FAB 2. Why Would Any Free Agents Come To The Bucs?

With high expectations as one of the darlings of the national media as a trendy playoff pick, the Buccaneers were perhaps the most disappointing NFL team in 2017.

As soon as the Bucs finished filming Hard Knocks for HBO during training camp they received some hard knocks from Minnesota, New England, Arizona, Buffalo, Carolina and New Orleans on the way to a 2-6 start to the season. One year after Dirk Koetter’s 9-7 debut the honeymoon was quickly over in Tampa Bay.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and GM Jason Licht - Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and GM Jason Licht – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers

The Glazers even flirted with the idea of firing Koetter and bringing back Bucs Ring of Honor coach Jon Gruden, but Gruden opted for more money and a different challenge with his former team, the Oakland Raiders, instead. So Koetter was kept and he and his coaching staff were put on notice to turn the ship around and head back to winning waters or they’ll all have to walk the plank after the 2018 season.

That could apply to general manager Jason Licht, too. The Glazers picked up his fifth-year option last summer, but now he’s in a contract year and desperately needs another great draft and free agency haul.

Which brings me to this topic. Who would want to come to Tampa Bay this year via free agency? What’s the appeal?

What free agent would want to walk into the pressure cooker of a situation at One Buccaneer Place when there could be a regime change next year with a new head coach and new offensive and defensive schemes?

The Bucs could indeed have trouble luring some free agents this offseason – or maybe not.

Despite coming off a disappointing 5-11 season and another last place finish in the NFC South division, Tampa Bay still has quite a bit going for it as a free agent destination.

The biggest reason may be Koetter himself. Think what you want about his coaching job in 2017, Koetter became only the second head coach in Bucs history to win in his first season at the helm in Tampa Bay other than Gruden. Koetter had a 9-7 record in 2016, and that’s a fact that will be used in recruiting pitches at One Buccaneer Place.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston and head coach Dirk Koetter - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs QB Jameis Winston and head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“Hey, we were on the cusp of making the playoffs in 2016 and then perhaps we didn’t handle the high expectations that well at the start of last year, and then Jameis Winston got hurt,” someone like Licht, Koetter or director of football administration Mike Greenberg could say to the agent of a defensive lineman, offensive lineman, cornerback or running back in free agency in just a few weeks.

Koetter admirably kept the Bucs playing hard despite the team’s bad start, which ended the team’s playoff hopes in early November. Tampa Bay lost by six points in overtime at Green Bay and then had three straight losses by three points apiece to Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina before a come-from-behind season-ending win over NFC South champion New Orleans that showed a great deal of character.

“We just need YOU to help us bounce back and get us over the hump,” Licht, Koetter or Greenberg could say to a prospective free agent. “Your key [insert: sack, block, interception or touchdown run] could have helped us with this game and that game and that game and this game last year.”

The mindset of most NFL players is one of sheer confidence. Every free agent believes that he could be the difference-maker – or at least he should – and a pitch like that appeals to a player’s ego.

Koetter has also produced a Top 10 offense in two of his three years calling plays in Tampa Bay, accomplishing that feat in 2015 with the league’s fifth-ranked unit, and again last year, ranking ninth overall in total yardage. Those statistics have some meaning not only to the offensive linemen and running backs that Tampa Bay would court in free agency, but also to defensive players because it shows that balance can easily achieved if the Bucs defense can fill some holes in free agency and the draft.

Helping matters offensively is the fact that Koetter has promoted wide receivers coach Todd Monken to the full-time role of offensive coordinator with his primary job to increase touchdown production in the red zone. But that’s not the only appealing move on the coaching staff.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and former DL coach Jay Hayes – Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and former DL coach Jay Hayes – Photo by: Getty Images

Koetter is already winning the offseason by moving on from former defensive line coach Jay Hayes, whose unit only produced 20 of the team’s 22 sacks last year. Firing Hayes was a move that PewterReport.com called for at the end of the season and wholeheartedly endorsed when it happened over last weekend. Parting ways was Hayes shows the Bucs’ existing players and potential free agent signings that Koetter is not going to settle for mediocrity, and that he will hold his coaches just as accountable as his players.

But Koetter is not the only sales pitch, of course. There are a host of very talented players on this team that make the Bucs a threat to make the playoffs in 2018 and beyond.

