FAB 3. Bucs Are Flush With Cap Room, Can Create More

Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht has been cautious in free agency since being burned after the 2014 spending spree that saw the team spend tens of millions of dollars to sign defensive end Michael Johnson, quarterback Josh McCown, left tackle Anthony Collins, cornerback Alterraun Verner, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and tight end Brandon Myers. The notable free agent signing in 2015 was linebacker Bruce Carter, who quickly lost his job to then-rookie Kwon Alexander.

Licht’s most successful foray into free agency came in 2016 when he signed punter Bryan Anger, cornerback Brent Grimes and defensive end Robert Ayers, Jr. Those players helped the team finish 9-7 and nearly make the playoffs. Last year, Licht spent big money on wide receiver DeSean Jackson, defensive tackle Chris Baker and safeties T.J. Ward and J.J. Wilcox, who was eventually traded to Pittsburgh and replaced with Ward.

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

Although free agency is just as big of a gamble as the draft is – and perhaps even more so – it is necessary, especially for teams like Tampa Bay, which has plenty of holes in the roster and needs to improve from a disappointing 5-11 season. And for Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter, who have been given one more year by the Glazers to get the Bucs back to their winning ways, making the right moves in free agency this year is vital.

If I were in Licht’s seat I would look at this in one of two ways. What’s going to help me keep my job and tick off the Glazers less – spend less and sign fewer free agents so there is less risk of losing money on players like Johnson, Collins, Baker and Ward? Or spend more, knowing that some free agent signings aren’t going to be hits, but also knowing that sticking with the same roster will produce a similar 5-11 result if the Bucs aren’t active in free agency?

I think the Glazers would be more ticked off if Licht didn’t try to radically improve the roster and produce wins, because winning is what matters most. And if I’m Licht I’m going to try to sign every player that I believe could upgrade Tampa Bay’s roster – whether they are a bargain basement find or come with a premium price tag.

So how big of a player could the Bucs be in free agency? According to OverTheCap.com, all NFL teams will have a $178 million salary cap in 2018, and the Bucs currently have $61,476,282 worth of cap room, which ranks as the fifth most in the league.

NFL Teams With The Most Cap Room In 2018
1. 49ers – $114,740,126 – 61 players signed
2. Browns – $110,667,882 – 62 players signed
3. Colts – $82,081,010 – 62 players signed
4. Jets – $74,579,406 – 53 players signed
5. Buccaneers – $61,476,282 – 54 players signed

As noted above, the Bucs currently have 54 players signed to their 90-man offseason roster. That number doesn’t count the team’s players that will be free agents in 2018, such as offensive linemen Kevin Pamphile, Evan Smith, running back Charles Sims, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald or cornerback Brent Grimes, who had an $8 million cap value himself last year, nor does it include the seven draft picks who will arrive in late April.

While it’s way too early to preview free agency because a lot of players will be re-signed by their own teams or given the franchise tag, in addition to some surprise salary cap cuts, here’s how Licht can create additional salary cap room if Tampa Bay plans to be aggressive. All salary cap data and contract data provided by Spotrac.com and OverTheCap.com.

Bucs DT Gerald McCoy - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Getty Images

Trade DT Gerald McCoy – $12.25 million savings
No, I’m not advocating getting rid of McCoy, but it would be foolish for any general manager not to gauge the trade value of his star players. This happens all the time behind the scenes in NFL front offices. The Seahawks did that last summer with Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman, and it happened to be made public. It is just part of the business. If McCoy, who turns 30 this year, were to be traded for draft picks now would be the time before his value slips on the other side of 30.

McCoy is in the middle of a six-year, $95.2-million contract extension, and it comes at a pivotal moment. McCoy’s base salary decreases from $13.25 million in 2017 to $12.25 million this season, but more importantly, there is just a $500,000 signing bonus proration that would result in dead money to contend with if the Bucs were to trade McCoy. That means that if the Bucs were to trade him, the team would save $12.25 million in cap space in 2018. Tampa Bay was unable to part ways with McCoy in prior years without taking a significant cap penalty, such as $14.25 million in dead money in 2017.

