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.

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.

Bucs GM Jason Licht
Bucs GM Jason Licht – Photo by: USA Today

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.

Matera’s Bucs Battle Plan For The 2021 Offseason

Much like the previous mock drafts of this week, I tried to keep it fairly realistic to what could happen this year. After Chris Godwin was given the franchise tag and Lavonte David was re-signed for just a $3.5 million cap hit this season, the free agency plan is coming into focus, too. I may have taken some liberties with the assumption in the previous paragraph that Greenberg would create cap space with extensions and restructured contracts. Obviously the main goal was to bring back all of Tampa Bay’s top players and to sprinkle in a key free agent to help the team.

Bucs Cuts

In order to re-sign the likes of outside linebacker Shaq Barrett and company, money will need to be found in other places. Tight end Cam Brate is a fan favorite who is and well liked by everyone in the organization and plays well in the playoffs. Unfortunately, though, he’s expendable with Rob Gronkowski returning and O.J. Howard getting healthy, plus there’s no cap hit by the move. The Bucs save $6.5 million and Brate has a chance to get more playing time with another team.

Bucs’ Salary Cuts

Defensive end Will Gholston is too important for depth purposes to get cut, but I do ask him to take a $2 million pay cut. That’ll push Gholston’s salary to $3.5 million, opening up a little more room.

Unrestricted Free Agent Signings

OLB Shaq Barrett – 4-year deal, $76 million
After Godwin’s franchise tag and the two-year deal with David, Barrett becomes the Bucs’ number one target this free agency. Barrett “gets the bag” as they say, receiving $19 million per year as Tampa Bay locks down a premiere pass rusher over the next four seasons.

Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

DT Ndamukong Suh – 1-year deal, $5 million
It’s up to Suh if he wants to continue playing, but if he does, it’ll only be with the Bucs, as he pursues a second straight Super Bowl with a defense he’s played very well in. He takes a little less than last year to stay with a championship winning team.

TE Rob Gronkowski – 1-year deal, $5 million
We know he wants to come back and he only wants to play with Tom Brady, which makes negotiations not that tough. Even if Brady extends his deal, I think this is the last year for Gronk, who has enjoyed returning and still playing at a high level.

WR Antonio Brown – 1-year deal, $3 million
It’s difficult to predict what the market will be like for Brown due to all the baggage that comes with him. He’s obviously still very talented, but I don’t think that 11 games is enough to say that Brown’s image has been repaired. There’s a risk involved signing Brown for a season, which drives his price down and keeps other teams away.

K Ryan Succop – 2-year deal, $6 million
The man that broke the Bucs’ kicking curse deserves a pay raise and some job security. And along with Brady, he probably also deserves a key to the city.

QB Blaine Gabbert – 1-year deal, $2 million
Gabbert knows the system and has been here for two years already. He resumes his role as the primary backup.

ILB Kevin Minter – 2-year deal, $2 million
Minter has proven to be a locker room leader as a captain on special teams and has stepped into big spots at linebacker when needed. Let’s skip this process again next season and sign him up for two.

OT Josh Wells – 1-year deal, $1.5 million
Depth on the offensive line proved to be important for the Bucs, so Wells comes back as a solid backup for the unit.

Bucs CB Ross Cockrell
Bucs CB Ross Cockrell – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

CB Ross Cockrell – 1-year deal, $1.5 million
Cockrell was a pleasant surprise that came out of nowhere and was reliable as a third corner when Sean Murphy-Bunting was struggling and Jamel Dean was out. He’s earned a contract here.

S Andrew Adams – 1-year deal, $1 million
A solid piece on the back end that can play special teams and fill in at safety and hold it together when his number his called, just like it was in the NFC championship.

QB Ryan Griffin – 1-year deal, $990,000
Griffin continues a remarkable run of making the team as a third string quarterback with hardly any snaps in a regular season game.

CB Ryan Smith – 1-year, $990,000
Hands down Smith is one of the best special teams players on the Bucs roster, if not the best. He’s important to what they do with that group.

Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-Signed

RB Leonard Fournette
It was a heck of a playoff run from Fournette, who now goes by the moniker of