FAB 3. Bucs’ Huge Free Agent Class In 2020
The good news is that after one year of having a relatively tight salary cap situation, Tampa Bay will have $62,722,323 in cap space in 2020. There’s a chance that number could reach $73 million if there is a projected salary cap increase of $10 million or more next offseason. There has been an increase in at least $10 million in cap room for each team for the last six seasons, so that seems plausible.
But the bad news is that the Bucs are projected to have 23 unrestricted free agents in 2020, and that’s a far cry from the number of prized free agent players that general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg had to deal with this past offseason when it really boiled down to left tackle Donovan Smith, middle linebacker Kwon Alexander and wide receiver Adam Humphries.
Keep in mind that the $62.7 million worth of cap space – really over $73 million – can get gobbled up quickly with contract extensions for some of Tampa Bay’s pending free agents either during the season or before free agency begins next March. Of course not all of the 23 players that are currently slated to become free agents next year will wind up making the team this year to begin with. Guys like linebackers Devante Bond and Corey Nelson and running back Andre Ellington are long shots to make the 2019 Buccaneers.
Here is a list of the current 23 unrestricted free agents for the 2020 offseason in Tampa Bay, and let’s take a look at how this big group could affect things at One Buccaneer Place beyond the 2019 season.
Bucs’ Free Agents – Offense
QB Jameis Winston
WR Breshad Perriman
RB Peyton Barber
RT Demar Dotson
G Earl Watford
OL Evan Smith
OL Caleb Benenoch
QB Blaine Gabbert
RB Andre Ellington
Bucs’ Free Agents – Defense
DT Ndamukong Suh
DT Beau Allen
OLB Shaq Barrett
OLB Carl Nassib
OLB Noah Spence
ILB Kevin Minter
ILB Deone Bucannon
S Kentrell Brice
DE Rakeem Nunez-Roches
ILB Corey Nelson
CB Ryan Smith
CB DeVante Harris
OLB Devante Bond
Bucs’ Free Agents – Special Teams
K Cairo Santos
A quick glance at this list shows that the Bucs will have at least four starters on offense – Winston, Perriman, Barber and Dotson – and at least three starters on defense – Suh, Nassib, and either Barrett or Spence – slated to hit free agency next year. But when you count the number of expected key contributors, including the likes of Allen, Minter, Bucannon and Brice on defense, and possibly Watford on offense, that number goes up dramatically.
Roughly half of Tampa Bay’s offensive and defensive starters are operating in contract years this season, including the team’s starting quarterback in Winston. The success or failure of a lot of these 2019 free-agents-to-be will not only chart their potential paths to riches, but also the fortunes of the Bucs franchise itself.
To say that Tampa Bay’s 2019 campaign will be a pivotal one would be an understatement. And perhaps the worst-case scenario wouldn’t necessarily be another double-digit losing season, but maybe a 7-9 or 8-8 finish that would create a lot of guessing and speculation about what to do next for Licht, Greenberg, head coach Bruce Arians and the Glazers in terms of personnel moves.
What if Winston matches his career year in 2016 when he set team records with 4,090 yards with a franchise-high 28 touchdowns and a career-high 18 interceptions in helping the Bucs get to 7-9 or 8-8, but misses the postseason once again? Does Tampa Bay franchise Winston for a year, extend his contract and pay him $30 million per year, or simply move on and get a compensatory third-round draft pick?
Speaking of compensatory draft picks, the Bucs could be in for a slew of them in 2021 if some of their pending free agents have a great season and price themselves out of Tampa Bay. What if Nassib has 10 sacks and Barrett has eight, and the Bucs re-sign Nassib and let Barrett walk in free agency where he signs a fairly lucrative contract elsewhere that could help the team net a fourth- or fifth-round compensatory pick in 2021?
Three of the four top outside linebackers on the Bucs – not including the injured Jason Pierre-Paul – are in contract years, which sets up a lot of uncertainty regarding the position past 2019. And it’s worth noting that Pierre-Paul’s salary cap number decreases from $14.9 million to $12.5 million in 2020, which is the final year of his contract.
Will he recover from his neck injury and continue to be worth the money? Will his neck injury prematurely end his career? Or will the Bucs decide that $12.5 million is too much to spend on a 31-year old pass rusher next year?
What if Suh has a Pro Bowl year in 2019, and the Bucs decide to draft another defensive tackle to pair with Vita Vea rather than pay a 33-year old veteran over $10 million in 2020?
What if Barber rushes for 1,100 yards and RoJo shows real promise and rushes for 700 yards in a bounce-back year enough to let Barber walk? Barber signing elsewhere for a decent contract would also help the Bucs’ compensatory draft pick status in 2021.
Will Vernon Hargreaves III’s production in 2019 allow him to stick around to make $9,594,000 in his fifth-year option next year, or will Tampa Bay decide to cut him after this season? There wouldn’t be a dead cap charge if the Bucs released Hargreaves prior to 2020, but in doing so there wouldn’t be any chance to get a compensatory draft pick from his departure either because he isn’t slated to be a free agent 2020 because his fifth-year option was picked up by the team.
Is backup tight end Cameron Brate worth keeping around at $6 million in 2020? Will center Ryan Jensen be worth $10 million next year?
Licht and Greenberg are charged with the responsibility of charting the long-term course of the Buccaneers past the current season from a salary cap perspective, taking into account the projected players that will be available in the 2020 NFL Draft and potential free agents. But forecasting what will transpire the following season has never been more difficult for the Bucs’ brass than it will be past the 2019 campaign.