FAB 4. BUCS FREE AGENCY UPDATE
The 2017 NFL free agency period begins on Tuesday, March 7 when teams are allowed to enter into negotiations with agents of players who are set to become unrestricted free agents. As of 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 9, all 2016 contracts expire and teams must be under the league-mandated salary cap (top 51 players) in order to sign free agents to contracts.
Tampa Bay has 17 players set to become unrestricted free agents. Here’s the list.
BUCS’ 2017 UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
RT Gosder Cherilus
S Chris Conte
DE Will Gholston
QB Mike Glennon
C Joe Hawley
DT John Hughes
WR Vincent Jackson
S Bradley McDougald
TE Brandon Myers
CB Josh Robinson
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
WR Russell Shepard
WR Cecil Shorts
DT Sealver Siliga
RB Antone Smith
LB Daryl Smith
DT Akeem Spence
The Bucs have established a value system in place with a target number for each player based on the player’s worth as determined by the team. This is typically done through statistical analysis of a player’s stats with his age, previous contract and overall value to the team (leadership, work ethic, locker room character, age, etc.) factored in. Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg, who is the team’s capologist and contract negotiator along with Licht, will then find comparable contracts to similar NFL players to help determine the value.
Agents often start high and the team starts lower and a deal is often struck when either the two parties meet somewhere in the middle or the player accepts the team’s parameters. If a player is not willing to come off his price and exceeds the baseline that Licht and Greenberg have in place, that player won’t be re-signed and will hit free agency to see what the market will bear.
With less than three weeks until the start of free agency, here’s an update on what’s transpiring based on what we know from reaching out to players and their representatives.
Gholston is the team’s priority and both parties want to get a deal done before free agency starts and will continue to work towards that end at the NFL Scouting Combine later in the month. Because he is more of a run stuffer than a pass rusher, and pass rushing defensive ends are the ones that get the bigger paydays, Gholston will likely have to settle for a deal closer to $5 million – $6 million per season than what he originally asked for. A valid contract comparison for him is the deal Michael Johnson recently signed with Cincinnati for $5 million per year.
Rodgers can’t be re-signed until he hits free agency because he signed a Minimum Salary Benefit deal, which is a one-year contract, with the Buccaneers in 2016. That’s a technical rule in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Tampa Bay isn’t allowed to negotiate with Rodgers until March 7. Both sides want to get a deal done, so look for a cheap, multi-year contract to be signed within the first 72 hours of free agency.
The team values Spence more than Siliga, and that’s obvious based on the number of snaps each player played. Spence played 362 (34 percent) snaps compared to 67 (17 percent) from Siliga. I would suspect that Spence could be signed for a contract around $2 million per year, while the team wouldn’t mind having Siliga back for half that.
The team wants Hawley and Shepard back at the right price, which is likely around $1.5 million – $2 million per season for Shepard, which is the going rate for special teams players and part-time receivers that aren’t options in the return game. I don’t know what Hawley’s asking price is nor do I know what the Bucs are willing to budget for the center position, especially with some in-house options like Evan Smith, Ali Marpet and Kevin Pamphile.
I’m not sure if the Bucs are interested in bringing back Myers, who will be 32 this September, and Hughes. What I do know is that Glennon isn’t expected to re-sign with the Bucs, instead opting for the chance to start elsewhere in free agency. Tampa Bay will get a 2018 compensatory pick – possibly a third-rounder – if he ends up signing a lucrative deal this offseason.
Several other Buccaneers could hit free agency so the team can better assess their market value. Those players include Hawley, McDougald, Conte and Robinson. Don’t be surprised if the Bucs also let players like Shepard, Spence, Siliga hit free agency, too.
But that doesn’t mean that they are unwanted in Tampa Bay. It could mean that the Bucs are letting the players test the market to find their actual worth and see how close – or far away – the Bucs’ value may be as a result. Just because a Buccaneer isn’t signed by March 9 doesn’t mean he won’t return at some point in free agency.
However, Shorts and Antone Smith are recovering from season-ending knee injuries and aren’t in Tampa Bay’s plans moving forward. Daryl Smith, Jackson and Cherlius are not expected to get new contracts, and could very well retire this offseason. So out of the team’s 17 unrestricted free agents, at least five are pretty much guaranteed not to return before free agency even starts.