The Current State Of The Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off a franchise-best 13-4 season and a last-second, heartbreaking loss to the Rams in the playoffs. The Bucs have also had to cope with the retirements of two Pro Bowlers in quarterback Tom Brady and left guard Ali Marpet. Those losses are huge and will make the team’s focus in 2022 winning the NFC South rather than legitimately contending for another Super Bowl.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs have a plethora of starters slated for free agency, including tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Chris Godwin, cornerback Carlton Davis III, center Ryan Jensen, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, safety Jordan Whitehead, running back Leonard Fournette, right guard Alex Cappa, defensive end Will Gholston and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul. Tampa Bay can’t afford to bring them all back.
The biggest question will be at quarterback where the team is resigned to the fact that it can’t land a big name via a trade. With a weak free agent class, the Bucs are expected to re-sign free agent backup Blaine Gabbert to compete with Kyle Trask, last year’s second-round pick. Tampa Bay will need to add two more quarterbacks for depth and competition, but the pickings are slim.
The Bucs coaching staff remains largely intact with inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell being the only major loss. Larry Foote moves from outside linebackers coach to take over. Bob Sanders, who coached with Bruce Arians in Arizona, was signed to coach outside linebackers.
Explaining The Bucs Battle Plans For 2022
PewterReport.com writers Scott Reynolds, Jon Ledyard, Matt Matera, JC Allen and Josh Queipo have devised their own Bucs Plans For the 2022 offseason. These come complete with free agent signings, trades, roster moves and draft picks to help Tampa Bay repeat as NFC South champions and make another playoff run.
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 have approximately $2.7 million worth of salary cap space right now, according to OverTheCap.com.
Bucs NT Vita Vea and OLB Shaq Barrett – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs general manager Jason Licht and vice president of football administration Mike Greenberg can create plenty of salary cap space by restructuring the contracts of several players and lowering their 2022 cap values. Wide receiver Mike Evans ($20,622,500 cap value in 2022), outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett ($19.75 million cap value in 2022), left tackle Donovan Smith ($18.4 million cap value in 2022) and nose tackle Vita Vea ($11,887,311 cap value in 2022) are the prime candidates. The Bucs might even extend the contracts of Evans and Smith this offseason rather than just doing restructures.
The free agents that Tampa Bay signs and re-sign will all have one or two years worth of guaranteed money. That’s a Greenberg staple when it comes to contracts. But the first year salaries will also be lower than the average yearly cap value of the contract to help the Bucs’ cap in 2022. The cap is expected to rise in 2023 and Tampa Bay can defer some money into later years.
Queipo’s Bucs Battle Plan For The 2022 Offseason
The approach I am trying to take with my Bucs Battle Plan is to admit that 2022 is an incredibly difficult year to try to compete. Therefore, my version of the Bucs will use the year to find out what they have with unproven young players and try to set themselves up to re-open their window in 2023 and beyond.
No Franchise Tag In 2022
In my Bucs Battle Plan, the Bucs do not use their franchise tag this year. While others may use it to tag Carlton Davis, in my Battle Plan the Bucs retain Davis on a long-term deal which allows them the flexibility to reduce his 2022 cap number.
Bucs Pay Cuts
For the third consecutive year, the Bucs renegotiate Cameron Brate’s contract, resulting in a pay cut for the tight end. Brate agrees to a $3.785M reduction in salary in return for a full guarantee on his remaining $3.5M 2022 salary.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
Tom Brady – By the end of the offseason, Brady’s contract will result in his 2022 salary reducing from $20.27M to $8M.
Vita Vea – One of the perks of the structure of Vea’s contract is the ability to convert base salary to bonus. That will lower his cap hits throughout most of his contract. This conversion brings him from $11.89M to $4.25M.
Ali Marpet – Marpet’s retirement will allow the Bucs an extra $10M in cap space this year.
Shaq Barrett – Restructuring Barrett’s contract frees up $9.83M in cap space.
Donovan Smith—Smith gets a standard restructure, freeing up $7.315M in space.
Ryan Succop—Succop has been an accurate short-field kicker for the Bucs over the past two years. This provided stability the team lacked for several years prior. However, Succop’s leg doesn’t really hold to the standard of today’s kicker in terms of range. Also, he is making a sizable amount of money. Releasing him nets the Bucs $2.5M in savings.
Bradley Pinion—Pinion struggled mightily during the back half of 2021. His $2.9M salary can be used elsewhere.
