FAB 4. 5 Critical Camp Questions – Bucs Front Office

PewterReport.com’s 20 Critical Camp Questions for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wraps up with a look at the camp questions facing general manager Jason Licht and the team’s front office. Here are five big questions as the start of Tampa Bay’s 2018 training camp is just days away.

1. Will the Bucs extend the contracts of Kwon Alexander, Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith in camp?
That’s the plan. The current trend in the league is to lock up key contributors to long-term contract extensions before or during a player’s final contract year. That’s a practice the Bucs have undertaken for years under general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg, evidenced by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy’s extension in October of 2014, linebacker Lavonte David’s extension in August of 2015 and right tackle Demar Dotson’s extension in August of 2016.

Getting Alexander, Marpet and Smith under contract before they are scheduled to hit free agency in 2019 is a priority for Licht and Greenberg. To avoid the possibility of an in-season distraction, the ideal time to do it is August during training camp and that’s what the front office will attempt to do while evaluating all of the talent in trying to find the best 53 players for Tampa Bay’s opening day roster.

Bucs LB Kwon Alexander – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs LB Kwon Alexander – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

All three will command rich deals that will likely put them in the top 10 highest-paid players at their position. The problem will be finding enough cap space as Tampa Bay only has $14,385,757 to work with after signing its rookies, doing offseason extensions for tight end Cameron Brate and wide receiver Mike Evans and acquiring a slew of players in free agency as well as the trade for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.

Look for Greenberg to give Alexander, Marpet and Smith slight raises in 2018 while the big money really kicks in next year. Greenberg may even have to use signing bonuses rather than just guaranteed base salary for the first time to get some of these deals done as signing bonus money is prorated over the life of the contract, which helps present day cap situations, but can come back to bite a team if the team has to cut the player as the remaining signing bonus proration accelerates and becomes dead cap money. In the end, Greenberg will likely need to leave about $3 million to cover signing street free agents during the season as injury replacements, so he’ll have to get creative and use the $11-plus million he’ll have for the extensions wisely.

2. Will the Bucs upgrade the strong safety position in August or September?
Maybe. It’s possibly the weakest position on the team in terms of quality depth and talent. Tampa Bay was seriously considering using its first-round pick on Florida State strong safety Derwin James this offseason. This coming on the heels of signing J.J. Wilcox last year during free agency and then trading him and adding former Pro Bowler T.J. Ward in September right before the start of the 2017 season.

The Bucs did draft the undersized Jordan Whitehead in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, but he missed a good deal of the offseason workouts with an injury, so it’s hard to say how much of an impact he’ll make this year and whether or not he’ll challenge Chris Conte for the right to start. Odds are that Conte will be the opening day starter at strong safety, but what would really hinder the safety position overall would be losing free safety Justin Evans to injury.

Evans is an emerging playmaker, and having to move Conte to free safety and start the inexperienced Whitehead would severely hurt the Bucs secondary. Finding a veteran strong safety that could not only add experienced depth, but perhaps challenge Conte for the right to start, would be ideal.

Is there such a player out there? Ward’s release by Denver last year was a bit of a surprise, so it’s up to Licht, director of pro personnel Rob McCartney and director of player personnel John Spytek to identify possible safeties that may be training camp cuts and be prepared to pounce if the right player becomes available.

3. Will the Bucs find any help in Tennessee?
There might be one particular player of interest. Not only will Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht be evaluating his Buccaneers when they square off against the Titans in Tennessee for two days worth of joint practices, he’ll also be scouting the Titans roster while catching up with good friend and former right-hand man Jon Robinson, who is Tennessee’s general manager. The joint practices will allow Licht, director of pro personnel Rob McCartney and director of player personnel John Spytek the opportunity to see if any Titans players stand out and might be a good fit in Tampa Bay.

Jon Robinson and Jason Licht - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Jon Robinson and Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Whether it’s pulling the trigger on a trade during training camp or just waiting to see who becomes available during the roster cut-downs in September, the Bucs might get some good intel from their trip to Tennessee and seeing the Titans players practice in person. Licht will also get the truth on any Titans that the Bucs may be interested in from his close relationship to Robinson.

Although the Titans run a 3-4 scheme on defense, there might be some players, especially in the secondary, that could help Tampa Bay. And the Titans have at least one player on offense that the Buccaneers coveted in the draft – Washington State quarterback Luke Falk, who was selected in the sixth round. Tennessee has a young star at the QB position in Marcus Mariota and a veteran backup in Blaine Gabbert, and might decide to only keep two quarterbacks, which some teams around the league do. Look for the Buccaneers to scout Falk hard in person in August.

