The Current State Of The Buccaneers
After a promising start to his head-coaching career with a 9-7 record during his first season leading the Buccaneers in 2016, back-to-back 5-11 campaigns ultimately cost Dirk Koetter his job. Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht was given one more year to turn the Bucs’ ship around, and hired former Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians to lead the way.
Arians inherits a Bucs offense that features a plethora of weapons, including Pro Bowler Mike Evans and rising star Chris Godwin at the wide receiver position, in addition to future Pro Bowl tight end O.J. Howard and the red zone threat Cam Brate. Arians’ main objective on offense is to improve the offensive line – and perhaps more importantly – turn Jameis Winston into a the franchise quarterback and winner the team expected when it selected him with the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Winston is in an ever-important fifth-year option contract this season, and Arians, the noted “quarterback whisperer,” will likely know by October if he can turn Winston around.
The Bucs will have some big decisions to make with pending free agent left tackle Donovan Smith and wide receiver Adam Humphries, and whether or not to keep wide receiver DeSean Jackson and his $10 million salary for one final year in Tampa Bay.
On defense, new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is expected to run a 3-4 Under front with some four-man defensive line mixed in. The Bucs are crippled at linebacker with pending free agent Kwon Alexander coming off a torn ACL, in addition to last year’s rookie Jack Cichy, who had an injury-riddled past at Wisconsin. Strongside linebacker Kendell Beckwith missed all of last season after breaking his ankle in an offseason car wreck last year, and his future in Tampa Bay is currently unknown. The only healthy, starting-caliber linebacker on the team is Lavonte David.
Defensive end Vinny Curry was released to create $8 million in salary cap, which the team desperately needs this year after big-money extensions were doled out last year to Evans, Brate, left guard Ali Marpet and Winston’s big cap number this year, which is $20.922 million. More cap space is needed and the Bucs may have to part ways with six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy, who just turned 31 and is due a $13 million salary, and nose tackle Beau Allen, who is scheduled to make $5 million this year.
Tampa Bay needs veteran help in the secondary where 35-year old cornerback Brent Grimes and strong safety Chris Conte are expected to move on. The Bucs have drafted four cornerbacks – Vernon Hargreaves III, Ryan Smith, M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis – in addition to two safeties – Justin Evans and Jordan Whitehead – over the past three years. There are plenty of young defensive backs on Tampa Bay’s roster. What are needed are experienced playmakers.
On special teams, the Bucs haven’t gotten the return on investment from Bryan Anger the last two years, and might be better off going with a younger, cheaper alternative and save Anger’s $3 million base salary. Kicker has been a huge problem area for the Bucs during Licht’s tenure in Tampa Bay, and newly signed Philip Andersen is not the answer. The Bucs may look to re-sign Cairo Santos or take a chance on aging veteran Matt Bryant, who made 92 percent of his field goals last year in Atlanta at the age of 42.
Reynolds’ Bucs Battle Plan For The 2019 Offseason
PewterReport.com writers Scott Reynolds, Mark Cook, Trevor Sikkema, Taylor Jenkins and Matt Matera have devised their own Bucs’ 2019 Offseason Battle Plans that feature free agent signings, trades, roster moves and draft picks designed to aid Tampa Bay’s quest to end its 10-year playoff drought. 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 2019 offseason with approximately $16 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 Bucs need a veteran backup quarterback and after reading Arian’s autobiography, The Quarterback Whisperer, he has a fondness for former Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton, who is in the final year of his deal in Cleveland. The Bucs trade their seventh-round pick to the Browns for Stanton, who has a cap charge of $2.75 million.
The Bucs need to clear some cap space in order to re-sign the players they want and target some new additions in free agency in my Battle Plan. That means cutting some players and trading others. The Bills have the fourth-most salary cap space with just over $79 million and desperately need help inside at defensive tackle. Head coach Sean McDermott came from Carolina where he saw Gerald McCoy chase Cam Newton twice a year.
With McDermott needing to win now after a disappointing 6-10 season followed up his 9-7 debut in 2017, the Bills, who have 10 draft picks this year, trade a fourth-round and a fifth-round pick to Tampa Bay for McCoy. That move saves the Bucs $13 million in cap space and now Tampa Bay has eight draft picks.
