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FAB 1. Bucs’ 2021 Future Forecast – Part I
Each December I take a sneak peek at the upcoming Buccaneers offseason in my SR’s Fab 5 column. Almost every December for the past dozen years I’m talking about who the Bucs might be targeting with another Top 10 pick, but this year is different.
This Tampa Bay team might actually make the playoffs – something Raheem Morris’ 10-6 Bucs team came perilously close to in 2010, and something Dirk Koetter’s 9-7 squad almost achieved in 2016. With a 7-5 record, this Tampa Bay team has a chance to earn a wild card playoff spot at 10-6 or 11-5 if it can win the month of December with a 3-1 record or a perfect 4-0 mark.
It’s nice not having to focus on the upcoming draft in the month of November because the Bucs are in postseason contention for a change. But that’s not going to stop me from finally addressing next offseason in this annual feature.
Let’s hope the 2020 season doesn’t end in Week 17 in a home game against Atlanta, but still gaze into the 2021 crystal ball. I’ve got plenty of Bucs vs. Vikings previews in Fabs 3 and 4, yet let’s use the first two sections of this edition of SR’s Fab 5 to check out Tampa Bay’s future forecast, shall we?
Projected 2021 Bucs Salary Cap Space: $32,459,564
This includes 31 players under contract, including 17 of 22 starters on offense and defense. The good news is that Tampa Bay’s entire offensive line and starting secondary is under contract for 2021.
The Bucs have the eighth-most cap space in the NFL, according to OverTheCap.com, while the lowly Jets ($79,634,956) and Jaguars ($79,676,992) have the most available room if the cap is set at $176 million in 2021. Keep in mind that due to lost stadium revenue (tickets, concessions, merchandise, parking) because of COVID-19 this year that the salary cap will decrease significantly from $198.2 million. Typically the salary cap increases around $10 million each year, but it will fall by roughly $23 million in 2021.
Thanks to the exceptional work by director of football administration Mike Greenberg and general manager Jason Licht, Tampa Bay is far better positioned than its NFC South rivals for 2021. Carolina will be $18,205,770 under the cap, while Atlanta is currently $25,254,296 over the cap with 32 players signed. The first order of the Falcons new general manager and new head coach will definitely have to restructure some players’ contracts and simply make some salary cap roster cuts in 2021.
Bucs GM Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
It’s even worse in New Orleans where the Saints mortgaged the future for another run at the Super Bowl in 2020. The Saints have the worst salary cap situation in the NFL in 2021, as they are currently $93,716,739 over the cap and will have to do far more restructuring and gutting of its roster with 44 players under contract already.
The most important sentence in this entire edition of SR’s Fab 5 is the next one. There will be an absolutely star-studded crop of free agents available next offseason, as nearly every team, including Tampa Bay, will have to cut (or not re-sign) a handful of star players due to their price tags in 2021.
The amount of players with Pro Bowl credentials or Pro Bowl-caliber ability that will be available in free agency will reach new heights next year. The problem is that there will be a glut of talent available, but not enough cap room to go around in the league.
Some star players on good teams that are scheduled to make in excess of $10 million will simply be cut because their cap room will be needed to get under the salary cap. Those players will then have the option to sign with a lesser team with more cap room like the Jaguars, Jets or Bengals for roughly the same amount as they were scheduled to make (or slightly less), or go to another good team that has a shot at making the playoffs for far less money at about $4-5 million.
2021 Bucs Unrestricted Free Agents
ILB Lavonte David
WR Chris Godwin
OLB Shaquil Barrett
TE Rob Gronkowski
DT Ndamukong Suh
K Ryan Succop
DT Steve McLendon
RB Leonard Fournette
WR Antonio Brown
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches
OT Josh Wells
OL Joe Haeg
QB Blaine Gabbert
QB Ryan Griffin
ILB Kevin Minter
TE Antony Auclair
CB Ryan Smith
RB LeSean McCoy
FS Justin Evans
CB Ross Cockrell
RB T.J. Logan
RB Kenjon Barner
FS Andrew Adams
2021 Bucs Restricted Free Agents
DE Patrick O’Connor
2021 Bucs Exclusive Rights Free Agents
LS Zach Triner
TE Tanner Hudson
LG Aaron Stinnie
DE Jeremiah Ledbetter
Bucs 2021 Free Agency Analysis
Tampa Bay will have some tough decisions to make with just over $32 million in salary space available in 2021. David, Godwin and Succop are the top priorities to bring back, followed by Barrett, Gronkowski and Suh in that order. Keep in mind that Greenberg will use at least two years worth of guaranteed money to re-sign some of these players, and he can reduce their base salary in the first year (2021) of multi-year deals for immediate relief from next year’s lower salary cap.
