The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the best offseason in the NFL last year, re-signing outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, in addition to using the franchise tag on outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett. Oh, and general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians were also able to lure the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, to Tampa Bay and also trade for future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: USA Today
Those moves, plus the selection of star right tackle Tristan Wirfs and free safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft culminated in the Bucs making NFL history by hosting and winning the Super Bowl at Raymond James Stadium against Kansas City, 31-9. Despite the team’s supreme success, the Bucs’ coaching staff didn’t get pilfered outside of offensive assistant Antwaan Randle El, who left for Detroit to be the Lions wide receivers coach. That’s a huge plus as Tampa Bay looks to defend its championship in 2021.
But repeating as Super Bowl champs won’t be easy if the team can’t be kept intact. That will be a challenge this offseason, as Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg have a lot of free agents to re-sign this offseason first. Among them are Barrett, Suh, Gronkowski, inside linebacker Lavonte David, running back Leonard Fournette and kicker Ryan Succop among others.
The NFC South appears to be there for the taking for Tampa Bay if most or all of the team’s stars can return in 2021. New Orleans is expected to see star quarterback Drew Brees retire and the Saints are in terrible salary cap shape and will have to make some unwanted roster cuts. Atlanta underwent a regime change and isn’t expected to make the playoffs again this year, and Carolina looks to be a year or two away from Matt Rhule took over as head coach last year, and is in search of a new quarterback to replace Teddy Bridgewater.
Explaining The Bucs Battle Plans For The 2021 Offseason
PewterReport.com writers Scott Reynolds, Mark Cook, Jon Ledyard, Matt Matera and Taylor Jenkins have devised their own Bucs Battle Plans For The 2021 Offseason that feature free agent signings, trades, roster moves and draft picks designed to help Tampa Bay repeat as Super Bowl champions. Here’s my Bucs Battle Plan – 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.
Bucs director of football administration Mike Greenberg and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The big challenge regarding this year’s Bucs Battle Plan is that the 2021 salary cap hasn’t been set yet, although it’s expected to be between $180-$185 million, which is a decrease of about $13-$18 million from the $198 million in 2020 due to the lost stadium revenue from COVID-19. Tampa Bay has between $11 million and $19 million in available salary cap room between OverTheCap.com and Spotrac.com.
Licht and Greenberg can create a good deal of salary cap space by doing restructures to the contracts of wide receiver Mike Evans and left guard Ali Marpet, and the team can also extend the contracts of Brady, left tackle Donovan Smith and center Ryan Jensen. We’re going to assume for all of this year’s Bucs Battle Plans that Greenberg and Licht will make some or all of these moves to clear a substantial amount of room, so we won’t be using financials in this year’s free agency period due to the uncertainty.
Reynolds’ Bucs Battle Plan For The 2021 Offseason
The approach I try to take in my Bucs Battle Plans each year is to be reasonable and realistic, trying to project what Licht would or could do instead of playing fantasy football. Like the Bucs, I want to try to bring back this Super Bowl squad because I believe Tampa Bay has the chance to repeat as champions. So I’m going to re-sign almost all of the team’s free agents, add a few new pieces in free agency and target the trenches in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Bucs Trade Out Of The First Round
Licht gets an offer he can’t refuse to trade out of the first round and pick up some additional middle-round picks when the New York Jets come calling. The Jets, who have the 34th overall pick, which is the second pick in the second round, want to jump ahead of Jacksonville, which picks at No. 33, to draft Notre Dame offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg. So New York trades No. 34 and its two third-round picks (No. 66 and No. 86) to Tampa Bay for the No. 32 overall pick, the Bucs’ fourth-round pick (No. 138) and both of their seventh-rounders (No. 250 and No. 257).
Tampa Bay doesn’t have a sixth-round pick this year due to a trade in a previous year, but is expected to get a compensatory draft pick in the fifth or sixth round this year. However that compensatory pick was not factored into the mock draft in this year’s Bucs Battle Plans because it’s not yet official.
Bucs’ Pay Cuts
If Cameron Brate wants to come back as the team’s third-string tight end, he’ll have to take a pay cut once again to help the team. Brate took a $2 million pay cut last year to earn $4.25 million. He’ll have to sacrifice some more this year as he’s set to make $6.5 million. A $3 million pay cut this year will help the Bucs bring back some of their more important free agent starters.
Use The Franchise Tag On Godwin
Bucs WR Chris Godwin – Photo by: USA Today
After using the franchise tag on Barrett last year, the Bucs will use the franchise tag on Godwin this year, as the value of the tag, which is around $16 million, is actually about $3-$4 million less than the star receiver’s free agent market value. That helps save the Bucs cap room in 2021 and gives Godwin a nice, well-deserved raise. Tampa Bay and Godwin’s agent can work on a long-term deal prior to free agency in 2022.