Licht also trades wide receiver DeSean Jackson to Pittsburgh, which must replace Antonio Brown, who will be traded this offseason. Ben Roethlisberger has a big arm and can hit the deep ball, which is why acquiring Jackson is so important for the Steelers, as they’ll need to replace some of the big, explosive plays downfield they’ll be losing by parting ways with Brown. The Steelers trade their third-round pick, No. 83 overall, to the Bucs in exchange for the fourth-round pick they acquired from Buffalo, No. 105 overall in the deal, which allows Tampa Bay to move up 22 spots in the draft. This gives the Bucs eight draft picks in 2019, in addition to clearing $10 million more in cap room.
Tampa Bay now has approximately $37 million in cap room, but will need more in my Bucs Battle Plan. So defensive tackle Beau Allen is released to save $5 million, defensive tackle Mitch Unrein is waived injured, which clears $3.75 million, punter Bryan Anger is cut to save $3 million, and the team parts ways with veteran offensive lineman Evan Smith, which saves $2 million.
Now Tampa Bay has approximately $50 million in salary cap space to work with. Here are the roster moves I would make in free agency:
Unrestricted Free Agent Re-signings
MLB Kwon Alexander – 4-Years, $36 Million
Alexander is coming off a torn ACL, and might not be ready to go until training camp, but the Bucs take a leap of faith here and give him a four-year, $36-million contract with $10 million in guaranteed money, including the first year of the deal, which is worth a cap-friendly $6 million due to his injury.
RT Donovan Smith – 1-Year, $14 Million Franchise Tag
Smith didn’t deserve a long-term contract with the way he played in 2018, so he doesn’t get one. Instead, the Bucs slap the franchise tag on him and make him prove himself all over again in another contract year under a new coaching staff. It will cost more to re-sign him in 2020 this way, but locking him up to a long-term deal now is even more risky.
MLB Kevin Minter – 1-Year, $1 Million
Injuries to Alexander, Jack Cichy and Kendell Beckwith make the linebacker position rather weak in Tampa Bay with only Lavonte David as the healthy, proven starting-caliber player. Minter knows Todd Bowles’ defense inside and out and proved himself as a Buccaneer in limited duty last year.
K Cairo Santos – 1-Year, $1 Million
Outside of the Saints game, Santos performed well in a small sample size last year and deserves a shot at coming back on a one-year, prove-it deal. The Bucs will need to bring in training camp competition for him, but he’ll have a legit shot to be the team’s kicker in 2019.
Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-Signed
WR Adam Humphries
This is a tough one because Humphries is an outstanding player coming off a great contract year. But it’s a down year for receivers on the free agent market and that will only drive his value up. Humphries could fetch WR2 money, but he’ll always be WR3 with the Bucs behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and he’ll price himself out of Tampa Bay.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick showed he can still play in the league at age 35, especially the first three weeks of the season when he passed for over 400 yards per game. The problem is that this is Winston’s team and Arians won’t win his starter looking over his shoulder at Fitzpatrick for another season.
S Chris Conte
The Bucs have had Conte around for years with mediocre results. It’s time to move on and see if the team’s young crop of safeties can play.
LB Adarius Taylor
Taylor was the Bucs’ special teams captain last year and brings value on fourth down, but struggled as a linebacker on defense. With a price tag over $1.5 million, he’s too expensive to return as a backup and Minter takes his spot.
CB Brent Grimes
Grimes was actually done last year, but the Bucs talked him into one more regrettable season, in which he played poorly. His bad attitude isn’t needed in Tampa Bay anymore – or elsewhere.
QB Ryan Griffin
Griffin has yet to throw pass in the NFL and is really an unknown player. The Bucs need a more proven backup quarterback with actual playing experience.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
Rodgers was a favorite of former head coach Dirk Koetter because he knew his system, but the Bucs can upgrade the running back spot here, and might have done so with the signing of Andre Ellington.
LB Cameron Lynch
Lynch is a great, high-energy special teamer, and the Bucs wouldn’t rule out signing him to the league minimum later after the draft if necessary, but don’t do it now.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches
Nunez-Roches is a decent player, but the Bucs will take advantage of a deep draft at defensive tackle to bolster this position.