Bucs WR Chris Godwin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Don’t be surprised if the Bucs use the franchise tag on Godwin in 2021 over Barrett, who got the tag in 2020 after leading the NFL in sacks last year with a franchise-record 19.5. None of the major wide receivers under the age of 30 that were slated for free agency in 2021 signed extensions this year, including Godwin, Corey Davis, Kenny Golladay, Curtis Samuel, Will Fuller, Allen Robinson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, T.Y. Hilton, Josh Reynolds, Breshad Perriman and Sammy Watkins. Throw in Marvin Jones, Jr. (31) and A.J. Green (33), and you’ve got a heck of a wide receiver free agent class.
The problem is that the wide receiver price tag was hitting $20 million-plus per year with new deals for Amari Cooper ($20 mill.), Keenan Allen ($20.025 mill.), Julio Jones ($22 mill.) and DeAndre Hopkins ($27.25 mill.), and most teams didn’t want to start shelling out expensive extensions this offseason with the COVID-19 pandemic looming. Only Cooper, Allen and Hopkins signed extensions in 2020.
Smart teams like the Bucs will use the franchise tag on their star receivers, as the tag amount for receivers will fall from $17.865 million in 2020 to likely around $15.3 million if the NFL salary cap is $175 million next year. This does two things to help Tampa Bay.
First, it essentially lowers the average salary per year for new wide receiver deals from $20 million per year to around $15 million per year. That helps the Bucs from an immediate salary cap standpoint whether Godwin is given the franchise tag, as I suspect he will be, or signed to a multi-year extension that averages close to that figure. And second, it keeps the hierarchy in place with Godwin’s deal being less than Evans, who averages $16.5 million per year. While Godwin had a Pro Bowl season in 2019 with career highs in catches (86), yards (1,333) and touchdowns (nine), injuries have limited him to just eight games this year, and he’s had modest production – 49 catches for 562 yards and three TDs – as a result.
It would be hard to justify paying Godwin more than Evans when he’s had just one 1,000-yard season compared to Evans’ six 1,000-yard seasons. Thankfully due to the decreased salary cap, the expected decrease in the franchise tag figure, which is a product of that current year’s cap, a down year from Godwin production-wise, and a glut of receivers in free agency, the Bucs can keep Godwin with the franchise tag or a more modest multi-year deal, while keeping Evans as the team’s highest-paid receiver.
As for Barrett, his production has dipped this year, as he has just six sacks entering the final month of the season, and he will be hard pressed to get the $16.828 million he received this season again in 2021. Barrett won’t be the only edge rusher available in free agency, as Yannick Ngakoue, Jadeveon Clowney, Matthew Judon, Bud Dupree (who is coming off a torn ACL), Markus Golden and Melvin Ingram III are also slated to be free agents – in addition to some looming salary cap cuts from other teams. The guess here is that Barrett will take a hometown discount and get re-signed for north of $10 million, which will split the difference between the $4 million he made in 2019 and the nearly $17 million he’s making this year.
David turns 31 in January, and although he’s still playing at a high level and has great value to the franchise as a leader and a playmaking inside linebacker, the nine-year veteran hasn’t made enough splash plays to make the Pro Bowl. David has 90 tackles, which is 19 behind Devin White, but just 1.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery this year.
He’s currently making $10.75 million and will likely want more than fellow teammate Kwon Alexander got on his latest deal, which is $13.5 million. Yet at age 31 and in a declining cap year and playing a position that doesn’t get paid a lot, David may have to settle for a modest raise and an average of $12 million to help the team contend for a Super Bowl in 2021 and ’22.
