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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. Will Bucs Trade McCoy For Williams?
I’ll admit that until this past month, I haven’t done much draft research on Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams.
I’ve seen Williams play and heard he was really good, but figured that he wouldn’t fall to No. 5 and even be an option to Tampa Bay, so why bother doing a deep dive into the Alabama All-American?
Just like I haven’t done much research on Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, Ohio State passer Dwayne Haskins or Missouri signal caller Drew Lock. The Bucs won’t be drafting those quarterbacks in the first round.
If one of the top three defenders – Williams, Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa or Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen – is going to fall to the Bucs because two quarterbacks end up going in the top four picks, it’s likely going to be Allen. And under that premise PewterReport.com featured him going to Tampa Bay at No. 5 in the latest 2019 Bucs’ Mock Draft.
I don’t see Williams sliding down to No. 5, so there’s no way he’ll wind up in red and pewter, right?
Not so fast.
PewterReport.com and other media outlets have suggested that Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht trade down from the fifth overall pick and acquire more draft choices.
But what if Licht actually traded up to get Williams?
That’s kind of tough to do without much draft capital, right? The Bucs only have one pick in each round of this year’s draft. But what if Licht offered a marquee player in addition to swapping first-round picks with San Francisco, which owns the second overall draft pick behind Arizona?
What if Tampa Bay traded the fifth overall pick and six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to San Fran to move up three spots to select Williams?
What made me think of this scenario were Licht and Arians once again refusing to definitely state that McCoy would be a Buccaneer in 2019.
The two head honchos at One Buccaneer Place were ambivalent about McCoy’s future in Tampa Bay when I spoke to them at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February. They were even more on the fence about McCoy, who is slated to make $13 million at age 31, suiting up in red and pewter in 2019 when they spoke with PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook and other media outlets at the NFL Annual Meeting this past week in Arizona.
The reasons are obvious, as Arians stated.
“The financial is a big part of it,” Arians said. “I have got to evaluate him. [The] guy is up in age. It is different. Now it is usually the age where they get paid the most. And production and price don’t match. So we have to find that out.”
The Bucs could use $13 million to give them the needed flexibility to sign a few more free agents and their draft class – they’ll need about $7 million for that – but haven’t parted ways with McCoy yet for one obvious reason. The team doesn’t have a quality starting-caliber three-technique to replace him.
Right now, McCoy’s backup is Rakeem Nunez-Roches, otherwise known as “Nacho” around the AdventHealth Training Center at One Buccaneer Place. Nunez-Roches has totaled 53 tackles and 1.5 sacks in his four-year NFL career, which started in Kansas City in 2015. Nunez-Roches was signed last year for depth purposes and notched two tackles.
Simply put, he’s not worthy of replacing McCoy – but Williams is.
If you’re not really familiar with Williams yet, I go into detail about what makes him so special next in Fab 2, but bear with me on this trade scenario and just understand that he’s indeed worth trading up for. Let’s look at why the 49ers might consider moving down a few spots and taking on McCoy and his $13 million salary to aid and abet the Bucs selecting Williams at No. 2.
The 49ers have a very young defensive line with the oldest players being new 28-year old defensive end Dee Ford, and 29-year old Kapron Lewis-Moore, a minimum salary player who may not even make the 53-man roster. San Francisco essentially has just three defensive tackles on its roster – Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner, D.J. Jones and Sheldon Day. This group can use more talent and the experience that McCoy could bring.
The 49ers want to get faster on the edge, which is why they signed Ford to play opposite former first-round pick Arik Armstead, a big 6-foot-7, 292-pound defensive end, who had his fifth-year option picked up by the team, but was not signed to a long-term extension. Drafting a faster, better, pass rusher like Bosa or Allen to replace Armstead, who had just three sacks last year, in 2020 and beyond makes more sense than drafting another defensive tackle in Williams given that they already have a young pass-rushing tackle in Buckner, who is on the rise.
So it makes sense for Lynch and the 49ers to move down three spots and get an edge guy like Bosa or Allen at No. 5, considering that the Jets will likely trade down from No. 3 with a quarterback-hungry team like the New York Giants, Denver or Washington. So with those projected trades, here’s how the Top 5 picks could look:
1. Arizona – Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray
2. Tampa Bay – Alabama DT Quinnen Williams
3. NY Giants – Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins
4. Oakland – Ohio State DE Nick Bosa / Kentucky DE Josh Allen
5. San Francisco – Kentucky DE Josh Allen / Ohio State DE Nick Bosa
With nearly $39 million worth of available salary cap space, the 49ers are one of the few teams that could take on McCoy’s $13 million salary without feeling squeezed. They end up getting one of the top two edge rushers and McCoy – and maybe a fourth- or fifth-round pick from Licht if Lynch drives a hard bargain.
The Bucs get $13 million cleared off their salary cap, get real value for McCoy in a trade and find his immediate replacement all in one fell swoop. Tampa Bay still has veteran Beau Allen to help serve as a veteran leader for the likes of Williams, second-year defensive tackle Vita Vea and other young defensive tackles on the roster like Nunez-Roches and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu.
So what does this mean for LSU linebacker Devin White, who might be the odds-on favorite for the Bucs if they stayed put and pick at No. 5 if Williams, Bosa and Allen all get drafted in the first four picks? White is a great player and would fill an obvious need at middle linebacker as Kwon Alexander departed to San Francisco in free agency.
But with Kevin Minter re-signed to start at inside linebacker in Todd Bowles’ base 3-4 defense, and Deone Bucannon replacing him in nickel defense, the Bucs could get by without a premier middle linebacker for a year – especially with a veteran like Lavonte David around to call plays.
The situation is actually even more dire at the three-tech defensive tackle spot with needing to find an immediate successor for the 31-year old McCoy. While the 2019 NFL Draft is flush with talented defensive tackles – and deeper at the position than inside linebacker –
Trading McCoy on his own might not net anything more than a fourth- or fifth-round pick, and are there any teams clamoring to trade for him with a month left before a draft that is deep at defensive tackle? No.
But packaging McCoy in a trade that involves draft picks might work, and a team like the 49ers might see value in getting a productive, experienced defensive tackle in a trade without having to burn one of their own draft picks on the defensive tackle position – in addition to one of the top two edge rushers that they seek.
I don’t have inside knowledge that this scenario could occur or would even be considered, but it makes a lot of sense for Tampa Bay, which won’t get rid of McCoy until it has secured his replacement. But considering that Licht has made a couple of trades out of the blue – like trading up for kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round in 2016 and trading for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul last March – I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.
Williams is worth it.