NFL free agency begins on March 7 when teams are allowed to talk to agents prior to March 10 when players can actually be signed to contracts. PewterReport.com examines the Buccaneers’ 2015 free agency plans and previews some of the positions that are the biggest area of need in Tampa Bay.
BUCS’ PENDING FREE AGENT WRs
The Buccaneers don’t have any wide receivers slated to be free agents.
WHAT THE BUCS HAVE AT WR
With Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson on the roster, the Buccaneers are set outside of the numbers. Evans had a tremendous rookie season, where he racked up an astounding 68 catches for 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns. It was a fantastic rookie season for Evans and there is no reason to believe that his production will decline with a new signal caller under center for the Buccaneers.
Vincent Jackson scraped over the 1,000 receiving yard mark with a total of 1,002 yards last year. He took a backseat to Evans as far as production is concerned, but Jackson is one of the teams most valuable leaders and is loved in the Tampa Bay community for his charity work. Jackson is also valuable as a veteran presence to Evans in the receiver meeting room.
Outside of Evans and Jackson the receiver position gets a little bit muddy. Veteran Louis Murphy made some big plays and had a few strong games for the Buccaneers in 2014, which led to the Buccaneers signing him to a three-year contract extension last December. Murphy figures to be a reserve option for the team in case Evans or Jackson go down with an injury, but he can also handle slot duties as a reliable option.
While he didn’t produce much in the stat sheet in 2014, wide receiver Russell Shepard was a huge part of Tampa Bay’s special teams in 2014. The former LSU receiver will battle with the other Tampa Bay pass-catchers for snaps but his special teams role is locked in for 2015.
The Buccaneers also have four young receivers on their roster that possess some upside. Robert Herron, a sixth-round pick from last year’s draft, struggled to get on the field as a rookie because of his struggles catching the ball, but his athletic talent in undeniable. He will need to improve during his second year and isn’t guaranteed a roster spot. The team also signed Tavarres King and Chandler Jones this offseason, both are receivers that offer speed and upside.
WHAT THE BUCS NEED AT WR
The Buccaneers have a fantastic one-two punch at the receiver position with Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. However, the Buccaneers could use a quicker, shiftier type of player to add a different flavor to their offense. Robert Herron and Louis Murphy will fight for the slot receiver role this offseason, but general manager Jason Licht could look to free agency to help create some competition in the wide receiver group.
BUCS’ BEST BETS 1. Atlanta WR Harry Douglas
The Falcons decided to part ways with wide receiver Harry Douglas last week in an effort help their salary cap situation as they head into free agency. The former third round selection has totaled 3,130 receiving yards over the course of his six-year NFL career with the Falcons, with his best season coming in 2013 when he replaced Julio Jones as a starter when he went down with an injury. Douglas played in new Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s offensive during his time in Atlanta, making him a very logical target for Tampa Bay as a reserve receiver.
2. San Diego WR Eddie Royal
The Buccaneers have two receivers that can make plays outside of the numbers, but they could also use a reliable, speedy target over the middle of the field. The 5-foot-10, 184 pound receiver had an excellent rookie season where he totaled 91 catches for 980 yards and five touchdowns, but he never developed into the receiver the Denver Broncos had hoped he’d be. Royal joined the San Diego Chargers, where has been a solid slot option for Phillip Rivers over the last three seasons. Royal also has some punt returning experience, which caters to the Buccaneers’ needs.
3. Baltimore WR Torrey Smith
Although Torrey Smith will be looking for a big contract, he could still be an option for the Buccaneers if they want to add a dangerous deep threat into the fold. The Ravens look like they will Smith hit the market and he should attract plenty of attention due to his ability make plays down the field. He’s still developing as an intermediate target and his hands can be questionable at times, but Smith has great speed and can take the lid off of defenses. Smith has 213 career catches to go along with 3,591 yards and 30 touchdowns, but he had a down year in 2014. The Maryland product took a back seat to veteran wide receiver Steve Smith and caught just 49 passes for 767 yards. However, Smith’s ability to find the endzone flashed in 2014, as he managed to find paydirt 11 times. Smith should cost less than Green Bay’s Randall Cobb and Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin, so there is a chance that the Buccaneers add a weapon like Smith without breaking the bank.
4. Baltimore WR Jacoby Jones
Jones makes some sense for the Buccaneers because of his excellent returning skills. The former Baltimore Raven has nine career returns for touchdowns, with four coming on punt returns and five as a kick returner. Jones doesn’t offer much as a receiver, as he has never eclipsed 562 yards receiving in 8 years in the NFL, but his ability to impact the games as a special teams player could intrigued the Buccaneers.
5. Oakland WR Vincent Brown
Brown, a 2011 third-round pick of the Chargers, was highly regarded within the draft community coming out of San Diego State. However, a severe ankle injury cost him his entire 2012 season, just as he appeared to be ready to break out. Now a few years removed from that injury, Brown will look to pick up the pieces and get his career back on track. Coming out of college, Brown was known for doing the dirty work over the middle of the field on crossing routes and intermediate patterns, which are some qualities the Buccaneers could be looking for. The 26-year old receiver could be a nice inexpensive, low-risk add for the Buccaneers as a reserve receiver who still offers some upside.
TOP 5 WIDE RECEIVERS AVAILABLE IN 2015 FREE AGENCY Green Bay WR Randall Cobb
After suffering a significant injury in 2013, Cobb came back strong than ever in 2014, posting career best numbers across the board. Cobb caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns and was a key member for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Cobb is expected to hit free agency and could get a big payday from a team needing an explosive receiver.
Philadelphia WR Jeremy Maclin
Maclin missed all of the 2013 season with an injury but came back in 2014 with the best statistical season of his career. The Missouri product caught 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 scores and was a massively important component to Chip Kelly’s offense in 2014. Maclin had trouble staying healthy up until last season, but he made a big statement with his contract-year performance in 2014, and that should land him a healthy contract.
Baltimore WR Torrey Smith
Smith was drafted by the Ravens in the second round of the 2011 draft and has been a productive player for the team over the last four seasons. Smith’s best season came in 2013, where he totaled 65 catches for 1,128 yards and four touchdowns. Last season, the Baltimore receiver was a bigger redzone threat, as his touchdown totals spiked to 11 in 2014. Smith isn’t as efficient as some might think as a deep threat as some might think, as he struggles to catch the ball consistently. The Maryland product still offers some upside as he enters his fifth NFL season, which could entice a general manager to shell out some good money for the 6-foot, 205 pound receiver’s services.
San Francisco WR Michael Crabtree
After an injury plagued 2013 campaign, Crabtree put up just 698 yards on 108 targets in 2014 as one of Colin Kaepernick’s starting receivers. After being selected tenth by the 49ers back in 2009, Crabtree never quite lived up to expectations, but did have a few nice seasons including a strong 2012 effort, where he caught 85 balls for 1,105 yards and 9 touchdowns. Overall, Crabtree is a solid receiver that would be best suited as a number two option.
Jacksonville WR Cecil Shorts
Shorts has had serious issues with injuries over the course of his four-year NFL career. The Jacksonville receiver never managed to finish a 16 game season and has never eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in receiving. However, Shorts is a solid receiver that wins as a route-runner and is also a player with some upside. Shorts’ best season came in 2012, where he posted 55 catches for 979 yards and seven touchdowns.