The Current State Of The Buccaneers
“What does this guy know about building a battle plan for the Bucs offseason? He’s covered the team for like a month! This oughta be rich!”
I can hear you already. The doubters and the haters. Those that would seek to usurp my temporary role as general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, shouting of my unworthiness and the fact I haven’t lived and died through 88 Jameis Winston interceptions over the past five years. How could I possibly understand how to build this team for success in 2020?
Lucky for you, my clear perspective and lack of compromised emotions gives me an advantage over the Pewter Report team of Scott Reynolds, Mark Cook, Taylor Jenkins and Matt Matera I’m joining. You’re right. I haven’t suffered like they all have, and I haven’t suffered like y’all have.
But don’t consider my lack of scars as evidence that I don’t belong on the battlefield. On the contrary, it’s my evasion of such past damage that makes me able to put forth such a sterling plan for Tampa Bay’s future. I’m not held back by the way things have been. Instead, my mind is teeming with possibility and hope and visions of playoff success once again in Tampa.
And I know how to get the team there.
Welcome to my first ever Bucs Battle Plan – a guide to turning a 7-9 also-ran into a playoff contender in 2020. Please hold your applause until the end. Thank you.
Explaining Pewter Report’s Bucs Battle Plans For The 2020 Offseason
PewterReport.com writers Scott Reynolds, Mark Cook, Jon Ledyard, Matt Matera and Jon Ledyard 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. This is the third Bucs Battle Plan in our series, 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.
Ledyard’s Bucs Battle Plan For The 2020 Offseason
This Bucs Battle Plan will be completely realistic, so while it is a version of what I would do as the team’s general manager this offseason – not what I think Jason Licht will do – I’m still going to follow what I believe to be within the realm of possibility.
So no, Tom Brady won’t be coming to Tampa Bay because I just can’t see that happening in real life. Would it awesome? Yes. He’s the best available quarterback to steer this franchise. But I just don’t think it’s going to happen, so I’ve got a different plan for the team at quarterback.
Trade Away O.J. Howard to the Colts
I like tight end O.J. Howard and remain optimistic about his pro potential, but the reality is that Bruce Arians is probably never going to heavily utilize him in this offense, and he’s still young and promising enough to fetch a decent return in a trade.
I’m not optimistic that Howard would land the return of a second-round pick, as he has just one year left on his deal unless a team decides to pick up his fifth-year option. But I could see the Colts parting with the 75th overall pick in the third round for Howard, as the team is set to lose Eric Ebron in free agency and head coach Frank Reich likes to have some depth at tight end.
Jack Doyle will also turn 30 in early May, and the Colts don’t have much in the pipeline. I think they’d be one of the few teams willing to spend a Day 2 pick to take a shot at developing Howard with the strong culture they’ve got in place, and the Bucs would love to trade him out of the division.
Trade Away William Gholston to the Dolphins
This is semi-unlikely to happen in real life because Licht and Co. value Gholston as a run defender and locker room guy, but I’m the G.M. today and I’m looking for pass rushers. If I want to bring back outside linebackers Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib (maybe), and defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Rakeem Nunez-Roches, I don’t want to be paying Gholston almost $5 million a year to play 400 snaps. His role is replaceable, and there’s a good chance I can find an even more dynamic and versatile player to step in moving forward.
Gholston is a fit in Miami and they’ll pay the low cost of a seventh-rounder (247 overall) for a contract they can get out of at any point.
Trade Up In Round 1
If I’m Tampa Bay, I’m not resting until I leave the 2020 NFL Draft with one of the best offensive tackles in the class. This is not a team with many needs, and the Bucs’ offensive line could be improved drastically with the addition of a premier tackle on the right side. They have to get in front of Cleveland at No. 10 to secure one of the top four offensive tackles in this draft, so Arizona and Jacksonville would be the target teams for a deal.
Both the Cardinals and Jaguars have plenty of needs, and both could conceivably be fine with moving back depending on who is on the board. If the Jaguars have their eye on cornerback help, moving back to no. 14 should still ensure them a shot at the No. 2 corner in the class after Jeffrey Okudah, or perhaps a defensive tackle like Derrick Brown or Javon Kinlaw as well.
The cost for Tampa Bay? The third-round pick they acquired from the Colts for Howard, and their 2020 fourth-round pick, No. 117 overall. That should be enough to net the No. 9 overall selection and the Jaguars’ sixth-round pick, No. 190. So after these trades, I enter the 2020 NFL Draft with eight picks, including five on Day 3 of a deep draft.
