FAB 3. The Bucs’ Slot WR Dilemma
The Buccaneers are in a bit of a dilemma with regards to pending free agent wide receiver Adam Humphries, who will likely have plenty of suitors in a very thin free agent market, as Mark Cook outlined this week in an article for PewterReport.com. Rumors suggest that Humphries’ camp is looking for $8 million per year in his next contract, and that might be about $2 million more than the Bucs want to pay. Spotrac.com actually has Humphries’ market value at $10.4 million.
The Pewter Report staff addressed the Humphries subject in detail earlier this week in the latest Pewter Nation Podcast and I suggested that the slot receiver position in Tampa Bay, which Humphries plays, might be different under Bruce Arians than it was under Dirk Koetter. Humphries was second in targets last year behind Mike Evans with 105, and finished second in catches (76) and third in receiving yards (816) and tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns (five) in Tampa Bay.
The Big Takeaway
In Koetter’s offense, the slot receiver position features a quick, possession receiver capable of finding holes in zone coverage and catching passes underneath to move the chains. The slot receiver (Y) position typically has been third in importance behind the split end (X) and the flanker (Z) in terms of target distribution in Tampa Bay.
In Arians’ offense in Arizona, the slot receiver position was played by future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, who led the team in targets with 145, 150 and 161 from 2015-17. Arians wanted to move Fitzgerald inside to take advantage of his size (6-3, 218) as a blocker in the run game, and to create mismatches against linebackers, safeties and smaller nickel cornerbacks on seam routes, which are Arians’ favorite routes in the playbook.
At 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, Humphries isn’t the ideal slot receiver for Arians’ offense, unless he wants to continue to make the outside receivers the priority in the passing game. Given what Arians did in Arizona with Fitzgerald, I wouldn’t be shocked if he wanted to move Evans inside to the slot in Tampa Bay, but I think Godwin is a better fit to take on Fitzgerald’s role at 6-foot-1, 209 pounds. Godwin is a sensational blocker and has the speed to get vertical and the agility to make plays across the middle like Fitzgerald did.
If Godwin moves inside as Fitzgerald did, that might not leave Humphries with a spot in Tampa Bay as he doesn’t have the requisite height and/or speed to be an every down receiver on the outside. That outside receiver role that DeSean Jackson had may go to Justin Watson, last year’s fifth-round pick, or a new receiver the team drafts or signs in free agency, such as former Cardinals receivers John Brown or J.J. Nelson.
Stats That Count
Expected Bucs’ 2019 Passing Game Hierarchy
Mike Evans: $20 million cap value in 2019 / 138 targets in 2018
Chris Godwin – $875,041 cap value in 2019 / 95 targets in 2018
O.J. Howard: $3.026 million cap value in 2019 / 48 targets in 2018
Cam Brate: $7 million cap value in 2019 / 49 targets in 2018
Potentially Might Not Return To Tampa Bay In 2019
Adam Humphries: currently unsigned / 105 targets in 2018
*DeSean Jackson: $10 million cap value in 2019 / 74 targets in 2018
Humphries could depart in free agency, and I’m not expecting Jackson back in 2019 due to his $10 million cap value as the team may need to allocate that money elsewhere.
The FABulous Ending
Complicating the Humphries situation is the fact that the new Bucs coaches are still in the evaluation process of the current roster and determining the future role of every player the staff wants to keep or re-sign. If the plan is to keep Godwin and/or Jackson on the outside opposite Evans, then Humphries maintains his slot receiver role inside if he were to be re-signed. If the Bucs want to move Godwin inside and move on from Jackson, then Humphries’ value to the team goes down, as does the amount of money Tampa Bay would be willing to pay him.
As much as I have appreciated Humphries and his game over the years, it doesn’t make sense to pay him $7 million or more if he were to be the fourth-most targeted player in the passing game behind Evans, Godwin and Howard, who I think will see a big increase in his targets next year, especially with Brate making that much, too. There will be much cheaper alternatives available in free agency, such as Nelson, or in the draft.