S Josh Shaw
Shaw was signed as a late-season, emergency safety and there are more talented players on the roster right now that need to be developed by the new coaching staff.
LS Garrison Sanborn
Sanborn could return later if a comparable, cheaper alternative isn’t found in free agency.
Restricted Free Agent Re-signings
RB Peyton Barber – 1-Year $3 Million
Barber had a career year and was the team’s leading rusher in 2018. He deserves to come back, and the team should tender him an offer that comes with a second-round draft pick compensation.
SS Andrew Adams – $1-Year, $2 Million
Adams was a pleasant surprise as a midseason pick-up, and led Tampa Bay with four interceptions. Adams deserves a one-year low tender and come to camp to compete, but he’s no lock to make the roster.
Restricted Free Agents Not Re-signed
FB Alan Cross
Cross retired from football to join the coaching staff at Memphis, his alma mater, as a graduate assistant coach.
LB Devante Bond
Bond is a decent special teams player, but hasn’t shown the ability to be anything more than that over the past couple of years.
OT Leonard Wester
The Bucs shouldn’t tender Wester an offer. Instead, sign him to a one-year, league-minimum deal after the draft so he can come to camp to compete for a backup offensive tackle role.
CB DeVante Harris
Harris had a nice, brief stint in Tampa Bay last year and it would be interesting to see what new cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross could do for his game. The Bucs shouldn’t throw a $2 million tender on him, but sign him to a league-minimum deal after the draft.
CB Javien Elliott
Elliott was given a chance to play the nickel cornerback spot and played it better than M.J. Stewart, who was a second-round draft pick. Put him in the mix to compete for a spot on the depth chart after the draft and avoid a $2 million tender.
Exclusive Rights Free Agent Re-signings
S Isaiah Johnson
Johnson has value as a reserve safety capable of playing either free or strong safety, in addition to helping out on special teams.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Not Re-signed
OT Michael Liedtke
Liedtke is a JAG (just a guy) on Tampa Bay’s offensive line and the Bucs can upgrade their depth here through the draft.
These roster moves leave the Buccaneers with approximately $23 million in salary cap space, and the team will need approximately $6.5 million to sign its rookie class.
Bucs’ 2019 Free Agent Additions
Houston CB Kareem Jackson – 3 years, $24 million
The Bucs land a starting-caliber cornerback in Jackson, who can cover and play the run quite well. At age 30, he’ll have to make slightly less than he did last year at $9 million, and his first year’s base salary can be a manageable $6 million due to having a higher base salary in 2020 and the first two years guaranteed. His experience and playmaking skills are needed opposite second-year cornerback Carlton Davis.
Houston SS Tyrann Mathieu – 3 years, $22.5 million
Mathieu is loved by both Arians and Bowles, and will come cheaper than New York Giants strong safety Landon Collins. He’ll make $7.5 million per year, but will have to take a lower base salary in 2019 to help the Bucs’ cap space. Having the first two years of the contract guaranteed and higher base next year allows that to happen. The Bucs get an alpha in the secondary and a proven playmaker in Bowles’ scheme.
Atlanta RB Tevin Coleman – 4 years, $20 million
Bucs director of football administration Mike Greenberg works some of his cap magic by guaranteeing $10 million of Coleman’s deal in exchange for a cap-friendly, smaller base salary of $3 million in 2019. Coleman had a career year in 2018 with 800 yards and nine total touchdowns, and his receiving skills make him a perfect fit in Arians’ offense.
These moves leave the Bucs with around $7 million in salary cap space, which will be needed to sign the team’s 2019 draft class. Greenberg can create some additional cap space for Tampa Bay if needed by restructuring the contract of Cameron Brate, who is due to make $7 million in base salary in 2019 and is coming off a down year due to injury.
Now let’s take a look at some of my personal selections for the Buccaneers in the 2019 NFL Draft. This is not a mock draft of players that I necessarily believe the Tampa Bay will choose. That’s what PewterReport.com’s 2019 Bucs’ 6-Round Mock Draft articles are for, and we will have our third edition in early March after the NFL Scouting Combine. This mock draft is my own personal selections for the Bucs based on their remaining personnel needs and the players I like in this year’s draft class.