FAB 3. Bucs That Could Get Cut This Year
Matt Gay beware.
When Bucs general manager Jason Licht makes a personnel mistake he typically doesn’t hang on to it for very long.
After signing quarterback Josh McCown, left tackle Anthony Collins and defensive end Michael Johnson to lucrative contracts in 2014, Licht released all three starters after the team went 2-14 that year.
After spending a second-round pick on kicker Roberto Aguayo in 2016, Licht cut him one year later after Aguayo was the league’s worst-rated kicker during his rookie season.
Licht also cut the Bucs’ next two kickers during the season when he gave veteran Nick Folk, Aguayo’s replacement in 2017, the axe after just four games. Folk missed two extra points and two field goals, but hit the game-winner in a 25-23 win over the New York Giants in Week 3 that year, but the next week went 0-for-3 on all three field goal attempts in a 19-14 loss to the New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football.
Last year, Licht signed Chandler Catanzaro to replace Folk, and Folk’s initial replacement, Pat Murray, but cut him after nine games. Catanzaro started off 6-of-7 on field goals and was 15-of-17 on extra points before the Cleveland game in Week 6 in which he missed a field goal and an extra point that caused the Bucs to head to overtime. But he did nail a 59-yarder game-winner to live another day.
In fact, Catanzaro lived to play three more Sundays, but missed an extra point the next week at Cincinnati, before missing two field goals from inside 45 yards in a 16-3 loss to Washington.
Gay isn’t a personnel mistake – yet. After missing two extra points and a 34-yard game-winning field goal in last week’s 32-31 loss to the New York Giants, how long is Gay’s leash in Tampa Bay? History suggests not long, as Licht only has a fifth-round pick invested in him and had for more invested in both Folk and Catanzaro from a salary standpoint.
New head coach Bruce Arians is even more impatient than Licht is when it comes to dealing with players that make mental errors. And let’s face it. Kicking is considered 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.
After a perfect outing in Week 1, the rookie kicker missed his first field goal attempt in Week 2, as he was 2-of-3 against Carolina in Tampa Bay’s 20-14 upset win. Against the New York Giants, Gay missed his first extra point, had his second extra point blocked, then made his next two PATs and four straight field goals until missing his 34-yarder as time expired.
How many more misses will the Bucs allow before Gay has to go? That number is unclear, but it’s not many. Gay is not a lock to remain the Bucs’ kicker if the misses continue.
Gay isn’t the only Buccaneer that’s on notice. There are a couple more players that need to step up – and soon – or Licht and his pro scouts will be looking for their replacements.
Wide receiver Breshad Perriman was signed to replace DeSean Jackson as the team’s deep threat, but after three games, Perriman has three catches for 16 yards and is averaging only 5.3 yards per catch, in addition to a 13-yard run. Perriman signed a one-year deal worth $4 million and thus far hasn’t come close to earning his money.
The other Buccaneer that may be in jeopardy is new punter Bradley Pinion, who signed a four-year deal worth $11 million in the offseason. That contract makes Pinion the seventh-highest paid punter in the NFL. The problem is that he’s the 26th-ranked punter in the league when it comes to gross average (43 avg.) and the 28th-ranked punter when it comes to net average (37 avg.).
The contracts of Perriman and Pinion offset the Bucs’ offseason losses of wide receiver Adam Humphries and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander in free agency, which means that Tampa Bay likely wouldn’t get any compensatory draft picks in 2020 as a result. However, if either Perriman or Pinion were released before Week 9, the Bucs could get some mid- or late-round compensatory picks.
Could the Bucs sign a new punter midseason to replace Pinion? Yes, but Pinion also is Gay’s holder and handles the team’s kickoffs, although Gay has a strong enough leg to do that and kicked off at Utah. Could Justin Watson or Bobo Wilson match Perriman’s production and catch three passes for 16 yards in three games? Probably.
I’m not saying that Perriman or Pinion will be cut in a few weeks, but their performance needs to dramatically improve in a hurry to prevent that from happening as compensatory draft picks are at stake. There aren’t any draft picks at stake with Gay – except the fact he was drafted in the fifth round this year.
Fifth-round picks don’t usually have a long shelf life in the NFL statistically, and the Bucs’ front office is not looking to cut Gay. To the contrary, they are rooting for him to bounce back from his gut-wrenching miss against the Giants and have a good season. But there is precedent for Licht cutting kickers midseason, so it’s up to Gay to rebound.
Reserve linebacker Deone Bucannon also factors into that compensatory draft pick calculation, and his release before Week 9 would aid in the team’s efforts to land a compensatory draft pick. However, Bucannon has value on special teams and as Lavonte David’s reserve at MO linebacker, and he also can play strong safety.
The Bucs saw veteran MIKE linebacker Kevin Minter, who has plenty of experience playing in Todd Bowles’ defense, have to step in for rookie Devin White in Week 2. If anything were to happen with David the team would feel better about inserting Bucannon into the starting lineup over Jack Cichy at this point.
So keep an eye on Gay, Perriman and Pinion and track their progress from now until Week 9. The Buccaneers’ brass certainly will be.