FAB 3. Why The Bucs Didn’t Re-sign Alexander

Heading into 2019 free agency, Bucs general manager Jason Licht had only lost one free agent that he wanted to keep – wide receiver and special teams captain Russell Shepard, who signed a multi-year deal with Carolina in 2016. Licht loved Shepard’s leadership ability and special teams prowess, but the Bucs viewed Shepard as a No. 4 wide receiver and core special teamer. Meanwhile, the Panthers viewed him as a possible No. 3 receiver and paid Shepard accordingly with a three-year, $10 million contract.

As most free agents do, Shepard went for the big payday over staying in Tampa Bay for a lesser deal, which was probably wise on his part. But he bombed in Carolina and was cut after just one season when Shepard refused to take a pay cut.

Bucs GM Jason Licht - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

On Monday, Licht lost the second free agent he wanted to keep since becoming the team’s general manager in 2014 when middle linebacker Kwon Alexander signed a mega-deal with San Francisco. Licht spent a fourth-round pick on Alexander in 2015 and loved the intensity, heart and speed that he played with for four seasons in Tampa Bay.

Although he personally wanted to keep Alexander, whom he called “the heartbeat of the defense” in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine, Licht did the wise thing professionally by letting Alexander go. Saying goodbye from an emotional sense was difficult because Alexander had a Pro Bowl season while with the Bucs, was a team captain and was beloved by his teammates and the fan base. Seeing him lay on the ground gripping his injured knee before halftime of the Cleveland game was a gut punch to the man who drafted him.

But Licht did the rational thing and didn’t give Alexander $54 million over four years with $27 million guaranteed like the 49ers did. It would have been easy to do so and justify matching the 49ers’ offer. Most Bucs fans would understand Licht doing so because of their love for Alexander’s intensity and work ethic, and that he was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise awful and forgettable Tampa Bay defense. Known more on a first-name basis as “Kwon” rather than “Alexander” to Bucs fans, his love for Tampa Bay was solidified when he died his hair Buccaneer red back in 2017.

Instead of pulling the sentimental trigger when it came to Alexander, Licht looked at the facts surrounding his fourth-year linebacker and set aside the emotions when weighing how much the LSU product would be worth.

Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David - Photo by Cliff Welch/PR
Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David – Photo by Cliff Welch/PR

Simply put, Lavonte David is the Bucs’ best linebacker. He’s better than Alexander.

David has averaged 126 tackles, 5.5 pass breakups, three sacks, 2.5 forced fumbles, 1.9 fumble recoveries and 1.4 interceptions per year over his seven seasons in Tampa Bay.

Alexander has averaged 95 tackles, 5.5 pass breakups, 1.5 forced fumbles, 1.5 interceptions, one interception and 0.5 fumble recoveries per year.

You might argue that this statistical analysis is skewed because Alexander missed the most of last year – 10 games – and using a season-by-season comparison may flawed.

Okay, but David’s numbers are still better, as he has averaged 8.4 tackles, 0.37 pass breakups, 0.20 sacks, 0.17 forced fumbles, 0.12 fumble recoveries and 0.10 interceptions per game over his seven-year career.

Alexander has averaged 8.2 tackles, 0.48 pass breakups, 0.15 sacks, 0.13 forced fumbles, 0.13 interceptions, and 0.04 fumble recoveries per game over his four-year career.

Comparing David and Alexander on a per game basis actually draws the two much closer statistically – until you realize that David has missed seven starts in seven years, while Alexander has missed 18 starts in four seasons. David averages one missed start per year and has played in all 16 games in four of his seven seasons, while Alexander has missed an average of 4.5 starts per year and has played in a full 16 games just once in his career.

Ex-Bucs MLB Kwon Alexander - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Ex-Bucs MLB Kwon Alexander – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Dirk Koetter didn’t get many things right in Tampa Bay as the team’s former head coach, but his line about the greatest ability in the NFL being “availability” is spot on. Players can’t help the team sitting on the sidelines, and there is a good chance that Alexander will be sidelined to start the 2019 campaign in San Francisco as he continues to recover from his torn ACL.

