(Opinion Editorial) Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2020 Battle Plans
The Buccaneers will have a lot of decisions to make when the free agency period opens up on March 18, 2020. Right now, they have 19 unrestricted free agents set to hit the market and many of them are at key positions. According to Spotrac.com, the Bucs are estimated to have around $85 million to spend, which is good for third-most in the NFL. It’s certainly possible for the Bucs to be able to re-sign their key free agents and draft picks while still having enough money to make a few signings outside the organization. Jason Licht and Mike Greenberg will just have to be creative in doing so.
In this exercise, I will take a look at possible cuts/trades for current players on the roster who are under contract, unrestricted free agents, and restricted free agents. That’s not all. I’ll also include free agent additions AND a seven-round mock draft, as well.
I would like to give a shout out to Greg Auman of the Athletic for taking the time and helping me understand the contact nuances. Wouldn’t have been able to get this article done without his help. Thank you, Greg.
Disclaimer: This is not what I think the Bucs will do. The purpose of this exercise is what I would do if I were the General Manager. Now that we cleared that up. Let the exercise begin!
Cap Space (Top 51): $84,989,175
Candidates to Trade/Cut:
Kendall Beckwith (ILB) – After suffering what seems like a career ending injury, it is time for the Bucs to move on. Bruce Arians said as much last off-season. I give Beckwith a 10% chance that he comes back and is still the same player he was before the injury. It’s unfortunate because he showed a lot of promise his rookie year and just hasn’t been able to get back on the field. This move would save the Bucs $758,000.
Ryan Griffin (QB) – Ryan Griffin finally made his regular season debut in the first drive of the second half against the Colts while Winston was getting his broken thumb tended to. I’ll be honest, after all the anticipation and excitement that many fans built up around him playing, it was easy to see why he was sitting on the bench. This move would save the Bucs $1,645,000.
Justin Evans (FS) – If I’m the Bucs, I am looking to trade Evans for anything you could get from another team. He has shown to be injury prone and unreliable. The team said last off-season that he would be ready to go by training camp (he wasn’t) and he eventually missed the entire 2019 season. I don’t believe he is in the Bucs long-term plan. He is going into the last year of his contract and I do not know where he fits with Todd Bowles’ defense. Remember, they really liked D’Cota Dixon before he suffered a season-ending injury. I will explain later in the article, but I do believe Bucs will look for a safety in free agency and/or the draft. This move would save the Bucs $1,173,995.
M.J. Stewart (CB) – The 2018 second-round draft pick could be on the way out. I cut him in this exercise, but there are other factors that would cause the Bucs to keep him. One of the biggest factors would be the dead money against the salary cap, which is around $889,000. However, when I look at it from a pure football standpoint, it doesn’t make too much sense to keep him on the roster. He doesn’t have the speed or athleticism to be a starting cornerback in the NFL. I would try to trade him, but I doubt you would have any buyers. He was a healthy scratch for the majority of the season. He doesn’t serve much value on special teams and that’s an easy way to be shown the door. If you aren’t starting, you have to be a contributor on special teams. Bucs realize they made a mistake with this second-round pick and move on, saving $497, 898.
Cameron Brate (TE) – This one might get a lot of people throwing tomatoes at me. Sometimes the hard things just have to be done. I love Cam and would want him to stay, but for his salary it really doesn’t make sense. I would also like to see the Bucs try and restructure his contract but how much would that really save? One or two million realistically? If the Bucs can trade an UDFA for a 5th or a 6th round pick, I would be okay with that. It is clear that the offense runs through Evans and Godwin and if you have to decide to keep Perriman or Brate in this offense, then you’d have to think Perriman is more valuable. You can find another TE that can block better and catch the ball every now and then. Brate only played 38 % of snaps last year and is really Tanner Hudson but with better hands and a larger salary. Kills me to write that but it’s true. Antony Auclair brings more to the table when it comes to run and pass blocking and the Bucs have had a horrendous rushing offense (not all completely on Cam but he is part of it) over the last four years. This move saddens a lot of fans, but also saves the Bucs $6,000,000 in cap space.
Will Gholston (DL) – This one might be a surprise, especially when you consider how well he played in 2019. However, with that being said, Gholston only played 44% of defensive line snaps last year. I just don’t see how you can justify paying someone almost $5 million to play less than half the snaps. Would you rather have Suh or Gholston? I choose Suh, he played 77% of snaps and makes far more of an impact in both pass and run defense. This move will save the Bucs $4.75 million.