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: USA Today
Gronkowski and Suh will be tough calls. They might have to take about half of what they’re getting paid this year – Gronkowski makes just over $9.7 million, while Suh makes $8 million – to stick around Tampa Bay in 2021 and make another run at the Super Bowl. Succop will likely want a significant raise over his $1.05 million 2020 salary even at age 35 next year, and the Bucs would likely see if he would accept double that at around $2.1 million. The guess here is they settle on $2.5 million in 2021 for a job well done this season.
It’s a safe bet that Fournette ($2.5 mill.), Haeg ($2.3 mill.), Smith ($1.75 mill.), Griffin ($1.64 mill.), McLendon ($1.1 mill.), Brown ($775,000) and McCoy ($750,000) aren’t back next year as the team looks for cheaper and/or better alternatives at those positions. The rest of the Bucs’ lesser priced free agents will likely have to return at or near league minimum deals to help Tampa Bay’s cap situation.
As The Athletic’s Greg Auman reported this week, the Bucs’ 2021 cap is going to be impacted by a couple of players who won’t even be free agents next March. Right guard Alex Cappa and strong safety Jordan Whitehead, who both entering the last year of their rookie contracts, will see their pay double next year due to the Proven Performance Escalator (PPE), which rewards players, who are on their initial NFL contract that were drafted in the third round or lower, with playing time bonus money. Both Cappa and Whitehead will earn around $2 million next year instead of their original base salary of $920,000. So instead of entering the offseason with around $32.5 million in cap room, Tampa Bay will actually have closer to $30 million available.
So now that we’ve previewed where the Bucs stand from a salary cap standpoint with regards to free agency, let’s take a peek at some ways Tampa Bay could create even more salary cap room to keep some of its own free agents and add some potential new free agents, in addition to an early look at the 2021 NFL Draft and the team’s needs in Fab 2.
FAB 2. Bucs’ 2021 Future Forecast – Part II
While it’s too early to pinpoint Tampa Bay’s exact personnel needs without knowing exactly who will return and who won’t in free agency due to the looming salary cap crunch, we can take a macro approach when looking at the roster – not just for 2021 but for 2022, as the team does – to see where more talent is needed. And we can examine where the Bucs could create more salary cap room – not just to keep their own free agents and add a few key pieces starting in March, but also the $7 million or so needed to sign the 2021 draft class.
Top 10 Bucs Salaries In 2021
1. QB Tom Brady – $25 million
2. WR Mike Evans – $16.63 million
3. LT Donovan Smith – $14.25 million
4. OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – $12.5 million
5. G Ali Marpet – $12.02 million
6. C Ryan Jensen – $10 million
7. ILB Devin White – $8.17 million
8. DE Will Gholston – $5.5 million
9. TE Cameron Brate – $6.5 million
10. TE O.J. Howard – $6.01 million
Bucs’ Potential Salary Cap Cut Analysis
Facing the prospects of a salary cap reduction from $198 million in 2020 to possibly $175 million, Bucs general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg will likely have to make some cap maneuvers to create more salary space in 2021. Both could go to Evans and Marpet again for restructures to create cap room, as they have in the past. And if Brady likes it in Tampa Bay, the Bucs could tack on another year to his deal and shift $5 million from his $25 million salary 2021 to 2022 with a $30 million payday two years from now to save an $5 million on this year’s cap.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and TE Cam Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
It appears Brate and his $6.5 million salary will be an issue next year. He took a pay cut from $6 million to $4.25 million, and will likely have to do so again if he’s not cut outright in a cap-related move. What happens with Rob Gronkowski, who is an unrestricted free agent in 2020, will likely affect Brate’s status in Tampa Bay.
The other players that could be under the salary cap spotlight are Jensen, who turns 30 in May, and Smith, both of whom are entering the final year of their respective contract. Jensen and Smith no longer have guaranteed money in their contracts, which makes them vulnerable.