Bucs’ 2020 Draft Picks
Round 1, 9 overall
Round 2, 45 overall
Round 3, 76 overall
Round 4, 139 overall (comp pick)
Round 5, 162 overall
Round 6, 190 overall
Round 6, 195 overall
Round 7, 247 overall
Armed with almost $85 million in cap space after shedding Gholston’s contract, the Bucs should be prepared to be the aggressors in free agency. It seems likely that Cameron Brate will be asked to take a slight pay cut to stay with the team, and I think he’ll accept. He has a chance to be the top receiving tight end in Tampa and re-establish his value to the team in 2020 while remaining in a city he loves.
And he’s probably not getting $4 million anywhere else. He’ll take the $2 million cut and stick around. So Tampa Bay has $87 million in salary cap room heading into free agency. Let’s have some fun.
Unrestricted Free Agent Re-signings
QB Jameis Winston – Franchise Tag, $26.8 million
I’m not saying that Jameis Winston is this no-brainer, super desirable option at quarterback. I get the concerns, trust me. But the reality is that he is the best and most realistic option for the Bucs to get quality quarterback play in 2020.
I don’t think Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater fit the system and don’t have the ability to make the high-end plays that Jameis does. Neither are aggressive enough as a passer to maximize weapons like Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, and neutering your offense is not a way to win in the modern NFL.
If Tom Brady is a realistic option, then by all means, sign him. But I just don’t believe he is. Philip Rivers could be, but in the end I think he’ll opt for Indianapolis. I also don’t believe he’d be an upgrade over Winston at this point in his career.
I’d love to give Tampa Bay Matthew Stafford via trade, but I promised to keep this thing realistic, and there is just no way the Lions are moving him. The Bucs also aren’t picking high enough in the draft to land one of the top two quarterbacks, and I’m not crazy high on the rest of the QBs at this point.
We like to pretend the grass is always greener on the other side of the quarterback pasture, but the reality is that is rarely true. Winston is still the best option at quarterback for the Bucs in 2020, and his growth as a deep ball passer last season should excite the team.
I don’t know if the mistakes ever go away, but I do know that the Bucs hired Bruce Arians to get Winston to the next level. Giving up on that after one season of promise in favor of lesser options at quarterback would be foolish. Tag Winston, give him one more shot to save this thing and then make a move at quarterback next year if he fails.
OLB Shaquil Barrett – 4 years, $72 million ($16.5 million per year)
Barrett doesn’t have a dominant track record as a pass rusher to negotiate from, which I have to think will limit how much he’s willing to reasonably ask for. However he did just lead the NFL in sacks with 19.5 during a golden era of pass rushers, and given his character, work ethic and consistent flashes in Denver, Barrett seems like a safe bet to make something close to what Trey Flowers got last offseason, but on a shorter deal due to Barrett being a little older at age 27.
EDGE Jason Pierre-Paul – 2 years, $24 million ($12 million per year)
I don’t know that the market will be this steep for a 31 year-old with a significant injury history, including a broken neck this past offseason, but JPP looked pretty good last year, and the league loves pass rushers. Tampa Bay values his contributions on and off the field enough to go this high, but if teams offer much more, the Bucs could have to let the veteran edge defender walk.
DT Ndamukong Suh – 1 year, $7 million
Suh is 33 years old and in the twilight of his career, but he reportedly wants to remain in Tampa Bay for one more season, and the Bucs would love to have his run defense back in the fold.
RT Demar Dotson – 1 year, $2.5 million
Dotson is a reliable pass protector who has played his entire career in Tampa Bay. If he wants to return for one more run, the team shouldn’t hesitate to bring him back. It is invaluable to have a backup who can pass protect at a decent level in the NFL, most teams don’t possess that luxury.
OG/C Earl Watford – 1 year, $905,000
Watford’s improvements in pass protection coupled with his versatility make bringing him back for cheap an easy decision.
ILB Kevin Minter – 1 Year, $905,000
Good, steady inside linebacker who is a leader in the locker room and an impact player on special teams. Easy decision to bring him back.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches – 1 Year, $840,000
I’ve always liked Nunez-Roches, a true Energizer Bunny that can move around a defensive front and give you 15 solid snaps a game. He’ll be a decent depth piece behind Vita Vea, Suh and possible rookie/FA help at the position
That’s $67.4M dollars in cap space spent on re-signing free agents for 2020, leaving the Bucs with around $19.5 million to sign new free agents and draft picks.
