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FAB 1. How Signing Sherman Impacts Dean’s Future
The Bucs didn’t make a play for New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore. That trade didn’t happen for a couple of reasons.
First, the Bucs had just signed three veteran cornerbacks in Pierre Desir, Rashard Robinson and Richard Sherman – with Sherman being the obvious headliner. With seven cornerbacks on the roster, including injured starters Carlton Davis III (who wasn’t on injured reserve at the time) and Jamel Dean, and Sean Murphy-Bunting slated to return from injured reserve at some point, the Bucs should have enough able bodies in a few weeks, as they get healthier.
Second, Gilmore is 31 and is coming off surgery for a torn quadriceps muscle during the 2020 season. That surgery occurred in December and it is typically a 3-4 month recovery. The fact that he didn’t participate in New England’s OTAs, mini-camps or training camp and was placed on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list was … curious to the Bucs front office. And it likely sent off some alarm bells.
Gilmore, who won’t be eligible to play for another two weeks, was much more of an unknown than Sherman. And he would come with a much higher price tag than Sherman, who signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay and has a cap value of $1.25 million. Gilmore is in the final year of his contract and has a base salary of $5.44 million and roster bonuses of $323,529 due. That’s nearly five times what Sherman will make.
Tampa Bay currently has $3.35 million in salary cap space and would have had to make yet another contract restructure to afford Gilmore, and push more potential dead cap money into the future. That’s something the Bucs weren’t keen on doing right now.
Gilmore would have been a half-year rental, and would have given the Bucs two prominent cornerbacks – along with Sherman – who want to play, play well and cash in on a bigger pay day next March in free agency. So what happens when Davis, Murphy-Bunting and Dean return to health later this season? Who starts and who sits?
Bucs CB Jamel Dean – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Davis is in a contract year and is the Bucs’ top cornerback. He’s the priority in terms of re-signing in 2022. He’s guaranteed to start outside when he returns from I.R. Sherman and Gilmore are both outside cornerbacks – not slot corners. So one of them would have to sit – and likely be inactive. Neither Sherman nor Gilmore would want to play special teams at their age, nor would they excel on teams because of their lack of experience covering kicks and punts. That’s why Desir, Robinson and reserves like Ross Cockrell and Dee Delaney have more value on Sundays – special teams.
When he returns, Murphy-Bunting will take over the slot, but will probably lose snaps outside to Sherman, assuming his play improves with more conditioning as the season progresses. The arrival of Sherman and the eventual return of Davis to the lineup will make Dean the odd-man out. Either Murphy-Bunting in base defense or Sherman in base or nickel will man the other outside cornerback spot opposite Davis.
That’s notable because Dean’s stock may be slipping in the team’s headquarters. Dean had a rough season opener against Dallas where he logged a 51.9 coverage grade, according to Pro Football Focus. He surrendered five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown versus the Cowboys and was penalized three times. Dean played much better in Week 2 against Atlanta, allowing just one catch for seven yards.
But in his 12 snaps at Los Angeles before getting hurt, Dean dropped an easy interception in the first quarter, which upset the coaching staff. Dean has just one interception in the last 21 games he’s played in, including last year’s postseason. And he has just 10 pass breakups over that span, while giving up six touchdowns.
Bucs CB Richard Sherman – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The former third-round pick needs to prove his worth in order to get re-signed after the 2022 season. Sitting on the bench the rest of the 2021 season won’t elevate his stock within the building, nor would it help his development as a young cornerback in the NFL. Dean, who was limited in practice this week, should return to the lineup before either Murphy-Bunting or Davis. When he takes the field again he’ll need to play his best football and make a case for staying in the starting lineup – or he might quickly become an afterthought.
If Sherman plays well this year and there is a mutual interest in him returning in 2022, that doesn’t help Dean’s cause heading into his contract year. Yet the Bucs want a steady playmaker at cornerback and don’t necessarily care who it is.
One thing is certain moving forward with or without Sherman in 2022, the Bucs won’t be able to re-sign both Murphy-Bunting and Dean in 2023 after presumably giving Davis a big new contract in 2022. Murphy-Bunting is a better cornerback than Dean, and his versatility to play both inside and outside has more value.
