Well, here we are. In a couple of days, the 2018 NFL free agency period begins and so will the frenzy. This has turned into an important offseason for the Buccaneers. After finishing a promising 9-7 in 2016, the expectations were through the roof for 2017. Those expectations were not met.
Not even close.
A 5-11 record last season had Bucs fans calling for heads to roll amongst the coaching staff. When that didn’t happen as expected, Jason Licht became the target of criticism. Some think that this is a make or break season for anybody and everybody at One Buc not named Glazer.
Maybe. Maybe not. Only time will tell.
One thing is clear though. Jason Licht is not panicking. He’s simply going about his business as general manager. Bucs fans have been sitting back over the last couple of weeks watching other teams making trades and getting better, which leaves them asking the question “Why aren’t the Bucs doing anything???”. With a glaring need for improving their pass rush and secondary, the Bucs have stood by and watched the Rams trade Robert Quinn to the Dolphins for nothing, the Seahawks trade Michael Bennett to the Eagles for too much, the Broncos trade Aquib Talib and the Chiefs trade Marcus Peters to the Rams. We’ve watched the Browns make 17 trades in one day and single-handedly change the face of the draft. All of these moves being made and all the Bucs seem to have done is sign a camp body RB, re-sign their 35-year old backup QB and lock up Mike Evans for 5 more years. So what is Licht waiting for? Why aren’t the Bucs making any moves? Nobody outside of One Buc really knows the answer.
The fact is that Licht knows what he’s doing and that’s all that matters. Quinn has an injury history. Bennett was too costly since the Seahawks wanted a 5th round pick AND wide receiver Chris Godwin. There are reasons why Licht didn’t make these moves. Good reasons. Even if we as Bucs fans don’t want to hear them. Every time a player is released or comes up on the trading block, Bucs fans start crying “SIGN HIM NOW!”. I’m sure that every team’s fan base does the same thing, but Bucs fans seem to be the worst. Maybe it’s because we’re so desperate to win that anything sounds like an improvement over what the team has now. Hell, I’m guilty of it myself. After the last couple of weeks, I’ve wanted to go knock on the front door at One Buc and yell out “Hello, is anyone still in there?”.
The truth is that most teams can’t fix all of their problems in one offseason. Free agency is for filling holes. The draft is for building rosters. Contrary to some Bucs fans opinions, Licht is pretty damn good at both. Has he had some misses here and there? Sure. The Aguayo Experiment is probably the biggest. No GM hits on every draft pick and every free agent signing every year, but Jason has been better than most at filling his team’s roster with talent. Just do some research and you’ll see for yourself. That being said, it doesn’t hurt for us amateurs to have a little fun acting as a GM for a day.
So since the boys over at Pewter Report published their own “battle plans” for this offseason, I thought that at least one of us here at What The Buc should do the same. There were things that I liked and disliked in all three of PR’s so I think that mine is a good mixture of some of their better ideas and a few of my own. Let’s get this party started, shall we…
FREE AGENTS NOT BEING RE-SIGNED
T.J. Ward– He may have been a Pro Bowler in Denver, but he never quite meshed with the Bucs defense. Whether it was due to his split playing time or simply the scheme, it’s of no matter now. He’s played his last down as a Buc.
Evan Smith– The old vet spent 2017 splitting time as the starting left guard with Kevin Pamphile and ended the year giving up sacks at right guard when Sweezy went on IR. His versatility was valuable, but not enough to make up for his poor performances. He’s gone.
Joe Hawley– I’m still a bit perplexed by this one but what’s done is done. I would’ve kept the veteran backup center around simply because he’s a valuable leader in the locker room and on the field but apparently, the Bucs didn’t share that opinion.
Sealver Siliga– He’s a gap filling, run-stuffing defensive tackle and essentially the same exact player as the younger, cheaper second-year player Stevie Tui’kolovatu.
Garrison Sanborn– The Bucs would like to get younger at longsnapper. That’s all.
