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. This is the fourth 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.
Matera’s Bucs Battle Plan For The 2020 Offseason
Trade Away TE Cam Brate
*Record scratches* “Wait, you’re not trading O.J. Howard?” No, I’m not. This isn’t a slight against Brate but at $6 million a year on his contract, that money can be used elsewhere in a year where it’s going to be all hands on deck to try and re-sign some of their top players on the defensive side of the ball and some other big free agents. So Brate gets traded to Green Bay Packers for a fourth-round pick. Green Bay just released Jimmy Graham, and Marcedes Lewis is set to become a free agent, so the Packers only have two unproven tight ends on the roster. The Bucs get at least something back in return as opposed to cutting Brate.
I’m aware that Brate and Jameis Winston have a strong chemistry with each other in the passing game, but let’s face it, Bruce Arians’ offense doesn’t utilize the tight end position enough, and it doesn’t look like it will. The offense went through Mike Evans and Chris Godwin last year with resounding success, and that will continue to happen regardless of who’s at tight end.
So why keep Howard over Brate? For starters, Howard is more cost effective this season, but it goes beyond that. Howard had a down year last season, but he still has a higher ceiling than Brate does. Despite a disappointing year, Howard’s 459 receiving yards were 148 more than Brate’s 311 yards even while playing in two less games. Between the two, Howard is considered a better blocker, and the Bucs have solid depth at tight end with strongest blocker in Antony Auclair and an athletic basketball player-turned-football player Codey McElroy.
You might call me crazy, but I’m not ready to give up on Howard just yet. Let’s see if he can have a bounce back year and return to the kind of player he was back in 2018. We live in a world where we want instant gratification and instant answers so we can jump to conclusions, but that isn’t always the case.
Remember how bad a rookie year running back Ronald Jones II had and everyone was ready to move on from him until he improved last season? Remember when everyone was ready to cut wide receiver Breshad Perriman by Week 9 before he went off at the end of the year? Some things take more time to develop than others, and I think Howard gets back on track this season. The Bucs get another fourth-round pick in this trade and now have $86 million in cap room.
Bucs’ 2020 Draft Picks
Round 1, 14th overall
Round 2, 45th overall
Round 3, 76th overall
Round 4, 117th overall
Round 4, 136th overall (From GB)
Round 4, 139th overall (comp pick)
Round 5, 161st overall
Round 6, 194th overall
The only cut I’m making to this roster is releasing backup quarterback Ryan Griffin opening up $1.6 million in cap space. At 30 years old, Griffin finally played a regular season snap in 2019, which is kind of bizarre that it took that long to make a debut. Griffin isn’t the answer for the Bucs at quarterback, so it’s just best they move on after spending five seasons in Tampa bay.
I’m also asking Ryan Jensen to take a pay cut and from $10 million to $8 million, creating an additional $2 million in cap space. This puts the Bucs at $89.6 million in cap room for free agency after these moves.
Unrestricted Free Agent Re-Signings
QB Jamies Winston – Franchise Tag, $26.8 Million
Winston had one of the more unique seasons in NFL history being the first QB to enter the 30-30 club, and the only thing just as compelling as that is the amount of quarterbacks that could be available when free agency comes about. After searching through who’s left after the first domino falls, Winston looks to be the Bucs’ best choice, even with a franchise tag.
Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill, and the list goes on for quarterbacks on the market. Obviously it starts with Brady and the decision he’ll make, but if I’ve learned anything watching football it’s that you never count the New England Patriots out. Inevitably, I think Brady returns to the Patriots, which takes him off the Bucs’ board. This shuts down a couple other scenarios in which Brady goes to Las Vegas and thus Derek Carr becomes available and a target for Tampa Bay.
With Brady off the board, that leaves Rivers as the next viable option, but his former assistant coach, Nick Sirianni, is now the offensive coordinator for the Colts, so Rivers is off to Indy. Quite frankly, I would take Winston over an aging Rivers even if Rivers had interest with the Bucs. That leaves Bridgewater as the next choice, and while I don’t hate the idea of Bridgewater in red and pewter, I don’t think he’s the best fit with his abilities in Arians’ type of offense compared to what Winston can do.
