This week, PewterReport.com has come up with three unique and different “Battle Plans” for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offseason plans courtesy of our three main writers. The idea was that we would go through the offseason schedule and each step of the way came up with our own fantasy-style offseason plan of who we would resign, who we would bring in, who we would draft and who would make the final 53-man roster come regular season.
This plan gave us free reign to do what we want with the roster, draft picks and salary cap. We had to keep moves in the realm of realism, obeying the cap numbers and possible draft pick selections, but other than that, this was like our own Madden season.
So, I decided to go full mad scientist with that idea. I saw this Buccaneers roster as good after a solid, 9-7 year with an up-and-coming quarterback, but decided to fill it with more talent top to bottom than this team has seen since their Super Bowl Era. Remember, this isn’t what I think the Buccaneers will actually do, this is what I would do to assemble the best team I could for the 2017 season and beyond.
Here’s how I’d start.
The Buccaneers enter the 2017 offseason with approximately $61.9 million in available salary cap space, according to OverTheCap.com. With cornerback Alterraun Verner being released, that moved that number up even higher. Verner was due to make $6.5 million in base salary. Cutting him gave the Bucs $68.4 million in available cap room. Next, I’d do even more house cleaning by relieving running back Doug Martin of his contract. That will save the Bucs $7 million in Martin’s base salary. With those two players off the books, the Buccaneers total cap room going into the 2017 offseason would be $75.4 million.
With that money in hand, this is how my battle plan would play out:
BUCS’ UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT RE-SIGNINGS
RB Jacquizz Rodgers – 3 years, $3 million per year To me, Rodgers has always been an underrated player, and I would finally give him the recognition he deserves. He was the Bucs’ leading rusher this past season, and really saved the offense when you think about it. Without him this offense would’ve been completely one-dimensional. He’s a solid running back who you can count on to give you something week-in and week-out. I’ll pay for that stability, even if it isn’t a flashy one.
S Bradley McDougald – 2 year, $3 million per year McDougald and fellow safety Chris Conte entered the year as the starting safeties, and after re-watching Vernon Hargreaves III’s entire rookie year for a film recap, I could visually recall how much they struggled early in the year. So much so that Keith Tandy is now the one solidified safety. However, I think McDougald really came on and played a confident, aggressive role needed for a dependable strong safety in the second half of the season. If bringing one of he or Conte back, it’s McDougald.
C Joe Hawley – 3 years, $4 million per year Good center play doesn’t come around too often in the NFL. I thought Hawley (through the injuries) performed well as the center piece in the offensive line. At just 28 years old, I would rather bring him back and allow Ali Marpet to focus on playing guard at either spot.
WR Russell Shepard – 2 years, $2.5 million per year Shepard is a must-sign, if you ask me. No one else in that locker room puts their heart on their sleeve quite like Shep does, and that is something that is invaluable. He’s a leader in the locker room and to the younger players, and he’s also a special teams stud. You don’t let guys like that walk.
CB Josh Robinson – 2 years, $2.25 million per year Robinson – along with rookie Ryan Smith – was a big reason why the Buccaneers’ special teams coverage unit was one of the Top 5 in the NFL. He, like Shepard, showed a lot of passion and pride for the “little” part of the game he was featured in. He’ll be signed to be a backup corner, but he’d remain full-time special teamer. Teams need guys who take pride in that.
NT Akeem Spence – 2 years, $2 million per year Signing the 25-year-old nose tackle Spence is a no-brainer, to me. He and veteran Clinton McDonald have good chemistry with Gerald McCoy and the rest of the defensive tackles, and it’s hard to find guys who have a high motor for just taking up blocks. I think Spence shows passion in a position that isn’t glamorous and doesn’t get much glory. He’s a young guy who likes to do the dirty work. I don’t think his price tag will be high enough to let a guy like that go.
BUCS UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS NOT RE-SIGNED WR Vincent Jackson Jackson was one of the most high-profile free agents this franchise has ever signed, but all good things must come to an end. With Jackson’s decline in production and his recent injury last season, it’s time for these two parties to move on. Tampa was lucky to have not only Jackson’s talent on the field, but his presence in the community during his time here, but business is business.
