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.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Getty Images
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 Jon Ledyard 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. 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 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.
Reynolds’ Bucs Battle Plan For The 2020 Offseason
I always try to keep my Bucs Battle Plan somewhat reasonable and realistic, almost trying to project what general manager Jason Licht would or could do. There is a part of me that wants to sign Titans right tackle Jack Conklin to replace Demar Dotson, but Licht wouldn’t have four offensive linemen making at least $10 million or more, so I’ll follow suit – even though I’ve been a big fan of Conklin’s since his days at Michigan State.
Bucs CB Jamel Dean – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
And while I see the value of having a veteran cornerback on the team like Logan Ryan in case either Sean Murphy-Bunting or Jamel Dean have a sophomore slump, Licht believes in those young guys, in addition to third-year cornerback Carlton Davis, and doesn’t plan on signing a starting-caliber cornerback in free agency because doing so would stymie someone’s development.
It’s a risky move, but I’ll buy into that philosophy, too – perhaps against my better judgment. The fact that I’m a big believer in cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross also helps my decision-making process.
Trade For QB Derek Carr
The entire offseason I’ve been trying to believe that it’s more than a 50-50 proposition that Jameis Winston returns as the Bucs’ starting quarterback in 2020. If after five seasons Tampa Bay still doesn’t know if Winston can shake his knack for turning the ball over, then I’m thinking the team attempts to move on. Former Bucs head coach and current Raiders coach Jon Gruden always seems to like his quarterback, but never love him, and I believe that’s the case with Derek Carr.
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and QB Derek Carr – Photo by: Getty Images
Carr doesn’t take enough chances to make big plays, so Gruden either lands New England’s six-time Super Bowl champion QB Tom Brady or is intrigued enough by Winston or Marcus Mariota to want to deal Carr. I’ve liked Carr, a three-time Pro Bowler since his Fresno State days where he was slinging touchdown passes to Devante Adams, and even had him going to the Bucs in 2014 in one of PewterReport.com’s Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Drafts.
Like Winston, Carr is tough and plays through pain. He’s only missed two games in six seasons in Oakland, and he’s coming off back-to-back years of throwing for 4,000 yards despite not having a big-play receiver to throw to since the Raiders traded Amari Cooper to Dallas in 2018. Carr has completed 69 percent of his passes on average over the past two years and has thrown for 143 touchdowns and 62 interceptions in his NFL career, including a career-high 32 TDs and only 13 INTs in 2015.
Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians wants fewer mistakes, turnovers and self-inflicted wounds from his team in 2020 as last year was the year the Bucs continued to beat the Bucs. Carr has the arm strength to push the ball down the field and make plays, evidenced by his 4.3 career TD percentage, but it’s his 1.9 career INT percentage that appeals to Arians and the Bucs. By comparison, Winston’s career averages are a 4.7 TD percentage and a 3.5 INT percentage.
What the Bucs will like about the 28-year old Carr is his contract for the next three years at some very reasonable salaries, including $18.9 million in 2020, followed by salaries of $19.525 million in 2021 and $19,777,519 in 2022. I pull the trigger to trade for Carr, sending Tampa Bay’s second-round pick to Las Vegas for Carr and the Raiders’ fourth-rounder. Carr will count for $19 million towards the Bucs’ 2020 salary cap, so Tampa Bay will have approximately $61 million left to spend in free agency.
Trade Away TE O.J. Howard
After seeing Arians’ offense in Tampa Bay for the first time, it’s clear that the passing game is run through Pro Bowl wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, with third receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end O.J. Howard third and fourth on the pass-catching hierarchy. Howard, a former first-round pick, is not going to get enough targets in Arians’ scheme to justify paying him starter tight end money on his second contract, which will come up in 2022 after his fifth-year option in 2021.
Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
So let’s make the move now and trade Howard to New England, which is a team desperate for tight end help. Howard could likely fetch a second-round pick, but I’ll take two of the Patriots’ third-round picks so I can draft two players for giving up Howard. Because Howard’s contract is fully guaranteed, he still counts against the cap in 2020, which is the final year of his contract.
Trade Down On Day 3 Of The Draft
Now armed with nine draft picks, including an expected fourth-round compensatory draft pick, I make a draft day trade with that comp pick, sending it to Chicago for two of the Bears’ fifth-round picks. Now I have the draft capital to acquire 10 players, including six players on Day 3 in a draft that is very deep at running back and wide receiver.
