It’s officially Bucs “Battle Plan” season!
Local sports writers who cover the Buccaneers have started releasing their off-season “Battle Plans” on what THEY think Tampa Bay should do over the next couple of months in order to make a run at a second straight Lombardi Trophy.
So what’s a “Battle Plan”?
It’s a step-by-step list of free agents you would sign or re-sign and free agents you would let walk, plus a full 7-round mock draft. It’s basically an outline of the off-season moves that you would make IF you were the General Manager of the Bucs. I’ve put one out every season over the last few years and apparently, it’s that time again.
This year’s “Battle Plan” is by far the most difficult one I’ve ever tried to put together. It normally takes a lot of time and thought, but this year is different than most for a number of reasons. First, the Bucs have a ton of their own free agents to re-sign and not much cap space to do it. They started with about $20 million in cap space. That was BEFORE placing the $16 million franchise tag on Chris Godwin AND re-signing Lavonte David to a new contract. Those two moves alone put them almost $5.5 million OVER the cap. There’s plenty of ways to “create” more cap room. They have a number of players that they can extend or restricture their contracts to free up money. Tom Brady was one of them. They extended his contract, moved some money around and created a whopping $21 million in cap space. That was enough to get a long term deal done with Shaq Barrett. He signed a 4yr/$72 million cap friendly contract that only has a $5.6 million cap hit for this year. That leaves them with just under $10 million in cap space, but like I said they can create more. Don’t worry, the Bucs are in a better financial situation than a lot of other teams around the league.
Second, with so many players to re-sign and so little money to re-sign with, it’s hard to gauge what their needs will be when it comes to the draft. In addition, I can’t remember the last time the Bucs didn’t have a glaring need to fill. There really are no holes in this roster, especially if they are able to re-sign a majority of their key free agents. They should be getting all 25 of their starters back and they have quality depth at almost every position. That’s not to say that they don’t “need” anything in the draft. It just makes it more difficult to concentrate on specific positions of need.
It’s a good problem to have, folks.
Third, the draft class evaluation process is almost impossible this year. Even if you did have specific positions you were looking at in this draft, you’d still have a difficult time evaluating players because so many players, teams and conferences opted out of playing last season. The lack of 2020 game tape on any of these players is frustrating. The NFL Draft was already a gamble as it is, but this year it’s going to be like choosing a number on the roulette table and hoping that little ball lands on it. Between the lack of film, the players time off, no NFL Combine and no face-to-face visits with players, teams will literally be throwing darts at a dartboard while blindfolded.
With all that being said, here is MY Buccaneers “Battle Plan” for this off-season.
***DISCLAIMER*** This “Battle Plan” is mine and mine alone. It is in no way affiliated with Bucs Life Media or any of it’s members and it in no way reflects the Tampa Bay Buccaneers plans for free agency OR the NFL Draft.
DEEZ BUCZ 2021 BATTLE PLAN
As I said earlier, we’ve got to create some more cap space somehow some way. So I’m talking to every one of my top 10 paid players to see what they’re willing to do to help out. Guys like Tom Brady, Donovan Smith, Ryan Jensen, Jason Pierre-Paul and Will Gholston are getting extensions. Others like Mike Evans, Ali Marpet and Cam Brate are getting restructures. In total, I free up about $40 million in cap space.
BUCS FREE AGENTS
The Bucs have 28 free agents going into this off-season, most of which are unrestricted. They have already re-signed Lavonte David to a 2yr/$25 million deal. They placed the franchise tag on Chris Godwin, which will pay him just under $16 million this season. And now they’ve re-signed Shaq Barrett. Those were the big three free agents. So, here’s what I’ve decided to do with the other free agents.
TE Rob Gronkowski- 2yr/$8 million
He wants to keep playing football and he ONLY wants to play with Tommy Boy right now, so he’s staying put. And since he has a ton of money stashed away, he does so for a bargain price.
DT Ndamukong Suh- 1yr/$4 million
Suh probably won’t be playing much longer and he’s been smart with his money, so he’s not trying to be greedy with this final contract. He stays on for one more season for a chance to end his career with back-to-back titles.
