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.
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 Current State Of The Buccaneers
It was fool’s gold. That’s what it was. The Bucs’ 9-7 season, in which they barely missed out on the playoffs, in Dirk Koetter’s first season at head coach was fool’s gold. Call it whatever you want; luck, fortune, favor – Keith Tandy. Whatever it was, it wasn’t real – we woke up.
The two years that followed were frustrating, not just because the team was not winning overall, but because that 9-7 record was in the back of our minds. We thought that if it happened once, it could be a building block and that or something greater could happen again. As the talent on the roster increased, the wins did not. As the expectations mounted, those in charge shrunk.
A clean slate – it had to be done.
But it wasn’t entirely a clean slate, only in the coaching staff. Other than the owners, one man from the Koetter era remains, and it’s up to him to fix it.
Jason Licht is in a “prove it” deal right now for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, much like a player coming off injury. There are things to like about Licht’s tenure in Tampa Bay and there are blunders that blemish it. We’ve written about this plenty in the past, but for every good find you can find a bad one; for every successful draft pick there is a negative counterpart. Licht has been given every opportunity he could want as a general manager. He’s had his chance to pick a quarterback No. 1 overall. He’s had years with plenty of salary cap to spend money in. But, if you ask me, the one thing Licht has never had in Tampa Bay is a real head coach.
Now – Bucs fans certainly hope – he finally does.
The longer I cover the game of football the more I realize that coach matters, and it matters a lot. You can bring in all the talent and the potential you want, but unless you have the coaching staff to get the most out of every player on the roster, you’re always going to be living below your expectations. Whether it was the defense or the rookies or the kickers or the points scored, it always felt like the Bucs were under-performing under Koetter, for a multitude of reasons. For the defense, it was an ignorance to the issue; for young players, it was a slow-swinging potential; and as for points, Bucs fans learned the hard way that yards are no guarantee.
Bruce Arians’ track record is very different. In ever stage of his coaching career since his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the mid-2000s, he’s overachieved. He’s overachieved with rosters, with cap room and with situations. He’s overachieved as a coach both on and off the field with his players. He’s shown an ability to connect with players and personnel like few coaches have – that’s why he has an award few coaches have as a two-time NFL Coach of the Year.
Arians inherits a roster that is, on paper, probably the best roster he has ever inherited, in his first year anywhere. The Bucs have their quarterback in place with a plethora of offensive weapons around him. They have an offensive line that needs a boost more than it need a blowing up. They have a double-digit sack player, one of the best second level linebackers in the league, and young talent in the secondary.
It’s a roster that calls for tweaks more than a teardown – after all, Arians doesn’t rebuild, he reloads.
So what would an ideal reload look like? Well, if I were a Glazer, Licht and Arians rolled into one, I think it would look something like this.
With the talk of Gerald McCoy and DeSean Jackson possibly just being cut out right, I do not see there being a team that will be willing to move on from a draft pick just to potentially over pay for a one-year rental. If the Bucs want to create cap space, I think they’ll have to cut their big name guys. I don’t see there being a realistic trade market for either, so I can’t pretend for there to be in my battle plan.
If I am the Bucs, though, I am trading tight end Cameron Brate. Though I explained in detail in a recent Cover 3 that Arians will have no problem emphasizing his offense around tight end O.J. Howard, having a back up tight end make $7 million does not make much sense. You can likely get a fourth- or fifth-round pick for Brate if you traded him for a draft pick this year, but I say trade him to a team like the Cowboys, who might pay the likes of a second-round pick in 2020 to get a guy like Brate now. That’s a big return on investment and a fit that makes sense.
The talk of the town this offseason surrounding the Buccaneers has been what the team will do with long time defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
McCoy has played for the Buccaneers for nine seasons. He is currently third all-time in franchise history with 54.5 sacks, trailing only Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice, two Hall of Fame-caliber players. McCoy was drafted by the Buccaneers No. 3 overall in 2010. Since then he has been a six-time Pro Bowler and a three-time First-Team All Pro. McCoy has been the face of the Buccaneers defense for nearly a decade now, and when you think of the Bucs, you often think of McCoy.
But then there is the other side of the coin. McCoy turned 30 years old this past February. He has never had a double-digit sack season in his entire career, and has been on the downward slope in production since 2016. McCoy’s contract does not expire until 2021, at which he will be 32 years old. He is owed $13M against the cap for 2019, and that number only goes down to $12M for 2020 and 2021. However, there is no dead money to move on from him at anytime.
So do the Bucs do it?
I say no.
Make no mistake: McCoy can help the Buccaneers win football games. The Bucs were not good enough along the defensive line last year, but without McCoy they would be even worse. This is not a rebuilding year. This is not a “let’s stack up on cap space we won’t use” year – the best defensive players aren’t going to hit the market. This is Jameis Winston’s last year of his contract, and activating the team-option on his deal meant you’re also doing everything you can to surround him with the best football team you can to get wins.
