February 26, 2021

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Double Down! Part 1: Buccaneers Free Agents

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DETROIT, MICHIGAN - DECEMBER 26: Chris Godwin #14 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers makes a seven yard reception for a touchdown during the second quarter of a game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on December 26, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

The Buccaneers season just ended with their historic Super Bowl win, but the start of the new league year is right around the corner. We’re not used to this as Bucs fans. Usually our season is over by the first week of January and we have to wait nearly 3 months until anything Bucs related is happening in the news. This year, we have less than a month until free agency opens up.

That’s a good thing.

It’s less time that we’re all sitting around waiting for something, anything to happen. After winning our second Super Bowl in franchise history, we’re all anxious to get this journey for number three underway. And that journey begins on March 17 at 4pm when NFL free agency officially opens.

The Buccaneers have 23 players set to be unrestricted free agents this off-season. More than half of those should be considered either starters or important role players for this team that need to be re-signed. For a few of them, it’s imperative.

Depending on what the salary cap drops to this year, the Bucs should have somewhere in the neighborhood of about $25 million in cap space to start. They can probably squeeze another $20 million or so out of their roster with restructures, extensions and releases IF they need it. But IF they want to bring this team back for an encore, Jason Licht and Mike Greenberg will have to work some serious magic with their calculators.

What I’ve done here is listed each Bucs free agent, along with some pertinent information about them and their contracts, and given MY opinion on whether they’ll be a Buc this season and what it might take to make that happen. I don’t have these listed in any particular order, but I will start with the big name free agents and work down from there. So, here it goes.

 

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

UNRESTRICTED free agents are players with four or more years of experience with expired contracts that are now free to sign with ANY team they want.

OLB SHAQ BARRETT

At 28 years old, Barrett is coming off of a season where he played under the franchise tag making $15.828 million. Even though his sack production dropped drastically from 19.5 in 2019 to just 8 in 2020, he did lead the NFL in total QB pressures. This one is complicated. He says he wants to come back to Tampa, but he’s also allegedly said that he needs to “break the bank” with this next contract. That makes me question his intentions since he’s aware of the Bucs salary cap situation. Mike Greenberg will have to get creative with this one in order to keep Barrett around and still give him the guaranteed money that he’s looking for over the next two or three years. The Bucs have a ton of cap space in 2022, so I’d look for them to give him some kind of backloaded contract where his salary is more cap friendly for 2021 but they make it up to him in the next year or two. My gut says he’ll probably be back, as long as he doesn’t get too greedy.

CONTRACT: 3yr/$54 million; $40 million guaranteed ($8M first year, $20M second year, $12M third year)

ILB LAVONTE DAVID

He may not be playing like it yet, but at 31 years old, David is getting up there in age for an inside linebacker. He just finished the final year of a 5 yr/$50.25 million contract where he totaled 117 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 6 passes defensed and 3 forced fumbles. In 9 seasons, he’s finished with less than 100 tackles just once in 2016. After suffering through numerous miserable seasons, multiple coaching changes and several different defensive schemes, he finally got the Super Bowl ring that he’s been wanting. And I don’t see him stopping there with one. He wants another. He’s a player who’s been smart with his money and he knows this team is special. He’ll be back for a repeat run, even if it means taking less money.

CONTRACT: 4yr/$30 million; $15 million guaranteed ($5M first year, $10M second year)

WR CHRIS GODWIN

The Bucs are probably going to take the easy way out with Godwin and slap him with the franchise tag. He’s about to turn 25 years old and just finished up his rookie contract where he made $2.3 million last season and finished with 65 catches for 840 yards and 7 touchdowns in 12 games. Since the franchise tag will bump him up to between $15-16 million for 2021, I don’t think he’ll complain too much. Next year, when they have the cap space, they’ll give him the long term contract that he deserves.

