It’s that time of year, Buc Nation.
“Battle Plan” season is here!
That period just before free agency begins when different members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers media and others put together their own plan for the Buccaneers off-season. So I figured, why not throw my hat in the ring?
The Buccaneers 2019 season didn’t quite go the way that they had hoped when Jason Licht brought his buddy Bruce Arians in to be the new head coach last year. After a rough 2-6 start in the first half of the season where they had the worst defense in the league, the team rallied winning five of their last eight games to finish 7-9 for the season. That defense that had been picked on mercilessly for the first eight games ended up as one of the NFL’s best units over the second half of the season and finished the year with 47 sacks, the second-most in team history. Jameis Winston ended the season as the league’s leading passer with 5,109 yards and second in touchdowns to Lamar Jackson with 33 of them. Unfortunately, he also threw a career-high 30 interceptions as well, becoming the first player in NFL history to throw 30+ touchdowns AND 30+ interceptions in a season. He also threw an NFL record seven pick-6’s.
Such an unusual season has prompted the Buccaneers’ front office to take a step back and re-evaluate their quarterback position. Apparently, they’re leaving no stone unturned when it comes to finding their answer at QB. The rumors have been flying with everyone from Tom Brady or Philip Rivers to Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr coming to Tampa. What we haven’t heard out of One Buc is that they want Jameis back under center for the 2020 season. If they did, then they would’ve re-signed him already. Instead, they’re waiting. For what, I’m not sure. But they sure are making this off-season a little more stressful for all of us in the meantime.
Besides Jameis Winston, the Bucs have 18 other players becoming unrestricted free agents as of March 14. That list is as follows:
Shaq Barrett Carl Nassib
Josh Wells Ryan Smith
They also have two players becoming restricted free agents:
Mike Liedtke and Antony Auclair.
And they have three players who are exclusive rights, free agents:
Tanner Hudson, Orion Stewart, and Bryant Mitchell.
Now that you have an idea about who’s becoming a free agent next week, I’ll go ahead and get started. But before I do, let me put out this disclaimer.
*THIS IS MY PLAN FOR THE BUCCANEERS 2020 OFF-SEASON AND MINE ALONE. IT IS NOT THE OPINION OF THE TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS, BUCS LIFE MEDIA, OR ANY OF IT’S OTHER MEMBERS.*
Now that that’s out of the way, let me say this: “MY ‘battle plan’ is NOT what I think the Buccaneers are going to do this off-season. This is what I would do if I was running the team and making the decisions this off-season. So with that said, here’s what I came up with for the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
According to SpoTrac.com, the Buccaneers are entering this off-season with just under $85 million in salary-cap space, the third-most in the entire league. That’s a lot. But it’s still not enough for me and MY plan. So I’m starting this off with some contract restructuring. Mike Evans deserves every penny of the $18.35 million that he’s got coming in 2020, but he’s generous enough to drop his base salary down to $15 million and take the rest in incentive bonuses in order to free up some cap space. Next is Cam Brate, who is set to make $6 million this year. He agrees to drop his base salary down to $4 million with another $1 million available in performance bonuses. Will Gholston is next and agrees to $4 million for this season rather than the $4.75 million he was going to earn because if he didn’t, he was getting released. And lastly, the overpaid punter Bradley Pinion agrees to drop his base salary from $2.7 million to $1.75 million or he was getting the ax too. Altogether, I’m able to free up another $7 million in cap space bringing the total to $92 million.
But wait, I’m not done.
I also decided to trim some fat off the roster by releasing some players to open up spots and create some more cap space. The biggest surprise cut might be oft-injured safety Justin Evans, but his release frees up another $1.175 million. I would also release injured linebacker Kendell Beckwith who’s still on the roster taking up $760K in cap space. I’m also releasing Dare Ogunbowale ($600K), Aca’Cedric Ware ($510K), Anthony Fabiano ($660K), MJ Stewart ($500K), Jaydon Mickens ($660K), Aaron Stinnie ($660K), Cyril Grayson ($510K) and Herb Miller ($510K). In all, I create another $6.45 million in cap space bringing the grand total to $98.45 million.
But I’m still not done.
I’ve decided to trade tight end, O.J. Howard. I know, right? I’m shocked too. This was a tough decision for me because I’m a huge OJ fan. But he’s coming off of the least productive season of his short career where he finished with just 34 catches for 459 yards and one touchdown after having over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons. I’m not sure where he fits in Bruce Arians’ offense anymore, and there may not be enough balls to go around between Evans, Godwin, Brate, AND Howard. I find a trade partner in the Indianapolis Colts who are looking for another receiving weapon for their new quarterback Philip Rivers. They offer up one of their two second-round picks for him, and I accept. The Bucs, now, have back-to-back picks (44 and 45) in the second round of the draft, plus it frees up another $2 million in cap space bringing that total to just over $100 million. Okay, now I’m done, so let’s go spend it!