Unrestricted Free Agents Re-signed
OLB Shaquil Barrett – 4-year deal, $72 million
Getting Barrett back is huge, and after two very good years the 28-year old has shown that he’s worth $18 million per year. Barrett’s contract features $36 million in guaranteed money and because of it, he’ll only hit the cap for $14 million in 2021, which helps the Bucs sign other players.
ILB Lavonte David – 3-year deal, $48 million
The 31-year old David re-signs for three years, averaging $16 million, with the first two years guaranteed. The Tampa Bay legend can now retire as a Buccaneer.
K Ryan Succop – 3-year deal, $12 million
Succop is 34, but stayed healthy in 2020 and deserves a raise to $4 million per season and an extension with the first two years guaranteed.
TE Rob Gronkowski – 2-year deal, $16 million
With the Bucs expected to add another year on to Tom Brady’s contract, Gronkowski re-ups for two years with Tampa Bay so they can retire together. Gronk’s new deal is worth $8 million per year, but he’ll only count $6 million against the cap in 2021 because the contract is fully guaranteed.
Bucs OLBs Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul and DT Ndamukong Suh – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
DT Ndamukong Suh – 1-year deal, $8 million
Suh is back for another year and re-signs for the same amount that he played for in 2020.
QB Blaine Gabbert – 1-year deal, $2 million
The Bucs really like Gabbert, and I like the fact that he knows the system and looked good in the second half of the win over the Lions enough to bring him back for one more year with a slight raise.
QB Ryan Griffin – 1-year deal, $1.5 million
Because Brady will be out of action during the spring due to his offseason knee injury, bringing back another QB like Griffin that knows the offense makes sense for continuity in OTAs and mini-camp.
CB Ross Cockrell – 1-year deal, $1.1 million
Cockrell proved his worth over the second half of the season, seeing reps in the slot and providing quality depth.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches – 1-year deal, $1.5 million
Not sure Nunez-Roches makes the team in 2021, but I re-sign him to the same contract from a year ago and bring him back to compete in training camp.
TE Antony Auclair – 1-year deal, $1.1 million
The Bucs had success using offensive tackle Joe Haeg as a blocking tight end last year and will continue that practice with another tackle in 2021. Yet, I’ll still bring back Auclair to battle Tanner Hudson in training camp for the No. 4 tight end spot.
FS Andrew Adams – 1-year deal, $1.1 million
Adams has been a “steady Eddie” over the last three seasons in Tampa Bay. He deserves the chance to return to compete for a roster spot in 2021.
RB T.J. Logan – 1-year deal, $1.1 million
Logan may not make the team in 2021 following his knee injury, but I’ll bring him to camp to compete for the return duties and for the No. 4 running back role.
ILB Kevin Minter – 1-year deal, $990,000
The 31-year old Minter is a crafty veteran and was the special teams captain. He comes back on a on a league-minimum deal.
Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-signed
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: USA Today
RB Leonard Fournette
I wouldn’t mind having Fournette back but I can’t afford him. Playoff Lenny wants to be a full-time starter and a big raise and he’ll find that elsewhere.
WR Antonio Brown
I don’t trust Brown, who turns 33 in July, given his past behavior. Not taking a chance by re-signing him.
RB LeSean McCoy
McCoy is done in the NFL, and retires with two Super Bowl rings in back-to-back years.
CB Ryan Smith
Smith has been a special teams ace for five years in Tampa Bay, but he’s too expensive to keep.
DT Steve McLendon
The 35-year old McLendon retires with a Super Bowl ring after providing valuable reps last year inside.
OT Josh Wells
Wells has been a solid backup, but I have other plans at offensive tackle in 2021. I might sign him off the street in 2021 if there is a long-term injury at offensive tackle.
OT Joe Haeg
Haeg was a better extra tight end than he was as a backup lineman and won’t return to Tampa Bay.
OL Earl Watford
Watford helped the Bucs at the end of the season and got a ring, but I’m moving on from him in 2021.
RB Kenjon Barner
Barner is just a guy and I have other plans at running back and kick return.
LB Deone Bucannon
Bucannon was an emergency signing down the stretch and won’t be back in 2021.
LB Jack Cichy
Cichy just can’t stay healthy and it’s time to find another, healthier backup linebacker.
New Unrestricted Free Agents Signed
Patriots RB James White and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
RB James White – 2-year deal, $7 million
I’m adding the 29-year old White on a two-year deal that averages $3.5 million per year to replace Fournette and McCoy on third downs as a reliable pass catcher out of the backfiel. White is reunited with Brady and the length of their contracts is synced up.
