FAB 2. Bucs Combine Scoop
The PewterReport.com staff and other members of the Tampa Bay media met with Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Here are the highlights of what they said on Tuesday – including my interpretation – along with other Bucs-related scoop from the Combine.
Howard Could Be Traded – Or Kept
Licht heaped a bunch of praise on fourth-year tight end O.J. Howard while at the podium speaking to the media at the NFL Scouting Combine. Howard is coming off a disappointing season in which he caught just one touchdown and contributed to three Jameis Winston interceptions due to his unsure hands.
“Well the first year in the offense, he didn’t quite get the numbers that we thought he would,” Licht said. “But as we got into the off-season and the coaches looked at all the tapes they’re more than excited now about what he can do the second year (in this offense). It took a little bit of an acclimation from O.J. to our offense, but also from our scheme to O.J. So we have a lot better idea of what we can do and what he does best.”
Is Licht’s sudden excitement over Howard genuine, or is it just public posturing to help drive up the tight end’s potential trade value? I asked Licht if he would listen to offers for the team’s first-round pick in 2017.
“You’re going to think I’m being cryptic here, you have to listen to everything, but we have plans for O.J. being in our offense this year,” Licht said.
I’m not sold. I think Licht and Arians could conceivably have Howard back in 2020 if there are no trading partners willing to give up adequate trade compensation, which I believe is a second-round pick.
Arians’ offense showed in 2019 that it’s a three-wide receiver scheme with a pair of Pro Bowl wide receivers leading the way. The tight ends just aren’t as valuable in the passing game as the receivers are because of the vertical nature of the offense.
Howard is the best tight end athlete on the team, but he isn’t the best receiver (Cam Brate), nor is he the best blocker (Antony Auclair). That makes him expendable, but Licht isn’t going to just give him away. Another team will have to come at the Bucs with a real solid offer. The guess here is New England, as Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels love throwing the ball to the tight end.
As for Brate, if he stays in Tampa Bay he’ll likely have to take a pay cut from his $6 million cap value like defensive tackle Beau Allen had to last year.
“Potentially, we’ll have to see how things go and how pieces fall,” Licht said about Brate figuring into the team’s plans in 2020. “Potentially, yeah.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Brate, who turns 29 this summer and has dealt with a variety of injuries over the past three years. Meanwhile, Arians gushed over Auclair, who will be a bigger part of the offense in 2020.
“He’s one of the best blocking tight ends in the league and he’s really improved as a receiver so he’s a big part of our plans,” Arians said.
Extensions For Godwin, David Will Come Later
In previous SR’s Fab 5 columns I forecasted the contract extensions of linebacker Lavonte David and wide receiver Chris Godwin, both of who are entering the final years of their respective deals. The Bucs still plan to do those extensions, but they’re not the priority.
Right now Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg will be focused on re-signing most of the team’s 19 unrestricted free agents before the start of free agency on March 16.
“He’s under contract,” Arians said. “He’s under contract for another year. We’ve got a lot of things that are sort of coming up because of timeline that we need to take care of. It’s not ranking guys. I would put Chris up there as one of the better players on our football team. But we have time with that one. There’s different ways to structure contracts and you’ve got to see what you have left.”
Look for the Bucs to work on extensions for Godwin and David over the summer and get them done before the start of the 2020 regular season in September.
Suh Wants To Return To Tampa Bay
Both Arians and Licht said they have had discussions with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and that he wants to play football for another year and wants to do it in Tampa Bay. Suh will return to the Bucs in 2020, likely on a one-year deal worth around $7.25 million. That would be $2 million less than he made a year ago.
Winston Isn’t The Bucs’ Top Option At QB
Arians said that he would pick up the phone and try to persuade two quarterbacks to come to Tampa Bay if he could – New England’s Tom Brady and Philip Rivers, formerly of the Los Angeles Chargers. That means that Jameis Winston isn’t the Bucs’ first option to line up under center in Tampa Bay in 2020.