That could make Dean the odd-man out in 2023 – if not sooner.
FAB 2. The Future Along The Bucs Defensive Line
The Bucs are set to have three defensive linemen hit free agency next year. And the team lost a potential wave defensive tackle in Khalil Davis this week. I will have more on Davis later in this section.
No position in Tampa Bay could be in greater flux next year than the interior defensive line. Ndamukong Suh, who will be 35 next year, is slated for free agency. So is reserve defensive tackle Steve McLendon, who turns 36 in 2022. But the biggest Bucs free agent defensive linemen next offseason might be defensive end Will Gholston.
Bucs DE Will Gholston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The 30-year old Gholston is off to his best start in his 10-year career in Tampa Bay. As a key cog in the league’s top-ranked rushing defense, Gholston, who had a career-high three sacks last year, has recorded sacks in back-to-back weeks against the Rams and Patriots and is tied for the team lead with two. And his three tackles-for-loss are also tied for the team lead.
“I think he led the league last year in [QB] hits from interior guys,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s gotten to the quarterback a bunch, and now he’s finishing the deal. He’s getting his sacks. Nobody wants to talk about pressures and hits, but he’s done a heck of a job of that since we’ve been together. He fits this defense perfectly.
So much so that Gholston should be an even higher priority than Suh when it comes to re-signing next year due to his age and productiveness – even if Suh even wants to play another season. Supposing Suh doesn’t, and McLendon joins him in retirement, the Bucs would have two big holes on the interior defensive line to fill. Three, if Gholston doesn’t re-sign.
Gholston is in the final year of his five-year, $27.5 million contract extension. He is earning $5.5 million this season, which was the average of his contract. A three- or four-year extension at $5.5 million per season seems like a reasonable contract offer for Gholston next March.
Suh signed a one-year, $9 million contract, but it really contained four voidable years that allow his cap hit to be spread out over two seasons. Suh is on the books this year for $1.5 million in base salary and $1.5 million of his $7.5 million prorated signing bonus. So he a salary cap charge for $3 million in 2021 and $6 million next year due to those four voidable years in his contract.
McLendon signed a one-year deal worth $1,212,500 in the offseason, of which $987,500 counts against the cap because he took a one-year veteran minimum.
Bucs DT Khalil Davis – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Davis, the team’s sixth-round pick in 2020, was possibly going to fill McLendon’s shoes next year as a reserve defensive tackle, and potentially Suh’s role as a starter if he continued to develop. But Davis was a much better pass rusher than he was against the run, likely due to the fact that he was is just 6-foot-1, 305 pounds. Both McLendon and Suh are heavier and stronger than Davis.
The Bucs had to make a tough call on Saturday when they needed to elevate cornerback Pierre Desir from the practice squad to play on Sunday at New England. Davis was waived to make room for Desir on the active roster because he did not play on special teams and was deemed to be a one-dimensional defensive tackle. The team would have signed him back on Monday if he cleared waivers, but Indianapolis claimed him. Pittsburgh also put in a waiver claim for Davis.
Defensive end Patrick O’Connor will be a restricted free agent next year and will almost assuredly be re-signed. That will give the Bucs at least three defensive linemen under contract next year – four if Gholston is re-signed. Nose tackle Vita Vea will be entering his fifth-year option in 2022. Rakeem Nunez-Roches is also under contract for the 2022 season.
“Vita has been playing outstanding and Will had a couple of sacks two weeks in a row,” Arians said. “That is the whole group getting a little bit better.”
Georgia NT Jordan Davis – Photo by: USA Today
Davis’ departure may mean that one or two of the practice squaders Benning Potoa’e, Kobe Smith or Willington Previlon, the Bucs’ latest signing, elevate next year. Or the Bucs will be forced to hit free agency or draft another tackle to replenish the team’s numbers at defensive tackle. Currently, the 2022 free agency class at defensive tackle is extremely weak. The defensive tackle class in the 2022 NFL Draft is slightly better.
Texas A&M defensive tackle DeMarvin Leal and Georgia nose tackle Jordan Davis could be first-rounders, while Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey, Georgia’s Devonte Wyatt, Alabama’s Phidarian Mathis and Arkansas’ John Ridgeway are options on Day 2 or early on Day 3.