Licht felt uneasy about committing more than $10 million per year to Alexander in part because David is the better linebacker and makes $10.05 million per year, but even more so due to Alexander’s torn ACL. If Alexander starts the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list with the 49ers it will mark the third year in a row that he won’t be available for all 16 games in a season.

And how will Alexander play in 2019 in his first season back from injury? Would he be right back at a Pro Bowl level? 

Alexander would have to learn a new defense either in Tampa Bay or San Francisco this year, and wouldn’t be available to do on-field work until midway through training camp at the very earliest – and that’s being optimistic. Alexander had at times struggled with being assignment sound in Tampa Bay, and missing the install periods in the offseason and training camp due to his ACL recovery would likely catch up to him on the field in a negative way in his first season in a new scheme.

Would you bet that Alexander has a Pro Bowl-caliber season in his first year back from an ACL tear? Licht wouldn’t. That’s obvious by the fact that Alexander is headed to San Francisco.

For all of Alexander’s splash plays, he has missed 78 tackles according to Pro Football Focus, which is the second most of any linebacker since entering the league in 2015. In fact, there were some within the Bucs organization that thought Kendell Beckwith actually did a better job subbing in at middle linebacker in 2017 than Alexander did when he went to the Pro Bowl that year.

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

I’m not here to suggest Alexander is a bad linebacker, because he’s not. He’s a good linebacker when healthy, and at age 24, he has plenty of upside. But he’s not a great linebacker – yet. And he’s not healthy – yet. 

49ers general manager John Lynch just paid Alexander “great linebacker” money by San Francisco.

The best move for Licht and the salary cap-strapped Bucs was to let Alexander walk away. As a general manager, Licht showed tremendous restraint in having a contract threshold, believed to be between slightly north of $10 million, and sticking to it.

Should the Bucs not dabble too much more in free agency this year, Alexander’s mega contract – and Adam Humphries’ deal – could fetch Licht a compensatory draft pick – perhaps as high as the third round – in 2020.

Throw in the fact that the newly signed Deone Bucannon knows the scheme, is better in coverage than Alexander due to his background as a safety, and comes to Tampa Bay for $2.5 million in 2019 with another $1 million in playtime incentives and I’m intrigued. I’m not saying that Bucannon is an upgrade over Alexander – yet – but he’s certainly much more affordable and healthy.

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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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Jonathan Goodfellow

Great article Scott. Feeling pretty positive this year. Here are some of my thoughts. 1. Boy is Godwin in for a great year. I was a little disappointed in him last year. Seemed to drop the ball or fumble it one to many times, but he is young, talented, a hardworker, and a team player (would rather have guys with ME and Godwin’s mentalities than the A.Browns and OBJ’s.) Godwin has already started to build a solid rapport with JW. Will still miss Humps ability to get open and make crucial 3rd down catches, but Godwin will have a great… Read more »

destinjohnny

Pewter report Crew I know Jason is a good guy and you all like him.
But it’s time you called for his job.
At the end of the day he is a below average scout who can’t build a roster.
It’s time….

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drdneast

There’s only one ball and if you have 4 talented WRs and two TE’s , someone is going to get left out. There were to many times in 2017 and 2018 when I saw both QBs force the ball into Jackson just so he wouldn’t whine, wasting a valuable down.
I’m just glad he’s gone.
Like Goodfellow, I have noted in the past that Winston didn’t have a much problem going yard with his other WRs, why was Jackson such a problem.

