The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off a disappointing 5-11 season in 2017, and that has put head coach Dirk Koetter and general manager Jason Licht firmly on the hot seat. The Bucs thought they were primed for a playoff run last year following a 9-7 campaign in 2016, but it turns out that the team has more holes on the roster than they thought a year ago.
PewterReport.com writers Scott Reynolds, Mark Cook and Trevor Sikkema have devised their own Bucs’ 2018 Offseason Battle Plans that feature free agent signings, trades, roster moves and draft picks designed to help get the Bucs back on track and gunning for the. I’ve got the first Bucs’ Battle Plan, 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 start the 2018 offseason with approximately $69.7 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.
The first move I would make would be to release defensive end Robert Ayers, Jr. I love Ayers’ attitude and work ethic. My concerns mirror the team’s concerns, which are his age and his health. Ayers will be 33 in September and had his lowest amount of sacks (two) in five years. Ayers hasn’t played in all 16 games since 2011, and has played in just 12 games in each of the last four seasons. Cutting Ayers frees up $5 million in base salary and another $1 million in roster bonus money.
I would also part ways with guard J.R. Sweezy. I love his nasty demeanor, but he just doesn’t seem like the player the Bucs thought they were getting when they signed him two years ago. Sweezy didn’t fully recover from his back surgery last year, and now his leg injury from the end of the season remains an issue this offseason.
Sweezy stands to make $5.25 million in base salary this year, but has $1.875 million in signing bonus proration that would accelerate. Cutting Sweezy will save the Bucs an additional $3.375 million. That gives Tampa Bay just over $79 million in cap room.
Here are the offseason roster moves I would make:
Bucs’ Unrestricted Free Agent Re-signings
Tampa Bay CB Brent Grimes – 1 year, $6.5 million
The Bucs need Grimes badly as the talent and production at the cornerback position is in question heading into 2018. Grimes, who turns 35 in July, was tied for the team lead with three interceptions and the Bucs need him back for one more year as the team’s younger cornerbacks – Vernon Hargreaves III and Ryan Smith – continue to develop. The Bucs signed Ronde Barber to a series of one-year deals at the end of his career. Signing Grimes to a one-year deal certainly isn’t a slight.
Tampa Bay DT Clinton McDonald – 2 years, $2 million per year
McDonald is 31 and is coming off one of his better years, recording five sacks, which were second on the team, and beating out Chris Baker for playing time. McDonald is a class act and represents the Bucs well on and off the field as the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year. He provides great veteran leadership and still has some gas left in the tank.
Tampa Bay FS Keith Tandy – 1 year, 1.1 million per year
I like Tandy, who battled some injuries last year and wasn’t able to get on the field like he did in 2016 when he had four interceptions, including three game-winners in the fourth quarter. Tandy is a great guy for team chemistry, special teams and has the ability to play either safety spot.
Tampa Bay DE Will Clarke – 2 years, $1 million per year
The Bucs need numbers at the defensive end position and Clarke is worth re-signing after he recorded three sacks, 15 tackles and a fumble recovery in a reserve capacity last year. Tampa Bay should sign him to a two-year deal and see how he develops under new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, however, a roster spot is not guaranteed.
Tampa Bay K Patrick Murray – 2 years, $1 million per year
Licht has struggled to find a reliable kicker during his tenure in Tampa Bay, and Murray has been the best option thus far. Murray nailed 82.6 percent of his field goals (12-of-19) and was 21-of-22 on extra points. Murray doesn’t have the strongest leg and struggled with kickoffs, but deserves to be re-signed and battle a competitor in training camp for the Bucs kicking duties in 2018.
These free agent signings leave the Buccaneers with approximately $67.4 million in salary cap space.
Bucs’ Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-signed
Tampa Bay RB Charles Sims
It’s time for the Bucs to move on from this one-dimensional pass-catching, third-down back as Tampa Bay needs to continue to overhaul its backfield following the release of Doug Martin. Sims is not part of the team’s future plans.
Tampa Bay G-T Kevin Pamphile
I like Pamphile and wouldn’t mind having him back, but I’m really concerned with how he played in a contract year at left guard where he had to split time with Evan Smith. Believe it or not, Pamphile may cash in elsewhere during free agency due to his versatility and will get paid more than the Bucs are willing to offer.
Tampa Bay C-G Evan Smith
Smith, 31, was a valuable reserve at guard and center, but didn’t perform well at guard rotating with Kevin Pamphile last year or at center in the Green Bay game. He’s on the downside of his career and the Bucs need to get younger and better along the interior of the offensive line.