4. Will the Bucs look at other teams’ QBs in camp?
Yes. Bucs director of player personnel John Spytek and director of pro personnel Rob McCartney will be keeping an eye on the other 31 teams’ quarterback situations more than ever before this August due to the fact that starter Jameis Winston has been suspended three games. If Winston violates the NFL’s code of conduct one more time he’s subject to a year-long suspension from the league, which would all but end his career in Tampa Bay.

With 35-year old Ryan Fitzpatrick playing what is likely his final season in the NFL, and Ryan Griffin still being a relative unknown after not taking a snap in a regular season game through his first five years in the league, the Bucs’ quarterback picture is blurry past this season. Is Griffin the long-term answer as Winston’s backup? Does he have enough talent to step in and be a competent NFL starter?

That’s doubtful, which is why the Bucs need to upgrade their backup QB spot, and there’s no sense in waiting on the 2019 NFL Draft. Aside from keeping tabs on Tennessee’s rookie QB Luke Falk, Spytek, McCartney and general manager Jason Licht should do some digging on former Minnesota starter Teddy Bridgewater, who is currently the New York Jets’ third-string quarterback.

I’ve written extensively about how the Bucs should gamble and trade for Bridgewater right now as he attempts to recover from a knee injury that caused him to miss the last two NFL seasons after a promising start to his pro career in 2014-15. There might be other options out there to explore, and McCartney and Spytek need to keep one on Tampa Bay’s roster during training camp, and another eye on the QB position league-wide.

5. Will the Bucs pull the trigger on a trade at glut position?
Maybe. It’s hard to imagine that Tampa Bay’s once depleted defensive end now suddenly has a glut of talent, but it’s a credit to the hard work of general manager Jason Licht and his scouting staff in adding talent this offseason. The acquisition of defensive ends Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul, and defensive tackles Beau Allen, Mitch Unrein and Vita Vea may mean that some Bucs holdovers like Will Gholston or Will Clarke become expendable and might impress enough in the preseason to be moved in a preseason trade for a mid-to-late-round draft pick.

WR DeSean Jackson – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
WR DeSean Jackson – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

The Bucs also have a surplus of capable receivers. Mike Evans is the star and Chris Godwin is a rising force at the position that will steal reps from DeSean Jackson. If the Bucs traded the 31-year old Jackson, who could be in his final season in Tampa Bay as his contract expires after 2019, they would save $3.5 million in cap room, but take on $7 million worth of dead cap money this year. If the right team came calling and offered a Day 2 draft pick for Jackson it might be worth it as the Bucs have depth with Adam Humphries, Bobo Wilson, who starred in the OTAs, Freddie Martino and Justin Watson, the team’s fifth-round draft pick. Humphries might also be expendable for a Day 3 pick as he is on a pricey one-year deal as a restricted free agent and is likely playing his final season in Tampa Bay.

And don’t rule out the Bucs flipping one of their cornerbacks for a late-round draft pick. The addition of David Rivers in free agency and Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart in the second round of the draft significantly added competition to the roster. Veteran Brent Grimes, Davis and Stewart are locks, and Rivers, Vernon Hargreaves III, Ryan Smith, Javien Elliott and Marko Myers will be battling for the remaining three spots. If Stewart wins the nickel job and other players show promise, it could make Hargreaves expendable. If that’s the case, the Bucs could look to trade him and try to eat the remaining $8.377 million worth of dead cap room depending on how much cap space they have remaining.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

16 COMMENTS

  1. If Dirk has any since at all he will make Fitz the starter until after the 4 th game and give him all reps with first string going into season
    once 4th game is over and by week give Jamies the reps with starting O during the by week.
    If they plan on plying him

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  2. Hey Scott, overall a really good Fab 5, but I think you missed some questions. In my mind, the questions isn’t about the talent on the team (although you covered many good areas of concern), my questions concern the ability of the coaching staff. You touched on Mike Smith and Nick Kozar but I have questions about whether Todd Monken will actually call plays and if so, will he do a better job than Dirk, if not, what kind of impact (if any) can we see out of him. My next concern George Warhop, what is he going to do different this year? Every year we hear about the weakness of the run blocking or pass blocking but honestly, it never really seems to improve. Yes, you can only coach the talent that you have, but I see teams like Atlanta and Carolina with suspect offensive lines always seeming to improve as the season goes on. My other coach on the hot seat is Jon Hoke, again last season’s defensive backfield was abysmal, was that coaching or was it a lack of talent and experience? We have less experience this year, perhaps more talent … what is his plan to coach it up? My final question is about the coach I’m most excited about, Brenson Buckner. Last season the defensive line looked soft and confused, what is coach Buck going to do to improve that? I know Smith will call the defense, but Buck is going to control that line. I yearn for the days of having Rod Maranelli (sp) coaching the defensive line and I think/hope Buckner is up to the challenge of making Buc fans proud of our defensive line again.