Re-sign Jameis Winston 4yr/$110M/$23M guaranteed
Jameis is staying in Tampa! Some of you are probably pissed about that, but I’m sure most of you are happy. I thought about going the Tom Brady route for a second, but I think he’ll end up in Tennessee. I was smart about this contract, though. It pays him $23 million for 2020, which is guaranteed. IF he throws fewer than 12 interceptions this season, his salary jumps up to $26 million for 2021, and that becomes guaranteed. IF he does it again, his 2022 salary jumps up to $29 million guaranteed. Then IF he does it again, it jumps to $32 million guaranteed for 2023. I am allowing Jameis Winston to control his own destiny at this point while covering the organization’s ass.
Re-sign Shaq Barrett 3yr/$48M/$28M guaranteed
It doesn’t sound like Shaq wants to play under the franchise tag, and I didn’t want to piss him off, so I offer him the same type of escalating salary as Winston. He will make $14 million this season. IF he gets more than 15 sacks again, his salary jumps up to $16 million for 2021. IF he does it again, it jumps to $18 million for 2022.
Re-sign Jason Pierre-Paul 2yr/$19M
JPP is the heart and soul of this defense. If you don’t believe me, just go look at how much different the defense played after he returned last season. He has to remain a Buc, so I offer him $9.5 million to stay in Tampa, and he accepts.
Re-sign Ndamukong Suh 2yr/$15M
Just like JPP, re-signing Suh was important for the chemistry of this defensive line. Lucky for me, he likes it here in Tampa, and he enjoys playing for Todd Bowles and accepts my offer of $7.5 million to stay put.
Re-sign Breshad Perriman 2yr/$13M
I thought about letting him test free agency, but why do it? Arians’ offense isn’t an easy one to execute, especially for wide receivers, and he already knows it well. He earned a pay raise, and I give him one, even if it is slightly below his “market value” of $8.5M. I offer him $6.5 million to remain the Bucs third receiver, and he accepts.
Re-sign Carl Nassib 2yr/$8M
Some people don’t think “Crazy Carl” will be back this season, but in MY plan, he is. He could probably go out and get a little more money with another team, but he knows what he has here in Tampa and agrees to $4 million a year.
Re-sign Beau Allen 2yr/$7M
Similar to Nassib, he wasn’t expected back. But I think he’s a valuable part of this d-line rotation and needs to stay that way. He agrees to my $3.5 million offer.
Re-sign Kevin Minter 2yr/$2M
The Bucs aren’t very deep at inside linebacker, so it was important for me to keep Minter around. He filled in nicely for Devin White while he was out, and he’s a solid backup. He’s getting a small pay raise up to $1 million.
Re-sign Rakeem Nunez-Roches 1yr/$1M
“Nacho” is another guy who ended up being an important part of that interior d-line rotation. I decided to give him a small pay bump at $1 million to keep him around another year.
Re-sign Ryan Smith 2yr/$2M
He isn’t terrible to have as an emergency cornerback if someone gets injured and he’s a special teams ace, so I keep him around with $1 million.
Re-sign Earl Watford 2yr/$2M
The o-line needs some experienced depth. He offers that and the versatility to play every position across the line. He gets a slight pay bump to $1 million to stay a backup.
Re-sign Demar Dotson 1yr/$2.5M
He may not be my starter anymore, but he’ll make a hell of a reserve tackle. His paycheck might be going down, but at least he’ll be able to retire a Buc.
Re-sign Andrew Adams 1yr/$745K
I’m bringing back Adams because he knows the system and offers some added depth as a decent backup at a cheap price.
Re-sign Josh Wells 1yr/$945K
This guy had a shaky debut last season, but he improved as the season went on and earned himself another year.
Re-sign Peyton Barber 1yr/$1.5M
Even though I have other plans for the RB position, you can never have enough good horses in the stable. He’s taking a pay cut, but he’s strictly a depth signing at this point.
Tender Antony Auclair 1yr/$1.5M
With Howard in Indy, it’s important to keep Auclair in Tampa to keep some kind of depth behind Brate. I don’t see much of a market for him, so a slight pay bump should be enough to keep him in Tampa for one more season.
Re-sign Tanner Hudson 1yr/$745K
With Howard gone, it’s important to keep the rest of this tight end group together. Hudson showed some promise during the preseason last year, so he’s worth keeping around another year to see what he can do in his second season in Arians’ offense.
Sign Drew Stanton 1yr/$2.5M
Even though Griff is still under contract, it would probably put Bruce Arians at ease if he had a vet who was familiar with his offense to backup Jameis. Stanton played for him in Arizona for four seasons, so there should be a certain comfort level there.
Sign Morris Claiborne 2yr/$5M
The three starting cornerback jobs are in good hands with Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, and Sean Murphy-Bunting, but the Bucs need to add some depth and experience to this group. Claiborne does just that, plus he played for Todd Bowles with the Jets, so he’s already familiar with the system.