Tampa Bay SS T.J. Ward
Ward, who was signed in September, never fit in with the Bucs like the team envisioned, and grew unhappy with splitting playing time with Chris Conte. Tampa Bay won’t bring back the oft-injured 31-year old Ward, who was arrested on a marijuana charge in January.
Tampa Bay CB Robert McClain
McClain had three interceptions in his first year with the Bucs, which was tied for the team lead. He was capable of playing both nickel and outside cornerback roles, but Tampa Bay must move on and find more capable defensive backs. I wouldn’t mind re-signing him, but just for training camp competition.
Tampa Bay QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
I’m all for bringing Fitzpatrick back as Jameis Winston’s backup – if Tampa Bay can’t land Mike Glennon in free agency after he is released from Chicago. Glennon has his detractors in the Tampa Bay fan base, but he knows the offense, has a stronger arm and is well liked by the Bucs.
Tampa Bay DT Sealver Siliga
The 330-pound Siliga got even less playing time last year after signing a one-year deal than he did in 2016. The Bucs have a glaring need at defensive tackle and want to see if Stevie Tu’ikolovatu can be a player. I might sign Siliga for one more year to provide competition in camp
Tampa Bay C Joe Hawley
The 29-year old Hawley has lost 40 pounds this offseason and said that he plans on touring the country in a van and documenting his travels on-line. Sounds like a great retirement for a great guy and I wish him well.
Tampa Bay LS Garrison Sanborn
The Bucs have already signed another long snapper in 25-year old Drew Ferris and may not need the 32-year old Sanborn anymore.
Tampa Bay DE Justin Trattou
Trattou had a cup of coffee in Tampa Bay, but never saw the field. The Bucs need to upgrade and add more talent to the defensive end position.
Tampa Bay G Adam Gettis
I don’t know enough about Gettis to form much of an opinion, but at age 29, he has yet to emerge as a starting-caliber guard. The Bucs need to find better, younger talent.
Bucs’ Restricted Free Agent Re-signings
Tampa Bay TE Cameron Brate – 4 years, $7.5 million per year
Instead of offering Brate a one-year tender due to his restricted free agent status, I would follow the plan the Bucs are going to implement, which would be to sign him to a long-term extension, as Dirk Koetter likes to operate with a two-tight end set. As last year proved, Brate and O.J. Howard can co-exist in Koetter’s offense as each caught a team-high six touchdown passes. A four-year, $30 million deal for Brate would be more than Colby Fleener signed for in New Orleans.
Tampa Bay WR Adam Humphries – 3 years, $2 million per year
Along with Brate, I would re-sign Humphries to a multi-year contract extension. Humphries is a solid slot receiver and chain-mover for Winston, and at $2 million per year he’s affordable. Humphries would deserve more money per year if he found the end zone more often, as slot receiver Cole Beasley does in Dallas. Humphries has just four touchdowns in three seasons in Tampa Bay.
Bucs’ Restricted Free Agents Not Getting Tender Offers
Tampa Bay CB Jude Adjei-Barimah
I like Adjei-Barimah, but he’s struggled with injuries and I would wait until he’s 100 percent healthy and back to his old form before I sign him to a one-year deal to possibly compete for a roster spot in training camp.
Tampa Bay OLB Adarius Glanton
The Bucs really like Glanton and he’s making progress in recovering from the broken leg that he suffered at the end of the year. When he’s healthy, he gets re-signed, hopefully in time for training camp.
Tampa Bay DE Ryan Russell
I haven’t seen enough from Russell to make me think he could be anything more than a two-sack guy in the NFL. Russell had tons of opportunities to rush the passer last year, but managed just two sacks. The Bucs can do better in free agency and the draft.
Bucs’ 2018 Free Agent Additions
Carolina LG Andrew Norwell – 5 years, $11 million per year
Norwell may be the most sought-after free agent lineman and it will cost the Bucs to add him, but Tampa Bay must upgrade the interior of its offensive line. Norwell, who was snubbed by the Pro Bowl but was a first-team All Pro, is a natural left guard and his aggressive playing style will work well with the Bucs offensive linemen. Pro Football Focus had him as the third-rated guard in the league in 2017. Norwell figures to be the free agent guard that the team hoped Sweezy could have been.
