So where are all the Bucs’ signings? What’s taking so long to get some of Tampa Bay’s own players under contract? Are the Bucs going to even be active in free agency outside of re-signing defensive end Will Gholston?
Those are a few of the questions out there in the minds of Bucs fans, and I’ve got some inside scoop I want to share with you from my sources. Here’s the latest:
BUCS GOING FULL THROTTLE FOR DJAX
Tampa Bay’s primary free agent target is Washington wide receiver DeSean Jackson as the team needs to get more explosive players to help quarterback Jameis Winston and Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans. Despite turning 30 in December, Jackson led the league with a 17.9-yard per catch average last year.
Redskins WR DeSean Jackson and Eagles DT Fletcher Cox – Photo by: Getty Images
Dallas faces salary cap problems, but restructured linebacker Sean Lee’s contract to free up some cap room, and could release or trade quarterback Tony Romo for even more.
The Bucs have the third-most salary cap room in the league at just under $65 million, according to OverTheCap.com. The Patriots have under $56 million, while the Eagles and Cowboys are among the teams with the least amount of cap room. As of 7:00 pm ET Philadelphia had nearly $6.5 million in cap room, while Dallas had $8.3 million prior to Lee’s restructuring.
If the Patriots are truly interested in pursuing Jackson, it won’t be easy for the Bucs to land him without overpaying a bit. As much of a draw of playing with Jameis Winston is, he’s not five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady. Jackson is expected to fetch north of $10 million per year.
UPDATED AT 8:00 PM ET – MARCH 8: I’m hearing that Jackson and his agent are mulling over offers and will not decide on which team to sign with until Thursday morning at the earliest. Deals can be officially signed at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 9, which is the official start of free agency.
If the Bucs miss out on Jackson one player that Tampa Bay will not be pursuing is Los Angeles wide receiver Kenny Britt. The team has shown no interest in Britt and is not expected to.
UPDATED AT 11:30 AM ET – MARCH 9: PewterReport.com and other media outlets reported earlier this morning in the 8:00 a.m. hour that Jackson is expected to sign with Tampa Bay. He is expected to get north of $9 million per year on multiple-year contract.
IS THERE ANY REAL INTEREST IN THESE POSSIBLE BUCS’ TARGETS?
NFL agents are notorious for listing teams that have a bunch of salary cap room – i.e. Tampa Bay with nearly $66 million – as “interested” in their client to help create interest and drive up the price for teams that actually are interested in the free agent players.
Over the past 24 hours, the Bucs have been linked to Washington defensive tackle Chris Baker, Houston cornerback A.J. Bouye, center Nick Mangold and Dallas safety J.J. Wilcox, and a few weeks ago, former Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson linked himself to Tampa Bay when he said the Bucs were one of the teams he was interested in playing for after the Vikings released him.
Here’s what PewterReport.com knows as of Wednesday afternoon:
Former Vikings RB Adrian Peterson – Photo by: Getty Images
The Bucs have no interest in Peterson, especially with a draft that is five rounds deep at the running back position, and the team’s interest in re-signing free agent running back Jacquizz Rodgers. He’s too old, too fragile and wants too much money. The only way he’s in red and pewter is if he is literally had for bargain basement prices. Some team will likely pay Peterson way more than the Bucs would want to, I’m guessing the New York Giants in the end.
As for Mangold, he was the Jets’ worst-rated lineman last year and he just turned 33 and had a knee injury last year. The Bucs have plenty of options at the center position (keep reading), including their own free agent, Joe Hawley. Tampa Bay was never interested in Mangold. Not when he was released, and not now as the start of free agency begins.
As for Bouye, he’s expected to command a king’s ransom in free agency. The problem is the Bucs have two starting-caliber cornerbacks already in Brent Grimes, a Pro Bowl alternate, and Vernon Hargreaves, last year’s first round pick. Tampa Bay may stand pat at cornerback because they are really high on Ryan Smith, last year’s fourth-round pick, in addition to nickel cornerbacks Jude Adjei-Barimah and Javien Elliott. If the Bucs are going to sign a free agent corner, it’s probably going to be re-signing special teams stud Josh Robinson. The draft is also loaded at the cornerback position.
Tampa Bay has interest in Baker and likes the size and sack production of the 6-foot-3, 320-pound defensive lineman. Baker played defensive end in the Redskins’ 3-4 defense, but would transition to defensive tackle in the Bucs’ 4-3 scheme. Baker has 11.5 career sacks, including 9.5 over the last two years, in addition to five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries over that same span. As many as six teams could be after Baker, but it’s unlikely the Bucs would want to engage in a bidding war and overpay for the sixth-year lineman.