The Bucs could consider cutting Smith and freeing up $14.25 million in cap room and moving Tristan Wirfs to left tackle next year, as right tackles are easier to find in the draft or in free agency. But Licht and Greenberg both like and respect Smith, who is one of the toughest left tackles in the league, rarely missing games. Arians does, too. The guess here is the Bucs let Smith play out the last year of his contract and pass protect for Brady in 2021 while attempting to earn a contact extension.
Tampa Bay doesn’t have a replacement for Jensen, who has played well over the past two years, on the current roster, so it’s harder to imagine the team parting ways with him as a salary cap casualty despite him set to make $10 million in 2021, including a $750,000 roster bonus in March.
Whether it’s Brady, Evans, Marpet, Brate, Smith or Jensen, the front office duo Greenberg and Licht will be able to carve out at least $10 million or more worth of cap space due to restructures or releases among the team’s Top 10 highest paid Buccaneers.
Even if Shaquil Barrett returns to Tampa Bay in 2020, it could be on a short-term deal at age 28. With Jason Pierre-Paul turning 31 in January and entering the final year of his contract, the Bucs need some longevity at the edge rushing position. Anthony Nelson, who was drafted in the fourth round last year, has yet to record a sack and his growth was stunted by not having a preseason where he could get some meaningful snaps to gain experience. There is no evidence that he will come close to being the pass rushing force the Bucs need at outside linebacker, so drafting another edge player that can get to the quarterback is an absolute priority.
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
If Ndamukong Suh doesn’t return in free agency, defensive tackle becomes an immediate need because of that vacancy. Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Steve McLendon are also unrestricted free agents, so Khalil Davis, a rookie, would be the only defensive tackle on the roster in 2021. The Bucs would need to draft a defensive tackle and sign another defensive tackle or two in the spring.
If Smith returns for the final year of his contract, offensive tackle isn’t that pressing of a need in 2021. But if the plan is to part ways with Smith and move Wirfs to left tackle next year, the Bucs would need to acquire a starting right tackle – either in free agency or the draft.
Given the fact that Brady is only under contract for one more year, I could see Tampa Bay want to keep things they way they are rather than have a second-year tackle and a rookie tackle pass protecting for the six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback. Yet with veterans like Trent Williams, Alejandro Villanueva, Taylor Moton and Matt Feiler possibly available in free agency, the Bucs will weigh their options. Still, drafting another tackle – early or late – might be a good idea for depth.
The Bucs need a pass-catching running back to help Brady out on third down, as Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy won’t be back in 2021. It’s interesting to note that three of Brady’s former teammates – James White, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis – are all free agents in 2021 and all have great hands. The Bucs need to get another running back to complement Ronald Jones II, who will be entering the final year of his contract in 2021.
Aside from White, Burkhead and Lewis, there will be plenty of other running backs on free agency, including Mike Davis, Kenyan Drake, Marlon Mack, Wayne Gallman, Aaron Jones and Le’Veon Ball – all of who are under the age of 30 – and there is a good crop of pass-catching running backs in this year’s draft. Licht shouldn’t pay Jones in 2022 (because you don’t pay running backs), so drafting his eventual replacement to pair with Ke’Shawn Vaughn, this year’s third-round pick, is important.
Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
And finally, the Bucs won’t have special teamer Ryan Smith back in 2021, and Carlton Davis III will be entering the final year of his deal. Tampa Bay drafted two other cornerbacks in Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean last year, but the jury is out on those two young players. Dean has shown more glimpses of star potential, but adding another cornerback to challenge Murphy-Bunting and provide depth is of utmost importance, too.
PewterReport.com will have plenty of updates on Tampa Bay’s salary cap situation, along with free agency previews and mock drafts in 2021 – hopefully beginning in February after a deep Bucs playoff run rather than the start of January at the end of the Bucs’ 2020 regular season.
FAB 3. Fast Forward Week 14: Bucs vs. Vikings
Not having open locker room at One Buccaneer Place and restricted media access to players this year due to COVID-19 has forced me to do less feature segments on players and more analysis on the games. So I’m using the Fab 3 section – called Rewind – Fast Forward – to preview Sunday’s big Bucs vs. Vikings game. I chronicled Tampa Bay’s loss to Kansas City in last week’s Rewind section in Fab 3.