CONTRACT: 1yr/$15.5 million

TE ROB GRONKOWSKI

Gronk will be 32 years old in a couple months, but he’s feeling good. That time away from football must have done his body wonders (either that or the CBD) because he played all 16 games for the first time since 2011 and finished the season healthy for once. The Bucs want him back. He wants to be back. Rumor has it, he has never spent a dime of his NFL earnings and survived solely on his endorsement money. If that’s true, he’s got about $62 million stuffed in his mattress somewhere. And if that’s true, he won’t care what Tampa pays him to stick around for one more season with “Tommy Boy“. He’ll be back in 2021, and for way less than the $9.25 million he made last season.

CONTRACT: 1yr/$4 million

DT NDAMUKONG SUH

Even though Suh just turned 34 years young, he’s still going strong. Over his 11 year career, he’s only missed 2 games. He’s an iron man. He finished 2020 with 43 tackles, 9 tackles for loss and 6 sacks. The 9 TFL’s and 6 sacks both tied for fourth best of his career. He’s still productive. He still wants to play football. He wants to stay in Tampa. And I think he will. This guy’s has made almost $156 million over his career, $17.25 million of it over the last two years in Tampa. He’s made plenty of money over the years. Now he wants the hardware. He’ll stick around on a cap friendly deal for a chance at ring number two.

CONTRACT: 1yr/$4 million

RB LEONARD FOURNETTE

So this will be another interesting Bucs free agent to watch over the next month or two. “Lombardi Lenny” has allegedly stated that he’d like to stay in Tampa IF he doesn’t have to share the backfield or split carries. IF that’s the case, I don’t think Bruce Arians will go for it. Part of the reason he became “Playoff Lenny” in the first place was because he was sharing the backfield and splitting carries with Ronald Jones throughout the season, which kept him healthy and fresh legged for the postseason. He has since denied saying those comments. He only made $2.5 million last season. He might get a small pay raise from the Bucs, but if some other team is crazy enough to offer him $5-6 million per year then he may take the money and run. This will be another situation where the player will have to decide between less money and another run at a Super Bowl OR more money from another team.

CONTRACT: None

WR ANTONIO BROWN

This guy’s situation is even harder to figure out. With the possible off the field legal issues still playing out and all of the unknowns surrounding him, it’s almost impossible to estimate what the free agent market would be for him. He only played half the season (8 games) and he finished with 45 catches for 483 yards and 4 touchdowns, with another 2 touchdowns in the postseason. I could see the Bucs bringing him back IF he doesn’t chase a big payday somewhere else. Then again, if they don’t re-sign him, they still have Scotty Miller on this roster. Brown will turn 33 this summer, but he showed that he can still be productive with the ball in his hands. He’s made nearly $77.5 million over his career, but just $1.25 million of that came from the Bucs. IF he’s back, it will be at near league minimum with an incentive loaded one year contract.

CONTRACT: 1yr/$2 million

K RYAN SUCCOP

Call me crazy, but I think he’s one of the biggest priorities when it comes to the Bucs re-signing their own free agents. He has FINALLY kicked the Buccaneers kicking curse to the curb setting franchise records for points and field goal percentage last season, as well as going 9 for 9 on field goals and 12 for 13 on extra points in the postseason. They need to re-sign this guy. Even though he’ll be turning 35 this September, they have to bring him back. I’m sure it will be for a little more than the $1.025 million that he made last season, but to me it’s worth continuing to have the security of a solid kicker on this football team.

CONTRACT: 1yr/$1.5 million

OL JOE HAEG

Even though he dropped what might be his only chance at a touchdown catch in a Super Bowl, I think there’s a good chance that Haeg is back next season. He didn’t impress when he started at left tackle for Donovan Smith in Weeks 7-9, but he did a solid job in jumbo packages as the extra tackle. If they can get him back on a similar deal to the 1 yr/$1.5 million that he had last year, then I say keep him.

CONTRACT: 2yr/$3 million

DT STEVE MCLENDON

Even though he played pretty good filling in for Vita Vea, I don’t think McLendon will be back next season. He just turned 35 years old, which makes him the old man on this d-line. If the choice comes down to re-signing him or Rakeem Nunez-Roches, then the Bucs will likely go with a younger option instead.