Winston, wide receiver Mike Evans, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, and linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander have all made the Pro Bowl, and wide receiver DeSean Jackson and tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard are star players, too. There are teams with less talent in the league that can’t make their roster a selling point. Tampa Bay can.

Who wouldn’t want to live in sunny Tampa, Fla. where it’s beach weather about eight months out of the year? Raymond James Stadium always has the top playing surface as voted on by NFL players each year, and the climate and natural grass in Tampa Bay is yet another sales pitch in free agency.

Yet the biggest pitch the Bucs can make is in dollars and cents with their salary cap room, which is expected to swell to nearly $75 million once the team cuts running back Doug Martin and defensive tackle Chris Baker. The Bucs are in the top 10 when it comes to salary cap space and Licht has plenty of money to pursue some of the bigger names in March.

Although the Bucs plan on spending tens of millions of dollars by re-signing some of their own free agents, such as cornerback Brent Grimes, wide receiver Adam Humphries and Brate, and extending the likes of Alexander and offensive linemen Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith, there will still be plenty of cap room to spend in free agency. Greenberg has a sterling reputation around the league, and agents know that their clients won’t need to restructure or take pay cuts in a year or two because of his successful salary cap management.

Mike Greenberg and Jason Licht - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Mike Greenberg and Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Money talks in free agency, and free agents can keep more of their own money in Tampa Bay without paying state income tax. Florida is one of three states that have NFL teams (Washington and Texas are the others) that don’t collect state income tax.

If the Bucs are going up against the Vikings for the same free agent, that player would get to keep 9.85 percent more of their money by choosing to play in Florida rather than Minnesota. Free agents signing in New York or New Jersey to play for the Jets, Giants or Bills will have to play 8.82 percent more in state income taxes in New York and 8.97 percent more in New Jersey. California has four teams – the Chargers, Rams, Raiders and 49ers – and if a free agent wants to move to that state to play for any of those teams he can expect to pay a whopping 13.3 percent in state income taxes, which are the highest in the nation.

The Bucs have a decided advantage in free agency from a financial standpoint with no state income tax and a properly managed salary cap with plenty of room thanks to Greenberg and Licht. Tampa Bay also has a warm, tropical climate and a tremendous playing surface at Raymond James Stadium. But the existing star players and even Koetter himself must also be considered draws in free agency.

No, the Bucs aren’t a player away from going to the Super Bowl, and can’t win that argument with free agents against competing teams that have already been to the playoffs. But, there are still plenty of lures Tampa Bay can use to reel in some much-needed free agents next month.

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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 protected]
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FLBoyInDallas

Don’t worry Scott, we won’t forget which Bucs site was touting Vea first. By the way Jimmy Lake, defensive coordinator at Washington, is completely convinced that Vea will be selected before the Bucs at #7. Seems like his current rise up draft boards even before the combine takes place might support that conviction. I guess we’ll see how it plays out soon enough. One positive is if Vea does end up being drafted before the Bucs that means another elite prospect falls into the Bucs’ lap (just like last year with OJ Howard). There’s only so much room in those… Read more »

Brobear

I think it sounds like his coach is just trying to talk up his former player. Vea may be rising slightly but him being taken before 7 is ludicrous. That only happens if a team (mistakenly) thinks he is Aaron Donald. Which he is not.

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MudManVA

The Glazers have checked all the boxes because they hire & fire coaches almost on pace with Cleveland. Since Dungy & Gruden I would say that the choices & patience has been a garbage pit. They blew the thing up & hired Morris, meh, then they brought in the A-hole, yuck, then Lovie, boy, and finally Koetter. Koetter is the best of of the bunch since Gruden and I as a fan call for some patience & stability. This team was years & drafts away when Lovie was hired, and are still I think 2 draft classes or 3 years… Read more »

Buc 1976

Aside from A kicker and VH3 Licht has drafted well.

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Brobear

VH3 was the best pick at that spot. It was the correct pick. But yeah grabbing Aguayo with Byard and Ngakoue still on the board is not great.

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Buc 1976

Sorry he WAS NOT.

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Ja'crispy

Thanks Scott for addressing the bucs pitch to free agents. I hate it when people say stuff like “why would anyone want to sign with Tampa?” theres a lot of reason why a free agent would want to sign with the bucs and you made some good points.

