, but he destroyed all comers at the Senior Bowl, and his football character draws rave reviews. He’ll be ready when the Bucs need him to step into the starting lineup at right guard or center in 2022.
Round 4 (from Cowboys) – East Carolina OT D’Ante Smith Senior • 6-5, 291
I’ll keep this Scott Reynolds’ pick intact, just bump it up a round. Smith impressed at the Senior Bowl and has the kind of athleticism and smooth movement skills NFL teams tend to covet at the position. The Bucs passed on tackle talent early on, but should try to get a developmental option on the roster that can hopefully compete for a starting spot by 2022. Smith fits the bill to develop behind Donovan Smith, who is in a contract year.
This was not the draft to address the Bucs need for high-end, young talent along the interior defensive line, so I was determined not to reach for subpar prospects early. Tuipolotu is a very stout run defender with minimal upside as a pass rusher, which will push him down the board. Still, I liked what I saw from him in Mobile as a hand-fighting pass rusher with an excellent motor, profiling at the very worst as a strong backup with the ability to play all across the interior defensive line.
Round 5 – West Virginia DT Darius Stills
Senior • 6-1, 285
The Bucs have already had a pre-draft virtual meeting with Stills, who is an Energizer Bunny interior defensive lineman without great physical traits. Just 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds at best, Stills’ size is a concern on tape, especially when he plays in the A-gaps as a nose tackle for WVU. But if the Bucs can get him in a sub-package pass rush role as he develops, it could be a profitable fifth-round pick for them even if there is minimal upside.
Round 7 – BYU WR Dax Milne
Junior • 6-1, 190
Tall and lanky, Milne came out of nowhere to star this past season with Zach Wilson, posting 70 catches for 1,188 yards and eight touchdowns. Milne is sure-handed and knows how to go up and get the ball. His lack of elite size and athleticism will push him down the board, as well as the limited production, but Milne profiles as a special teamer, who will push Justin Watson for a roster spot.
Robinson is remarkably raw for the position, but the flashes at the Senior Bowl were enough to intrigue me. The production is missing from his time at FSU, which could be a result of consistently negligent coaching and development. There’s a chance Robinson could be a late bloomer, capable of providing the Bucs with some long and late downs pass rush from various alignments, if he can grow in his technique at the next level.
Ledyard’s “Way Too Early” Bucs 53-Man Roster Projection
QUARTERBACKS – 3 QB Tom Brady QB Blaine Gabbert QB Ryan Griffin Analysis: I think Griffin could be beaten out if the team gets a younger, intriguing option, I’m just not convinced this is the offseason where they will prioritize a move like that.
RUNNING BACKS – 4 RB Ronald Jones II RB Michael Carter RB Jamaal Williams RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn Analysis: For the second straight year, the Bucs’ backfield will look pretty different. That’s a good thing, as it was their most disappointing unit in 2020, Vaughn struggled and recently-demoted Jones will be a free agent headed elsewhere next offseason. They might not find their Najee Harris this offseason, but Tampa Bay’s running back room will be the best it’s been in years if they adhere to my battle plan at the position.
Bucs WR Tyler Johnson – Photo by: Getty Images
WIDE RECEIVERS – 6 WR Mike Evans WR Chris Godwin WR Scotty Miller WR Tyler Johnson WR Jaydon Mickens
WR Dax Milne Analysis: The Bucs don’t really have the cap space to go after another quality pass-catching target if Antonio Brown leaves in free agency, but they’re well-positioned to handle his departure. Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller’s development a year ago should have them ready to step in and split the WR3 role, while Mickens impressed as a kick returner and depth receiver. Milne beats out Justin Watson for the last receiver spot thanks to his superior ball skills.
TIGHT ENDS – 4 TE Rob Gronkowski TE O.J. Howard TE Marcedes Lewis TE Tanner Hudson Analysis: Lewis plugs into the lineup to help replace Joe Haeg’s role as a designated blocker, while Gronkowski and Howard are back as the team’s top options at the position.
OFFENSIVE LINE – 9 LT Donovan Smith LG Ali Marpet C Ryan Jensen RG Alex Cappa RT Tristan Wirfs C-G Quinn Meinerz G Aaron Stinnie OT D’Ante Smith OT Josh Wells Analysis: Meinerz and Smith are the youth infusion the Bucs need along the offensive line, and Stinnie and Wells should provide good depth until the rookies are ready. Returning all five starters up front is huge for the Bucs in 2022.
DEFENSIVE LINE – 7 DT Ndamukong Suh NT Vita Vea DE William Gholston DT Marlon Tuipolotu
DT Darius Stills DT Khalil Davis DL Patrick O’Connor Analysis: The Bucs bring back Suh and keep Gholston around, but remain committed to getting younger with their interior defensive line depth. Tuipolotu is the type of NFL-ready, low ceiling player who should be able to contribute as a rookie, while Davis will need to be ready for more playing time in year two as well.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS – 4 OLB Shaquil Barrett OLB Jason Pierre-Paul OLB Jaelan Phillips OLB Anthony Nelson Analysis: Along with running back, this could be the most improved position on the Bucs roster if they are able to retain Barrett and add another young talent like Phillips. He’ll give them situational pass rush reps off the edge, allowing defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to kick Jason Pierre-Paul inside on occasion, where JPP has been a deadly rusher in recent years.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS – 4 ILB Devin White ILB Lavonte David ILB Kevin Minter ILB Justin March Analysis: With Lavonte David back, this position group is unlikely to look much different for the Bucs. The only question will be, with David’s new contract covering just two seasons, when the Bucs start to look for his eventual replacement in the draft. My guess is they will wait a year, unless a player they love falls in their lap.
CORNERBACKS – 5 CB Carlton Davis III CB Jamel Dean CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
CB Ross Cockrell CB Ryan Smith Analysis: In a normal offseason, I think the Bucs would have more competition for Cockrell. But this year, I just think teams will be too cap-strapped to give him much attention in free agency, and the Bucs have made it very clear they loved his contributions in 2020. Keeping the young cornerback room intact is key for this season.
Bucs FS Mike Edwards – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
SAFETIES – 4 FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. SS Jordan Whitehead FS Mike Edwards SS Javon Hagan Analysis: The Bucs went from massive question marks at safety last offseason to having one of the best safety rooms in the league in 2020. Their top three are locked in, and Hagan should step in to replace Andrew Adams on special teams.
SPECIAL TEAMS – 3 K Ryan Succop P Bradley Pinion LS Zach Triner Analysis: No reason to mess with this battery, as the Bucs finally found the long sought-after kicking game consistency last season.
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.
Help support our efforts here at PewterReport.com by becoming a Pewter Report Donor for as little as $10 for a one-time donation or only $3 per month as a regular donor. We accept all forms of credit card payment in addition to PayPal donations. Click here to support your favorite Bucs website.
Matt Matera’s Bucs Battle Plan For The 2021 Offseason arrives on PewterReport.com tomorrow, followed by Taylor Jenkins’ on Friday.
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
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.