Cut RB Doug Martin – $6.75 million savings
Martin lost any guaranteed money in his latest contract when he tested positive for PED use and was suspended four games. After signing a five-year, $35.75 million contract extension after rushing for over 1,400 yards and earning his second Pro Bowl berth, Martin has been a huge disappointment, rushing for less than 500 yards in each of the last two seasons. Martin is due to make $6.75 million in 2018 and doesn’t deserve it. There is no justification for it. That’s how much money the Bucs will save on their salary cap if they release him – and they should.

Cut or trade DE Will Gholston – $6.5 million savings
Gholston signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Bucs last March that paid him $7 million in 2017 with $4 million coming in the form of a roster bonus and $3 million in base salary. Gholston’s salary rises to $6.5 million next year and becomes guaranteed on March 18, but there is no cap penalty if he is cut by then. After two straight years of three sacks, one forced fumble and at least 49 tackles, Gholston’s numbers plummeted as he failed to record a sack or a takeaway, and finished with just 36 tackles. Yet, he’s only 26 and has performed well in the past as a run stuffer on the strong side. I’m not advocating his release or that he be traded, but his large salary puts him on this list as an obvious candidate.

Bucs DE Robert Ayers, Jr. and DT Chris Baker - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DE Robert Ayers, Jr. and DT Chris Baker – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Cut DE Robert Ayers – $6 million savings
Ayers is entering the final year of his three-year, $19 million contract with Tampa Bay. He made $6 million last year and is expected to make $6 million again in 2018 with $5 million coming via base salary and $1 million as a roster bonus. There is no dead cap penalty if the team releases Ayers, who turns 33 in September, before March 18, as that is when he will receive his roster bonus. Ayers had just 31 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles last year.

Cut DT Chris Baker – $4.875 million savings
Baker signed a three-year, $15.75 million contract with Tampa Bay in March, which included $6 million in guaranteed money. Baker will have $3 million of his $4.875 million base salary guaranteed if he is on the roster on March 18. The Bucs can save $4.875 million by releasing Baker, who turns 31 in October, without any dead cap penalty if he is released by March 17. Baker was a disappointment in his first year in Tampa Bay with just 33 tackles and half a sack.

Cut G J.R. Sweezy – $4 million savings
Sweezy is in the second year of a reworked four-year deal that is scheduled to play him $21.75 million. He’s set to earn a $5.25 million base salary, which is up from the $3.75 million he made in 2017. That salary, coupled with a $625,000 signing bonus proration, puts his cap hit at $5.875 million. Tampa Bay would suffer a $1.875 million dead cap hit this year if it were to release Sweezy, but there would actually be a cap savings of $4 million as his salary would come off the books. Sweezy had one of his worst years last year as he returned from a back injury that cost him the 2016 season.

Bucs RB Jaquizz Rodgers
Bucs RB Jaquizz Rodgers – Photo by: Getty Images

Cut RB Jacquizz Rodgers – $1.6 million savings
Rodgers is in the second year of a two-year, $3.3 million contract in which he is scheduled to make $1.6 million in base salary. Rodgers, who turns 28 in February, is a decent third-string running back, but the Bucs already have that player in Peyton Barber. Tampa Bay would be better off with a cheaper rookie with more upside and a higher ceiling in 2018.

If the Bucs part ways with Martin, Gholston, Ayers, Baker, Sweezy and Rodgers the team would save $29.725 million and create that much more additional cap room. That would push Tampa Bay’s available cap room to $91,201,282, which would be the third-most in the league. If the Bucs were to cut those players in addition to trading McCoy, the available amount of salary cap room grows to $41.975 million and would give Tampa Bay $103,453,282 worth of salary cap room.

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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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MudManVA

Scott- I hope Licht isn’t on the hot seat. I think he is a good GM, and will get the talent where it needs to be. Anyone who didn’t think the Bucs were draft classes away last year was crazy. The problem with your article is that without a miracle or luck Licht is a goner. It will take drafts not a draft & FA to get the lines were they need to be. Coughlin had/has years your article gives him a year. I do believe this team is a 8 win team and not a 4 win team. It… Read more »

e

Well said, MudMan!