The early guess is that Gholston re-signs, the Bucs sign a veteran reserve defensive tackle and then draft another one in 2022 to replace Davis.
FAB 3. 4 Matchups To Watch: Bucs Offense vs. Dolphins Defense
Each week you can find 4 Matchups to Watch on offense and defense in my SR’s Fab 5 column. Here is preview of Tampa Bay’s home game against Miami where the 3-1 Bucs take on the 1-3 Dolphins. The Bucs are favored by 10 points. Will they score enough points to cover the spread? Here is a look at Tampa Bay’s key players on offense vs. Miami’s key stars on defense.
Tampa Bay WR Mike Evans vs. Miami Xavien Howard
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Howard has had a roller coaster year so far, playing really well against Buffalo in Week 2, and really poorly last week versus Indianapolis. When he’s on top of his game, he’s one of the league’s better playmaking cornerbacks. He has one interception on the year and a forced fumble, but had a career-high 10 picks last season when he earned an 89.6 pass coverage grade from PFF. Going up against Evans will be a tall order for Howard, who needs to perform well to give the Dolphins a chance on Sunday.
After a quiet debut in Week 1, Evans has been the most productive receiver over the past three weeks. He’s coming off his third straight game with 75 receiving yards up in New England. Evans’ 23 catches lead the team, and his 280 receiving yards is just behind Chris Godwin’s 290 yards. Going up against a big, physical cornerback like the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Howard will be a challenge, but one that Evans should win. ADVANTAGE: Evans
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette vs. Dolphins ILB Jerome Baker
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: USA Today
Baker is a fast, undersized linebacker at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds. The former third-round pick out of Ohio State has 4.53 speed and is adept at blitzing (11.5 career sacks) as well as running sideline-to-sideline to chase down ballcarriers. Baker leads the Dolphins with 18 tackles and has one of the team’s six forced fumbles. He will also be assigned to cover Fournette out of the backfield on swing passes to the flat.
Fournette had his most productive game of the year with 92 yards rushing and three catches for 47 yards. Although head coach Bruce Arians wouldn’t commit to him being the feature back, Fournette leads the team with 184 rushing yards, which is 107 yards more than Ronald Jones II. He’s also fifth on the team with 15 catches for 124 yards. The Bucs will want to keep the momentum going in the running game and Fournette should be a big part of the game plan. ADVANTAGE: Fournette
Tampa Bay WR Chris Godwin vs. Miami CB Nik Needham
Bucs WR Chris Godwin – Photo by: USA Today
The Dolphins will assign Needham or Justin Coleman (or both) against the Bucs’ slot receiver, who will primarily be Godwin. Needham has played okay in coverage with a 75.2 grade from PFF, although he has surrendered 11.6 yards per catch and allowed opposing QBs to have an 86.6 passer rating. Where Needham might be more effective against Godwin is the fact that he’s 6-foot-1, 196 pounds compared to the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Coleman.
Godwin had a quiet game against New England last week with a season-low three catches for 55 yards. The 6-foot-1, 208-pound slot receiver should thrive against the Dolphins on Sunday and have a bounce-back performance. The Dolphins play a lot of man coverage in Brian Flores’ scheme and Godwin can win against man or zone. With tight end Rob Gronkowski still out and the red zone offense bogging down last week, look for Godwin to become a more featured target around the goal line this week. ADVANTAGE: Godwin
Bucs LT Donovan Smith vs. Dolphins OLB Jaelan Phillips
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Phillips was the first edge rusher taken in the 2021 NFL Draft and has recently seen more playing time. He notched his first half sack and two tackles last week versus Indianapolis after posting six tackles at Oakland the previous week. At 6-foot-6, 266 pounds, Phillips is a gifted athlete with a really good motor. He has shown early promise – although he’s a sack and a half behind fellow first-rounders Greg Rousseau and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka for the rookie lead.