Justin Trattou– He was injured early in the year and never had a chance to really compete.
Kevin Pamphile– He screwed himself by underperforming in a contract year. The Bucs have to get better up the middle and this is the best place to start.
Patrick Murray– His lack of leg strength costs the team too much. His FG% over 50 yards isn’t good enough and his percentage of touchbacks on kickoffs is way too low.
Doug Martin– This was no surprise to anyone. He was the only Bucs running back to not average more than 3 yards per carry.
Will Gholston– I know he was just re-signed last offseason, but he made $6.5 million in 2017 and it got the team 36 tackles and zero sacks. The Bucs have a pass rush problem which doesn’t help the run stop specialist’s case. His release saves them money towards the salary cap.
J.R. Sweezy– He was signed in 2016 and didn’t see the field until 2017 due to a back injury. Maybe he was simply rusty from his long vacay, but the Bucs don’t feel like wasting any more time or money to find out. His release saves them $4 million towards the salary cap.
Unrestricted Free Agent Re-Signings
Brent Grimes– 2 yr/$16 million: At 34-years old, he decides to finish his NFL career in Tampa and gives the Bucs a little stability in their secondary.
Clinton McDonald– 2 yr/$5 million: The team sack leader from 2017 is back in Tampa, but this time in more of a rotational role which should benefit the aging vet.
Keith Tandy– 1 yr/$1.25 million: He brings veteran leadership and dependability back to his role as a backup safety and special teamer.
Robert McClain– 1 yr/$1.25 million: He did well in his role as the Bucs nickel corner and adds some stability to a shaky cornerback group.
Will Clarke– 2 yr/$1.5 million: He didn’t play well enough to warrant much of a market in free agency, but he did do enough stick around in his role as a rotational defensive end.
Charles Sims– 3 yr/$4 million: Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Despite what some Bucs fans think, Chuck averaged over 4 yards per carry and nearly 8 yards per reception in 2017. He’s well worth keeping as a solid third down back.
Restricted Free Agent Re-Signings
Cameron Brate– 5 yr/$35 million: The Bucs sign their #1 TE to a contract worthy of a top player at his position. The $7 million is comparable to Greg Olsen’s $7.5 million a year.
Adam Humphries– 3 yr/$4.5 million: Hopefully, it’s enough to keep him in Tampa as their fourth wide receiver. He’s solid, reliable and doesn’t mind doing the dirty work.
Peyton Barber– 1 yr/$1.25 million: He’s an exclusive rights free agent and he’s definitely earned a contract offer and a little pay raise. He’s a solid running back and the Bucs coaches seem to like him.
Free Agent Signings
Andrew Norwell– 5 yr/$55 million: He’s my #1 free agency target and for good reason. Plugging him in at left guard to replace the recently departed Pamphile instantly improves the Bucs offensive line and frees them up from the “need” of drafting Quentin Nelson with their 7th pick.
Carlos Hyde– 2 yr/$7 million: The former 49er running back adds some more fire power to the Bucs backfield and also gives them some leeway when considering a back in the draft.
Vinny Curry– 3 yr/$30 million: After being released by the Eagles, the Bucs quickly snatch up one of the best defensive ends still on the market. He’s a solid run defender but also adds some pass rush ability in place of recently released Will Gholston.
Dontari Poe– 3 yr/$18 million: After wasting away in Atlanta for a season where he did have a decent year, he comes to his senses and comes to Tampa to play next to Gerald McCoy. He’s an improvement over the dearly departed Chris Baker.
E.J. Gaines– 2 yr/$16 million: I originally had Richard Sherman as the Bucs free agent corner but John Lynch and his Niners threw a wrench in that. It could be a blessing in disguise as the Bucs end up getting a younger, cheaper corner to play opposite Grimes.