• The Vikings really had a hard time defending the tight end position last week against the Jaguars. Tyler Eifert caught all six of his targets for 45 yards on Sunday, while fellow tight end James O’Shaughnessy had four catches on six targets for 41 yards. A big reason for Jacksonville’s success throwing to the tight ends against Minnesota’s defense was the fact that the Vikings were missing star linebacker Eric Kendricks, who is the league’s fifth-leading tackler, missed the game after injuring his calf in pre-game warm-ups. Kendricks’ status for Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay has yet to be determined, but it could be a big day in the passing game for tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate against Minnesota’s linebacking corps.
Vikings QB Kirk Cousins – Photo by: USA Today
• Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins uses a hard snap count and drew a neutral zone infraction on Sunday against the Jaguars. Bucs outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett is tied for the team lead with seven penalties, including four neutral zone infractions and three offsides. Don’t be surprised if Cousins tries to get some cheap first downs on some hard counts on third downs. Knowing Barrett’s penchant for trying to jump the count, he’ll likely oblige a time or two.
• Minnesota’s new offensive coordinator is Gary Kubiak, and he loves to use play-action and bootlegs, which is right up Cousins’ alley. Barrett and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul will need to be careful to set the edge and contain the mobile quarterback so he doesn’t get outside the pocket to find a clear passing lane. Cousins is having a great season, completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 3,073 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He needs five more touchdowns over the last four games to set a new career high for TD passes.
• One of the reasons why Minnesota has been so successful over the last six games while registering five wins is because the team has started strong and finished strong, too. The Vikings have outscored their opponents in the first quarter in four of the last six games. Minnesota has outscored the competition by a score of 41-25 to start the game. The Vikings have also outscored their opponents in the fourth quarter and in overtime by a combined score of 53-47, and Cousins has engineered fourth quarter comebacks in three of Minnesota’s last four games.
• Minnesota is one of the hottest teams in the league, winning five of its last six games. Yet over the last month and a half, only one of those teams has a winning record right now, which is 9-3 Green Bay. The Vikings’ other wins since November have come against the Lions (4-8), the Bears (5-7), the Panthers (4-7) and the Jaguars (1-10) last week in overtime. And the loss Minnesota suffered was at home against Dallas (3-8). In all, the Vikings are a combined 1-4 against teams with winning records in 2020.
• Vikings veteran kicker Dan Bailey is coming off his worst game of the season in last week’s 27-24 overtime win against Jacksonville. The normally reliable Bailey was 2-of-4 on field goals and also missed his first extra point attempt. Bailey is now 12-of-15 (80 percent) on field goals for the year, and 27-of-30 (90 percent) on PATs. Raymond James Stadium is a difficult stadium to kick in, especially the south end zone due to the swirling winds.
Vikings DE Ifeadhi Odenigbo – Photo by: USA Today
• Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer typically rushes four defensive linemen and plays a good deal of Cover 2 zone behind the line. The problem is that the Vikings only have 21 sacks on the season, and five of those belong to Yannick Ngakoue, who was traded to Baltimore in October.
So the remaining Minnesota defenders only have 15 sacks in 12 games, led by Ifeadi Odenigbo’s 3.5 QB captures, who had a sack for a safety in last week’s 27-24 overtime win against Jacksonville. Tampa Bay’s offensive line should not have too much of a problem against Minnesota’s front four. When the Vikings blitz, it’s typically reserved for third-and-long when linebackers and safeties are brought off the edge.
FAB 4. Bucs vs. Vikings – 4 Match-ups To Watch
Each week you can find 4 Match-ups to Watch in the Fab 4 section of my SR’s Fab 5 columns. Here is an advanced look at Tampa Bay’s huge home game against Minnesota. The 7-5 Bucs take the field against the surging 6-6 Vikings in a game that will have direct NFC playoff ramifications.