NEW Free Agents Signings
Tre Boston, S – 2 years, $7 million ($3.5 million per year)
Obviously a good report on Justin Evans’ health could change this signing, but I have my doubts at this point. The fourth-year safety hasn’t played since midway through the 2018 season, and the team still can’t give a glowing report on his progress? That’s not comforting to me.
Tre Boston is one of the most puzzling stories every year in free agency. Consistently one of the best coverage free safeties in the NFL over the past three years, Boston has spent each of those seasons with a different team and never made more than $2.4M in a single year! All that despite 11 interceptions and 16 pass breakups during that time.
There’s no reason to think that this is the offseason where Boston breaks the bank, but he’s about as reliable a free agent signing as they come, and for relatively cheap. He’ll play almost exclusively at free safety, which will allow Mike Edwards to play in the box/slot and Jordan Whitehead to move around more freely as well.
Demarcus Robinson, WR – 2 years, $6 million ($3 million per year)
I’m a fan of Robinson’s fit in Tampa Bay, and the team should have no issue bolstering their receiving corps with a relatively cheap deal in free agency. Robinson wins in the vertical passing game and started to come into his own with some insanely impressive grabs last season.
Aqib Talib, CB – 1 year, $2 million
Talib’s best days are behind him, but why not go back to the spot where it all began to finish off a great career? The veteran cornerback would provide much-needed leadership and wisdom to the Bucs young defensive backs, while also filling a key role as another outside cornerback on a team lacking depth at the position.
Nick Williams, IDL – 1 year, $1.5 million
After being cut multiple times early in his career and then bouncing around four different teams, Williams broke out last season with six sacks for the Bears. He’s 30 years old and coming off his first year of real playing time, so the cost won’t be great, and the Bucs may have stumbled onto a late-blooming interior pass rusher.
Marcedes Lewis, TE – 1 year, $1 million
A cheap deal for a veteran, blocking tight end who will provide much-needed leadership in the locker room and consistent effort on and off the field. One last hurrah for Lewis at 36 years old.
Drew Stanton, QB – 1 year, $1.5 Million
Veteran backup quarterback looking to close out his career with his old coach in Bruce Arians.
Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-signed
WR Breshad Perriman
It’s exciting that Perriman finally emerged in the latter stages of his fifth season, but I’m afraid he may have priced himself out of what Tampa Bay is willing to pay. He hasn’t exactly been reliable his whole career, so I’d be okay with letting this ship sail.
OLB Carl Nassib
The Bucs like Nassib and would like to bring him back, but with JPP commanding a little more than expected after a couple bounce-back seasons, it’s hard to justify a move for Nassib and still expect to do much in free agency. Ultimately, his contributions on the field are replaceable through the mid-rounds of the this average draft class for edge rushers anyway.
RB Peyton Barber
Barber could go from being a starter in Tampa Bay to struggling to stick on a roster somewhere else. He’s a decent player, but nothing about his skill set is irreplaceable or worth paying millions for.
DT Beau Allen
Allen is a run-stuffer who will find work somewhere on an NFL depth chart, but not in Tampa Bay. Time to move on to younger players with a little more upside and athleticism.
QB Blaine Gabbert
I agree with Scott Reynolds that Blaine Gabbert is likely gone and Drew Stanton makes a ton of sense as a potential replacement.
OT Josh Wells
With the team set to draft a tackle and Dotson back on board as the top backup, Wells will be allowed to walk and look for work as a backup elsewhere.
S Darian Stewart
Stewart’s decline has been rapid over the past few years. Retirement may be the next option.
OLB Sam Acho
Just doesn’t add enough value to the team. Time to see what Anthony Nelson can do.
CB Ryan Smith
Smith will be missed on special teams, but he was a disappointment in his opportunities on defense.
RT Jerald Hawkins
Hawkins has been a disappointment since entering the league as a developmental offensive tackle, and injuries haven’t helped his development either.
FS Andrew Adams
I’m just not sure there is room for Adams in Tampa Bay given their current safety situation, unless Justin Evans is ruled out for 2020. Even if he is, upgrades via free agency are potentially available as well.
That’s a wrap on 2020 free agency! Now to the NFL Draft, where the Bucs still have eight picks despite trading up from No. 14 to No. 9. Plenty of ammo to make some moves.
Remember, this draft is what I would do, not what I believe the team will do in April.