Well, the 2019 season has ended, and the 2020 season can begin. The speculation. The anticipation. The frustration. The jubilation. It’s all part of every NFL offseason. Which free agents will stay? Which ones will go? Who will the team sign in free agency? How much cap space does the team have? These are all questions that every fan starts asking as soon as the season is over. And it’s especially true for Bucs fans, this offseason.
The Buccaneers front office is facing a number of tough positions over the next few months. What should they do with Jameis Winston? What should they do with Shaq Barrett? Which of their free agents should they re-sign? Luckily for them, they won’t be strapped for cash this offseason. General Manager Jason Licht and Director of Football Administration Mike Greenberg have done a fantastic job over the last few years with their contracts, making sure that they would have enough money in the bank when it came time for Winston’s second contract. It’s a good thing too. Because they’re going to need every penny of the nearly $100 million in salary-cap space that they’ll have to spend this offseason. Sure, that sounds like a lot of money. But when you consider that they could potentially spend over $40 million of that on just Winston and Barrett, that number suddenly starts to dissipate quickly. I decided to take a look at the free agent’s the Buccaneers have this offseason to figure out who should stay and who should go, who can the Bucs afford and who they can’t, and who they should pay and who they shouldn’t. So here’s what I came up with.
JAMEIS WINSTON (UFA) – This has been the hot topic of conversation for Bucs fans and Tampa Bay media for much of this season. Will Jameis be back or not? I say yes, he will. There’s been some speculation lately, rumors really, that Jameis is asking for a number around or even over the $30 million mark or he’s going to walk. I don’t buy it. He doesn’t seem like THAT type. He’s more of a team guy. He’s the type of player that would take less money if it would help keep other players in town or bring other players here. I see him doing just the opposite. He’s in no position to be making demands. Sure, he led the league in passing yards and was only three behind Lamar Jackson in touchdown passes, but he also ended up with 30 interceptions, which hasn’t been done since 1988 when Vinnie Testaverde threw 35 of them. The bottom line is that I think Jameis wants to stay. I think Bruce Arians wants him to stay. After making almost $21 million for this season, I think he’d be willing to settle for something around the $23 million per year range if it was fully guaranteed and had some performance bonuses tied to it as well.
Another option for the Bucs if they don’t want to re-sign him to a multi-year deal would be to “tag” him. This offseason, because it’s the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement, teams will have the option to use BOTH a “franchise tag” AND a “transition tag”. Normally they can only use one or the other. The “franchise tag” allows a player who’s about to be an unrestricted free agent to remain with the team for one more season, but it comes with a higher price tag. For quarterbacks, that price is about $27 million. The “transition tag” allows the team to match any offer made by another team to the tagged player. That number is typically lower than the amount of the franchise tag. This year, it will be about $24 million. They really have two choices. Either slap the franchise tag on him and give him one more year to prove that he can stop turning the ball over so much OR sign him to a short-term deal like a 2yr/$46M contract that’s fully guaranteed. The smart move for the Bucs is to give him at least one more season, under Bruce Arians, Byron Leftwich, and Clyde Christensen to see if they can get the turnovers under control.
DECISION: Franchise tag for $27M
DEMAR DOTSON (UFA) – Let me start this one off by saying that I love Demar. He’s a great guy and the longest-tenured Buccaneer on the roster. He’s been in Tampa for his entire 11-year career after being signed as an undrafted free agent. He hasn’t been bad this season, but he is 34 years old and will be 35 a month into next season. According to Spotrac.com, he made about $4.8 million for the 2019 season. I don’t think the Bucs should simply let him walk. Arians likes him and called him a “warrior”. Dot seems like he wants to finish his career here in Tampa, so if he’s willing to do it at a lesser price AND he understands that he may be in more of a reserve role next season, then they should re-sign him. I wouldn’t insult him with the veteran league minimum of just over $1 million, but I’d offer him $2.5 million to be the Bucs reserve swing tackle next year and see how bad he really wants to stay in town.
