The NFL off-season has arrived. After the Super Bowl on February 2, the next big event for the league is the NFL Combine, which starts on February 24. Then comes free agency, which begins as of 4 pm on March 18, where teams can begin signing any player who is now an unrestricted free agent. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have nearly $100 million in salary-cap space to work with this off-season. Now, much of that will be used to sign their own free agents, like Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, and possibly Jameis Winston, but they could end up having to turn to free agency if they don’t get the numbers worked out with those players. That’s prompted me to take a look at the 2020 free-agent class to see who could be a potential target for the Bucs this year.
Taking into consideration the free agents that the Bucs could potentially be losing, I’ve compiled a list of two free agents that could replace each of them. The first is the “dream” option. A player that I’d like to see the Bucs sign, but probably can’t afford. The second is a more realistic option. A player that still fills the need, but at a cheaper price. So here’s what I came up with.
We’ll start here since this seems to be the weak link of the Buccaneers offense. Ronald Jones should be a bigger part of the game plan in 2020, but Peyton Barber is a free agent, and the Bucs may want to go in a different direction. I think they’ll add another running back in the draft, but there are some good ones that will be available in free agency as well.
Obviously, this is the dream scenario for Bucs fans. Henry not only led the league in rushing in 2019, but he continued his dominance in the playoffs, where he led his team to the AFC Championship game. I don’t see Tennessee letting him leave town, but if he does hit the open market, he’ll come with a hefty price tag. I’d love to see him and RoJo in the same backfield, but the likelihood of this happening is slim to none.
Now, this is a much more realistic target for the Bucs. Hyde had his first 1,000-yard season in 2019 despite sharing the backfield with Duke Johnson and Lamar Miller. His style of play would make for a nice thunder and lightning combo with Jones in Arians’ offense.
The biggest void to fill on the Bucs offensive line will be at right tackle. Demar Dotson is now a free agent, and even if the team does bring him back, I don’t think it will be as the starter. This 2020 Draft has a strong class of offensive tackles, so I think that’s where they’ll find Dot’s replacement, but they could make the attempt in free agency. The Bucs could go two different ways in this scenario, so I’ve tried to provide an option for both.
G Brandon Scherff/28/$12.5M
Obviously, this is the dream signing here. Scherff has been one of the most dominant guards in the NFL over the last few years and would add a nasty bookend piece to a Bucs o-line that already has Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen in the middle. So how does this help the right tackle position? Well, it would allow the Bucs to move Alex Cappa out to right tackle where he actually played in college for most of his career.
RT Bryan Bulaga/31/$6M
This is the much more realistic option for Tampa. Bulaga is a solid veteran that would only be a gap filler for a couple of years, but he could get the job done in the meantime. The question is, do the BUCS want to replace the 34-year-old Dotson with a 31-year-old Bulaga. I doubt it. That’s why I say the draft is a more probable solution to the right tackle issue.
This group may seem set with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but you saw what happened when they both went down at the end of the season. The bad part is that Breshad Perriman, who really stepped up in their absence, is a free agent. If he ends up asking for more money than the Bucs are willing to pay, then they could turn elsewhere to fill their third receiver role.
He may be more inclined to stay in Cincinnati with the arrival of Joe Burrow, but he’s been wanting out of town for a while now. Green is coming off of an injury-shortened season where he only played in 9 games and finished with the least amount of receiving yards of his career. He could be an interesting addition to the Bucs wide receiver group, but it’s a highly unlikely scenario that he comes to Tampa as a third option in the offense.
This seems to be a more realistic option if the Bucs don’t re-sign Perriman. He finished with over 800 yards for the Cowboys in 2019 and would fit in nicely as the Bucs third man. However, if they’re going to pay out this kind of money, then they may as well give it to Perriman, who already knows the system.
DEFENSIVE END/OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
It seems like a given that the Bucs will be bringing back Shaq Barrett next season. The question is, at what cost? Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib are also free agents, and there may not be enough money to re-sign everyone. If it’s an age thing, though, then here are two younger options for them to pursue, for about the same money.
His market value seems a bit high to me, even after a good season with the Giants, where he finished with 72 tackles and 10 sacks. He played four years in Arizona, where he was drafted by Arians in 2014, so there is some familiarity there. However, his price tag may be a bit too steep for the Bucs.
The rumor around New York is that Williams is looking for “top tier” pass rusher money. The problem is that he may not be worth it. If the Giants don’t offer him what HE thinks he’s worth, then he’ll hit free agency where he might get hit with a dose of reality. If the demand isn’t there, then the Bucs might be able to get him for a decent price.
With Ndamukong Suh and Beau Allen both hitting free agency, the Bucs could end up with a pretty big gaping hole in the middle of their d-line to fill this off-season. Here are the two options that I came up with to fill it.
The Rams would hate to see him leave town, but I’m not so sure that they can afford to keep him. If not, he’ll hit the open market where he’ll for sure draw a ton of interest. One of the best run stoppers in the NFL might find it appealing to come play for the best-run defense in football, and he is one of the few that could actually fill Suh’s shoes.
He had a decent year in New England with career highs in tackles (61) and sacks (3), but he hits free agency with some uncertainty. If the Bucs are strapped for cash, then he might be the most cost-effective option available to replace Suh.
The cornerback position is looking better than it has in years with Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting coming on strong in the second half of the season. However, the Bucs don’t have much going on behind them. If one of them goes down, then it could present a real problem for this defense. With the starting spots in seemingly good hands, they really need to add some depth behind them. I think they’ll likely add another CB in this draft, but they could possibly look to free agency for a veteran to join this young group.
He’s one of the better slot corners in the league, so I doubt that Cincinnati lets him out of town. And the Bucs probably won’t be looking for a high priced CB like him in free agency, especially when they already have their starters. But we can dream, right?
I thought for sure that the Bucs would’ve signed Claiborne last season as a free agent, but they never did. Maybe that says something about him. However, the circumstances have changed from then to now. The Bucs starters are set, and all they need is some experience and depth. He could bring both at a price that won’t break the bank. The bonus here is that he played for Todd Bowles in New York, so he’s already familiar with the system.
The Bucs already have Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards at safety and they could be getting Justin Evans back eventually, but Andrew Adams and Darian Stewart are both free agents. I’m not so sure that the safety position is a real high priority for the Bucs this off-season, but some “experts” seem to think it is since I’ve seen mock drafts that have the team taking one with their 14th pick in the draft. They may draft one, but it won’t be in the first round. And they could also look to free agency to add some veteran help as well. Here are two solid options.
He went from an undrafted free agent to one of the best safeties in football. He finished 2019 with 60 tackles, 11 passes defended, and a league-leading 6 interceptions. If the Vikings let him hit the open market, he’ll end up getting a nice payday. I don’t see the Bucs spending this much money on a safety, but you just never know.
He seems like more of a realistic option here. I don’t see the Bucs spending a ton of money on this position this off-season, so a solid vet like Clinton-Dix could be a good addition at the right price. He did have a decent year for the Bears, so his price tag could also end up being too much for the Bucs. Their best bet might just be to retain Adams and grab another safety in the draft for more depth.
The Buccaneers will certainly be focused on re-signing as many of their own free agents as possible, especially along that defensive line. I don’t see the Bucs being too active in free agency since that $90+ million won’t last very long. They will probably bring back as many 2019 players as they can and then continue building through the draft like they have been. The biggest key to the entire off-season will be the decision made about franchise quarterback Jameis Winston. That alone could be worth between $25-30 million in itself. If the Bucs spend it on him, then they won’t have it to spend in free agency. We’ll see soon enough.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!