CONTRACT: None

DT RAKEEM NUNEZ-ROCHES

Speaking of “Nacho“, he made $1.5 million last season. He also helped fill the void of the missing Vita Vea for most of the season and possibly earned another contract by doing so. I like the idea of bringing him back at the right price. However if he gets too greedy, then they should let him walk.

CONTRACT: 2yr/$3 million

CB RYAN SMITH

The Bucs re-signed Smith last year to a one year deal for $1.75 million. He’s been in Tampa since Jason Licht drafted him in the fourth round of the 2016 Draft. He’s a special teams superstar, but that’s it. He doesn’t add any depth to the secondary. It will be interesting to see if the Bucs still think the 27 year old (he’ll be 28 by the start of the season) gunner is worth the money or if they choose a younger, cheaper player to take on his special teams role.

CONTRACT: None

QB RYAN GRIFFIN

Griff has been with the Bucs in some capacity or another since 2015 and just completed a two year/$2.9 million contract. He made $1.645 million last season as a quarterback who’s thrown 4 passes total during his 8 year NFL career. They’ve kept him around Tampa for a reason. I’m not sure what that reason is, but they must like something about him. The reality is that he’s now a 31 year old, third string quarterback and if he wants to stay in Tampa he’ll need to accept whatever they offer him, which will probably be whatever his league minimum is.

CONTRACT: 1yr/$1 million

QB BLAINE GABBERT

So Jason Licht is on record during a recent interview saying that he doesn’t rule out Gabbert being Tom Brady’s heir apparent. Some people were quite shocked to hear this, but much like Griffin, the Bucs like him for some reason. He actually made less last year ($1.1875 million) as Brady’s backup than Griffin did as the third string QB. With both of them being 31 year old free agents, the Bucs have to make some kind of move here. I can see both guys coming back to Tampa, with Gabbert getting a slight pay bump and Griffin getting a small pay cut.

CONTRACT: 1yr/$1.5 million

TE ANTONY AUCLAIR

Unfortunately for him, he’s part of one of the deepest position rooms on this team and that will probably keep him from getting re-signed this year. With Gronk likely returning, Cam Brate probably sticking around (as long as he’s willing to take another pay cut), OJ Howard coming back from his injury and the emergence of Tanner Hudson, there’s no reason for the Bucs to spend valuable cap space bringing Auclair back. He’s only had 10 catches in four seasons in Tampa and he made $1.25 million last season.

CONTRACT: None

OL JOSH WELLS

He just turned 30 years old and has spent the last two seasons in Tampa where he’s started 3 games. He’s been a serviceable reserve o-lineman at best and very unimpressive in his starts. If it comes down to a decision between him or Joe Haeg, then it’s a no-brainer to me. I don’t see the Bucs bringing him back this season.

CONTRACT: None

ILB KEVIN MINTER

At 30 years old, Minter has been a solid free agent acquisition for the Bucs, especially when filling in for Devin White. He had a one year/$1.1875 million deal last season and I could see him coming back this season on a similar deal. The Bucs lack depth behind their two superstar linebackers so keeping Minter around would be a smart move.

CONTRACT: 2yr/$2.5 million

CB ROSS COCKRELL

This seven year NFL journeyman finally found a home here in Tampa with Todd Bowles defense. The Bucs would be crazy to let him go after the way he played last season. He made about $750K in 2020, so if he does come back he’ll likely command a little more money. But in my opinion, it would be worth it to keep that solid depth in their secondary.

CONTRACT: 1yr/$1 million

C AQ SHIPLEY

Q” will be 35 in May and has followed Bruce Arians from the Colts to the Cardinals and now to Tampa. Arians likes him a lot for whatever reason, although he has been a solid backup to Ryan Jensen during his time here. I’m on the fence with this one because he is a decent reserve, but at the same time he’s getting older and may not be worth the $1.05 million he made last season. It might be a smarter choice to spend the time and money developing one of their younger prospects, but you can’t disregard that connection with Arians.

CONTRACT: None

RB LESEAN MCCOY

This will probably one of the easier free agent decisions that the Bucs will have to make this off-season. Let him go. He’s going to be 33 years old this summer and the Bucs paid him $1.05 million for 10 games where he totaled 130 yards and zero touchdowns last season. Signing him last season was a good idea, but it turned out to be a waste of money.

