FAB 2. Trades The Bucs Should Explore
Bucs general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians have both said that not all of the players that will comprise the 53-man roster are in Tampa Bay at the present time. The Bucs will look to add a few more players prior to the start of the 2019 regular season, including a potential starter or two.
Regardless of what the team thinks, I believe Tampa Bay could use more veteran talent along the offensive line, in the secondary and in the running back stable, in addition to a proven edge rusher to help with the loss of outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, who suffered a fractured neck in a car crash in May, which has his 2019 season in doubt. The injury could also be career-ending for the 30-year pass rusher.
So with that said, here are a couple of trades that the Bucs should possibly explore prior to training camp. I say “should” because I don’t necessarily think Tampa Bay will pursue these players.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Buccaneers have approximately $7.97 million in salary cap space after Mike Evans’ contract was restructured earlier this week. Of course Tampa Bay still needs to sign first-round pick Devin White and that will take up a good chunk of the available room. Oakland just signed its first-round pick, defensive end Clelin Ferrell, to a four-year deal worth $31.2 million, including a $20.8 million signing bonus. Ferrell’s deal averages $7.8 million per year and is fully guaranteed.
In order to create salary cap room for any of the potential trades I’m proposing, the Bucs would likely need to restructure the deal of left guard Ali Marpet, who is slated to make $11.25 million this year, or release Pierre-Paul, who is scheduled to make $14.9 million in 2019. Yet with $7.5 million already guaranteed to JPP, his release would only clear $7.4 million worth of salary cap space this year.
Houston OLB Jadeveon Clowney
The Bucs would have to make some really big moves in order to fit Clowney under the salary cap. Clowney was given the franchise tag by Houston after failing to come to terms on a multi-year contract extension. Clowney is scheduled to make $15,967,200 in 2019, and Tampa Bay would have to cut Pierre-Paul and make some other salary cap moves to acquire Clowney from the Texans. The Texans are reportedly shopping him, and a FanSided article lists the Jets, Seahawks, Bills, Eagles and Raiders as potential trading partners.
The 6-foot-5, 265-pound athletic freak was the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and only saw action in four games during his rookie season before suffering a knee injury. The South Carolina star has recorded 29 sacks and five forced fumbles over the last four seasons, including a career-high 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2017 and nine sacks and one forced fumble last year. Clowney has also scored touchdowns on fumble returns in each of the past two seasons.
Clowney, 26, would replace Pierre-Paul in Tampa Bay as the weakside linebacker. He has plenty of experience playing in a 3-4 defense in Houston, but is Clowney worth over $15 million? Perhaps, considering he’s four years younger than JPP and healthier.
The problem with acquiring Clowney for the Bucs is not just the salary cap space that would need to be cleared. It would also be the compensation, as Houston would likely want at least a first-round pick in 2020. That’s likely too rich for Tampa Bay.
Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson
New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians loves Peterson, who was one of his favorite players in Arizona. At age 29 Peterson is still one of the best cover corners in the NFL. Last year, he recorded 54 tackles, five pass breakups, two interceptions, one sack and one fumble recovery, and has 385 tackles, 76 pass breakups, 23 interceptions, three sacks, three fumble recoveries, two blocked kicks, one forced fumble and one touchdown in his eight-year NFL career.
The 6-foot-1, 203-pound Peterson has already played in Todd Bowles’ press-man scheme and thrived in it, recording six interceptions over two years from 2013-14 when Bowles ran Arizona’s defense. He could do wonders for Tampa Bay’s young stable of cornerbacks as a mentor, and with the Cardinals in a rebuilding mode with new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona could be interested in shopping the eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback, who will miss the first six games of the 2019 season with a PED suspension.
Peterson is set to earn $11 million in 2019 and $12.05 million in 2020, which is the final year of his contract. But he’ll only cost the Cardinals – or the Bucs if they were to acquire him in a trade – $6.875 million this season due to being fined by the league for the first six games of his suspension. That salary reduction could make trading for Peterson even more attractive for the salary cap-strapped Bucs.
The Cardinals would likely want a premium draft pick for Peterson, but if I’m general manager Jason Licht I’m calling Arizona to offer up a third-round pick in 2020. Peterson has several years left in the tank and could aid the team down the stretch once he returns from his suspension if the Bucs were in position to make a playoff run during the 2019 season. Just as important, if the Bucs acquired Peterson in a trade they wouldn’t have to face him when the Cardinals visit Tampa Bay in November.
Browns RB Duke Johnson
The Browns have a surplus of running backs after drafting Nick Chubb in the second round last year and acquiring the league’s 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Kareem Hunt this offseason, which was another bold move considering that he was released by Kansas City last November after video of him assaulting a woman surfaced. The running back that may be on the way out is Duke Johnson, who averaged 5.0 yards per carry last year with 40 carries for 201 yards. 299 carries for 1,286 yards (4.3 avg.) and five touchdowns since entering the league as a third-round pick in 2015.
Johnson, 25, wants an opportunity for more touches and won’t get that behind Chubb and Hunt. The Bucs could bolster their backfield and have the need for a pass-catching running back to compete with Andre Ellington and Ronald Jones II behind starter Peyton Barber, who is the only real accomplished running back on the team outside of Ellington, who is trying to revive his NFL career after sitting out last year due to injuries after an ineffective stint in Houston in 2017.
Johnson is an accomplished receiver out of the backfield with 47 catches for 429 yards (9.3 avg.) and three touchdowns last year. The Miami product has 235 passes for 2,170 yards (9.2 avg.) and eight touchdowns in his four-year Browns career.
If the Bucs wanted to pry Johnson free from the Browns it would likely take a mid-round pick in 2020. Johnson signed a three-year, $15.6 million contract extension with the Browns in 2018. He’s set to earn $1.8 million this season, $3.6 million next year and $4.65 million in 2021.
Redskins RB Samaje Perine
Johnson isn’t the only running back that makes sense for the Bucs. The 23-year old Perine finished his Oklahoma career as the Sooners’ all-time leading rusher. He was a fourth-round pick by the Redskins in 2017 and is slated to be the No. 3 running back on Washington’s depth chart behind starter Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice, who was a second-round pick in the 2018 draft. The Redskins also have Chris Thompson and just spent a fourth-round pick on Stanford running back Bryce Love, so there is plenty of depth without Perine.
The 5-foot-11, 233-pound Perine is built like Peyton Barber and rushed for 603 yards and one touchdown on 175 carries (3.4 avg.) as a rookie, in addition to catching 22 passes for 182 yards (8.3 avg.) and another score. Last year Perine was often a healthy scratch and was only active for five games, rushing for 32 yards on eight carries (4.0 avg.) and catching three passes for five yards (1.7 avg.).
Washington head coach Jay Gruden has talked up Perine this offseason, saying he’s been one of the most impressive Redskins this spring, but that could be just to generate trade interest. Perine has two years left on his rookie deal, earning $645,000 this year and $735,000 in 2020.
If the Bucs were interested it would have to be from his college tape at Oklahoma and his rookie year. He could probably be had for a Day 3 pick in the 2020 draft.