Smith has fared well against top-rated rookies before. Look no further than his dominance against Washington’s Chase Young in last year’s playoffs. And he’s off to a tremendous start to his 2021 season with just two penalties and one sack surrendered through four games. While Smith drew an illegal hands to the face call last week that negated a 44-yard completion to Antonio Brown, it was a bit of a dubious call. Still, he has a 79.2 pass blocking grade this season from PFF and a 78.4 overall grade. ADVANTAGE: Smith
FAB 4. 4 Matchups To Watch: Bucs Defense vs. Dolphins Offense
Each week you can find 4 Match-ups to Watch on offense and defense in my SR’s Fab 5 columns. Tampa Bay’s defense showed up last week with four sacks and two takeaways. Can they do it again this week against Dolphins backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and the Dolphins’ underachieving offense? Here are the key matchups to watch on Sunday when Miami has the ball.
Tampa Bay SS Jordan Whitehead vs. Miami TE Mike Gesicki
Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
After catching just three passes for 41 yards on nine targets the first two weeks of the season, Gesicki has become a favorite target of Brissett, the new starting quarterback. Gesicki was targeted 12 times against the Raiders, catching 10 passes for 86 yards. Last week against the Colts, Gesicki, who was Miami’s second-round pick in 2018, hauled in five passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. At 6-foot-6, 247 pounds, Gesicki is a nice, big target for Brissett.
The Bucs will use several defenders to contain Gesicki while they mix up their coverages. One of those will be Whitehead, whom defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is not afraid to assign to tight ends in man coverage. Whitehead is the fourth-highest ranked defender on Tampa Bay’s this year, according to Pro Football Focus with an overall grade of 73.9 and a coverage grade of 62.7. While the 5-foot-10 Whitehead, who had two interceptions last year, gives up some size to Gesicki, he is one of the toughest players on Tampa Bay’s defense and will be up to the challenge. Gesicki may get come catches on Whitehead and the Bucs defense, but the key is limiting the yards after catch and keeping him out of the end zone. ADVANTAGE: Push
Bucs CB Ross Cockrell vs. Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle
Bucs CB Ross Cockrell – Photo by: USA Today
Waddle, the Dolphins’ first-round pick this season, was drafted for two reasons. First was his 4.27 speed that made him the fastest receiver in this year’s draft class. Second was his relationship with former Alabama teammate Tua Tagovailoa, the Dolphins’ injured starting quarterback. But Miami has rarely seen Waddle’s speed showcased in the NFL. His longest reception is just 36 yards and he has caught only 25 passes for 200 yards, which is a measly 8-yard average. Because he is only 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Waddle is relegated to playing a lot of snaps in the slot where there is much more traffic to navigate and much less open grass.
Cockrell fares better against bigger slot receivers than smaller fast ones. He struggled a bit with Dallas’ Amari Cooper in Week 1 and Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley the next week, giving up a touchdown to both. Waddle’s speed and shiftiness could give Cockrell some trouble down the field, which is why Bowles will likely play man coverage or zone underneath with a safety over the top either in Cover 2 or quarters (Cover 4). Cooper, Ridley and Waddle all played at Alabama, although not together. Cockrell hopes he fares better this week against yet another Crimson Tide alum. ADVANTAGE: Push
Tampa Bay CB Richard Sherman vs. Miami WR DeVante Parker
Bucs CB Richard Sherman – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
While Waddle has the speed to be the Dolphins’ big-play threat, that distinction already goes to Parker, Miami’s first round pick in 2015. While Parker is third on the team with 17 catches, he’s been targeted the most (32) and has the most receiving yards (242). His 14.2 yards per reception is the highest among the Dolphins in 2021 and he has more catches of 20 yards or more (four). When Miami wants to push the ball down the field, Brissett will look Parker’s way.
The 6-foot-3, 219-pound Parker has sneaky 4.45 speed that could challenge Sherman down the field. Sherman has the size to match up with him, but does he have the speed? Especially on a hot Sunday in Tampa with a 1:00 p.m. kick off? Playing 58 of 59 snaps in his Bucs debut last Sunday was taxing for the 33-year old. Sherman said his legs were “like Jell-o” after the game with just three practices in Tampa Bay to prepare for such a heavy workload. His legs and his football stamina will be tested covering Parker on Sunday. Bowles would be wise to give Sherman some help over the top with a lot of Cover 2. ADVANTAGE: Push
Bucs OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka vs. Dolphins LT Austin Jackson
Bucs OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka – Photo by: USA Today
If given time, Brissett has the arm and experience to pick apart a secondary, especially facing zone coverage. He’s completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 583 yards with two TDs and one INT this year. But he’s been sacked nine times in four games. Jackson, the Dolphins’ first-round pick last year, has great size at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, and is a smooth athlete. But he’s struggled with technique and consistency and has lost the physical battle too often in the trenches. That’s why he has a 35.9 pass blocking grade from PFF. Jackson hasn’t surrendered a sack yet, but he’s given up 17 hurries and three hits in just three games.