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Wausa

I agree with most points in the article. I do think Jamies is much better at the deep ball than you insinuate. His biggest problem by far with long passes has been with DJax. The Bucs need to fill some holes in free agency(right guard, corner, linebacker and safety) and then attack the trenches in the draft. I’d much rather the Bucs focus on defensive line and offensive line in the first four rounds rather than get a off the ball linebacker, corner or running back, even though they currently have needs at those positions. The Bucs have been very… Read more »

fredster

Despite lot people constantly bashing Licht I’ve agreed with every move Licht has made lately. I’m glad abuvs kept him on and that he helped land us Arians. I hope he drafts well this year that’s been hit or miss and a learning curve for sure. Licht was 100% right letting Kwon go. I agree and said same thing weeks ago. He is good not great and he hasn’t been the best in staying healthy. He also is not very good in coverage period anyways wish him luck he plays with lots of heart. I agree with O line assessment… Read more »

BUC-ASS-BOB

They really think Perryman is to replace DeSeanJackson ???????? Destin Jonney
You are correct it is time to get a new GM however they’re happy with the things the way they’re going that’s why they’re going the way they go.

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e

Nice article, Scott. I agree that they couldn’t overpay for Kwon. I doubt that he will play out that contract. I’m glad he’s getting paid though. Yes, FLOOD! Flood & flexibility. Draft a guy like Jonah give you solidity across the entire O-line. I personally think that Watson will end up having better numbers than Perriman by the end of the year. Give me a slower guy with route running and excellent hands any day.

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drdneast

Not only is this Winston’s prove it year, it’s Hargreaves and Spences as well. If Hagreaves ends up covering slot receivers he is already a disappointment since you don’t draft slot cover guys with high No. 1 picks.

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LordCornelius

IMO the only issue with “flooding” RB/secondary/O-line is that this draft is loaded at front 7 / DL and we are rebuilding a 3-4 defense where most of our front 7 is old outside of Vea. We should take full advantage of this. The biggest reason the Bucs have been terrible for so long is they have had a bottom 3-5 defense basically every year. The one year we had just an average defense with Winston we had a winning record despite a top 5 difficult schedule. Carolina has drafted DTs and DEs R1/R2 when they already seemed loaded at… Read more »

Buc-Up

I still believe we should’ve claimed Kareem Hunt off Waivers last season. They would’ve had him under that contract for another two years averaging less than $1 million/yr. Cleveland signed him for $1-1.1 million/yr and will have him for 8 games. They already had Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson, so he’ll be a bonus for them when he returns from his suspension. He was an absolute need here. If he comes back, balls,and stays out of trouble, then he’ll make a lot more as a Free Agent or Franchise Tag in 2020. We had a shot at one of the… Read more »

EastEndBoy

Mid-off-season report card. We’re roughly half way through the off-season hoopla (the big wave of FA is over now anyway)…so how’s our GM done: Acquired Deion Buchannon (uh huh); Brashard Perriman (oh my…not that guy); another punter (at least Anger had a great last name); re-signed a few guys most notably Barber (ok – not that exciting really) and I guess D Smith (ugh, but ok we had to). Lost: Kwon Alexander (tough loss but I can understand…leaves another hole now), Adam Humphries (ok – he was too expensive and moving Godwin should help…but now we have a hole at… Read more »

pomer1eau

The secondary is still the weakest part of this team IMO. Is Tre Boston still out there? He’s 26 and has been on 3 different teams in the past 3 seasons accumulating 160 tackles, 24 passes defended and 10 picks. Not sure why any one of those teams have not signed him to a long term deal. Am I wrong to think he’s a good safety and could help this secondary? Thoughts?

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sunshineben

then bucs are a lousy team (LOOK AT THEIR RECORD) and now have no cash with a bad team .. Yet fans still defend Light who should have been fired..how many excuses can fans make before enough is enough ?

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flarick

Scott Reynolds wrote an excellent article this week, especially the part about flooding the preseason and training camp roster with lots of inexpensive free agents. Combining a flood of low-priced free agents at running back, defensive back, and offensive line with Bruce Arians’ “two practices at the same time” preseason philosophy may just uncover some diamonds in the rough. Too often Bucs fans, and really most fans around the league I think, and sometimes even Jason Licht and his professional scouts I fear, are attracted to the latest shiny object in free agency and the draft. There are plenty of… Read more »

inspecto

Keep in mind that the more players in OTA’s and camp The less reps each player gets. That could become an issue. Hopefully with such a big staff that will not become a problem.