That means keeping McCoy.
The big determining factor for keeping McCoy above what people would say is a declining return on investment is this: I don’t think McCoy has ever had real defensive coaching and a real defensive philosophy. Raheem Morris was in over his head, Greg Schiano was a lunatic, Lovie Smith’s defense was soft as can be – actually somehow Mike Smith’s was softer. Those are the coaches McCoy has had to deal with.
It’s time to get mean, get aggressive and play in a real defense under Todd Bowles and Bruce Arians. For that reason, McCoy should stay a Buccaneer.
As for the rest, I am moving on from DeSean Jackson, freeing up $10 million in cap space with no penalty. I would also be moving on from Demar Dotson at $4.67 million, Beau Allen at $5 million, Bryan Anger at $3 million, Mitch Unrein at $3.75 million and Evan Smith at $2 million.
Those move, along with trading Brate, would give me $48.9M to play with in free agency.
Unrestricted Free Agent Re-signings
RT Donovan Smith – 1-Year, $14 Million Franchise Tag
As I have written before, I believe the best course of action for the Buccaneers when it comes to Donovan Smith is to franchise tag him.
I don’t believe Smith has played well enough to early one of the top offensive tackle contracts he would likely command on the open market. So, to the Bucs advantage, it would be better for them to tag him. The reason for this is because, where in free agency his potential contract numbers would be going up against just offensive tackles, the top tag money established for him in the franchise tag is averaged through all offensive linemen, interior offensive linemen included. Since interior players make less than tackles, this helps drive the price down.
This would also set up Smith to be in a one-year window in unison with Winston. You can hope both improve all you want. But you better not confuse hope with foolishness. Allow yourself to be protected if neither player steps up.
MLB Kwon Alexander – 4-Years, $28 Million
I don’t think Alexander is going to get the $10 million everyone believe he is. He’s coming off a torn ACL at a position that commands you be laterally quick, and he’s a player who boasts athleticism as his calling card. Tampa Bay is not even sure he’ll be ready to open up the season.
I believe the Bucs want Alexander back, and I believe he wants to be a Buccaneer. Despite what is being reported right now, I believe there is a chance McCoy could restructure his deal to make sure Alexander stays no matter what. I think Alexander and McCoy will cost the Bucs $20 million however you split it. But I think both will be Bucs in the end, and if I can get them for that price, that’s what I would do, too.
MLB Kevin Minter – 1-Year, $1 Million
Minter’s production numbers on a per-snap basis were insane for 2018. Not that I think he can keep that up, but he is familiar with Arians and Todd Bowles’ system, and would be a preferred backup in the middle.
QB Josh McCown – 1-Year, $2.5 Million
McCown was a starting quarterback for Todd Bowles in ew York. I think he makes sense as a veteran back up. he’s almost at age 40 now, so I think the Bucs can get him relatively cheap.
Unrestricted Free Agents Not Re-Signed
WR Adam Humphries
Whether it’s $6 million, $7 million, $8 million, whatever, I would move on from Humphries for the money he is likely going to command.
Humphries has put in the time, he’s worked his way up, he’s done the dirty work and he’s taken the hard hits. He deserves the best pay day he can get. It just shouldn’t be in Tampa Bay. Humphries would be the fourth-best receiving option at best on the Bucs going into 2019, and $6 million – $8 million per year is too much for that, especially when you have a guy like Justin Watson waiting in the wings.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
It’s been a weird ride to this conclusion, but Fitzpatrick should not be back with the Buccaneers next year.
Fitzpatrick had way too much success last year to continue to be the back up, which may sound weird to read, but there cannot be any division from Winston as the guy. Winston can’t have two bad games and people start talking about Fitzpatrick. That can’t be. For this franchise, their devotion to Winston needs to be worth more than a preferred back up.
S Chris Conte
It’s a shame that Conte’s last game as Buc would be the game where he got stiff armed into oblivion, but it has to be done. This team needs new blood in its secondary.
LB Adarius Taylor
Taylor was fine as a fill-in linebacker, but he’s a depth piece that can likely be replaced with someone who knows Bowles and Arians’ systems better.
CB Brent Grimes
QB Ryan Griffin
If They didn’t play Ryan Griffin last year, they never will. Don’t keep a quarterback you’ll never play.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
Rodgers was fine for this team, but they recently signed Andre Ellington, and he is going to play the Rodgers role for Arians’ offense.
LB Cameron Lynch
I could see Lynch being brought back on a minimal deal since he gives such great effort for special teams. I would say this is a guy you let walk and bring back for camp, if he’s still available.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches
Nunez-Roches was fine for that he was brought in to do late in the season. But he is another player I would not prioritize and perhaps have back in at camp when 2019 kicks off.