DECISION: Re-sign 1yr/$2.5M
PEYTON BARBER (UFA) – He’s a decent running back, but I don’t expect to see much interest in him on the open market. The Bucs could probably bring him back for around the same money that he played for this season, which was about $2.125 million, or maybe even a little less. That is IF they want to. I see Ronald Jones being a bigger part of the offense, plus I think the Bucs will end up picking a running back in the upcoming draft so Barber would take on more of a reserve role. He has his value, and he can be productive, so I think he’ll be back if he’s willing.
DECISION: Re-sign 1yr/$1.75M
BRESHAD PERRIMAN (UFA) – He went from being an unproductive third receiver in the Bucs offense to being THE guy on offense in a matter of weeks thanks to the unfortunate injuries to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. He rose to the challenge and proved that he can add some value to Arians’ offense. The question is, did he do enough to earn himself a new contract? He made $4 million for 2019 with a $2 million base and a $2 million roster bonus. If the Bucs can bring him back on a similar contract, then I say do it. If he wants any more than that, let him walk. He may have produced like a #1, but he’s still a #3 when Evans and Godwin are healthy.
DECISION: Re-sign 2yr/$10M
NDAMUKONG SUH (UFA) – There’s been a rumor circulating through social media that Suh has been a “cancer in the Bucs locker room” and that he will NOT be brought back next season. I’m not buying it. In fact, in a recent press conference, Bruce Arians said that Suh has been a “model citizen” and that he “Wishes he had 10 more players just like him”. He also talked about how much he was willing to “help with the younger players”. He was the third most double-teamed player in the NFL this season, behind Aaron Donald and Kenny Clark. He may not have finished with any huge numbers this season, but he was a vital part of why the Bucs were so dominant versus the run and why the Bucs outside linebackers have had so much success rushing the quarterback. He made just over $9 million for 2019, but even though he had a pretty decent year, I’m not sure that the Bucs would be willing to re-sign him for anything close to that. He’ll be 33 years old next week, so even though he did have a solid season, he’ll have to take a pay cut if he wants to stay in Tampa. It sounds like this d-line group wants to stay intact, so maybe some of these guys will be willing to sign for to have the chance to stay together and possibly win a Super Bowl in the next two years. I say if Suh will re-sign for around $7.5 million, then pull the trigger.
DECISION: Re-sign 2yr/$15M
JASON PIERRE-PAUL (UFA) – JPP is a physical freak of nature. It’s a medical miracle that he was able to even come back this season, let alone be ready for full contact football just six months after fracturing his neck. He was willing to restructure his contract to free up about $4 million for the Buccaneers this season, but it also made him an unrestricted free agent in 2020. It seems as though he’d like to be back in Tampa next year, but like Suh, it would have to be at a hometown discount if he wants to keep this d-line group together. He made a base salary of just $3 million after that restructure, but it was also stuffed full with incentive bonuses up to $7.25 million. I would think that in order to keep him in Tampa, the Bucs will have to pay him something similar to the $10 million that he earned this season, whether it’s set up the same way with a ton of performance bonuses or some other way. Shaq Barrett is about to get a big-time payday, so I don’t think the Bucs would spend much more than that on a 31-year-old with a fractured neck, despite the experience and veteran leadership that he brings to this team.
DECISION: Re-sign 2yr/$15M
SHAQ BARRETT (UFA) – Speaking of Shaq, the Bucs are going to have to dig deep in those pockets in order to pay him. He’s already stated that he wants to stay here and hinted that he’d be willing to do so without being too greedy, but you never know what can happen when it comes to free agency. After a season where he led the league in sacks for most of the season AND broke Warren Sapp’s franchise record for sacks in a season with 16.5, he now has a market value of almost $20 million. If they use the franchise tag on Winston, they could still use the transition tag on Barrett. But I don’t think it’s necessary. He wants to be here. He’s already said that whatever he gets paid is going to be more than he’s ever made, and he just wants some long term security. He also wants this d-line group to stay together, and one way he can help that to happen is to accept a decent offer from the Bucs. I think $15M a year for the next five years is a good deal for everyone. It gets him paid, AND it saves the Bucs a couple of million bucks as well.