Go Bucs !!!

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EricNV

Great article, Scott, as usual. I’d like to see us draft front 7 defense in rounds 1 and 2, like but if Lindstrom is available in the 2nd round, we’ve got to take him. The only reason I wouldn’t draft J Williams in the first round is that LB is a critical need for us, and this draft doesn’t have much depth. I look at this year’s draft as Licht’s last chance to prove he’s a good GM, and if he gets it right in the 2nd round this year, as well as 1st and 3rd rounds, all is forgiven… Read more »

DT25

If we draft a RB in the 2nd round again, I’ll lose it. Flooding the roster with talent still requires we do it intelligently. We have A LOT of positions we need to flood besides RB…OL and LB for starters…but losing Grimes and moving Stewart to safety means we likely need to add at least one CB, if not 2. And it would still be wise to address the DL again with GMC taking his final bow this season, Unrein being released, and Gholston being essentially useless the past 2 years (and honestly, he should probably be released to free… Read more »

DT25

All that said, I’d be more willing to sign a cheap RB and then add a late round RB to the mix to figure out the best combination…but taking another RB early in the draft with the other needs on this team would be a fireable offense for Licht…and the list of those is starting to pile up a little too high already.

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EastEndBoy

I concur @dt25: we have a lot of holes on this roster, and seem to be adding more by the day…better be some incredible draft in the works.

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Horse

Good thoughts Scott. I still don’t understand why McCoy and Gholston weren’t asked to take a pay cut. Both were under performers in 2017 & 2018. My preference is to release or trade them for something; both have shown enough from past seasons they aren’t going to improve anymore because of age & injuries.
I wouldn’t structure Evans contract either; better to save that for real emergency’s. Just my opinions.

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Devasher

Another “In defense of Jason Licht” Fab 5. Let the results of 53-loss-Licht’s final season in Tampa this year play out and no amount of rationalizing by Scott Reynolds will matter. You have a two time coach of the year and Scott’s constant badgering of the coaching staff (and not the construction of the roster) will then turn into “with the Bucs cap-strapped Jason Licht managed to do his best to build a team into 6-10 in 2019 and should be retained for another year when Ryan Jensen’s can be cut without penalty.” Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No… Read more »

owlykat

If we drop to 7 in the first round and get White we don’t need Bucannon starting there because White will have Minter next to him helping him on the field play in the new scheme. Have Bucannon start at Safety and train them then later in the year if we have a rash of LB injuries he will be able to move back there. Just get a Veteran Safety that is all we really need now. Scott please watch the tape of the Kentucky Florida game and you will see the answer for backing up Barber and starting as… Read more »

owlykat

Just get a Veteran CB not Safety.

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BigSombrero

@SR -Entertaining Podcast and Fab 5 Podcast: Good listen but one tiny mistake…As you reported, the Bucs and Beau Allen restructured his base salary $4 million. What was not mentioned was he can still make the lost million through incentives, kicking it right back up to $5 million. The trade off for him was that he gets to be a free agent again after the 2019 season and go to the highest bidder. Fab 1: Hopefully Perriman can revive his career in Tampa. He was clearly a bust for the Ravens. In watching his highlight reel from Cleveland, his speed… Read more »

surferdudes

You are what your record says you are. Licht’s record is what it is, dismal. You fans can defend him all you want, but his record is way below .500. Hopefully B.A. and crew can turn this ship around, Koetter, and crew were awful coaches, but that’s on Licht too. He had the power to hire, or fire coaches that weren’t getting the job done, and did NOTHING! We have him to thank for clueless Koetter. Stop giving Licht a pass, he’s the reason we’re devoid of talent.