WR Breshad Perriman – 1-year deal, $3 million
Perriman signed a one-year contract with the Jets last year for $6 million, but didn’t have the production to match his contract. He re-signs with the Bucs for half of that in his quest for a Super Bowl ring and for the chance to play with Tom Brady. Perriman, who has a nice mix of size and speed, was a stud in Tampa Bay over the last half of the 2019 season and already knows the offense.
OT Demar Dotson – 1-year deal, $2.5 million
Yes, I’m bringing back one of my favorite Buccaneers to help him get a ring before he retires. The 36-year old Dotson is coming off a solid year with the Broncos and is capable of playing right tackle and even left tackle in a pinch, as he’s a better pass protector than he is a run blocker.
Restricted Free Agents Re-signed
G Aaron Stinnie – 1-year deal, $2.133 million
Stinnie proved his worth down the stretch starting at right tackle for the injured Alex Cappa in the playoffs and the Super Bowl. He returns to compete for the starting job in 2021.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Re-signed
TE Tanner Hudson – 1-year deal, $850,000
Hudson made strides as a blocker last year, but needs to keep improving in that area. I like his receiving skills and potential enough to have him come back and compete for a roster spot with Auclair.
DL Patrick O’Connor – 1-year deal, $850,000
O’Connor continues to make strides on defense and is a special teams stalwart. He’s definitely coming back in 2021.
DL Jeremiah Ledbetter – 1-year deal, $850,000
Ledbetter has good versatility and has done enough to hang around Tampa Bay. He may not make the team, but I’ll bring him in to compete in camp.
LS Zach Triner – 1-year deal, $850,000
Triner is as solid as they come as a long snapper and he needs to return to Tampa Bay.
Reynolds’ 2021 Bucs Draft Picks
Round 2 (from Jets) – North Carolina RB Javonte Williams
Junior • 5-10, 220
Tampa Bay drafts Williams to team with – and eventually replace – Ronald Jones II in the Bucs’ backfield. Williams rushed for 2,297 yards and 29 touchdowns, while averaging 6.3 yards per carry, including 1,140 yards and 19 TDs during his junior campaign. Williams is a great pass protector and a good receiver out of the backfield, catching 50 passes for 539 yards (10.8 avg.) and three scores in three years for the Tar Heels. Williams has incredible power and contact balance, which allows him to break tackles, and the agility to slip tackles at the NFL level.
The Bucs didn’t plan on drafting Dickerson, but he falls to Tampa Bay at the end of the second round. Dickerson is coming off a torn ACL in the SEC Championship Game in December, which affects his draft stock, in addition to a torn ACL and ankle injuries from his days at Florida State. But he did start 24 straight games at Alabama prior to his latest knee injury, which is a good sign. Dickerson has tremendous size and strength, a great football I.Q. and a super personality and leadership qualities.
Round 3 (from Jets) – North Carolina State DT Alim McNeill
Senior • 6-2, 320
McNeill is a run-stuffing force at 320 pounds and has a great bull rush as he enters the league. He played three technique as a sophomore and nose tackle as a junior, which cut into his pass rush production. McNeill had 17.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in three years at N.C. State, including 5.5 sacks in 2019. McNeill had five pass breakups, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a pick-six in his Wolfpack career. His pick-six showed off his great athleticism, as McNeill played running back in high school – just like Tampa Bay nose tackle Vita Vea.
Surratt began his Tar Heels career as the starting quarterback as a freshman, but lost his job during his sophomore season. Surratt then moved to defense in 2019 where he recorded 115 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two pass breakups, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 13 games. His production was similar in 11 games last year, recording 91 stops, 7.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, three pass breakups, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Surratt is a very good athlete and has great closing speed and a solid football I.Q. He’s still learning how to play linebacker, but his downhill style is a great fit for Todd Bowles’ scheme.
Round 3 – Northern Iowa DE Elerson Smith
Senior • 6-6, 262
Tampa Bay stays on defense for the third straight pick, drafting Smith to eventually replace Jason Pierre-Paul. Northern Iowa’s 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID-19, but he showed well in the Senior Bowl with two tackles and a tackle for loss in the game. Smith recorded 63 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, five forced fumbles, four pass breakups and two blocked kicks as a junior in 2019. The year prior Smith logged 19 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Smith wins with great length and hustle and has a big upside as an edge rusher.
Round 5 – East Carolina OT D’Ante Smith
Senior • 6-5, 291
Smith was injured in the 2020 season opener and missed the rest of the year. He practiced one day at the Senior Bowl before injuring his thumb and was dominant. Smith played left tackle at 274 pounds at East Carolina, but has added 15 pounds of needed size over the past year. He still needs to add an additional 10-15 pounds at the NFL level and is not ready to play as a rookie, but Smith is a great technician and has all the tools to eventually start as early as 2022. Smith could serve as the Bucs’ blocking tight end as Joe Haeg did in 2020 to get some needed experience as a rookie.