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Devasher

Jason Licht is going into his 5th year as the GM of this team. Even with a first overall pick earned by creating the worst roster in football in 2014 (2-14) which allowed him to draft a franchise QB, you openly admit this team still is not playoff ready into said QB’s 4th year. So if a GM has 5 years, “earns” himself the top pick in the draft and never makes the playoffs, what praytell is so great about this GM? The roster, as noted in this article is filled with holes. The GM, as noted, is filled with… Read more »

4girls

Not quite true. Jax and Coughlin have done a great job this year. Some of their studs on D were drafted the last few years, not under Coughlin’s watch. He’s done an amazing job for sure. But, it wasn’t all this year’s work.

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Devasher

The Jaguars were 3-13 last year and 10-6 this year with a playoff victory to boot. Not only had the Jags not been to the playoffs since 2007, they had won more than 5 games in a season only TWICE in that span (7 games in 09, 8 games in 10). Coughlin certainly didn’t build the entire roster, but that’s a pretty stark contract from one year to the next and the man who has coached two super bowl victories deserves a lot of credit for the one year turnaround, given it coincided with him taking a senior VP role… Read more »

SO CAL BUC FAN

Well, to be honest. He did well by signing of Michael Johnson as the DE in 2013 he is/was at the time very talented. However, we over-paid the guy to be THE MAN when he had never been one before..He was coming from a STUD Dline in Cincy it was a very talented DLine! So, when you still only have McCoy and a single guy from the outside in Johnson at the DE position and not much else then you are back to a Tackle & A TE helping out on the DE and a double team in the interior… Read more »

Naplesfan

Yup, devasher … if people are still after 5 seasons saying that Licht still needs many more seasons to get right what he should have gotten right within the first four or five seasons, then there litearlly is no way Licht can ever be held accountable or fired for incompetence, because it’s always going to be “several more seasons”. There is literally no limiting principle to this kind of thinking – just permanent excuses in a league where numerous teams go from worst to first in a single season, or two. The Glazers are going to regret not firing Licht… Read more »

Naplesfan

It’s now Monday, and I just read the synopsis in the Tampa Bay Times of Licht’s post-2017 media conference… it was a crock of shit, full of excuses and whining and complaining that people had “unreal expectations for the Bucs offense”, gave an example that everyone expected 50 points a game (???????), and that the Bucs themselves didn’t have very high expectations, it was all imposed by outsiders (yeah, you damned fans, who the hell are YOU to set the bar at making the playoffs for the first time in a decade?”). The Bucs plans to get better? Nothing specific,… Read more »

cgmaster27

I don’t see any reason for Licht not to go all out this off season. I’m not talking spending crazy money as you have to pay big Mike, Kwon , Jameis and other soon. But this defensive line cannot be fixed just through the draft. That and the fact that LIcht and Kotter are basicaly on one year deals, why the hell not go for it! The problem is that LIcht and Koetter have been too loyal to some guys, Doug Martin comes to mind, and counted too much on unknown commodities, like Spence. I personally think we do get… Read more »

Naplesfan

cg – we may well get Chubb, or Key (who is also quite capable). But I am not confident in Licht’s ability to rebuild and entire defensive line, or to rebuild an entire offensive line – both of which are crying out for total rebuilds, as they are the most incompetent elements of the Bucs these days. And I am not confident that Mike Smith will ever give up on his pointless and silly d-line stunting. It frustrates the players, and it produces ugly results. If we don’t change any of the coaching or design of the two lines, we… Read more »

e

Meathead is doing his job. Continuity is what will bring winning to Tampa. Cutting a bunch of players and bringing in a bunch of new players is not going to work in the short term… and then off with Koetter’s head. The Jags have been accruing highly talented defensive players over the last few years because they have been drafting near the top of the pile in those years. Licht started with the offense in his first two drafts. I hope that he drafts DL & OL early and often this year. I also don’t think that it’s necessarily a… Read more »