K Ryan Succop- 3yr/$6 million
The Bucs FINALLY have consistency at the kicking position and I’m not letting him leave town. He gets a raise with a long term deal.
OL Joe Haeg- 1yr/$1.5 million
Haeg could’ve played better at times, but if I’m choosing between him or Josh Wells then he’s the pick. He was not impressive as a starter, but he was good enough in jumbo packages to keep around.
DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches- 2yr/$3 million
“Nacho” was a valuable part of the Bucs interior d-line rotation and earned himself an extension and a small pay bump.
QB Ryan Griffin- 1yr/$1 million
I mean, why not at this point? The Bucs have been keeping this guy around for some reason, so I do too. Only this season, he’s making LESS than Tom Brady’s backup. He’s essentially an insurance policy just in case my draft doesn’t work out as planned.
QB Blaine Gabbert- 1yr/$1.5 million
Last season, Ryan Griffin made more dressing in street clothes every week as an inactive than this guy did as Tom Brady’s backup. Not this year.
LB Kevin Minter- 2yr/$2.5 million
He’s been a solid fill in for Devin White and is a valuable reserve linebacker. So I feel like he’s earned a little pay raise and a contract extension.
CB Ross Cockrell- 1yr/$1 million
He proved his worth as a reserve last season, so I’m keeping him around another year to see if he’s the real deal.
S Andrew Adams- 1yr/$1.5 million
As the oldest veteran in a young, inexperienced secondary, I’m keeping him around to keep that DB room under control.
G Aaron Stinnie- 1yr/$1 million
As good as he played filling in for Alex Cappa in the playoffs, I’m going to need to see more than three solid starts before I offer him a bigger contract. However, he did do enough to get a slight raise next year and come back to compete for that starting right guard spot.
TE Tanner Hudson- 1yr/$850K
I had to make a choice between him or Antony Auclair and I just think Hudson has more upside.
DL Pat O’Connor- 1yr/$850K
He continues to improve and be a solid piece of the Bucs d-line rotation playing inside and outside. He’s also a strong special teams player.
LS Zach Triner- 1yr/$850K
Keeping this group of kicking specialists together is high on the priority list for me and Triner is part of it.
RB Leonard Fournette
Even though he had a terrific playoff run, I still like RoJo better so I’m sticking with him as my primary back. Besides, I think “Playoff Lenny” chases a bigger payday than the Bucs can offer him somewhere else now that he has a Super Bowl ring.
WR Antonio Brown
I have a feeling that he’s going to chase the money if he gets any offers, so I’ll let him go. Besides, there’s just too many unknowns with him off the field right now to offer him a deal.
TE Antony Auclair
He’s just the unlucky victim in a crowded TE room. He’s a blocking tight end that doesn’t block that great. If I have to choose between him or Tanner Hudson, then I’m going with Hudson.
DT Steve McLendon
He didn’t play bad last season, but he is getting old and I feel like I can replace him in the draft.
CB Ryan Smith
This guy has been a special teams star since he got to Tampa, but that’s just not enough to keep him around anymore.
OL Josh Wells
I’ve never really liked the way he plays and it’s my team now, so he’s out of here. It comes down to a choice between him or Haeg, so I go with Haeg.
C AQ Shipley
Like McLendon, he’s getting up there in age and I can find a younger, cheaper replacement in the draft.
RB LeSean McCoy
He was a waste of $1 million last season and there’s no way I’m keeping him around.
WR Jaydon Mickens
Not only was he an unimpressive kick returner last season, but he just got arrested for felony gun possession so I’m not keeping him around. I’ll replace him in the draft as well.
S Deone Bucannon
Not really any explanation needed here.
LB Jack Cichy
As much as I had hoped he would get healthy and reach his potential with this team, he’s just too injury prone at this point.