Reynolds’ “Way Too Early” Bucs 53-Man Roster Projection
QUARTERBACKS – 3 QB Tom Brady QB Blaine Gabbert QB Ryan Griffin Analysis: With Brady out for the offseason while he rehabs his surgically-repaired knee, Gabbert and Griffin know the playbook and the offense doesn’t miss a beat in the spring as a result. The Bucs like Gabbert and he could be in the mix to eventually succeed Brady in a few years.
RUNNING BACKS – 4 RB Ronald Jones II RB Javonte Williams RB James White RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn Analysis: Jones is the starter and is in a contract year. He’ll be pushed for playing time by Williams, who is the Bucs’ top pick this year. White takes over as the team’s third down pick due to his reliable hands as a receiver out of the backfield. The Bucs don’t know if Vaughn can be a part-time contributor or a spot role player, but will find out in 2021.
Bucs WR Breshad Perriman – Photo by: Getty Images
WIDE RECEIVERS – 6 WR Mike Evans WR Chris Godwin WR Breshad Perriman WR Scotty Miller WR Tyler Johnson WR Jaydon Mickens Analysis: Evans and Godwin comprise the best 1-2 punch at receiver in the league. Perriman returns on a one-year deal to replace Antonio Bryant in an attempt to win a Super Bowl ring. He’ll compete with Miller and Johnson for playing time as the third receiver. Mickens is back to return punts and kicks and to see some occasional snaps on offense.
TIGHT ENDS – 4 TE Rob Gronkowski TE O.J. Howard TE Cameron Brate TE Tanner Hudson Analysis: The Bucs re-sign Gronkowski to start along with Howard, who is back from an Achilles injury and is in a contract year. Brate is back after taking a pay cut to provide solid depth, while Hudson continues to develop as a pass-catching tight end and special teams player.
OFFENSIVE LINE – 9 LT Donovan Smith LG Ali Marpet C Ryan Jensen RG Alex Cappa RT Tristan Wirfs C-G Landon Dickerson G Aaron Stinnie OT D’Ante Smith OT Demar Dotson Analysis: Tampa Bay’s starting offensive line returns intact for a second straight season. Dickerson is a future starter at either center or guard and offers depth once he returns from ACL injury. Stinnie is a starting-caliber guard and could compete with Cappa for the right guard spot. D’Ante Smith and Dotson have the ability to play left tackle and right tackle in a pinch, respectively.
Bucs NT Vita Vea – Photo by: USA Today
DEFENSIVE LINE – 6 DT Ndamukong Suh NT Vita Vea DE William Gholston DT Alim McNeill DT Khalil Davis DE Patrick O’Connor Analysis: Suh is back to team with Vea and Gholston for another run at a Super Bowl. McNeill has the ability to play nose tackle or the three tech spot and has the size to play right away, while Davis is still developing as a defensive tackle. O’Connor is a special teams star and is capable of playing defensive end to spell Gholston.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS – 5 OLB Shaquil Barrett OLB Jason Pierre-Paul OLB Anthony Nelson OLB Elerson Smith OLB Cam Gill Analysis: Barrett is back to pair with Pierre-Paul to terrorize quarterbacks for another year. Nelson continues to develop and is pushed for playing time by Smith, who has better athleticism and pass rushing ability. Gill will compete for the No. 4 OLB role and will continue to star on special teams.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS – 4 ILB Devin White ILB Lavonte David ILB Kevin Minter ILB Chazz Surratt Analysis: White and David, who is re-signed this offseason, are the best 1-2 linebacker tandem in the league. Minter is back on a one-year deal to provide veteran depth and special teams help. Surratt will be an impact player on special teams while he learns Tampa Bay’s defense and continues to develop as a linebacker.
Bucs CB Carlton Davis III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
CORNERBACKS – 5 CB Carlton Davis III CB Jamel Dean CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
CB Ross Cockrell CB Herb Miller Analysis: Tampa Bay’s cornerback quartet returns with Davis entering a contract year and Dean and Murphy-Bunting looking for more consistency in 2021. Cockrell showed his value in the slot and is back for another year. Miller earns a role on special teams and is a developing defender.
SAFETIES – 4 FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. SS Jordan Whitehead FS Mike Edwards SS Javon Hagan Analysis: Winfield is an emerging star. Whitehead, who is entering a contract year, and Edwards will compete for a starting spot. Hagan makes strides in training camp to replace Andrew Adams on the roster as the final safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS – 3 K Ryan Succop P Bradley Pinion LS Zach Triner Analysis: Tampa Bay’s special teams battery returns for another season with Succop’s re-signing in free agency. Pinion is a very good punter and a great kickoff specialist. Triner is as solid as they come in terms of snapping.
What Did You Think?
Did you like my Bucs Battle Plan for the 2021 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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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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