Devasher

The only Super Bowl this team has ever had was filled with free agents, coaching and player turnover. The offense that helped the Bucs get over the hump was essentially reconstructed by Gruden. The very same team in 2003, with far less turnover missed both expectations and the playoffs. There is a degree of turnover and change that can give a team a new direction and players with “something to prove”, stagnation is the enemy of good. Stagnation of a bad 5-11 team is not likely to bring about positive change. Imagine you have a poorly performing restaurant, you keep… Read more »

Bucsfan1983

I’m keeping McCoy, Sweezy and Quizz. Everyone else on this list, cut. Add the numbers of those I would cut to the $61, 476, 282 = 85,601,282 Sign LT Nate Solder and Center Ryan Jensen. New O Line – Solder/Sweezy/Jensen/Marpet/Smith Sign DE Ansah and Michael Bennett. Bennett/McCoy/McDonald/Ansah, back up D line – Chubb/Clarke/Nnadi(draft pick)/N Spence Secondary: Sign CB Kyle Fuller, S Mike Mitchell, draft Tarvarus McFadden. Start Fuller and McFadden, Evans and Mitchell, VGII Nickel/Slot Resign Fitz Draft: Rd1) DE Bradley Chubb Rd2) RB Sony Michel Rd3) CB Tarvarus McFadden Rd 4) DT Derek Nnadi Rd 5) RB Kyle Hicks… Read more »

RootsCrew

No too shabby. Not a fan of your draft, but the FA pickups on DL would work. I gotta disagree with keeping Sweezy. He’s shown nothing that warrants the Bucs paying him any more money. Need to replace Quizz too. All our backs, besides Barber, will be 28+ next season. Get younger, better players and build for the future. And why are you moving our best OL in 2017, Dot, out of the starting rotation? D Smith can’t play RT. Also, Reedy was cut and signed with the Patriots.

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Bucsfan1983

Oh damn, my bad I thought he was a FA. Forgot he got a 3 yr extension in 2016. Ok so cut Sweezy. Solder/Smith/Jensen/Marpet/Dotson I like my draft. Bucs get the top pash rusher. They get one of the best RBs in the draft. They get good value in round 3 with McFadden, while also getting longer at that position with him and Fuller in FA. Hargraves hasn’t lived up to a #11 pick going into his third year. He should be the Nickel CB. Bucs need to add to DT depth, someone who can challenge for a starting spot.… Read more »

Horse

Demar Dotson missing.

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SO CAL BUC FAN

Dotson is a FA….

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ryan24

Alan Cross would be your FB. Stocker was released because he wasn’t effective out of the backfield and Cross was.

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Freeman Strickland

Yours is the sort of well reasoned approach I hope the Bucs take this year. Alan Cross and Demar Dotson have been mentioned. I do not agree with walking away from Grimes. First, I enjoy watching him play. Second, we need depth. And, third, plugging in a free agent and a rookie does not guarantee success. For your draft, I am hoping for Chubb to be their. If not, Scott may be right about taking G Quenton Nelson from ND. Solder/Smith, Nelson/Pamphile, Jensen/Hawley, Marpet/Smith, Dotson/Jones. From the prospect rankings at CBS Sports, your third and fourth round picks should be… Read more »

RootsCrew

I absolutely cannot agree more with the Fab 1. I’ve felt Licht overvalued the talent on the team the last 2 years. We’re not one or two players away from contending. There is a lot of work to be done and cutting dead weight and gaining cap equity for signing guys this FA will make or break his tenure as GM. His 2016 draft is a major anchor on the team right now. Our outlook on FA & the draft needs would look vastly different if he’d have gone DT, DE, DE or DT, DE, S or S, DT, DE… Read more »