FREE AGENT ADDITIONS
We don’t have much cap space left but luckily, we don’t have many more holes to fill on this roster. Unfortunately, where the Bucs could use some “new blood” is on the defensive line and that just happens to be where this year’s draft lacks exciting prospects. So I’m going to the free agent market to shore up the d-line. Here’s three guys that I would go after this year.
DE/OLB Trey Hendrickson- 3yr/$21 million
The Bucs could use another solid edge rusher to go with Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. I originally wanted Markus Golden here, but the Cardinals already re-signed him. Instead, I’m stealing one of the Saints best defensive free agents since they can’t afford him. He gives Todd Bowles another stud on the edge, which will allow JPP to slide inside more often to feast on interior linemen. Hopefully, he’s willing to accept a less than market value contract for a chance to play his former team twice a year and a Super Bowl ring.
DT Gerald McCoy- 1yr/$2 million
Yeah, that’s right haters, I did it. I’m bringing Gerald back to end his career in Tampa where it started. He’s made a ton of money, so I can get him cheap. And he likes the idea of playing in a rotation to ease up on the wear and tear of his body. At this point, he just wants to experience winning football. Why not bring him back for one last ride?
RB James White- 1yr/$2 million
After not re-signing Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy, the Bucs need a new pass catching threat out of the backfield. White fits that role perfectly. He’s got good size and speed combined with great hands and route running ability. He played about six years with Tom Brady in New England, so there’s a familiarity there already. He would make a nice complimentary piece to Ronald Jones II and at a decent price.
The Bucs end up with the last pick of the first round AND the last pick of the last round (Mr. Irrelevant) after winning Super Bowl LV. They originally had seven picks in this draft, with no sixth round pick and two seventh round picks, after a trade with Pittsburgh back in 2019 for offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins and the Steelers 2021 seventh round pick.
I like the idea of trading out of the first round in this draft, especially having that last pick. So the Miami Dolphins come calling in search of a third first round pick and I give it to them. The Bucs give up the 32nd pick and receive the 36th pick in the second round, the 123rd pick in the fourth round AND a 2022 fourth round pick. Now we have nine picks in this draft, including five picks in rounds 2-4. Here’s what I came up with.
WR Kadarius Toney, Florida
I know what you’re thinking. Why in the hell am I using my first pick of this draft on the strongest position of this team, right? Hear me out. The Bucs are going to be in BPA mode (Best Player Available) in this draft. And at this point, Toney could be it. Do they “need” another wide receiver? Well, kind of. I didn’t re-sign Antonio Brown or JaydonMickens so I do need to replace them with someone. Why not replace them with one of the fastest and most explosive receivers in this draft? At 5’11″/190lbs, he has 4.4 speed and has been described as “dynamic and dangerous with big time playmaking ability“. And he can return kicks and punts, which is one of this team’s only weak areas right now.
QB Kyle Trask, Florida
Here’s another shocker pick for you. Why a quarterback in the second round? Again, best player available. If Trask is still on the board this late in the second round, then why not pull the trigger? The Bucs don’t have a clear cut plan for life after Brady. Is it Gabbert? I doubt it. Griffin? Nah brah. There’s nothing. Well, now there’s something at least. At 6’5″/240lbs, Trask has the prototypical size that NFL teams are looking for in a quarterback. He has the arm talent and the football IQ to go along with his 4.8 speed and athleticism. Remember what the Packers did with Aaron Rodgers? They already had Brett Favre, but they drafted Rodgers in the first round and put him on the shelf for a couple years to learn from one of the greats. That seemed to work out okay for them. The Bucs could do the same thing here. Name a better QB intern program than spending the next two years looking over Brady’s shoulder and picking his brain.
DT Jared Goldwire, Louisville
Here’s where the Bucs BPA strategy falls in line with a position of need. With Suh and McCoy likely playing their final seasons, the Bucs need to find their eventual replacement. At 6’6″/305lbs, this dude is a massive run stopper with real pass rush potential. Again, we have a player with tons of potential with an opportunity to watch and learn from two of the best to ever do it in Suh and McCoy. Not a bad way to spend your rookie season if you ask me.