Bucs CB Carlton Davis III vs. Vikings WR Adam Thielen
As good of a receiver as Pro Bowler Adam Thielen has been for Minnesota this year, it’s rookie Justin Jefferson, the team’s first-round pick, that has been sensational. Jefferson, who has a 90 Pro Football Focus overall grade – right behind Thielen’s 90.2 grade – just went over the 1,000-yard mark last week and is averaging 17 yards per catch with seven touchdowns during his rookie season. Thielen continues to be Kirk Cousins’ favorite target near the end zone with 11 of his 12 touchdowns coming in the red zone. Thielen is second on the team behind Jefferson’s 61 receptions with 57 catches for 721 yards (12.6 avg.) and 12 TDs.
Vikings WRs Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen – Photo by: USA Today
Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles needs to resist the temptation to put Carlton Davis III, who is the team’s best cover cornerback, on Jefferson, who is the most dangerous receiver in Minnesota, and instead put either Jamel Dean – if he’s recovered from his concussion and a groin injury – or Sean Murphy-Bunting on him and then have a safety over the top to prevent the LSU product from getting open deep. Jefferson ran a 4.43 at the NFL Scouting Combine and is slightly faster than the 30-year old Thielen, who ran a 4.45 when he entered the league eight years ago. Davis, who ran a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine before posting a 4.44 time at his pro day, is a better match up against Thielen from a size and physicality standpoint. ADVANTAGE: Push
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh vs. Vikings RG Ezra Cleveland
Cleveland was a highly-rated offensive lineman coming out of Boise State and was Minnesota’s second-round pick this year. He didn’t start at right guard until Week 6 and has had an up-and-down rookie season with a 61.5 overall grade from PFF and a 52.9 pass-blocking grade. In five games he has given up one sack, five QB hits and 11 pressures, but hasn’t surrendered a sack over the last month. Cleveland needs to have a big game against the big and powerful Suh to open up running lanes for Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook, in addition to keeping Kirk Cousins’ jersey clean on passing downs.
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Suh hasn’t gotten much love from PFF this year, as he has a modest 59.9 overall grade and a 66.6 grade as a pass rusher this season. Suh will need to be a force on Sunday against Minnesota both as a run defender and as a pass rusher. Stopping the run will be paramount as the Bucs can’t look Cook run wild and provide the Vikings with a balanced offense. Suh must play a big role in making Minnesota one-dimensional and forcing Cousins to beat to Tampa Bay with his arm. And when Cousins drops back to throw, Suh must push the pocket and win his one-on-ones with the rookie guard and get to Cousins. Suh already has four sacks this season after recording 2.5 last year, but hasn’t recorded a sack since the Giants game in Week 8. ADVANTAGE: Suh
Bucs QB Tom Brady vs. Vikings FS Harrison Smith
Smith, who has a 75.7 overall grade from PFF and a 77 coverage grade, is one of the best safeties in the league and a five-time Pro Bowler. At 6-foot-2, 214 pounds, Smith is a hard-hitting defensive back with good range and long arms. He has 27 career interceptions, including four this year, in addition to 65 career pass break-ups. Not only is a quarterback nightmare in coverage playing in Minnesota’s Cover 2 defense, but he’s also an effective blitzer off the edge in Mike Zimmer’s third down pressure packages. Smith has 13.5 career sacks, including a half sack in last week’s game against Jacksonville.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and Rams DT Aaron Donald – Photo by: USA Today
Brady, who has an 89 grade from PFF this season, has thrown 11 interceptions this season with six of them coming at the hands of opposing safeties, including five of his last seven INTs. While Brady has thrown 28 touchdowns and just 11 picks this year in his first season in Tampa Bay, he has tossed eight touchdowns and seven interceptions combined in the last four games and must step up this week against Minnesota with a better TD:INT ratio. Brady must know where Smith is at all times, especially on third downs, whether he’s dropping into coverage or rushing the quarterback as a nickel blitzer. The Vikings will likely blitz Brady often as they don’t have a strong front four from a pass-rushing standpoint, and Brady must be aware of Harrison in those situations. ADVANTAGE: Push
Bucs WR Mike Evans vs. Vikings CB Cameron Dantzler