Unrestricted Free Agents Re-Signed
WR Chris Godwin – 4 year deal, $67 million
Godwin’s return is a must in Bruce Arians’ receiver centered offense. His contract gives him $34.5M guaranteed. The structure of the contract calls for a $13 million cap hit in 2022.
DE Will Gholston – 1 year deal, $4.75 million
Gholston is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career while setting a high-water mark for sacks. Despite this, he is still more of a rotational piece who offers a limited pass-rush arsenal. He resigns for close to last years $5.5M salary.
Bucs CB Carlton Davis III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
CB Carlton Davis – 4 year deal, $70 million
Davis has proven himself as a top 10-15 corner. Due to the low supply of top corners, Davis is going to get paid closer to a top 5 guy. Guarantees total $42.5M and ’22 cap hit comes in around $15M.
QB Blaine Gabbert – 1 year deal, $3 million
The Bucs decide to bring back the one active quarterback who knows the system better than anyone else. Gabbert gets $3M guaranteed with heavy incentives that wouldn’t hit the Bucs cap until 2023 as they would considered “Unlikely to be Earned”
LS Zach Triner – 1 year deal, $965,000
Bucs bring back their long snapper for another season.
OG Aaron Stinnie – 1 year deal, $1.5 million
Stinnie provides depth at guard with the potential to start.
S Andrew Adams – 1 year deal, $1.035 million (Veteran Minimum Benefit)
Adams, having proven he is a valuable depth piece re-ups for the $1.035M minimum for his 6 years service time, but only counts $895k against the cap due to the Veteran Minimum Benefit.
QB Ryan Griffin – 1 year deal, $1.12 million (Veteran Minimum Benefit)
The team elects to keep as much continuity in the QB room as possible. Griffin serves as an able third QB who knows the system.
OG Alex Cappa — 3 year deal, $27 million
With Ali Marpet’s retirement, Cappa becomes a need rather than a luxury and the Bucs have the extra cap space to bring Cappa back on a multi-year commitment with a cap hit of $6 million in year one.
Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-Signed
OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
JPP’s various injuries sapped him of his power and athleticism. In addition, he will be looking to remain a starter while the Bucs need to transition Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to that role.
RB Giovanni Bernard
Despite having shown a career of effective play as a 3rd down back, the Bucs were reluctant to fully use Bernard in that role last year. As such, he looks to catch on with a team that will utilize him more in 2022.
Bucs C Ryan Jensen – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
OC Ryan Jensen
While still playing at a high level, Jensen is going to command a payday north of $10M per year. The Bucs have already invested that money in two other offensive linemen in Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet with Tristan Wirfs looking to add to that list in the near future.
DT Ndamukong Suh
I’m not sure if Suh goes elsewhere, but I think he’ll want more than Tampa Bay is willing to pay him for the 2022 season.
S Jordan Whitehead
The Bucs won’t chase Whitehead on the market when they can replace him for much cheaper.
TE Rob Gronkowski
Gronkowski is most likely going to retire.
RB Leonard Fournette
Lombardi Lenny has played back-to-back seasons on 1-year, prove-it contracts. He takes a more secure long-term contract elsewhere.
TE OJ Howard
Whether Howard’s Achilles injury never fully healed, or some other factor, the Bucs relegated him to third-string tight end in 2021. OJ looks to find a better opportunity elsewhere in 2022.
RB Ronald Jones
The Bucs and Jones’ relationship seemed to sour over the course of last season and Jones will look to find an opportunity to start in 2022. Most likely, that opportunity won’t come in Tampa Bay.
CB Richard Sherman
Another aging veteran with aspirations beyond football. Sherman may retire following an injury-plagued 2021.
LB Kevin Minter
Bucs ILB Kevin Minter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Minter has played the role of solid backup in Tampa Bay for two years. Unfortunately, at age 31 he just doesn’t have the explosiveness needed to continue to be the Bucs’ primary backup at inside linebacker.
DT Steve McLendon
Similar to Gronk and Sherman, McLendon hangs ‘em up.
OT Josh Wells
Wells has been a fairly consistent backup for the Bucs, however the memory of his performance against the Rams in the playoffs causes the Bucs to look to upgrade at swing tackle.
S Curtis Riley
With the re-signing of both Adams and Whitehead, Riley is not brought back.
DT Pat O’Connor
O’Connor has proven himself to be a solid special teamer, but isn’t retained.
RB Le’Veon Bell
Bell produced a memorable touchdown late in the season for the Bucs, but otherwise looked well past his prime.
