The Current State Of The Buccaneers

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
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 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 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
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 and

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’s 2021 Draft Picks
Round 1 – No. 32 
Round 3 – No. 74 (from Cowboys)
Round 3 – No. 96
Round 4 – No. 115 (from Cowboys)
Round 4 – No. 137
Round 5 – No. 177
Round 7 – No. 250
Round 7 – No. 257

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’ Cuts

Bucs TE Cameron Brate
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.