QB Mike Glennon Glennon’s market value to whatever the Bucs would sensibly re-sign him at is not going to add up. He’ll go to a team that truly wants him to compete for a starting quarterback job, and that means he could get signed anywhere from $8-12 million dollars a year. He is not worth that money to be a back up in Tampa Bay.
DE William Gholston Ah, the first big surprise, letting Gholston walk. Gholston is a stout run defender and a big body who can really take up room along the trenches. But he’s never finished any season with more than three sacks, and his ceiling as a pass rusher will always be limited. I’m not too keen about investing a lot of money in those kind of defensive ends. In this scenario, let’s say my offer sheet to him is on the lower end of things and some team gives him a more favorable deal. I’ll let him take it, but only because I have other plans to replace him.
S Chris Conte Conte got a lot of hate early on in the year, and most of it was because he was downright bad production wise. But, to be fair, that secondary was a mess for the first five weeks. After the bye week, and even after he came back from his chest injury, however, Conte’s play improved as did the entire defense’s. Still, in a year where I have the luxury to spend money on upgrades, his position is one I would choose to do so.
TE Brandon Myers Myers was a good, big-body blocking tight end for the Buccaneers, but at age 32, his investment would be as a reserve, if anything, as this team moves towards signing more pass catchers like Cameron Brate. They already have a player in his role in a younger Luke Stocker.
LB Daryl Smith Smith served his purpose during his time in Tampa Bay, but with Devante Bond coming back from injury, and any possible draft pick the team might select, Smith’s time with the Bucs comes to a close at age 35.
OT Gosder Cherilus There are too many young guys to keep on the offensive line for Cherlius to stick around. He was signed as insurance for either of the tackle spots, but after coming in to start the Dallas game and mightily struggling against the Cowboys’ pass rush, it doesn’t make sense to resign him given the current roster.
WR Cecil Shorts I feel bad for Shorts, I truly do. He worked his way back from injury on this team to finally get into the starting lineup, and then saw his season end to gruesome knee injury that tore his ACL, MCL and PCL. You can’t sign re-sign a guy who is 28 coming off an injury like that.
QB Ryan Griffin Griffin is a restricted free agent, not an unrestricted free agent, so the Buccaneers would have the option to match any contract he is offered. But I’ll say that some team offers him and deal elsewhere. I’d let him walk – I’ll tell you why later.
RB Antone Smith Smith suffered a torn ACL during the 2016 season, and the start of his 2017 season looks murky as well. At age 31, he’s not worth bringing back, especially being the insurance guy they would want him to be.
DT John Hughes The Bucs have bigger plans in their interior defensive line than re-signing Hughes.
NT Sealver Siliga With Spence re-signed and Siligia’s price tag worth more for another team, I’d let him walk.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENT RE-SIGNINGS Tampa Bay DE Jacquies Smith (tender) – 1 year, $1.75 million (estimated) Smith was having a very strong preseason after coming off 6.5 and 7-sack seasons, respectively. That was until tearing his ACL after the first game of the regular season. At just 26 years old with that production under his belt, however, it wouldn’t make sense to let a guy like that off their roster. The more pass rushers you have the better.
FREE AGENT ADDITIONS
Chargers DE Melvin Ingram – 4 years, $13.5 million per year With Gholston gone, Melvin Ingram would be my biggest free agency signing. Ingram is coming off back-to-back seasons where he has played and started in all 16 games and recorded 10.5 and eight sacks, respectively. He was Pro Football Focus’ highest graded EDGE player for the 2016 season and is set to hit the open market at a high price.
Now, I know people will say, “Trevor, Ingram played in a 3-4 in San Diego.” I realize that, but at South Carolina, Ingram rushed the passer as a linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle in a 4-3 system. I trust his talent enough to be disruptive anywhere on the line, especially from the edge opposite Noah Spence. He would be the starter, and that could leave Ayers to play the hybrid DE-DT role we saw Mike Smith love to get creative with early in the year. Ingram’s price tag to stay a Charger would probably be more in the $10-12 million dollar range, but Tampa Bay has the extra money to throw his way to lure him.
Ingram on one side, Spence on the other and McCoy in the middle with Ayers and Smith as luxury pass rushers? Yes please.