Sign Tony Jefferson 1yr/$5M
I was back and forth with this signing. He was originally drafted by Arians in Arizona and has a history with him, but there’s also speculation about the extent of the ACL injury he suffered in October. If he returns to form, then great. If not, then we’ll be able to cut him loose with no cap hit.
After all of that, I still have almost $9.5 million in cap space. I am figuring on about $8 million for draft picks, which still leaves about $1.5 million for overages. Now that free agency is done, it’s time for the NFL Draft where the Bucs now have eight picks in the first six rounds and six picks in the first four rounds. Let’s do this!
RD.1/PK.14- DT Jaron Kinlaw, South Carolina
I really needed an offensive tackle here, but the “big four” are already off the board. I decide to wait until the second round for that and go “best player available” here. That player is Kinlaw. Even though I re-signed Ndamukong Suh, he just turned 33 years old and won’t be playing much longer. It doesn’t hurt to go ahead and draft his replacement now.
OL Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU
The Bucs could use some more depth on the interior of their offensive line, and Cushenberry does just that. He played center for one of the best offensive lines in college football and has the ability to play guard as well.
RD.2/PK.45 (from Colts)-
OT Isaiah Wilson, Georgia
I decided to shore up the o-line here with my back-to-back picks in the second round and draft Demar Dotson’s replacement at right tackle. He’s a massive dude at 6’7″/340lbs but has unexpected quickness and athleticism to go along with his strength and power.
RB Zack Moss, Utah
I like Ronald Jones Jr. and think that he could be a feature back in Arians’ offense. However, BA likes the “running back by committee” method. I did re-sign Barber, but the Bucs need more. Moss is a compact battering ram that would make for a nice combination with Jones in the backfield.
RB/WR Antonio Gibson, Memphis
This is one of my favorite players in the draft this year. He’s listed as an RB, but he mostly played WR in college. He averaged 11 yards per carry and 19 yards per catch, so he will end up taking Ogunbowale’s spot as the Bucs new third-down back. Plus, with his size and ability, they can use him at WR, and he has experience returning kicks.
ILB Shaquille Quarterman, Miami
Even though I re-signed Minter in free agency, the Bucs could use some more depth behind Devin White and Lavonte David. Jack Cichy can’t be depended on with his injury history, and Noah Dawkins is still unproven. Quarterman gives them more quality depth and could end up being a special teams superstar as well.
RD.5/PK.144- LB/S Antoine Brooks Jr, Maryland
He may not be here this late, but I’m hoping he is. He’s a bit of a “tweener“, meaning he’s not quite big enough for a true NFL linebacker so that might scare off some teams. But I think he’s perfect to play that “money backer” position or nickel safety in Todd Bowles defense.
CB Stanford Samuels III, FSU
The starting cornerback spots are set, and we re-signed Ryan Smith and added Morris Claiborne for depth, but the Bucs could still use more. Samuels has great length and size (6’2″/190lbs) and outstanding ball skills.
So now, after all of this and excluding any undrafted free agents that I might bring in, this is what my roster would look like heading into training camp this year.
QB- Jameis Winston, Drew Stanton, Ryan Griffin
RB- Ronald Jones Jr, (R) Zack Moss, (R) Anthony Gibson, Peyton Barber, TJ Logan
WR- Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Breshad Perriman, Scotty Miller, Justin Watson, Spencer Schnell
TE- Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, Jordan Leggett, Tanner Hudson, Codey McElroy
OL- Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, (R) Isaiah Wilson, Demar Dotson, Earl Watford, Josh Wells, Zack Bailey, Brad Seaton, (R) Lloyd Cushenberry
DL- Ndamukong Suh, Will Gholston, Beau Allen, Vita Vea, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Pat O’Connor, Kahzin Daniels, (R) Javon Kinlaw
OLB- Jason Pierre-Paul, Carl Nassib, Shaq Barrett, Anthony Nelson, Quinton Bell
ILB- Devin White, Lavonte David, Kevin Minter, Noah Dawkins, Jack Cichy, (R) Shaquille Quarterman
CB- Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Ryan Smith, Morris Claiborne, Mazzi Wilkins, John Franklin, (R) Stanford Samuels
S- Jordan Whitehead, Mike Edwards, D’Cota Dixon, (R) Antoine Brooks Jr., Tony Jefferson, Andrew Adams
ST- Bradley Pinion, Matt Gay, Zach Triner
Well, that’s it. That would be MY roster heading into the 2020 season. Of course, there will be tweaks here and there with undrafted free agents and players who get released after the draft, but for the sake of this “Battle Plan“, this is MY team. So let me know what you think about it. Next week, ‘the fit will hit the shan’, and all hell breaks loose as the tag deadline comes and goes, and free agency starts. I can’t wait!
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!