Bucs’ 2020 Draft Picks
Round 1 Bucs’ own selection Round 2 Traded to Las Vegas for Carr
Round 3 Bucs’ own selection Round 3 Acquired from New England for Howard Round 3 Acquired from New England for Howard
Round 4 Bucs’ own selection Round 4 Acquired from Las Vegas in Carr trade Round 4 Traded to Chicago for two fifth-round picks
Round 5 Bucs’ own selection Round 5 Acquired from Chicago in trade down deal Round 5 Acquired from Chicago in trade down deal
Round 6 Bucs’ own selection
Bucs TE Cameron Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
With $61 million in salary cap space after acquiring Carr in a trade with the Raiders, there is still plenty of cap room and I don’t have to make any roster moves for the sole purpose of creating more cap space. However, I do restructure tight end Cameron Brate’s deal, forcing him to take a pay cut from $6 million to $4 million this year to stay in Tampa Bay.
Unrestricted Free Agent Re-signings
OLB Shaquil Barrett – 4 years, $64 million
The Bucs avoid having to use the franchise tag on Barrett by paying him slightly more at an average of $16 million per season for four years. Tampa Bay gets its top pass rusher under contract until age 31.
OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – 2 years, $20 million
What is the market for a 31-year old edge rusher coming off a year that began with an offseason neck injury from a car crash? That’s a great question. Pierre-Paul will be allowed to test free agency, but returns on a two-year deal worth an average of $10 million per season, and brings the fire, intensity and leadership back to Tampa Bay.
DT Ndamukong Suh – 1 year, $7.25 million
Suh does a lot of the dirty work in Tampa Bay’s run defense that doesn’t always show up on the stats sheet. Suh brings an attitude and toughness to the Bucs defense that the team would like to have back for one more year – on a deal that’s $2 million cheaper than last season’s.
WR Breshad Perriman – 2 years, $12 million
The Bucs value what Perriman was able to do last year and sign him to a modest two-year deal that averages $6 million per season – a $2 million pay increase from the previous year. Scotty Miller and Justin Watson just aren’t ready to step in full time if injuries hit starters Mike Evans and Chris Godwin again.
Bucs OLB Carl Nassib – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
OLB Carl Nassib – 1 year, $5 million
Nassib hits free agency and finds out there isn’t a huge market for a physical, blue-collar edge defender. After examining his options, he takes a one-year, prove-it deal to return to Tampa Bay, and makes nearly three times what he made with the Bucs a year ago.
RT Demar Dotson – 1 year, $2.5 million
I’ve got a soft spot for Dotson, and he has one more year’s worth of starting in him if necessary. At worst, he’s a great veteran backup that can help groom Tampa Bay’s right tackle of the future and comes with an affordable price tag.
QB Drew Stanton – 1 Year, $2.5 million
The 35-year old Stanton played for Arians in Arizona and comes to Tampa Bay to help Carr acclimate himself to the offense. Stanton will also challenge Ryan Griffin, who enters a contract year, for the No. 2 QB job.
ILB Kevin Minter – 1 Year, $945,000
Minter knows Bowles’ defense inside and out, and proved his worth last year filling in for a few games for the injured Devin White. His veteran presence is welcomed in the locker room and he’s still a force on special teams at age 29.
C/G Earl Watford – 1 Year, $945,000
Watford returns because he knows the offense and is really versatile, especially at center where he’ll be used in 2020 if any injury happens to Ryan Jensen.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches – 1 Year, $820,000
At just 26 years old, Nunez-Roches (aka Nacho) is a versatile defensive lineman that still has some upside to his game, especially as an interior pass rusher. A slight raise and a one-year, prove-it deal worth nearly $1 million gets Nunez-Roches back in Tampa Bay.
OT Josh Wells – 1 year, $820,000
Wells proved to be a decent backup at left tackle, and has the versatility to also play the right side. Until a better backup emerges, Wells returns for one more year on a prove-it contract.
These signings leave my Buccaneers team with approximately $11.7 million to sign the 2020 draft class and still have some room to sign some in-season injury replacements.
Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-signed
QB Jameis Winston
I’ve written before that I wouldn’t mind seeing Winston back in Tampa Bay. At the same time, it’s been a wild ride with plenty of ups and downs – enough to create some Winston fatigue in the Bucs fan base. Tampa Bay can’t win by constantly beating itself, and Winston has over 100 turnovers since wearing red and pewter beginning in 2015. I don’t think there will be much of a market for Winston in free agency, but we’ll see. His departure could fetch the Bucs a compensatory draft pick in 2021.