CONTRACT: None

S ANDREW ADAMS

He’ll turn 28 years old just before the season starts. He has spent the last three seasons in Tampa where he’s added some veteran depth to an otherwise young, inexperienced secondary. He played on a one year/$1 million contract last season and I suspect the Bucs will bring him back on a similar deal.

CONTRACT: 2yr/$2 million

WR JAYDON MICKENS

Mickens returned punts and kickoffs for the Bucs, but had very little contributions to the offense. He’ll be 28 years old soon and while he only cost Tampa Bay $850K last season, I don’t think he’ll be back. The more sensible thing, in my opinion, would be to give Antonio Brown the Mickens money and have him return kicks.

CONTRACT: None

S DEONE BUCANNON

This is another one of Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles guys that have followed them to multiple teams. He’s been on and off the Bucs active and practice squad rosters over the last two years, but he’s now a free agent once again. He’s one of those players who has trouble fitting into some defensive systems but thrives in Bowles system for whatever reason. He’ll be 29 years old at the start of next season and could add some experienced depth to the linebacker AND safety groups IF the Bucs decide to bring him back at minimal cost to them.

CONTRACT: None

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Without getting too in depth, a RESTRICTED free agent is a player with three or more seasons whose contract has expired and is free to negotiate with other teams. However, his team has the option to match any incoming offer OR not match it and be compensated by possible draft picks.

ILB JACK CICHY

As much as I wanted this kid to get healthy and be a part of this Buccaneers team, it’s time to cut him loose. He’s only played in 16 games over three seasons and totaled just 5 tackles on special teams. His extensive injury history is just too much. As coaches say, the best ability is availability, and he doesn’t offer that.

CONTRACT: None

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

An EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS free agent is any player with fewer than three seasons whose contract has expired. They are only free to negotiate with other teams IF their current team does not offer them a one year contract for the league minimum.

TE TANNER HUDSON

Auclair’s misfortune could be Hudson’s saving grace here. He’s spent the last two seasons in Tampa making minimal money and jumping from practice squad to active roster and back again. I think they’ll bring him back at league minimum and give him a bigger role on this team than what he’s had to see what they have in him.

CONTRACT: 1yr/$750K

DE PAT O’CONNOR

At just 27 years old, I don’t know why the Bucs wouldn’t bring him back. He’s finishing up a two year/$1.23 million contract as a solid piece of the Bucs d-line rotation. He offers the versatility to play inside and outside in Todd Bowles system. He’s not a guy who loads up the stat sheet, but he’s good enough to keep around for depth.

CONTRACT: 1yr/$750K

G AARON STINNIE

If any player on this roster earned another contract, it’s this guy. He’s been in the league for three seasons and been on three different teams after going undrafted. He only played in 12 games over those three seasons until he got his first start in the divisional round of the 2020 playoffs against New Orleans. He was impressive filling in for right guard Alex Cappa in the Bucs final three games, including the Super Bowl. Tampa Bay is lucky in this situation because they’ll be able to retain Stinnie for next to nothing as an ERFA.

CONTRACT: 1yr/$750K

LS ZACH TRINER

This guy was consistent and steady all season long. When it comes to specialists like this, you keep good ones when you find them. And he’s been pretty good. He’ll be back for next to nothing.

CONTRACT: 1yr/$750K

 

That is the complete list of Buccaneers players that are now free agents for the 2021 season. I started with about $45 million in cap space and have roughly $51 million in re-signings. That’s just in straight base salaries. The Bucs front office knows all the tricks to make the numbers work with the different bonuses and structures and such. I’m not smart enough for all that math. I know it might not look like it, but the Bucs are in good shape this off-season. Bruce Arians and Tom Brady will convince guys to stay for less money for a chance at the repeat. Jason Licht and Mike Greenberg will work their miracles with the numbers. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will bring most of their Super Bowl winning roster back for the 2021 season. Stay tuned for the next installment of my off-season series where I’ll take a look at a few potential free agents the Bucs could bring in to help with their quest to repeat.

Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!

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