Browns WR Josh Gordon – 2 years, $4 million per year Oh, now we’re having fun. In this scenario, I expect that Gordon will been reinstated by the league office after serving his one-year suspension for violating the drug policy. Gordon would technically still be controlled by the Browns as a restricted free agent, but from everything I’ve heard and read on their side, even if he is reinstated, the Browns are likely to move on – especially with their interest in re-signing Terrelle Pryor.
On the negative side, people like to focus on Gordon only playing 19 out of the Browns’ 64 games while he was on their roster. But in those 19 games, he was the best wide receiver in football.
Josh Gordon's 2013 season: 11th in receptions 1st in yards 1st in YPC 1st in 20+ yrd catches 1st in 40+ yrd catches & longest TD (95 yards)
If Gordon is reinstated, he’s the best wide receiver on the market, no question. He’s still only 26 years old, and because of the high risk, his contract wouldn’t be near what it would cost to sign Alshon Jeffery or DeSean Jackson. He’d even be cheaper than Pierre Garcon. If Gordon is available, sign me up. The risk is certainly worth the potential reward.
Chargers S Jahleel Addae – 3 years $3.75 million per year Addae was a draft sleeper of mine back in 2013. After going undrafted, he was eventually signed by the San Diego Chargers as the nickel safety, but due to injuries ended he up getting starting time. He’s been a solid contributor as a strong safety since then, and was the No. 7 overall free agent safety in 2016 according to Pro Football Focus.
Not a blockbuster signing, but these kinds of signings are what you do under the radar to make your team better and better every year.
Rams DT Dominique Easley – 2 years, $2.5 million per year During his time at the University of Florida, Easley was one of the best interior defensive linemen in the entire country. So much so that after tearing his ACL in his final year at Florida, the New England Patriots still saw him talented enough to still taking him in the first round. After playing in New England for two seasons, the Patriots released Easley shortly after he had been plugged into a starting role. Later we found out the reasons were for unreliability and immaturity in the locker room.
As a student at UF during Easley’s time there, I can tell you he’s a weird cat at times. He doesn’t like watching football – he watches cartoons instead – and really is just this big giant kid. What’s inside that kid when the football helmet comes on, however, can be a monster. If you get Easley in a family setting where he feels like he’s playing for his brothers and his own like Will Muschamp made him feel at UF, he is a top talent; no question. At age 24, I’ll pay that price tag for a chance to get that talent, knowing I have enough defensive line depth around him to pick up the slack if it doesn’t work.
Packers CB Micah Hyde – 4 years, $5.5 million per year This signing might come as a bit of s surprise, but I’ll explain. With Alterraun Verner being released, the Buccaneers have the chance to make some moves at cornerback, even if they like Ryan Smith as a down-the-road starter. They could opt to be big spenders on players like A.J. Bouye or Malcolm Butler as outside corners, making Hargreaves the permanent nickel corner, but Hargreaves was much more successful on the outside, and justifying a Top 15 pick on a corner really warrants playing outside.
So, instead, I have the Bucs signing the best nickel cornerback in free agency, and maybe even in the league. Hyde’s price tag to play just inside might seem high to some, but the game has changed; nickel corner isn’t a diss anymore. Heck, in the first two weeks of the season last year the Falcons lined up Julio Jones in the slot and the Arizona Cardinals did the same with Larry Fitzgerald. No third cornerback on a depth chart is going to be able to face that. You have to get a good one and place him there on purpose. Hyde is one of the best.
Eagles TE Trey Burton – 2 years, $2.25 million per year Burton has been Mr. Utility for the Eagles both in the offense and on special teams for the last two years. I’d bring him into Tampa to continue to fortify the special teams units, and to have a second tight end who can thin out the middle of the field in the passing game along with Cameron Brate.
This signing would protect the Bucs by upgrading that position while taking the pressure off drafting a tight end early to do so. You never want to pigeonhole yourself going into a draft. You always want to put yourself in the position to take the best guys on the board.
All those signings combined at those numbers comes in at $49.5 million in cap out of the $74.5 I had to spend. Factoring in $5-7 million for incoming draftees, and liking to have anywhere from $8-10 million to play with during the season and we’re right on schedule.
Speaking of the draft, let’s see who my selections would be if I were in charge of the war room.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org