Updated Cap Space (Top 51) – $99,814,068
Free Agents Coming Back:
Jameis Winston (QB) – I will go ahead and talk about the elephant in the room. The Glazers want Jameis Winston back in a Buccaneers uniform as reported by Cory Hays and multiple other outlets. The question has always been at what price. I do believe it would be a three to four year deal. They will definitely use the franchise tag as a last resort if it came to that. It doesn’t come down to that and Bucs bring Winston back on a 4 year deal worth up to $127 million with the 4th year being a club option year guaranteeing 91 million dollars. This would be similar to Kirk Cousins deal that he got from Minnesota Vikings (3 years $84 million). What I would be selling Winston’s agent is paying him top 10 Quarterback salary each year.
Here is the contract breakdown:
2020- $27 Million
2021- $30 Million
2023 (Club Option) – $36 Million
Shaquil Barrett (OLB) – The 2019 NFL sack leader will be looking for a big pay raise in 2020. Barrett has gone on record many times this off-season talking about how much he loves and wants to stay in Tampa. He loves the scheme, he loves Bowles and he doesn’t want to move his family. The Bucs took a chance on Barrett on a one year deal after the Cincinnati Bengals rescinded their offer due to a previous shoulder injury (lucky for the Bucs but not so much for the Bengals). Both the Bucs and Barrett get what they want the NFL sack leader to stay in Tampa. They sign him to a five-year deal worth $80 million which guarantees $63.5 million:
2020- $14 Million
2021-2024- $16.5 Million
Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP) (DE) – Pierre-Paul is coming off of a season in which he fractured his neck in a car accident last spring and came back and played 10 games notching 8.5 sacks. The Bucs restructured his contract which made him a free agent this year. There is no doubt when it comes to what he means and brings to the defense. With that being said, he just turned 31 and if I’m the Bucs, I will not be breaking the bank for him. There will be a lot of factors that play into it. JPP has said that he enjoys being in Tampa because of how close he is to his family. As you get older, I think that still remains an important factor for him. Bucs bring Pierre-Paul back on a 2 year deal worth $19.5 million fully guaranteed.
Breshad Perriman (WR) – I won’t lie. I was ready for the Bucs to cut Perriman loose after the Week 7 matchup against the Tennessee Titans. Thankfully, they didn’t listen to me and they kept him around due to the fact that both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin had season-ending hamstring injuries. The result of those injuries meant that Perriman got to see more playing time, which showed that he could be a Number one receiver. So, it’s likely he could test free agency, but ultimately I think he will choose to stay. I mean he had a career year under Bruce Arians. Bucs bring Perriman back on a two year deal worth $12 million and retain the best wide receiver trio in the league.
Ndamukong Suh (DE) – Suh was an important piece of the 2019 Bucs defense, although he didn’t show up on the stat sheet every week. He played an huge role when it came to opening things up for the linebackers to get to the quarterbacks and/or running backs. His veteran leadership was what the coaches and players raved about and he also played 77% of snaps. Having him back for one more year at $7.5 million would be ideal.
Blaine Gabbert (QB) – I actually would not be a fan of this, however, you need a backup quarterback and he knows the system. You could always look to upgrade the position but how much of a difference is Kyle Allen versus Blaine Gabbert? Bring him back for another one year deal worth $1.5 million.
Kevin Minter (LB) – Minter actually played well in Devin White’s absence. He is a capable backup and a good special team’s player. The Bucs bring him back on a one year deal at the veteran minimum of $945,000.
Earl Watford (G) – He is a serviceable backup in case Alex Cappa or Ali Marpet miss any time. He also played some snaps as the year went on as an extra tight end to help block. This signing doesn’t blow anyone’s skirt up, but depth is depth and what the Bucs need is cheap depth, so they bring him back at the veteran minimum of $945,000.
Rakeem Nunez-Roches (DT) – Also known as Nacho, he played pretty well when he was given the chance. At best, he would be the fourth defensive tackle on the depth chart, so the Bucs aren’t going to rob a bank to keep him. The Bucs keep him on a two year deal worth $2.5 million.
Demar Dotson (RT) – Dotson is 34 years old and played exceptionally well last year. He would be a solid depth piece and wouldn’t be asked to play a whole lot. He would be in a Gosder Cherilus-type role. Bucs bring him back for one year worth $2 million.
Antony Auclair (TE) – Auclair is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA) so the Bucs would have to offer him a tender which is basically three choices:
-First round tender ($4,667,000)
-Second round tender ($3,278,000)
-Original round tender ($2,144,000)
Important thing here is that if Bucs offer a tender, then other teams get to make an offer. The Bucs can then match that offer. If not, the Bucs would get draft pick compensation from said team. Auclair is one of the better blocking Tight Ends on the roster and with Brate not coming back, the Bucs would want to bring Auclair back and use the original round tender worth $2,144,000.