DECISION: Re-sign 5yr/$75M
CARL NASSIB (UFA) – “Crazy Carl” has been a great waiver wire acquisition for the Bucs over the last two seasons, and I don’t see any reason why the Bucs wouldn’t want to retain him. I keep hearing that the team couldn’t possibly keep him AND JPP, but if these guys really do want to keep the band together, then they’ll figure out a way to do it. He made just over $2 million for 2019, but if Shaq and JPP do return, then Nassib would stay in a reserve role. His offer might be contingent on how much JPP ends up re-signing for, but like I keep saying, if this group truly wants to stay together, then they’ll find a way to afford each other.
DECISION: Re-sign 2yr/$4M
BEAU ALLEN (UFA) – I like Beau, so it pains me to say that he might be the expendable one out of all the defensive line free agents. He restructured his deal in March of 2019 and essentially took a $1 million pay cut to stay on the team. The new contract also made him a free agent in 2020 instead of 2021. I hate to say it, but he may have to take another pay cut from the $4 million he made in 2019 if he wants to remain in Tampa. He was originally signed to be a starting DT in the Bucs 4-3 defense. Now with the signing of Suh and the emergence of Vita Vea, he has now taken on a rotational role in Todd Bowles 3-4 defense. He still brings experience, leadership, and value to the d-line, but not to the tune of $4 million per year. I think he would have to be around the $2.5 million mark to stay a Buc, so we’ll see how bad he wants to stick around.
DECISION: Re-sign 2yr/$5M
BLAINE GABBERT (UFA) – With Ryan Griffin still under contract for another year, I don’t think the Bucs will bring Gabbert back. Arians seems content with Griff as the backup QB as of right now, but that could change depending on who’s available in free agency. Plus, I do think the Bucs will draft a QB fairly early in this year’s draft.
DECISION: Free agent
DARIAN STEWART (UFA) – He played sparingly throughout the 2019 season, but when he did play, he played decently. He made just shy of $1 million in 2019, but he’s going to be 32 years-old in August. The Bucs safety situation is interesting. They already have both Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards, but they also have Justin Evans, who will hopefully be able to return at some point after having foot surgery. And Bruce Arians is very high on D’Cota Dixon, who was injured all season, but was close to working his way to be the Bucs starting strong safety before getting hurt in training camp. Andrew Adams is also a free agent, so if it comes down between the two of them, I think the Bucs would roll with the younger guy, instead of the older vet.
DECISION: Free agent
SAM ACHO (UFA) – Acho wasn’t a bad midseason pickup for the Bucs, but I think the 31-year-old has served his purpose, and he’s free to go. There should be younger and better options in both free agency and the draft to fill the reserve outside linebacker role for next season.
DECISION: Free agent
RAKEEM NUNEZ-ROCHES (UFA) – “Nacho” cemented himself firmly into the Bucs d-line rotation, and I expect him to return next season. Although now, with this story surfacing about abandoning his pitbull on the side of the road, we’ll have to wait and see how the Bucs handle it when they’re done with their “investigation”. He made about $800K in 2019, so I think he earned a small pay bump for 2020.
DECISION: Re-sign 2yr/$2M
KEVIN MINTER (UFA) – He filled in nicely when rookie linebacker Devin White missed some time to begin the season, and the coaching staff is familiar with him. I think he’ll be back as a reserve/special teamer. He only made $800K in 2019, so I don’t think giving him a slight raise to keep him here is out of the question.
DECISION: Re-sign 2yr/$2M
ANDREW ADAMS (UFA) -He played decently in a reserve role at safety this season, so the Bucs could bring him back depending on what happens to Justin Evans, free agency and the draft. His 2019 salary was $720M, so if he does come back, I would expect a similar price tag to come along with him.
DECISION: Re-sign 1yr/$750K
RYAN SMITH (UFA) – He is not only the best special teams player on this Bucs team, but he’s a decent reserve CB as well. He has earned another contract for at least around the $1.5 million that he made in 2019.
DECISION: Re-sign 2yr/$3M
EARL WATFORD (UFA) – He wasn’t bad when he filled in for right guard Alex Cappa for a few games this season, but he wasn’t good either. I think the Bucs can get younger and better at reserve guard this offseason, so I don’t think he’ll be back next year.
DECISION: Free agent
JOSH WELLS (UFA) – He was signed due to the injuries on the o-line and didn’t exactly raise any eyebrows when starting at left tackle for an injured Donovan Smith. If it comes down to choosing between him or Mike Liedtke to re-sign, I think the Bucs will stick with the guy who’s been here for a bit.