As for why I’m choosing to franchise tag Winston over signing him long – he just hasn’t earned a long-term contract yet, even after five years. Don’t get me wrong, I love the talent Winston has and the downfield passing that he brings to the Bucs offense, but his costly interceptions have dragged the Bucs down far too much. We keep saying that if Winston can put it all together that he could be one of the best in the league, but at some point we have to stop waiting and actually see it come to fruition. There’s no way you can justify paying Winston over $30 million a season or letting him be a top-five paid quarterback in this league when he’s never had a winning season or reached the playoffs.
With that said, there’s still a lot to like about Winston with his league best 5,109 passing yards and second best 33 touchdowns. I’m really intrigued to see what Winston can do in his second year in Arians offense if he can limit the turners. I tend to believe what Carson Palmer said, where he thinks Winston can have a massive year.
By franchising him, the Bucs get one more year to unlock the best of Winston, and the $26.8 million is just a $6.8 million pay bump from Winston’s salary last year. If he performs well, Tampa Bay can sign him to a contract next season, and if he struggles, then the team can cut bait. But make no mistake about it, this is Winston’s last straw. If the Bucs finish the season and are still unsure if Winston is their guy, it’s time to move on.
OLB Shaq Barrett – 4 years, $68 million
Barrett led the league with 19.5 sacks and cashes in on betting on himself with a big deal. The Bucs get their best pass rusher back, who won’t be any less motivated now with a new deal.
OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – 2 years, $22 million
It was miraculous how Pierre-Paul was able to come back from a fractured vertebrae and still record 8.5 sacks. He’s been worth every dollar since the Bucs traded for him two offseason ago, and now they lock him up for another two.
DT Ndamukong Suh – 1 year, $7 million
The Bucs and Suh go for one more year as Suh was an intricate part in having the best run defense in the NFL. This maintains a scary duo of Suh and Vita Vea up front.
RT Demar Dotson – 1 year, $2.5 million
Dotson comes back for half of what he cost the year before. He’ll compete for starting right tackle with whoever the Bucs draft, but will primarily be a top backup and a mentor.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches – 2 years, $1.6 million
Nachos’ high energy play and versatility at the young age of 26 makes him an interesting case for the Bucs to keep in the rotation on the defensive line. He gets rewarded with a two-year deal.
OL Earl Watford – 1 year, $900,000
Watford is well liked among his teammates and is a solid backup along the offensive line.
ILB Kevin Minter – 1 year, $900,000
Minter is a good backup at linebacker and did a great job stepping up as a starter when Devin White missed some time. He brings important depth to the position.
Josh Wells – 1 year, $800,000
On an inexpensive contract, Wells helps build out the roster on the offensive line.
Blaine Gabbert – 1 year, $1 million
Gabbert didn’t get to suit up last year after dislocating his shoulder in the preseason. This year he gets the chance to dress on game day and bring more knowledge about Arians’ offense.
Ryan Smith – 1 year, $1 million
Smith’s value on special teams can’t be undervalued, and that’s what keeps him with the Bucs this season.
New Free Agent Signings
FS Tre Boston – 2 years, $8 million
I know Jon Ledyard had this in his battle plan on Wednesday, but I promise you that I had this in my plans as well. The Bucs secondary across the board is young, and while it’s good that they’ve grown together, it wouldn’t hurt to have a veteran presence like Boston back there to strengthen the Bucs most vulnerable position on defense.
What Boston brings to the Bucs is something that has been missing from the Bucs safeties, or even the entire secondary for that matter, and that’s turnovers. He’s had 11 over the past three years and is considered a very good cover safety. He’s been healthy as well playing in all 16 games last year, which is something the Bucs haven’t seen from the free safety position. Boston has been looking for a pay day after three one-year deals of no more than $2 million, so he’s happy with doubling his salary and getting another year of security.