Dantzler has the fourth-highest grade among Vikings defenders from PFF with a 69.9 overall grade and a 69 grade in coverage. The rookie from Mississippi State was drafted in the third round after running a pedestrian 4.64 at the NFL Scouting Combine, but has played well in his first season in the league. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound Dantzler has decent initial quickness and long arms, which helps him in underneath zone coverage in Minnesota’s Cover 2 scheme. Dantzler is coming off his best game as a rookie, recording his first interception, first forced fumble and first fumble recovery in last week’s win against Jacksonville.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: USA Today
Evans will likely get matched up with Dantzler due to the rookie’s length and the fact that Evans is 6-foot-5. Evans is faster than Dantzler, so look for him to be put in pass-catching situations further down the field where Dantzler’s lack of speed can be exposed, rather than on underneath routes. Evans, who has a hamstring injury, but is expected to play on Sunday, hasn’t had a great year statistically speaking, as he’s not on pace to hit 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. But where Evans has thrived has been in the red zone where he has caught the majority of his 11 touchdown passes. Due to Dantzler’s inexperience, Sunday’s game against the Vikings could be a big one for Evans. Zimmer would be wise to help his rookie cornerback by doubling Evans with safety help over the top for most of the game when not blitzing. ADVANTAGE: Evans
FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots
• BROWN COMING UP SHORT AS A BUCCANEER: It hasn’t been a great debut for Antonio Brown in Tampa Bay so far. Brown is only averaging 8.4 yards per catch in his first four games as a Buccaneer, catching 20 passes for 168 yards with no touchdowns. Even worse, the Bucs are 1-3 in games he’s played in. Not only is Brown not doing enough to help Tampa Bay, he’s not doing much to help himself, as The Athletic’s Greg Auman reports.
Can Antonio Brown hit any of his incentives for 2020? His contract gives him an extra $250,000 each if he can get 45 catches, 650 yards or 6 TDs and Bucs make playoffs. Halfway through his eight games, he has 20 catches, 168 yards, 0 TDs. Has a shot at the receptions incentive.
• BUCS’ BIG CHANCE THIS WEEK: Auman tweeted out a nugget from the New York Times’ playoff simulator that showed Tampa Bay’s postseason chances taking a big leap with a win over Minnesota on Sunday.
Of Bucs’ final four games, how much bigger is a win against the Vikings? The NY Times’ great playoff simulator has Bucs with a 79 percent chance of making playoffs right now. Beat the Vikings on Sunday, that jumps up to 93 percent; lose Sunday and it drops to 56 percent for Bucs.
• BUCS VS. VIKINGS PREVIEWED ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcast live four episodes per week – Sundays after the game with additional episodes on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday – all at 4:00 p.m. ET – to recap all of the action from the previous Bucs game and get you ready for the next one. We’ll be live on Sunday evening at 8:00 p.m. ET to recap the Bucs vs. Vikings game and break down the Bucs’ playoff picture, in addition to Pewter Report Podcasts on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday to prep you for the Bucs at Falcons game next Sunday.
Watch us live on our PewterReportTV channel on YouTube.com and please subscribe (it’s free) and add your comments. All of our Pewter Report Podcasts will be posted there so you can go back and watch the recorded episodes if you missed it live.
The audio versions of the Pewter Report Podcasts will continue to be found on iTunes and Soundcloud. Here are links to a few of the most recent episodes, including Wednesday’s podcast which featured Jake Arians, the son of Bucs head coach Bruce Arians.
• WIRFS’ BRILLIANCE CONTINUES: He won’t get NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors this year because he’s an offensive lineman, but Tampa Bay’s first-round right tackle Tristan Wirfs has been worthy of such a distinction because he’s playing at a Pro Bowl level. Wirfs has been brilliant on third and fourth downs this season as Pro Football Focus points out.
• MUST-WATCH MIKE EVANS VIDEO: Tampa Bay wide receiver was chosen as the team’s representative for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for all of his tremendous charitable deeds through the Bucs organization and his own Mike Evans Foundation. All Buccaneers fans need to watch this video. Well done, Mike, and congratulations!
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
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