Tryon-Shoyinka has started the last two games in place of the injured Jason Pierre-Paul and has played well. He recorded his first two NFL sacks at New England. And he came close to notching sacks in Los Angeles and against Atlanta. Tryon-Shoyinka has eight tackles on the season and is showing much improvement against the run. Can he maintain his development and produce sacks in back-to-back games? That would be a sign of real progress for the rookie. Tyron-Shoyinka should be able to have success against a lesser opponent like Jackson. ADVANTAGE: Tryon-Shoyinka
FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots
• WIRFS STILL DOMINANT IN SEASON 2: Bucs right tackle Tristan Wirfs has only given up one sack in the first 24 games of his NFL career. That came against Bears All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack last year in Week 5 in a 20-19 loss at Chicago. Wirfs is off to a great start to his second season too, according to Pro Football Focus. He will have a rematch against Mack in Week 7 in Tampa.
Most pass-blocking snaps without allowing a sack this season | among tackles:
• THE NUMBERS FOR BUCS’ BEND, BUT DON’T BREAK SCHEME – SO FAR: The good news is that Tampa Bay is 3-1 after the first four games of the season. The not so good news is the not so good rankings for Todd Bowles’ defense, courtesy of The Athletic’s Greg Auman.
Updated NFL defensive rankings for Bucs — 23rd in scoring, 20th in total defense, 1st in rush, 32nd in pass defense, 28th on third downs, t-14th in red zone. Even with four sacks Sunday, they're still 30th in sack percentage.
Part of the reason why Tampa Bay is ranked worse against the pass is because the Bucs are dominant against the run. Being that lop-sided can actually cause the team some harm, according to Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard.
“We don’t look at the stats, Bowles said. “We go into it the same way. We’re trying to stop the run and force them to be one-dimensional. Then we’ll try to play the pass from there.”
• BUCS-DOLPHINS PREVIEWS ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week. Here is the lineup for next week: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 4:00 pm EST with the Pewter Pregame, Pewter GameDay and Pewter Postgame on Sunday starting at Noon EST prior to Bucs vs. Dolphins.
The Pewter Reporters spent this past week discussing why the team didn’t trade for cornerback Stephon Gilmore. We also previewed Tampa Bay’s Week 5 game against Miami on the recent episodes of the Pewter Report Podcast. Check out all of this week’s shows below.
Pewter Reporters Jon Ledyard, Scott Reynolds, Matt Matera and J.C. Allen react to the Bucs’ last-minute victory over the Dolphins on Sunday night.
Ledyard, Kasey Hudson and Matt Matera all discussed Carlton Davis III’s quad injury. And also the Bucs’ battered cornerback position on Monday’s show.
Ledyard and Matera analyze whether the Bucs should have traded for Patriots All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore on Wednesday.
Ledyard and Allen preview the Bucs vs. Dolphins game as Tampa Bay looks to improve to 4-1.
Watch the Pewter Report Podcasts live on our PewterReportTV channel on YouTube.com and please subscribe (it’s free) and add your comments. All Pewter Report Podcasts are archived so you can watch the recorded episodes if you missed them live.
There is no better time to listen to or watch a new Pewter Report Podcast – energized by CELSIUS – than Friday afternoon on the way home from work. Or early Saturday morning during your workout or while running errands.
• STALEY EXPLAINS THE IMPORTANCE OF THE RUNNING GAME: The running game is an afterthought in Tampa Bay due to the presence of Bucs quarterback Tom Brady and a host of weapons in the passing game. Yet it’s still important to run the ball and have a credible ground game. Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley explains why. Great stuff here.
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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