The Bucs do have some interest in Wilcox, a part-time starter in Dallas. He’s a Keith Tandy type and Tampa Bay will gauge his market against that of its own free agent safeties, Bradley McDougald and Chris Conte. The Bucs have liked Wilcox since he was a draft prospect at Georgia Southern, and he showed well at the Senior Bowl four years ago.
UPDATED 11:30 AM ET – MARCH 9: The Bucs are still in the hunt for Baker, and the team’s expected signing of Jackson could help lure Baker, his teammate with the Redskins, to town. The 29-year old Baker, whose nickname is “Swaggy” is sought after for his size, strength, aggressive playing style and his ability to get to the quarterback.
There could also be a mystery free agent that the Bucs are pursuing. Over the last couple of years Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht has signed a free agent without being previously linked to that player in media reports. That happened with cornerback Alterraun Verner in 2014 and again last season with cornerback Josh Robinson.
Expect the Bucs to announce a contract extension with running back Jacquizz Rodgers shortly after 2017 NFL free agency officially opens on Thursday. Per NFL rules, teams that use a minimum salary benefit on a player, which the Bucs did last year with Rodgers’ one-year deal, cannot negotiate with a player in advance of free agency.
It’s a dumb rule, but the guess here is that the Bucs and Rodgers’ agent are on the same page regarding the 27-year old running back. Expect a short-team, prove-it deal worth no more than $2 million per year. That’s in the market realm for a player that rushed for 560 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 4.3 yards per carry. It should be a quick, easy deal to get done, and Rodgers will be given a shot to be the starting running back in Tampa Bay in 2017.
UPDATED AT 11:30 AM – MARCH 9: I’m confirming this report. Rodgers is expected to sign with the Bucs shortly after 4:00 p.m. ET on Thursday.
AT THE CENTER OF IT IN TAMPA
The Bucs will let center Joe Hawley test the free agent market. The team has made an offer to him and both sides have made up some ground in negotiations, but the team is considering life without Hawley with plenty of options at the center position already on the current roster.
Bucs centers Evan Smith and Joe Hawley – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
At the top of the list is right guard Ali Marpet, who may move to center, especially with J.R. Sweezy medically cleared to play in 2017. Sweezy played right guard in Seattle, so that’s his natural position. The Bucs feel that Marpet has a Pro Bowl future at either guard or center.
Kevin Pamphile has played left tackle and right tackle in his three-year Bucs career, and was the primary starting left guard last year in Tampa Bay. But the team also feels like he can play center. Aside from Marpet, Pamphile, who is in a contract year, another starting-caliber player that could move to center if the team didn’t re-sign Hawley and wanted to keep Marpet at right guard and move Sweezy to left guard.
Evan Smith started at center in 2014 and the first few games of 2015 until an ankle injury opened the door for Hawley to step in and claim the job. He’s in a contract year and the Bucs like his veteran presence and the ability to fill in at center or guard without much drop-off. In fact, there were times he played as good or better than Hawley in a few instances last year.
The Bucs also have developmental players in Ben Gottschalk and Josh Allen that could compete for depth at the center position, too.
LOTS OF BUCS HITTING THE MARKET
The Bucs have offers out to several of their own soon-to-be unrestricted free agents, but those players seem interested in testing their value on the open market once free agency starts. If one or more of those players gets cold feet and wants to take Tampa Bay’s offer in fear of not getting a deal that is as good if not better than the Bucs’ offer there could be a last-minute re-signing. If not, expect to see the following players hit free agency on Thursday:
QB Mike Glennon S Bradley McDougald S Chris Conte C Joe Hawley DT Akeem Spence DT Sealver Siliga WR Russell Shepard CB Josh Robinson
Just because these players hit the market doesn’t mean that some of them won’t re-sign with Tampa Bay on Thursday or Friday after the first wave of free agent signings happen.
Bucs WR Russell Shepard – Photo by: Getty Images
Glennon and Shepard are expected to move on barring a change of heart. Glennon could earn upwards of $13 million per season as a starting quarterback and has been linked to the Chicago Bears. Shepard has an offer to be one team’s third receiver in the $3 million per year range. That’s about a million more than the Bucs might be willing to offer before any incentives, and Tampa Bay views him as a No. 4 wide receiver – not a No. 3.
UPDATED AT 11:30 AM – MARCH 9: As expected, Glennon is poised to sign a three-year, $43.5 million deal with the Bears at 4:00 p.m. ET. The Bucs have Sean Renfree on the roster as a backup quarterback and have tendered an offer to restricted free agent Ryan Griffin. Tampa Bay may also draft a quarterback to compete for the backup job behind Jameis Winston.
The following unrestricted free agents are not expected to get contract offers from the Buccaneers:
WR Vincent Jackson LB Daryl Smith RT Gosder Cherilus TE Brandon Myers WR Cecil Shorts RB Antone Smith DT John Hughes
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: email@example.com