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Tampa 2.2

I hear you Scott but I just can’t see the Bucs drafting a DT that high with such low production. When you picking in the top 10 the selection has to be a game changer and Vita Vea is not that. A trade down is the only way you draft Vea. Losing team draft players based on how good they perform at the NFL Combine. I still can’t get over 9 1/2 sacks in 3 years, and you mocking him to the Bucs at 7. I say once again, I can’t wait until your next mock draft after getting intel… Read more »

Pete Wood

Could we please wait until Koetter has a few games under his belt in 2018 before we start talking about life after he leaves? Kind of a downbeat fab five in many ways. Strange spin on free agency. Why wouldn’t free agents want to sign with the Bucs? The Bucs have money and plenty of talent and a great draft position. With all the QBs going early the Bucs effectively have a top three draft pick. They were a half dozen scores and a kicker away from making the playoffs this year. They’re not the Browns. FAs realize the Bucs… Read more »

e

Nice work on the trailblazer piece, Scott. I look forward to Mac-commentary? As far as Koetter, the jury is still out; can he adapt? Can push a little harder in the offseason? Can he make more in-game changes? We’ll see.. As far as Meathead is concerned; I’ve always been a fan. All GMs have hits and misses, but when you look at the overall picture, he has restocked this team with talent in his tenure. I think that he’ll get extended. I still like a trade down scenario with the Bills and with their two first rounders, picking up Billy… Read more »

pinkstob

The Glazer sons have checked every box when it comes to hiring coaches except one: Get someone besides the Glazer sons to do the hiring. They are the common denominator in the lousy direction this team has taken since they started calling the shots in the mid 2000’s: From the HC to the GM to the team record to the ugly uniforms to the ticket prices. They need to either hire an outside firm to hire a President/CEO to run the team who can hire the GM and coach (making the Glazers silent owners) or sell the team. Rate this… Read more »

Horse

Pinkstob, that just isn’t going to happen. It’s a family business and it will stay that way as long as they choose to make hundreds of millions off their investment.

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pinkstob

With enough pressure from the fans and local media you can make change happen in the sports world, even all the way to ownership…if you apply the pressure for long enough. The owners are human, they can be embarrassed just like us…only for different reasons. Again, they can transfer power to a President/CEO without selling the team. If guys like SR and other local media condemn the Glazers consistently for the product they have produced we have a chance at seeing positive change. If the fans and local media defend them for trying we’ll never win another Super Bowl. Remember,… Read more »

Charlie

Love the bit about Licht, not enough credit for at least giving us talent and holding onto it than we’ve been able to in a long time. But are we so sure that Dirk was Licht’s guy all the way, wholeheartedly? I somehow get the feeling that he wasn’t. Either way he’s stuck with him and if he has another good offseason, he should be free to bring in a whole new coaching staff of his own.

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Cody

I totally agree with you Charlie. I think Licht has done an excellent job in the draft outside of Roberto Aguayo of course.

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rrsrq

Thanks for recognizing what the Bucs have done in their personnel with African Americans, great nugget with Parnell Dickinson, many people didn’t know he was the first black QB to start for the Bucs, I believe he is still part of the community there. They have also given opportunities to fornmer GaTech QB Joe Hamilton was on the roster. On note of correction I believe Jacksonville had Leftwich, David Garrard and Quin Gray on the roster all at once as well. Unfortunate for all three coaches unable to finish the job, but I believe Raheem is a better coach now… Read more »

macabee

OK, So E you want the black guy to comment on the Glazer’s trailblazing with black coaches and QBs. Lol. Actually I’m not a black guy, I’m simply sporting a full body freckle. Lol. For those of you new to PR, some time back I posted a photo (age 45) of me so everybody knew the nutcase that posted the long posts. Well now I’m really 68 and having a great time and hope all of you are too! Now my take on the subject. I think the Glazers were trying to get the best players/coaches that were available. They… Read more »

e

Ha ha! I’m must say that you display impressive freckling skills. Maybe by not thinking of color, they were ahead? You know that there are a number of people that look forward to your posts; freckled or otherwise… 🙂

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scubog

You sure are one handsome guy macabee. We’re both the same age and, from the looks of your photo, like me, you still have all of your hair and teeth. I love your sense of humor, your often sarcastic remarks, but most of all your in depth knowledge and perspective of all topics.