Mike Evans – 2 years $35 million ($25 million guaranteed)
The Bucs add a couple of years to Evans’ deal to ensure he retires a Buc. This move also allows the team to free up some much-needed cap room as his salary drops from $20.62M to around $14M.
New Unrestricted Free Agents Signed
OT Cornelius Lucas – 2 years, $5 million
Lucas provides a reliable backup for both Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs.
WR JuJu Smith Schuster— 1 year, $7.5 million
Smith-Schuster provides the Bucs with a reliable third weapon in the passing game. He has all the qualities Bruce Arians looks for in a wide receiver. The deal includes two void years on a $6 million bonus, keeping JuJu’s cap hit for 2022 at $3.5 million
RB Raheem Mostert – 1 year, $1.8 million
Mostert provides home run speed that is typically suited for more of an outside zone scheme. With offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich varying the run game, this opens up a role for Mostert on the roster.
TE Eric Saubert—1 year, $1.12 million
Saubert brings a history as a solid blocker to the backup tight end position.
Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Saints TE Jared Cook – Photo by: USA Today
TE Jared Cook—1 year, $4.25 million
Cook comes with a health risk. But he also comes with upside. He is a playmaker at the tight end position who can push Cam Brate for starting reps. With two void years tacked on to a $3 million signing bonus, his cap hit for 2022 is just $2.25M.
RB Rashaad Penny— 1 year, $2.25 million
Betting on one injury-plagued running back is a recipe for disaster. But betting on two to help get you through a season can give you enough upside that it just might work. Penny’s talent is undeniable. If you can get 12 games out of him, the $2.25 million price tag look like a bargain.
IDL Tim Settle—2 years, $8 million
Settle has been locked in the back of an elite defensive front in Washington for several years now. But each time he is given a chance to perform, he shows out. The Bucs take a risk on a limited sample size to get a second year at a potential bargain.
EDGE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo—2 years, $4 million
The Bucs take another second year risk on a part-time player who has flashed potential and production in Okoronkwo to fight with Anthony Nelson and Cam Gill for depth roles as edge defenders.
IDL Maurice Hurst—1 year, $1.5 million
Bruce Arians has talked about adding a pass rush element to his interior defenders and Hurst fills that need in a rotational role.
Queipo’s 2022 Bucs Draft Picks
Round 1, Pick 27 – Trade!
The Bucs trade back in the 1st round when the Cincinnati Bengals offer the 31st pick along with the 95th pick in the draft, giving the Bucs a little extra ammunition to round out their roster.
Round 1, Pick 31 (CIN) – Boston College OG Zion Johnson
Johnson represents good value at a position of need. He should be able to step right in at LG or C, allowing the better of Robert Hainsey and Aaron Stinnie to win out the second open interior offensive line position.
Round 2, Pick 59 – North Dakota State WR Christian Watson
This may end up being a pipe dream. Watson could move into the first round after crushing the NFL Combine. As of now, he is consistently being mocked on day two. Watson provides a big frame with enticing speed that plays right into Bruce Arians’ prototype for receivers.
Gators RB Dameon Pierce – Photo by: USA Today
Round 3, Pick 91 – Florida RB Dameon Pierce
Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds may have trepidation about Pierce’s lack of workload at Florida, but the bottom line is Bruce Arians has not consistently used a bell-cow back over the years. Pierce would provide an effective pass catcher who runs with power and makes strong cuts. He would be part of a committee approach.
Round 3, Pick 95 – UTSA CB Tariq Woolen
Woolen is massive, checking in at 6-3 and over 200 pounds. He pairs that with elite 4.2 speed. One area of worry is the level of competition he faced in college. But dreaming on Woolen’s potential late in the third round is worth the risk.
Round 4, Pick 129 – Illinois S Kerby Joseph
Joseph doesn’t act as a direct replacement for Jordan Whitehead, as Whitehead is more of a box safety, while Joseph profiles as more of a free safety. What he does give Tampa Bay is a way to let Antoine Winfield Jr. roam around the field more, playing closer to the line of scrimmage.
Round 5, Pick 168 – South Carolina RB ZaQuandre White
What White lacks in breakaway speed he more than makes up for in his ability to stay on his feet. With strong contact balance and an effective stiff arm, you had better bring more than one defender to get him to the ground. White adds to his arsenal the ability to change directions well, allowing him to gain additional yardage by turning defenders around rather than running past them. With 19 receptions for 202 yds in 2021, White also brings some promise to the receiving game as well.