There are strong indications that Brady will be leaving New England, and has been linked to Indianapolis, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, where he would replace Rivers. Meanwhile, Rivers has been linked to Indianapolis. This doesn’t mean that Winston won’t return to Tampa Bay, though. If Brady and Rivers sign elsewhere as expected, and the Bucs don’t want Teddy Bridgewater, Winston could very well be option No. 3 and remain in Tampa Bay after all.
Arians’ Slip Of The Lip?
Arians is known for being outspoken with the media and speaking what’s on his mind, but perhaps he went a little too far on Tuesday.
“I really don’t know who’s available,” Arians said when talking about the team’s options at quarterback in free agency. “Mike [Greenberg] and Jason [Licht] can talk to agents now, so we’ll find out hopefully in 36, 48 hours.”
Greenberg, the team’s capologist, and Licht have been talking to agents all week, but are supposed to be only talking to agents of their own free agents. Of course that’s true for all 32 NFL teams – otherwise it’s called tampering.
But that’s what has happened in the bars and restuarants in Indy for decades for all 32 NFL teams, and that’s surely what’s been happening this week, too. NFL teams and agents gauging each other’s interest in players and suggesting contract amounts.
I’m not sure if Licht was informed about what Arians said when he spoke to the media first, but when Licht followed Arians and was second to speak to the Tampa Bay media he clarified things.
“There are dates where you are going to find out, March 16 and you’ll have a lot more clarity,” Licht said. “Until then we cant talk to anyone who is a pending free agent, their reps, we can only talk to our players, you hear things on the street but you wait for the dominos to fall and prepare for every scenario.”
That’s a solid cover job by Licht right there.
Licht Discusses Winston’s Knee Surgery
Licht told the media he was notified about Winston’s decision to undergo LASIK surgery this offseason in hopes to correct his nearsightedness. Before fans get up in arms that Winston waited until free agency to undergo the LASIK procedure, understand that most eye surgeons don’t recommend performing LASIK until patients are in their mid-20s until the eyes have fully developed. Winston just turned 26 in January.
Licht also discussed that Winston had his knee scoped this offseason, a surgery first made public on Twitter by Jameis1of1, author of the book “Jameis Winston Derangement Syndrome.”
“Yeah, he’s getting healthier this offseason,” Licht said. “I don’t want to report on every medical report we have, but that one was a little bit more out there.”
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Winston had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee this offseason.
Licht wouldn’t comment any further on Winston’s medical procedures this offseason, saying: “I would kind of feel more comfortable if you ask him. I’m glad that he wanted to make himself better.”
Barber Likely Won’t Be Back
Arians raved about Ronald Jones II at the NFL Scouting Combine, but didn’t mention Peyton Barber, who began the 2019 season as the team’s starter. That might not be a bad thing, except that Arians mentioned every running back on the roster but Barber.
“I feel solid about it right now,” Arians said of the Bucs’ running game. “But yeah, we’re always looking, really every position. But I like Ronald. I like T.J. [Logan] And Dare [Ogunbowale]. But there’s always a spot for another young one.”
That means that Barber, who will be an unrestricted free agent, likely won’t be back in 2020. Tampa Bay will draft a running back this year, perhaps as early as the second round with Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor or LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, or a middle-round pick like Miami’s DeeJay Dallas.
Tampa Bay Loves Its Young CBs
Arians and Licht were in lockstep when it came to profusing their love and affection to third-year cornerback Carlton Davis, as well as Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting, who started last year as rookies.
“I love it,” Arians said. “We’re young, we’re talented, and I think all those kids finished the season playing extremely well. They didn’t hit the rookie wall for some reason like some do. They were still in there 5:30 in the morning watching the tape and some of them are in there now. I think that’s a really solid position for us for a long time.”
Don’t expect the Bucs to spend money on an expensive veteran free agent cornerback, nor will the team draft a cornerback before the fourth round. The reason? Any addition would only take away from the developmental time of the trio of young cornerbacks the Bucs want to roll into battle with next year.
This approach doesn’t come without its risks. A sophomore slump by either Jamel Dean or Sean Murphy-Bunting would put a serious crimp into the Bucs’ plans – and Tampa Bay’s secondary.