RB Melvin Gordon – 3 years, $20 million
When it comes to defending quarterback Winston over why the Bucs have struggled, what do most people point to? They say Winston has never had a defense or a running game. Well, after shoring-up free safety, the Bucs address the next part by signing an established upper tier running back and reshaping Tampa Bay’s ground game. Drafting a running back is fine, and the Bucs will do that, but you might not know what you’re going to get with a rookie, but with Gordon, you can be sure.
I know Gordon had a less than stellar season in his last year with the Chargers, but I attribute that to his holdout having an impact on getting into game shape. Give Gordon a full offseason and he’ll be back to form. Even in a limited amount of time, Gordon still managed to score nine touchdowns in 12 games, and has reached the end zone 23 times over the last two years while boasting an average of 4.45 yards per carry. Arians still wants to pound the rock and Gordon has the combination of physicality and speed to be the guy to change the Bucs’ rushing woes.
But it doesn’t stop there. Arians also loves a running back that can be a receiver, and Gordon is comfortable in that area as well. He may have been overshadowed by Austin Ekeler as a receiving back, but that doesn’t mean Gordon can’t get the job done as he had a personal best in 2018 with 490 receiving yards and four touchdowns. I think the NFL is starting to realize that you don’t need to pay exorbitant amounts of money to running backs like a $13 million per year deal that Le’Veon Bell got, so while Gordon’s market value may say $8.5 million, this team can get him at a cheaper cost than that, especially factoring in that Derrick Henry is the top running back available.
Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-Signed
OLB Carl Nassib
Nassib is the odd man out in a room of edge rushers that need to be re-signed. He was important to the Bucs and was also a captain, but the production can be found elsewhere with Anthony Nelson as his replacement.
WR Breshad Perriman
Perriman had a great run down the stretch of the 2019 season which probably has priced himself out of Tampa Bay. Perriman’s market value is $8.7 million on Spotrac, which is way too much for a third-string receiver.
RB Peyton Barber
Barber didn’t have a season that really wowed anyone and struggled at times in short yardage situations. The Bucs will be looking elsewhere for a running back.
DT Beau Allen
He’s a great teammate in the locker room and Allen’s presence will be missed, but Rakeem Nunez-Roches is younger and the Bucs could also go with a DT in the draft.
S Darian Stewart
Stewart is an aging veteran in the later stages of his career. The Bucs will be looking to add a new safety this offseason.
OLB Sam Acho
Acho was brought in during the middle of the year and mostly played special teams. His production can be found with younger talent.
RT Jerald Hawkins
With the Bucs looking at offensive linemen in the draft, they move on from Hawkins with the roster.
FS Andrew Adams
Adams has talent and showed bright spots on the defense, but the safety position is going to be crowded when it’s all said and done, and Adams falls victim to the numbers game.
Restricted Rights Free Agents Signed
TE Antony Auclair – 1 year, $2 million
He’s the Bucs best blocking tight end who is showing improvements in the passing game. With Brate getting traded, Auclair has a chance to really break out this season.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Signed
WR Bryant Mitchell – 1 year, $700,000
Mitchell had a promising training camp until he tore his Achilles in the first preseason game of the season. Arians said Mitchell was in the running for the fifth wide receiver spot, and will likely be at it again this year.
That’s about $6.3 million left over to sign draft picks and players in season.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Not Re-Signed
S Orion Stewart
Stewart unfortunately tore his ACL at training camp last year, and with new players coming into the mix at safety, there’s no room for him on the roster.
OL Mike Liedtke
Adding new offensive linemen in the draft means someone’s got to go, and that’s Liedtke in this situation.
TE Tanner Hudson
Hudson showed excellent receiving prowess in the preseason as the Bucs’ top pass catcher but he couldn’t translate that over into the regular season. Hudson’s blocking it a liability as well. I probably would have kept him, but budget cuts had to be made.