Due to the in-depth writing associated with my Bucs Battle Plan this week and the latest PewterReport.com 7-Round Mock Draft that will debut on Sunday, there won’t be a Discount Garage Doors SR’s Fab 5 column today. But I wanted to provide you with some insight on what the Bucs plan to do in free agency, which begins on Monday, March 12 when teams are allowed to open negotiations with agents prior to the official start of free agency on Wednesday, March 14.
Why Are The Bucs Passing On So Many Free Agents?
Bucs fans have been freaking out over the past week as they have seen defensive line help go elsewhere around the league via trade and free agency.
Former Jets defensive end Mohammed Wilkerson has plenty of talent to go along with his character issues and Tampa Bay is steering clear of him. The free agent visited with Green Bay this week and then New Orleans and Kansas City are up next. One Buc Place won’t be among his stops this offseason.
The Bucs already had one bad apple with Chris Baker, who just signed a one-year deal with Cincinnati, along the defensive line last year and don’t want another one. Notice how no team has swooped in and snatched up Wilkerson within days of his release by the Jets. That should tell you something.
The Los Angeles Rams traded defensive end Robert Quinn to Miami for a fourth-round pick and swapped sixth-rounders with the Dolphins. Quinn had 8.5 sacks last year for the Rams, and that number looks awfully tantalizing to a team that notched just 22 and whose leading sacker, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, only had six. Doesn’t it?
Quinn is only 27, but has missed a total of 16 games over the past three years due to back surgery, shoulder surgery and concussions. The Bucs were reportedly in the hunt for Quinn, but why didn’t they offer at least a fourth- and a fifth-round pick to obtain him? Perhaps the better question is why Quinn only was traded for fourth- and sixth-round picks?
There are quite a few teams that need pass rushing defensive ends around the league, and there aren’t many good edge rushers in free agency since Demarcus Lawrence and Ziggy Ansah, nor are they plentiful in this year’s draft. So why was a fourth-rounder and a sixth-rounder – two Day 3 selections – the going rate for a player that a brilliant defensive coordinator like Wade Phillips didn’t want anymore?
Keep in mind that Quinn is scheduled to earn $11.4 million in base salary and a $1.11 million roster bonus in 2018. The guess here is that the Bucs would rather see that money go towards a younger, proven player in the form of a contract extension for wide receiver Mike Evans, middle linebacker Kwon Alexander or offensive lineman Ali Marpet.
Former Rams DE-OLB Robert Quinn – Photo by: Getty Images
So, what about Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett? McCoy, who is desperate for help at defensive end, was campaigning to be reunited with Bennett on Twitter, just as he lobbied for Quinn earlier in the week. Instead of being traded to Tampa Bay, Bennett was shipped to Philadelphia for essentially a fifth-rounder.
I know Bennett’s 8.5 sacks look tempting, but he’ll be 33 this year and just a year earlier he recorded five sacks. The film says that despite the production he’s lost a step. There’s also the fact that he’s scheduled to earn $6.65 million and the concern that his sack production could quickly drop off as it did for Robert Ayers, Jr. last year in Tampa Bay where he notched only two after posting six during his first year with the Bucs 2016.
I know what you’re thinking, Bucs fans. Wilkerson, Quinn and Bennett are all better and more productive than Ayers, William Gholston or Noah Spence, right?
Isn’t it Licht’s job to upgrade the talent, especially along the weakest unit – the defensive line?
Again, you’re correct.
So what about the secondary? Next up is the cornerback position where former Bucs, Patriots and Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib was made available via a trade from Denver to the Los Angeles Rams. The Bucs weren’t interested due to Talib’s age (he just turned 32), as there have been signs of slippage in his play, but more importantly, the salary of the five-time Pro Bowler, which is $11 million this year.
Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, a four-time Pro Bowler, is expected to be released on Friday due to his $11 million salary in 2018. Sherman turns 30 on March 30, and is coming off a surgically repaired foot and a torn Achilles heel on his other foot.
Cardinals S Tyrann Mathieu – Photo by: Getty Images
The Bucs hope to re-sign cornerback Brent Grimes, who is a great fit in Mike Smith’s scheme, for just more than half of that amount on a one-year deal. The team has had some discussions about 2018 with Grimes, who is contemplating whether to return, sign elsewhere or retire.
Tampa Bay fans are linking Arizona safety Tyrann Mathieu to the Bucs if he gets released – the Cardinals just asked him to take a pay cut – because he was drafted when Licht was a part of that organization, and Licht did a lot of the background checks and research on him.
Licht loves Mathieu as a person and the player he was before he suffered a serious knee injury and a shoulder injury. He hasn’t been quite the same player since, and Licht needs players who can stay on the field. Besides, if the Bucs re-sign the 5-foot-9 Grimes, does Tampa Bay want a smallish secondary with the addition of a 5-foot-9 safety in Mathieu? If Mathieu were to be released by Arizona, the only way the Bucs would consider him is if he came with a very modest price tag.
The reason why Licht is showing tremendous restraint in not pursuing these discarded defensive ends (and their warts) is due to the fact that he wants the right players – not just the better-known, more sought-after free agents. He’s tried that approach before with guys like Michael Johnson, Anthony Collins, Alterraun Verner, Josh McCown, Bruce Carter, Chris Baker and T.J. Ward without much success.
The job of any general manager is to acquire the best talent for the franchise – not acquire the players that give the general manager the best chance to stick around and get a new contract extension. Quick fixes in free agency seldom work and the Bucs have tried them over the years in different regimes and been met with failures.
Alvin Harper, Bert Emanuel, Jackie Harris, Lonnie Marts, Vince Workman, Thomas Everett, Tony Stargell, George Hegamin and Michael McGruder weren’t good signings in the 1990s under Rich McKay.
Todd Steussie, Derrick Deese, Charlie Garner, Tim Brown, Bill Schroeder, Ian Gold, Patrick Chukwurah and Jerramy Stevens didn’t help the team in the 2000s under Bruce Allen.
Mike Nugent, Derrick Ward, Eric Ward, Ryan Sims, Tim Crowder, Kregg Lumpkin, Frank Okam, Niko Koutouvides and Sean Jones were bad signings in the 2010s under Mark Dominik.
So what about former Tennessee running back DeMarco Murray, who was released on Thursday?
Bucs GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Murray is 30 and has an injury history with ankle, hamstring and MCL injuries over his career and I think the Bucs want to invest in a younger, healthier back in free agency and then draft one or two in April to finish the depth chart.
You might say, “Well if Licht doesn’t like to sign pass rushers with eight sacks or Pro Bowl cornerbacks, what kind of players is he looking for in free agency?!”
Licht wants younger players that don’t have much of an injury history and won’t break the bank. Why? Because he and director of football administration Mike Greenberg plan on spending half of their available $71.1 million on signing wide receiver Mike Evans, middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, center-guard Ali Marpet and left tackle Donovan Smith.
The extensions likely won’t take place until after the first and second waves of free agency and after draft, and that may frustrate some fans when they see the Bucs still have $40-50 million of salary cap room remaining after the initial wave of free agency occurs. Be prepared.
Click the next page for Major Part In Bucs’ 2018 Offseason Plans? Re-Sign Their Own.
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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