Devasher

One of the key problems have been the failures in free agency. Had the Bucs paid for Calais Campbell instead of William Gholston and Chris Baker, I think you see a notable difference in some of those close games. It’s good to be able to see promising rookies at safety and strongside linebacker but you have to be able to supplement it with NFL talent from around the league who can contribute. You can’t have the epic failures Licht has had over his tenure and expect to compete in a division like this with people who know what they are… Read more »

RootsCrew

There have been some misses in FA at key areas. No doubt. Calais would have been nice, but his production wasn’t a guarantee. He was turning 31, had only averaged 7 sacks a season in Arizona and was commanding a huge contract. His cap hit this coming season is $17.5M! That is a ton of cap space for a soon to be 32 year old DE to eat up. He had a monster year, but he also played next to studs to help him get his numbers. Bucs don’t have anything on the DL like his situation in Jacksonville. We… Read more »

Naplesfan

roots – you hit on it. With our coaching, don’t see big improvements no matter we have. When Smith and Hays call for all the stupid line stunts that the players hate and which we know kills the pass rush, but they’re too stubborn to live and learn, then we will just produce the same results with different bodies.

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cheveliar

Not bad Scottie. Some good advice for Jason.

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Horse

Cheveliar; agree with you.

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cheveliar

Although I will say seeing the “Trade McCoy” thing bout made me puke a lil. I get the premise, just couldn’t personally pull that trigger. I don’t think you get as much back as you lose with Gerald being Gerald in that locker room.

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Buc 1976

cheveliar this is one of the best articles I have read in some time. About a RB to draft this year maybe I am missing something. The kid out on the west coast Penny has not been talked about IMO he looks good.

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cheveliar

No he mentioned him in another article. I’m on the Sony Michel campaign. Love for us to grab him with the early 2nd

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Buc 1976

I don’t see him lasting until 2nd rd.

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Horse

Scott; Fab 1,2 really good. Not turned on in signing Free Agents from 3-4 Defenses. Also I’m totally against signing Talib or Bennett as they will cause locker room issues. Rounds 1 & 2 should be DE’s. Maybe they might be a reach or not; the point is Koetter, Smith, Licht, know they have to improve the Pass Rush including signing a DE via Free Agency. This is the highest priority and fastest way to obtain additional wins; just my opinion.

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surferdudes

Let’s see what the Meathead does. Let’s see what Koetter does. Some things have to change, right? This will be the first full training camp with an indoor facility. Will this allow Dirk to practice harder now that oppressive heat isn’t a factor? I think Dirk was a bit paranoid about the physical effects going to hard in the heat had on the players. Soon as it gets hot I’d hold all practices indoors except for one outdoor practice a week, just to stay used to the heat as you will need to come preseason on. No matter how they… Read more »

thewbacca

Outstanding Fab 5 SR, one of your best. I will add a bit of logic here:

Licht is wearing a Roy Williams jacket.
Roy is governed by planning for the worst.
Therefore, Licht will heed your advice.

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Ron Potter

Draft Chubb with first pick. Draft C Billy Short with 2nd rounder. Sign Ansah and Lotuleli in Free Agency. Bring back Grimes and McDonald too. Ansah, Chubb, Gholston and Spence would be great on the edges! Lotuleli would be perfect next to McCoy and it would weaken a divisional rival at the same time! This would be a very good start at addressing the trenches and I don’t mind seeing the team pay GOOD money for Ansah and Lotuleli. Maybe go for Malcolm Butler if we miss on Grimes. And I’m ok with listening to offers for McCoy if it… Read more »

ahenneke

It is fun to talk about the draft and free agency, but none of it matters much unless Winston develops into a franchise QB. Consistent play-off contenders have franchise QB’s, other teams do not. You can have a good season with a journeyman QB, but it never lasts, and you are always chasing that QB of the future. My heart really wants Winston to become the leader and offensive weapon that we all hope for, and my brain says there’s a 50/50 chance, but my gut says that it is not going to work out. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit… Read more »

matador

The Coughlin stuff was excellent SR. Licht is the anti-Coughlin. He should have been/should be the first to go. Devasher is all over it. The continuity we seek will come from not drafting busts or bringing in FA busts. Licht has had a slew of both. If the new players we bring in are worth keeping around it’ll go a lob way toward consistency. I don’t see how the Glazers sign off on bringing another batch of expressive 30+ year olds in just because the coach and GM have walked themselves onto the plank. We’re not playing for just this… Read more »

FilmBuc

I’ve been saying the same thing countless times on numerous sites – great article! In my opinion, the Bucs need to go ALL IN on fixing both lines this offseason, bringing in 8 new faces to compete with the incumbents, improve the starters, and bolster the depth.