Round 7, Pick 244 – Kentucky OC Luke Fortner
At 6-6, Fortner would be taller than every center drafted in 2021. It also gives him the frame to add more weight to the current 300 pounds he is listed at. Fortner shows the ability and athleticism to get to second level blocks, but doesn’t drive through his blocks and finish defenders. He’s a project who can help at all three interior line positions.
Round 7, Pick 253—San Diego State P Matt Araiza
Anytime you can draft someone who is nicknamed “God” it’s a good thing, right? After cutting Pinion, the Bucs have a hole at the punter position and Araiza, “Punt God”, is in a class all by himself. A record setter with a 51.4 average yards per punt, Araiza set records for most punts over 50, 60 and even 80 yards! This gives the Bucs the chance to lock in a higher floor opportunity with a late round pick and get a special-teamer at a locked-in value price for four years.
Queipo’s “Way Too Early” Bucs 53-Man Roster Projection
Quarterbacks – 3
Analysis: Unable to land Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson, and unwilling to give up hefty returns for Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins, the Bucs turn to Blaine Gabbert to lead the way in a down NFC South. If Gabbert falters, the Bucs can turn to Kyle Trask. His play will determine if the team needs to invest heavily in finding their next franchise QB in 2023.
Running Backs – 4
Analysis: The Bucs go with a committee approach here. Pierce has the potential to break out as a feature back. Penny and Mostert are given the opportunity to produce if they can stay healthy and White provides an intriguing long-term project. Vaughn ends up as a practice squad safety net.
North Dakota State WR Christian Watson – Photo by: USA Today
Wide Receivers – 6
Analysis: Smith-Schuster provides the No. 3 WR the Bucs lost in Antonio Brown. Miller shows enough consistency, and a newfound aptitude for special teams to secure a spot on the roster. Tyler Johnson does enough for the Bucs to want another look at him. Christian Watson gets a chance to develop as a No. 4/No. 5 to help soften the jump from FCS competition to the NFL. Cyril Grayson Jr and Jaelon Darden end up on the practice squad.
Tight Ends – 3
Analysis: Cook gives Gabbert a 4th option to look to. Brate is a solid backup. Saubert provides a solid blocking 3rd TE option. This becomes a unit that will need long-term addressing in 2023.
Offensive Line – 9
LT Donovan Smith
LG Zion Johnson
OC Robert Hainsey
RG Alex Cappa
RT Tristan Wirfs
OT Conelius Lucas
OG Sadarius Hutcherson
OG Aaron Stinnie
OL Nick Leverett
Analysis: Stalwarts in Wirfs, Cappa and Smith remain. Stinnie shows more than enough to win the RG spot, with Zion Johnson beating out Hainsey for the center spot. Lucas is the veteran swing tackle, while Hainsey, Hutcherson and Leverett provide depth.
Bucs DT Will Gholston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Defensive Line – 6
Analysis: Vea and Gholston return as starters, with Settle taking over for Suh. Nunez-Roches is the top backup for the third year in a row.
Edge Rushers – 5
Analysis: JTS moves into the full-time starting role, while Anthony Nelson and Cam Gill showed enough late last year to serve as the primary backups. Okoronkwo pushes for the No. 3 role.
Inside Linebackers – 4
Analysis: David and White return as the incumbent starters. Britt and Stuard each move up a spot on the depth chart. If either White or David get injured, the Bucs would most likely move to a 3-safety nickel package where Jordan Whitehead moves into the linebacker role. That would give Mike Edwards more opportunities to see the field and limit Britt/Stuard to early down/run-heavy looks.
UTSA CB Tariq Woolen – Photo by: USA Today
Cornerbacks – 6
Analysis: Davis and Dean return as the top two boundary corners. SMB remains the slot option with some competition from Edwards. Cockrell and Delaney round out the room with some proven experience from 2021. Woolen uses the year to develop with the possibility of moving into a starting role in 2023.
Safeties – 4
Antoine Winfield Jr.
Analysis: Winfield remains as a true playmaker. Edwards begins the year as the starter opposite him with a heavy rotation of Adams and Joseph.
Specialists – 3
K Jose Borregales
P Matt Araiza
LS Zach Triner
Analysis: With the exception of Triner, this unit sees a complete overhaul where the Bucs get younger and cheaper with greater upside at both specialist spots.
What Did You Think?
Did you like my Bucs Battle Plan for the 2022 offseason? Does it adequately address Tampa Bay’s needs? Which additions did you like best? Let me know what you think in the article comments section below.
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