RB Demetric Felton, UCLA
Even though I signed James White in free agency to replace Leonard Fournette, I’m still intrigued by this guy. At 5’10″/200lbs, he has 4.4 speed and was listed as a wide receiver at UCLA, so he has great hands and is a solid route runner. White just turned 29 years old and he’s only on a one year deal. If this kid needs to learn how to be a third down back in the NFL, then he’ll have a pretty good teacher in White.
OT Stone Forsythe, Florida
Okay, I swear I’m not just picking Gators because I’m a Florida fan. It’s just how my BPA board is falling. And if this guy is still available then I’m taking him. At 6’7″/330lbs, he’s a massive human being with long arms who started at both right and left tackle at Florida. He could be the swing tackle of the future for Tampa Bay or maybe even the eventual replacement for Donovan Smith if he develops enough.
G Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater
I don’t know if this guy will last this long because he’s been shooting up draft boards since he dominated at the Senior Bowl, but I’m hoping he does. He’s right up the Bucs alley being from a D-III school. At 6’3″/320lbs, he has a nasty streak and tons of power. He almost exclusively played left guard in college. However, he got a shot at center in the Senior Bowl and was quite impressive. If he sneaks into this fifth round I would even consider trading up to get him, but I’ll stay put in this scenario and roll the dice. I like him as a reserve lineman with the potential to be Ryan Jensen’s eventual replacement.
DE Chauncey Golston, Iowa
After using five of my first six picks on offense, I decide to add some much needed depth to the d-line with the best DE left on the board. At 6’5″/270lbs, he has great size to go with his 4.8 speed. He offers the versatility of playing the five-tech or coming off the edge in Bowles system and is a solid run stopper at either position.
ILB Garret Wallow, TCU
If there’s any place this team lacks depth, it’s at inside linebacker. The Bucs may have the best LB duo in the league, but they don’t have much behind them besides Kevin Minter. They need to add some in this draft. At 6’2″/230lbs, Wallow fits with the kind of players Tampa likes. Team captain and field leader, hard worker, athletic with 4.6 speed, high football IQ and good instincts to go along with being a pretty good football player and a tackling machine. He may never be a starter, but he could end up being a really solid reserve and special teams star.
CB Elijah Blades, Texas A&M
Even though I re-signed Ross Cockrell, I let Ryan Smith walk in free agency, which means we have an open CB spot. I fill it here with a 6’2″/185lbs corner with 4.5 speed who plays with physicality in the run game and is a great blitzer off the edge. Not only does he add much needed depth at CB, but he has the size and speed to take over Smith’s role on special teams as well.
MY NEW ROSTER
Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin, Kyle Trask (R)
Ronald Jones II, James White, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Demetric Felton (R)
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, Kadarius Toney (R), Justin Watson
Rob Gronkowski, OJ Howard, Cam Brate, Tanner Hudson
Donovan Smith, Tristan Wirfs, Brad Seaton, Joe Haeg, Stone Forsythe (R)
Ali Marpet, Alex Cappa, Aaron Stinnie, Nick Leverett
Ryan Jensen, John Molchon, Quinn Meinerz (R)
Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Will Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Khalil Davis, Pat O’Connor, Jared Goldwire (R)
Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Trey Hendrickson, Anthony Nelson, Cam Gill, Chauncey Golston (R)
Lavonte David, Devin White, Kevin Minter, Garret Wallow (R)
Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Ross Cockrell, Herb Miller, Elijah Blades (R)
Antoine Winfield Jr, Jordan Whitehead, Mike Edwards, Andrew Adams, Javon Hagan
Ryan Succop, Bradley Pinion, Zach Triner
Well, there you have it, my 2021 off-season “Battle Plan” for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What do you think? Is there anything I should’ve done different? Any other free agents I should’ve went after? Any other draft picks that you like? Let me know what you think. I may try to come out with one more mock draft for you guys before April, but I feel pretty good about this one. NFL free agency opens up this week and then we have the NFL Draft about a month after. This season will be here before we know it…and I can’t wait!
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!