DECISION: Free agent
MICHAEL LIEDTKE (RFA) – He’s a restricted free agent, which means he can talk to other teams, but the Bucs have the right to match any offers. I don’t see much of a market for him, so he will likely be back in Tampa for something close to the $650K that he made in 2019.
DECISION: Re-sign 1yr/$675K
ANTONY AUCLAIR (RFA) – He just happens to be in one of the deepest position groups on this team, which may not bode well for him this offseason. It’s a crowded tight end room now, especially with the emergence of Tanner Hudson and recently signed Codey McElroy. Although there have been rumors swirling about either trading OJ Howard or Cam Brate or even releasing Brate outright. Should one of those things happen, then it would clear a better path for Auclair to return. I think he’ll be back next season since Hudson and McElroy are both practice squad eligible.
DECISION: Re-sign 1yr/$750K
TANNER HUDSON (ERFA) – He was a big hit during the preseason and proved that he could hang with this loaded Bucs tight end group. He’s an exclusive rights free agent, which essentially means he will likely be a Buc next year. I don’t see any reason for the Bucs not to bring him back to the practice squad at the very least.
DECISION: Re-sign 1yr/$575K
If I’m right so far, then the Bucs should have around $20 million left in cap space. You still have to factor in draft picks, which will cost them around $6 million, so they do still have some money to spend in free agency. But should they end up needing a little more money to re-sign some of these guys and they start getting strapped for cash, here are a few players that I think could be candidates for contract restructures.
Donovan Smith – $14.5M/$14.5M dead cap space – He didn’t have a bad year, but the Bucs will have to make a decision about the right tackle position this offseason. Demar Dotson will be 35 by the time the season starts, and as much as it sounds like Bruce Arians likes him, I don’t see him being the starter moving forward. That means the Bucs have three options:
1) Find one in free agency.
2) Draft one.
3) Move Smith to the right side and draft a left tackle.
I’m not one of those fans who bash Donovan. I think he’s a decent LT with the potential to be a very good LT. However, if the Bucs can grab one of the top LT’s in this draft, then they should pull the trigger and move Smith over. Then they should restructure his contract accordingly because he makes too much for how inconsistent, he plays on the left side, so he really makes too much money to be a starter on the right side.
Ryan Jensen– $10M/$0 dead cap space – Bruce Arians said that Jensen might have had the best season of his career in 2019, where he was the sixth highest-paid center in the league. I’m not saying that he deserves a pay cut, but he could be a candidate for a restructure should the Bucs suddenly become cash poor.
Cam Brate – $6M/$0 dead cap space – After being re-signed to a big contract in 2018, Brate has had seasons of 30 catches for 289 yards and 6 touchdowns and 36 catches for 311 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also had the lowest yards per reception average (8.6) of his career in 2019. IF the Bucs do keep Brate around, he could definitely be someone that they ask to restructure since his role has changed significantly in Bruce Arians’ offense.
Will Gholston – $4.75M/$0 dead cap space – I love what Gholston was able to do this season. He was a run-stopping madman and a valuable part of the Bucs d-line rotation. He doesn’t necessarily deserve a pay cut, but maybe the Bucs could re-work his contract to be more cap friendly in order to keep him around.
Bradley Pinion – $2.7M/$1M dead cap space – Pinion is valuable because he pulls double duty as the punter AND the kickoff specialist. However, I’m not so sure his skills are worth the money the Bucs are currently paying him. His kickoffs were good, but his punting wasn’t. It might not be much of a difference, but I would definitely try to get him to restructure.
Thanks to the dynamic duo of Jason Licht and Mike Greenberg, the Bucs are in a position to re-sign most, if not all of their impending free agents. At least the ones they want or need to bring back. Once the league-wide salary cap space gets raised again, they should have close to $100 million to spend this offseason. They’ll probably need almost all of it. Fortunately for them, Bruce Arians and his coaching staff have ushered in the kind of culture that these players want to be a part of. A hope, a REAL hope, of bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to Tampa. And the expectation of winning it on their home turf next season. That’s something that most of them might be willing to give up a little money for just to stay on this team. We’ll find out soon enough.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!