Updated Cap Space (Top 51) – $28,280,068
Free Agents Bucs Should Sign:
Tony Jefferson (FS) – The Bucs are in need of a safety after trading/releasing Justin Evans and they look to a familiar face. Jefferson played under Bowles and Arians when they were in Arizona. He is familiar with the scheme and what Bowles wants to accomplish. Huge upgrade in the secondary without breaking the bank Bucs sign Jefferson on a three year deal worth $19.5 million.
Kevin Johnson (CB) – Johnson is 28 years old and appeared in 16 games last year for the Bills. He is a solid depth option at nickel cornerback. He would be the fourth cornerback on the roster and a big special teams contributor. He could provide a boost if Sean Murphy-Bunting goes down or if Jamel Dean or Carlton Davis can’t play that position. Bucs sign Johnson to a three year deal worth $9 million.
Updated Cap Space (Top 51) – $9,280,068
Projected Rookie Draft Pool – $7,000,000
Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft:
Round 1 (Pick 14) – Tristan Wirfs (OT, Iowa)- Wirfs is a natural right tackle, footwork is exciting to watch. I love his commitment to blocking for the run. He does need some work in pass protection, but it’s is not a reason I would pass on him. He is a top-3 OT in this draft and if he’s there at 14, the Bucs should take him.
Round 2 (Pick 45) – Justin Madubuike (IDL, Texas A&M) – Madubuike is not what I would consider a starter day 1, even though he has knack for getting penetration on both run and pass downs. He would be in a situation where he can learn from both Suh and Vita Vea, which is something most young defensive lineman don’t get to do. His biggest appeal is versatility. He played inside and outside and was very disruptive.
Round 3 (Pick 75) – Zach Moss (RB, Utah)- Moss isn’t known for his breakaway speed. He is more of a bigger back that knows how to break tackles, especially in short yardage situations (something the Bucs desperately need). He is great in the passing game and knows how to run routes. Basically Peyton Baber but better. Ronald Jones and Moss will be a 1-2 punch for years to come.
Round 4 (Pick 107) – Alex Highsmith (Edge, Charlotte)- With JPP and Shaq Barrett returning, he would just be a situational pass rusher for a few years and if he only has to worry about teeing off and getting after the passer, I am perfectly okay with that. He racked up 21.5 TFL, 14 sacks and 3 forced fumbles his senior season. Great late round pick for the Bucs here.
Round 4 (Projected Comp Pick TBD) -Michael Pittman Jr. (WR, USC)- Pittman needs to be in a vertical offense to get the most out of his potential, and it just so happens to be that the Bucs are a heavy vertical offense. He obviously would be fourth or fifth WR on the depth chart behind Evans, Godwin and Perriman. He can play both slot and outside receiver. His biggest flaw is acceleration off the line of scrimmage. Will be a core special team player. He has a very good cast around him to help develop his game.
Round 5 (Pick 143) – Harrison Hand (CB, Temple)- Harrison is very raw at the position. He does a lot of things very well. He is not the best man coverage corner, but I also think that Bowles and his staff could develop him to be one down the road. He is very physical at the point of attack, as well as in run support, and those are traits that are a good building block. He understands zone defenses very well and his ball skills reflect that. Let him develop for a year or so and the payoff would be worth the wait. He would be CB5 his rookie year and a large contributor on special teams as most late round picks are.
Round 6 (Pick 174) – Yasir Durant (IOL, Missouri) – It is always a good idea to take a DL and OL every year, no matter the round. I like the versatility of Durant. He can play both G and T although he is better suited for G in the NFL due to his lack of length. He is big-bodied and will do well in limited space. He is a practice squad player in his first season and depending on how quickly he can develop, he will be suitable depth down the road.
Round 7- The Bucs do not currently have a selection in this round.
The Bucs get what they want and bring back key pieces to the team. I don’t expect the Bucs to go out to the market and make a bunch of splash signings. Signing your own players is key. This team wasn’t far off as many think they are. They should have won 10-11 games in 2019. I also didn’t spend every dollar either due to second or third waves of free agency or maybe an opportunity down the road to trade for a player or also extend the contracts of Lavonte David or Chris Godwin. Also you would also want to keep around $3-$5 million for injured/reserve players during the season.
Christian Worthen has been a lifelong Buccaneers fan. He currently is a contributor/writer for All Things Bucs. To see more of his work please follow on twitter @TB_Bucs_4Life or @AllThingsTBbucs
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