S Josh Shaw
Shaw actually played better than I thought he would as such a late addition to the team in 2018, but as stated before, it’s time for new blood in the secondary.
LS Garrison Sanborn
I really don’t know anything about long snapper markets, but Sanborn is another player who could be brought back into camp, and perhaps at the end of free agency, but you’d have to see how much money you have left over.
K Cairo Santos
Though I believe Santos did a very nice job getting things back on track with the Bucs kicking game, he still has a limited leg in terms of distance, and there is a certain free agent kicker I have my eyes on.
Restricted Free Agent Re-signings
RB Peyton Barber – 1-Year $3 Million
Peyton Barber deserves to be back with the Buccaneers, and if I’m being honest with you, signing Barber’s restricted tender and giving Ronald Jones some confidence with a new coaching staff along with allocating more resources toward the offensive line is a better play than going out and spending bigger money on a running back.
We all saw what the price tag became for a guy like Jerick McKinnon last year – who the Bucs did want and tried to go after. How much more do you think it will be for more solidified talents like Mark Ingram and Tevin Coleman?
Give me Barber, RoJo, Andre Ellington and a re-vamped offensive line over thinking a running back in this free agency class would be more of a fix.
SS Andrew Adams – $1-Year, $2 Million
Though I did say that the Bucs secondary needed some fresh faces, I am comfortable with bringing a guy like Adams back for a small tender in the restricted free agent market. His experience in the league and success last year gives me confidence in him as a depth player.
Restricted Free Agents Not Re-signed
FB Alan Cross
Alan Cross recently retired from the game to go be the guy who yells at players instead of being the player who gets yelled at. Alan was and is an awesome dude, and I wish him nothing but the best as he helps the coaching staff at the University of Memphis.
LB Devante Bond
Enough time has passed now to safely determine that Bond is not a guy that you look to prioritize. He’s had chances to crack the starting lineup and hasn’t made the most of it.
CB DeVante Harris
Harris played well for this team, and though he could be in the same boat as Adams to be brought back with more veteran experience, I’m strapped for cash in this battle plan, so we’ll have to move on.
OT Leonard Wester
Wester could be brought back as a depth piece. I wouldn’t have much of a problem with that, but he’s not a guy to prioritize.
CB Javien Elliott
Man, I really like Elliott as a depth piece, but this battle plan makes it tough for me to keep him around. Would love to have him back in camp to start 2019 in case we let go of some veterans and free up some more cash.
Exclusive Rights Free Agent Re-signings
Exclusive Rights Free Agents Not Re-signed
S Isaiah Johnson
When Isaiah Johnson ran into the wall at Raymond James Stadium, that was it for me. I am kidding, but I do think the Bucs can get a more familiar piece in the secondary than Johnson to fit into Bowles defense.
OT Michael Liedtke
I would let Liedtke go and see if i can get a better depth offensive lineman in the draft.
Bucs’ 2019 Free Agent Additions
C-G Mitch Morse – 4-Years, $28 million
Here’s my theme this offseason: fix the offensive line. Get new guys in, and acquire as much talent as you can get. I don’t care that it might not exactly line up to a perfect starting rotation. I’m going to acquire good offensive linemen and I’m going to let the coaching staff figure out how to make the best line of them.
Mitch Morse, age 27, didn’t surrender a sack in 2018 while playing center for the Kansas City Chiefs. In fact, according to PFF, Morse hasn’t given up a sack since his rookie season in 2015, the longest active streak in the NFL. Morse has missed 14 games in the last two seasons, and that could be why the Chiefs don’t retain him. If they don’t, I like the idea of Morse coming into this Tampa Bay lineup to play either center or guard. That would surely shore up the interior offensive line.
Morse played both left and right tackle in college at Missouri. He’s one of those players who is just a good offensive lineman wherever you put him. That’ll fit fine in Tampa Bay.
SS Tyrann Mathieu – 3-Years, $21 million
Alright you NFL rumor mil addicts (me) here you go.
This one just makes too much sense, right? I mean, Bruce Arians has said that Tyrann Mathieu is his favorite player he’s ever coached, and Mathieu feels the same way about Arians. By bringing Kwon Alexander and Gerald mcCoy back, I think Mathieu would love to make his way down to Tampa Bay.
I think they get him, and that’s what I would do, too.
Matt Bryant – 2-Years, $3 million
You know what the one way to reverse a curse is? Sign the curse.
I know Matt Bryant is coming off a groin injury from his 2018 season, but this dude can still kick. Unless he were to show signs of a major drop off in kicking power and consistency in tryouts, I’m 100 percent going after Bryant, and I’m making the man who should’ve always been a Buc a Buc again.