    Those are the questions *I* want answered. Hopefully, you can address them in a future Fab 5.

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    • +1

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  3. TBH, this felt like a very hometown perspective.

    If you asked any other fan base what they thought of Justin Evans, the reply would almost assuredly be “who?”. Probably a little early to be calling for the probowl…I can’t get the image out of my mind of Kelvin Benjamin making him fall down in the endzone before catching the easy TD. Hope he’ll come along but maybe a little ahead of ourselves.

    Again, ask any other fan base for the trade value of Will Clarke and Gohlston….crickets.

    Reedy as our answer (which we’ve been waiting for since 1976, with the exception of one season from Clifton Smith) in the return game???????

    IDK, just seems overly rosy to me.

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    • Reedy is about 150 times better in the return game as Humphries. Yes, Hump was consistent, caught the ball well and made good decisions. But, anyone who is happy with a 4-9 yard possible return after that catch is crazy. What was Hump’s longest return of the year? Sorry, but I have never liked Hump back there at all, I was so mad when we got rid of Reedy and I knew that Hump would then be the returner. I’m not saying it should be Reedy, give Wilson and some others a chance, but we ABSOLUTELY need to replace Humphries in the return game. He is way too slow and not shifty enough. He gets tackled way too easily.

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      • +1

        Humphries is a solid slot guy. Let’s keep him there.

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      • +1, give both Wilsons (Shaun and Bobo) a shot at it along with Reedy.

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        • and don’t forget Watson

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    • Your points are mostly valid. But, you don’t ask a fan base about trade value of a player. You ask your pro scouts. Clarke, won’t get much for that guy, but Gholston, he would maby return a 3rd rounder due to his ability against the run. But, again, that’s a part of a fan base perspective

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  4. Scott, really not much news here; most of it is things we have heard before in previous Pewter Report articles. I think we’re all ready for some football.

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  5. Hey Scott, nice job setting the stage for training camp, and to quote Horse, “.. we’re all ready for some football”!

    I want to believe we’ve upgraded our talent level. We lost a couple games at the margins last year, but overall we didn’t have the talent. Licht tried to address the soft spot this offseason, but the guys still have to produce.

    At this point, I think 8-8 is where we are. Will be a fun six weeks.

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  6. Scott
    Free agent strong safety ? Eric Reid?

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    • +1, the talent is worth the possible backlash which shouldn’t be much at this point. Plus, being a free agent so long probably brought down his price tag quite a bit.

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  7. Why is how QB reps are being split up such a big question? Fitzpatrick is the guy for first 3 games so he will get the majority of snaps. Don’t see how giving more snaps to Winston would make sense and help us in those 3 games and don’t see how taking more reps would help Winston when he will be out of practice etc for like a month before returning.

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  8. EastEndBoy, it is also interesting how your attitude skewers your perspective. To be totally honest with you, I have no recollection of the play you mentioned regarrding Evans. I do however remember his intercepting the GOAT for his first NFL INT and also snatching another in the end zone against the Dolphins. I wonder why those escaped your memory.
    And if you think Golston would command a #3 pic. It is you who is a homer. DE’s who can’t sack the QB are a low priority in this league

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    • @drdneast – I’ll forgive your errant comment, as I forgive Evans for his endzone errors and look forward to continued progression on his way to an admirable (though perhaps not probowl) career. Have a quick look back and you’ll read my comment as “Gohlston has no significant trade value”….the comment about him being worth a “3rd round pick” (directly in opposition to what I wrote) was the completely legitimate opinion of another PR poster, but not (clearly) my opinion….that was the point of what I wrote.

      As for Evans being on his way to the probowl because he intercepted Brady 1 time, I guess by the logic Xavien Howard is on his way to HoF….(look it up).

      Finally, as I said above, I am not anti-Evans, I just consider that touting him as a probowler at this point is a little ahead of ourselves.

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