Fix the trenches, fix the Bucs!!

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surferdudes

The Glazers should hire their own Tom Coughlin. Pay someone from outside the organization who might help Jason Licht fix things. If you’re not going to subtract anyone for our past failures, at least add someone to help make better personal decisions moving forward. I wouldn’t put the full trust on Licht alone to get it done.

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owlykat

As I have said all along Licht was the culprit to our failed year. I hope he heeds your advice Scott. You have done a great job with this article. However my hope is that our DC suddenly realizes you were right when you proposed we need to switch to the 3-4 because the real strength of our defense is our Linebackers. Get an experienced huge Nose Tackle, keeping McCoy as our 3 technique end and get a 5 technique other end in Free Agency, put our two LSU LBs as our inside backers, with our other starting LB outside… Read more »

rob roy

This article speaks point black to the many issues of why Licht and Koetter have to think the worst to make the Buccaneers better this off-season. It is obvious the defense has the most work to be done. The Bucs need to find two more Cornerbacks in free agency capable of starting – in addition to Grimes, which may be difficult with cap space available. The Bucs have 23 Free Agents this year with their former contracts worth around $32,000,000 with $61,478,000 available. Cameron Brate, Charles Sims, Adam Humphries and Kevin Pamphile will be looking for a larger payday. With… Read more »

Naplesfan

Every single player on the roster should be under consideration for cutting or trading, top to bottom, skill players and linemen, offense and defense. That does not mean 100% turnover, but nobody associated with Bucs management should approach this season with a sense of just a tweak here or there will get it done and produce a playoff team. Ditto with the coaching and GM. It’s still not too late for the baby Glazers to change their minds and fire Licht and the coaching staff. After all, they fired Dungy on January 14. But it also seems unlikely too. In… Read more »

Ron Potter

Great post. Winston’s the only untouchable IMO. For now. He’s just too young. Too much talent that we’ve already invested in him. We just gotta be real careful giving up on 1st round #1 picks until we’re much more sure that it’s time to move on.

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Naplesfan

I’m not advocating getting rid of Jameis Winston. I AM in favor of putting him on a hot seat this coming season, along with every one of his teammates. We should also think hard about drafting a developmental quarterback in the mid rounds, because Fitz is probably only going to play another season, and I am not confident that our third stringer is NFL material, certainly not starting caliber. If Jameis is backed up only by an old guy on his last legs and a young guy who could never be starter, he’ll feel entitled. Nobody on this team should… Read more »

fl0nase

I think one thing that deserves highlighting a bit more concerning the likes of Calais Campbell and Julius Peppers still doing it in their 30’s is they have tons of help and can rotate in situationally. Ayers being an every down DE is too much for an older player. But this absolutely supports SR’s point: We can’t be satisfied with what we think are 2-3 foundation players on D-line as we’ve done way too many times in the past. We need another couple of draft years like 2010-11 where we drafted McCoy & Price in a row, then Clayborn &… Read more »

BucFan circa76

Raise your hand if you’re at (or long past) the nausea caused by all this Coughlin chatter (BOTH hands raised here). He is not a genius and if I could choose someone in Jacksonville’s front office to steal for our own it would (hands down) be GM David Caldwell. He beat Coughlin to this Jaguars rebuild by 4 seasons – yet its amusing Coughlin is largely the media & fan focus of the team’s amazing turnaround. Caldwell has been associated with the Panthers, the Colts (during their championships seasons), and spent five seasons as the Falcons director of player personnel… Read more »