Me, I’m just a smart ass with a relatively quick wit. Wish you were my neighbor. Love to meet you someday.

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Dman

Amen. Mac, you’ve got a few years on me, but we’re not that far apart. My Take – If we just focus on what a coach or player can produce the rest should take care of itself. Ability is the best and should be the only qualification.

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surferdudes

For all of you who think Licht’s done a good job, don’t look at the many needs we still have, just look at our won loss record during his tenure.

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Honey Bear

A GM’s job is not to make “good” draft picks. A GM needs to build a winning roster. In four years, he has not done that. He has neglected the D line almost entirely, and the offensive line only has two solid draft picks and he has mostly struck out on free agents. Maybe Licht figures it out this off-season and drafts purely trench guys, and signs some more. But his four years here have been mostly hot garbage.

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matador

Scott’s argument for FAs coming to Tampa: Think what you want about his coaching job in 2017, Koetter became only the second head coach in Bucs history to win in his first season at the helm in Tampa Bay other than Gruden… Koetter is already winning the offseason by moving on from former defensive line coach Jay Hayes There are a host of very talented players on this team…There are teams with less talent in the league that can’t make their roster a selling point. Tampa Bay can. Who wouldn’t want to live in sunny Tampa, Fla. where it’s beach… Read more »

XpfcWintergreen

Well, Mac, I have a couple of years on you. You have a deeper football knowledge than I, however. I love your positive attitude and enthusiasm as a fan. I fell for some of the hype last year. But I still see the team as having made steady progress under the current regime. I still think the Bucs are set to become a playoff team. I see Winston as breaking through to elite status this year. I think he was a little young in years and a bit of a kid when he arrived. I look for him to really… Read more »

surferdudes

I’ll get serious for a moment. My last post, and Honey Bears were critical of Licht, and got half negative votes. Just proves people believe what they want to believe. Fake news I guess but what I said was fact. Licht’s won, loss record is bad, we have many needs in many areas, after being here four years our pass rush is worse then when he got here. If you consider that a success enjoy losing.

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Horse

Surferdudes,. Agree with you. This has to be a make-or-break season for Licht .

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makski

OK surferdudes, I’ll give you the fact that we haven’t won a lot lately and our pass rush is worse than when he got here, but… You have to take into account that we have had a VERY young QB over that span, hard to win a lot of games with a rookie/young QB in this league. Also, you have to admit that even though our pass rush is worse, our QB, WR’s, TE’s, and LB’s are all vastly improved over that span too. You can’t fix everything at once. Light has just concentrated on other positions. Rate this item:Thumb… Read more »

owlykat

Horse, Surferdudes, and Honeybear are right on the money. Licht is the CULPRIT folks. Just go back to his first statements of how he operates when he was hired. He believes in getting good value deals on free agents that are not the most expensive. On drafting he wants the BPA irregardless of needs as the best way to build teams. And what did the Glazer Boys do but open up the pocket book and he had Carte Blanche. Just look how many free agents he got to hire when he started. The problem was he was an awful chooser… Read more »

Charlie

Glazer boys are the problem, not Licht. Their dad would have given him better support so thus far. The kids meddle too much with coaching decisions they know nothing about. Like seriously Dirk doesn’t want to run the ball, period. He says he does, but doesn’t. The glazers picked him like they try to pick every coach not licht.

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REDDMAN

You have to compare Licht to other GM’s in the Division first then the league, not to Mark Dominic and his sorry drafting record. Licht has pissed a ton of money away on free agents and doesn’t seem to be able to get it fixed. Now it’s time to go shopping again and frankly I have zero confidence in him getting the right guys. If he doesn’t get at least 3 free agents to come in and start and play well, we need to find a new GM.

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owlykat

Licht also has to draft for our needs for the first time here, not BPA. Fix our trenches and get a top RB. Fix the backfield and Special Teams with Free Agents unless you can get the Gators Place Kicker in the Fifth or later in the draft.

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maarnold1775

They’re great at hiring, but quick to fire, since all those examples turned out to be a train wreaks in the end. Some did it to themselves, others weren’t given enough time. Nice article anyway.

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