Baltimore C Ryan Jensen – 4 years, $7.5 million per year
According to Spotrac, Jensen’s calculated market value is five years, $44.6 million, averaging $8.9 million. I think that’s a little high, as he’s not in the class of centers like Alex Mack, Travis Frederick, Brandon Linder and Justin Britt that all average more than $9 million per year. Jensen was a key blocker for Ravens running back Alex Collins and allowed 0.7 QB hurries and 0.13 sacks per game in 2016-17, which compares favorably to Linder, Britt and Mack. The addition of Jensen means Ali Marpet can move back to his natural right guard position where he was more dominant.
Chicago QB Mike Glennon – 3 years, $4 million
Bucs fans might swallow hard when they see that salary for a backup quarterback, but Tampa Bay offered Glennon more per year in 2017 before he accepted the starting quarterback job in Chicago where he struggled last season. Glennon already knows the offense and has a stronger arm than Fitzpatrick that can push the ball farther downfield in Koetter’s offense.
Minnesota RB Jerick McKinnon – 4 years, $3.5 million
The Bucs need to revamp their running game and add a proven veteran to the mix in addition to a draft pick or two. The 25-year old McKinnon is a great pass-catching back, coming off a season in which he caught 51 passes for 421 yards (8.3 avg.) and two touchdowns and rushing for 570 yards and three touchdowns on 150 carries (3.8 avg.). He’s a better runner than Sims was and a perfect replacement as a third-down back.
New Orleans DE Alex Okafor – 1 year, $3 million
Okafor was having a career year with the Saints after signing a one-year, $2 million contract. He recorded 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 10 games and earned an 84.7 grade from Pro Football Focus, which ranked him as the 22nd best defensive end in the league last year. Okafor tore his Achilles tendon two weeks after recording a season-high six tackles and half a sack against the Bucs in a 30-10 win at New Orleans, but he’s expected to be ready by training camp. Okafor, 27, was Arizona’s fourth-round pick in 2013, and was drafted when Licht was part of the Cardinals front office and coached by Buckner for four seasons, including 2014 when he had a career-high eight sacks.
*New York Giants CB Ross Cockrell – 2 years, $2 million
I originally had Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller going to the Bucs in free agency, but the Bears applied the transaction tag to him on Tuesday, which will likely keep him in the Windy City. So I’ve decided to switch gears and go with underrated cornerback Ross Cockrell from the New York Giants. Cockrell had three interceptions last year and has five in his four-year career. The 26-year old Cockrell has good size at 6-foot, 190 pounds and Pro Football Focus had an 81.6 rating and was ranked as the No. 39 cornerback in the league. (*Editorial change)
With these signings, the Buccaneers will have spent an estimated $26.9 million worth of salary cap space in free agency. There is plenty of room left to sign wide receiver Mike Evans to a contract extension worth an average of $15 million per year. That represents approximately $1.75 million in new money in 2018. Evans’ new contract leaves Tampa Bay with $23.15 million in salary cap room. The Bucs will need about $6 million in salary cap room for their rookies this year, which will leave $19.15 million left to sign players as needed during the season.
I’m going to extend the contracts of middle linebacker Kwon Alexander and guard Ali Marpet this offseason, too. Alexander is set to make $1.907 million and I’ll give him a five-year contract that averages $9 million per season. That represents about $7.1 million in new money. Marpet is scheduled to earn $874,581 and he’ll receive a five-year deal that averages $8 million per year. That represents approximately $7.12 million in new money.
Those extensions will leave the Bucs with about $3.7 million in salary cap space, although it can be more if the 2018 base salaries are slightly lower than the contract averages for Alexander and Marpet. I’ll wait until 2019 to address contract extensions for quarterback Jameis Winston and left tackle Donovan Smith. I want to see one more year out of Smith to help decide what his value is, so having him play in a contract year might be a good thing. As for Winston, I’ll fifth-year option him for 2019 to help buy some time to further evaluate his progress.
I’ll also sign an undrafted free agent kicker after the draft to compete with Patrick Murray, and add an undrafted free agent quarterback to contend with Ryan Griffin, who makes $1.1 million, which is high for a third-string quarterback.
Now let’s take a look at some of my personal selections for Tampa Bay in the 2018 NFL Draft. This is not a mock draft of players that I necessarily believe the Buccaneers will choose. That’s what PewterReport.com’s 2018 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft articles are for, and we will have our third edition next Monday.
Click on the next page below to check out which draft picks I make for Tampa Bay.