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EastEndBoy

@bucwild02: Very perceptive of you – with apologies to the Licht Apologists: If Licht can claim credit for acquiring [insert whoever here], it must be pure genius. If he cuts [insert same player here], it was a “smart move” by said genius. If [insert any player here] is garbage, it was [Koetter, Lovie, SchiaNo] fault (I read on here that OLine coach George Warhop must have ruined all those great OLinemen that Licht acquired for him. LOL). If draft pick proves horrible (nearly everything out of round 1 aside, apart from maybe Marpet, Godwin and perhaps Justin Evans?), drafting is… Read more »

BigSombrero

@EastEndBoy My old handle! I agree with your thoughts about leadership claiming the good things and blameshifting the bad things. This season will be interesting, but there are big changes on the horizon. The whole organization is on a 1 year deal. If BA can’t work a miracle, and make no mistake that’s what it will be, a miracle, then it all gets blown up. Consider BA’s tasks: Have success with Byron Leftwich calling plays in his 1st year as an OC. Who’s scheme though? Bruce Arians or Byron Leftwich’s? He defended the job Leftwich did last year in AZ… Read more »

BigSombrero

I left out the fact that Ron Rivera also had a Superbowl appearance. He made it to the Super Bowl by DESTROYING the Bruce Arians Arizona Cardinals in their magical “All or Nothing” season.

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Devasher

You nailed it @eastendboy Towards the end of Dominik’s 28-52 half-decade of incompetence (but still one game better than Licht’s), fans and writers like Scott all proclaimed the foundation was there with Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Mark Barron, Johnthan Banks and Doug Martin even though that was only 5 players. Then Licht is hired, does some tinkering with the roster and voila! 2-14 and the worst team in football. By now most fans, including many writers that excused Dominik’s mistakes admit he was a failure. The same history will be written about Licht and writers like Scott will just pretend… Read more »

Alldaway 2.0

I agree 100%.

Bring in a vet G, vet OT, another vet RB, vet S, and a vet CB. Go hog wild and let them compete.

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plopes808

Bravo Mr Reynolds, Another great article I agree with on all points. For all the “losses” we’ve taken in FA so far, I believe Licht has made the right moves. I love Kwon, but $13.5mil is just crazy and Lynch will probably realize that too late. Getting rid of MeJax is a great move relating to both cap and chemistry. Perriman will provide similar speed as well as increased catch radius, which will make things easierl for Jameis. There was only one receiver with chemistry issues so the problem was pretty blatant. I also agree with “flooding” the roster with… Read more »

Ron Potter

Good article that makes solid points. DJ really had a way of making Winston’s warts look worse. When it comes to catching the deep ball from Winston, Evans and Godwin have a better connection with Winston. Less is more. I like the approach to free agency this year. The previous coaches have failed to develop talent behind our clear-cut starters, fringe positions and a lot of the defensive players. They also experienced some bad luck. For example, they gave a chance to Isaiah Johnson over Keith Tandy and then Chris Conte went down with injury… all of a sudden, the… Read more »

scubog

I always enjoy reading the Fab 4 plus the Podcast and sponsor pimping Fab 5 every Saturday morning. Of course I also get a kick out of the all too predictable comments section; some of which are longer than the article. Guys like Big Sombrero and others sure have a lot of free time spent on Pewter Report. Now Naplesfan has gone underground and I miss him. We come to know each other………at least our on-line personas, even though most of us have never met. I suspect some points of view are a bit exaggerated from reality and that the… Read more »

Captain Sly

Licht should be criticized for the position he’s in and some of the decisions he’s made. The problem I have with some of these negative commenters is that they never name a GM that hits on every coach,FA, or draft pick. I don’t like everything Licht has done but there are about 20 GM’s in the league that I’m glad are not running our team.

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surferdudes

We don’t care what the other 31 G.M.’s are doing, we care about our Bucs. Licht came in with top draft choices, and all kinds of money to spend. His first pick was a good one, Mike Evans, how could he screw that up he was the sixth pick in the draft. Still an argument could be made it should’ve been A. Donald, build from the trenches out to the skill players, he went ass backwards. It seems Licht has convinced ownership that success is signing your picks to second contracts, Marpet, Evans, Smith. I say success is a winning… Read more »