FAB 4. Are Bucs’ Cheaper Gambles Working?
Tampa Bay’s front office made several calculated gambles this offseason with the Bucs’ roster and salary cap. How have those moves panned out thus far? Let’s take a look.
The Bucs’ first roster move of the offseason saw general manager Jason Licht and new head coach Bruce Arians cut aging defensive end Vinny Curry, who was scheduled to make $8 million this year, and replaced him with pass rusher Shaquil Barrett, who signed a one-year deal worth $4 million. That move saved cap-strapped Tampa Bay $4 million.
Then Licht and Arians traded disgruntled wide receiver DeSean Jackson to Philadelphia to clear his $11 million salary off the books, and replaced Jackson with speed receiver Breshad Perriman, who signed a one-year, $4 million deal. Jackson signed a three-year, $27.9 million deal with the Eagles that included a $7,170,000 signing bonus and $15 million in guaranteed money.
Tampa Bay then opted not to re-sign middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, who landed a lucrative, four-year, $54 million deal with San Francisco despite coming off a knee injury. Alexander’s deal came with a $4 million signing bonus, $25.5 million in guaranteed money and he’ll count $11,531,250 against the 49ers’ salary cap this year.
To replace Alexander, the Bucs spent the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft on inside linebacker Devin White, who will make $5,333,148 during his rookie year, and save the Bucs nearly $6 million this season.
Tampa Bay decided against re-signing slot receiver Adam Humphries, who signed a four-year, $36 million contract with Tennessee, including a $10 million signing bonus, with a $500,000 roster bonus and $19 million in guaranteed money. The Bucs replaced Humphries by moving Chris Godwin to the slot. Godwin is in the third year of his rookie deal and will count $875,041 towards the cap this year. He’s a significantly cheaper option for the Bucs that saves the team millions.
And finally, Licht and Arians cut nine-year veteran Gerald McCoy, who was scheduled to make $13 million in 2019. McCoy refused a pay cut and wound up in Carolina making $8 million this year, while the Bucs signed Ndamukong Suh to replace him at $9.25 million, which saved Tampa Bay $3.75 million in salary cap space.
Licht, Arians and director of football administration Mike Greenberg, the team’s capologist, saved nearly $30 million by making these roster moves. How have they paid off as we approach the quarter mark of the 2019 season?
Curry re-signed with Philadelphia and has just two tackles as a reserve defense, while Barrett leads the NFL with eight sacks to go along with his 16 tackles and two forced fumbles. This is an obviously huge win for the Bucs.
Jackson had eight catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns to lead Philadelphia back from a 17-0 deficit to beat Washington on opening day, 32-27. However, Jackson pulled a hamstring shortly thereafter and has missed the last three games.
Yet his one game production trumps that of Perriman, who has disappointed with just three catches for 16 yards to go along with a 13-yard run on an end around, so Tampa Bay loses on this transaction. Jackson is a much better receiver, and always has been.
Yet he and Jameis Winston rarely connected on deep balls, so it’s impossible to suggest he would have that level of production in Tampa Bay this year had the Bucs kept him. And would Jackson, who turns 33 in December, have stayed healthy in Tampa Bay this year? Who knows?
Humphries has struggled to find a rhythm with Marcus Mariota as he has just nine catches for 97 yards in three games with the bulk of that production coming in Tennessee’s 20-7 loss at Jacksonville. Humphries started the season catching three passes for four yards in the Titans’ first two contests. That’s not great production for a guy averaging $9 million per season.
Godwin has been much more productive with 15 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns, while averaging 15.3 yards per catch. Godwin’s expected emergence was a big reason why the Bucs let Humphries walk in free agency, and they made the right move.
Alexander has 16 tackles and one interception through three games, including seven in last week’s 24-20 win against Pittsburgh. But through the first two games he had nine tackles, and Alexander missed the final three quarters of the season opener against the Bucs following a targeting call on a helmet-to-helmet hit on quarterback Jameis Winston. So he really had nine tackles and one interception in five quarters of action.
White had six tackles in Week 1 and two tackles in the first quarter before a knee injury in Week 2 sidelined him for the rest of that game and also last week’s contest against New York. So in the first five quarters of action this year before his injury, Alexander had just one more tackle and one interception than White did, despite making nearly $6 million more.
Combine White’s production with that of his replacement, veteran Kevin Minter, who has had 11 tackles in the past two games during White’s absence, and they have produced 17 tackles. And Minter had an interception of Cam Newton in Week 2 called back due to a penalty, too.
White’s injury is unfortunate, and he could be out a couple more weeks, but early on this was an even exchange for the Bucs from a production standpoint, and a win due to the salary cap savings.
Finally, Suh and McCoy have played about even at the start of the 2019 campaign. McCoy has seven tackles and is currently dealing with a knee injury that may keep him out of Sunday’s game. Suh has five tackles and one fumble recovery through three games, and is coming off his worst game of the year in Sunday’s loss to New York where he recorded just one tackle. He’ll look to rebound as he faces his former team out in Los Angeles on Sunday.
Suh was added for his run-stopping presence, and so far that’s paying dividends. Tampa Bay’s run defense is ranked sixth in the league, allowing just 69.7 yards per game, which is a huge improvement from a year ago. Last season with McCoy, Tampa Bay had the league’s 24th-rated run defense, allowing an average of 123.9 yards per game.
The Bucs may be slightly better off with Suh than McCoy, but to be fair, McCoy is helping Carolina’s defense, which ranks fourth overall (295.3 ypg), compared to Tampa Bay’s unit, which ranks 14th in the league (330.7 ypg.) in total defense.
It will be interesting to track the performances of these players throughout the year to see if the salary cap maneuvers that Licht, Arians and Greenberg made this offseason continue to pay off.