Chris Boswell– 3 yr/$7.5 million: As much as I like Pat Murray, the Bucs have to solidify their kicking game. Boswell is a restricted free agent with the cap-strapped Steelers, so if the Bucs can offer him the $2.5 million that they spent on kickers in 2017 I don’t think Pittsburgh would be able to match it to keep him. The Bucs end up with a young, clutch kicker with a strong leg to help with those 50+ yard field goals and touchbacks.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. The Bucs end up with 10 picks after a blockbuster trade with the Buffalo Bills. They end up exchanging first and second round picks as well as picking up another fourth-round pick.
Rd 1, Pk #21: DE Marcus Davenport/Arden Key– The Bucs still need some help on the edge and these two could be my highest rated ends on the board since Chubb is long gone. Davenport is 6’6″/265lbs and raw, but as physically gifted as any player in the draft. He could be the perfect project for new defensive line coach Brenson Buckner. Key is 6’6″/240lbs but has had some off the field issues and had it not been for that he might have been a top 10 pick. Instead, he falls to late in the first round.
Rd 1, Pk #22: RB Sony Michel/Nick Chubb– Despite signing Hyde and re-signing Barber and Sims, the Bucs could still use some more talent in the backfield. Luckily for them, one of the Georgia standouts should still be on the board at #22 for them. Michel is 5’11″/220lbs and ran a 4.54 forty at the Combine. Chubb is 5’11″/230lbs and ran a 4.52 forty at the Combine. I’ll take either one at this point, but Michel is the better all around back.
Rd 2, Pk #53: DT Taven Bryan– The Bucs could still use some depth on the d-line so if Bryan is still available here it’s a no brainer pick. At 6’4″/290lbs, he has the power and get off to play inside and the speed and athleticism to play outside. He would add versatility to a Bucs d-line that needs it.
Rd 3, Pk #69: S Justin Reid– Since the Bucs didn’t sign a free agent safety to replace TJ Ward, they’ll need to do so in the draft. There’s a good chance Reid is gone at this point, but if not the Bucs should jump all over him. The younger brother of the Niners star safety Eric Reid is 6’1″/205lbs and ran a 4.4 forty at the Combine. He’s intelligent, athletic and fast with good size, great instincts and ball hawking skills. Pairing him up with Justin Evans gives the Bucs a really talented duo at the back end of their secondary for years to come.
Rd 4, Pk #108: OT Alex Cappa– The Bucs could use some quality depth on the o-line, especially at tackle. This guy impressed me at the Combine. At 6’7″/305lbs, he’s powerful and athletic and could be the potential replacement for Demar Dotson at right tackle in the future.
Rd 4, Pk #121: LB Shaquem Griffin– The Bucs decided not to re-sign Adarius Glanton for some reason so they now have a need for linebacker depth. What better way to fill that hole than with this kid? One handed or not, at 6’1″/230lbs he ran a 4.38 forty at the Combine and is an athletic, intelligent football player. He’s an inspirational team leader type with the versatility to play off the ball or come off the edge as a pass rusher.
Rd 5, Pk #144: G/C Frank Ragnow– Since the Bucs aren’t bringing Evan Smith or Joe Hawley back, they actually have no other centers under contract besides Ali Marpet. They’ll have to add one at some point this offseason and if Ragnow is still there in the fifth round, he’d be a great pick. At 6’5″/310lbs, he has quick feet and athleticism to go along with his size and power. He was a three year starter and team captain who brings a physicality to the position. My plan would be to move Marpet back to right guard and have Ragnow start at center.
Rd 6, Pk #180: G/C Will Clapp– Yes, that’s two interior offensive linemen in a row. Releasing Sweezy and not re-signing Pamphile or Smith left the Bucs with Norwell, Marpet and Liedtke as the only guards under contract. He has great size at 6’5″/315lbs and he’s smart, a hard worker and a great teammate. He would add depth and versatility to the Bucs o-line.
Rd 6, Pk #202: CB Dane Cruikshank– Even though the Bucs now have 7 cornerbacks on the roster, they could add this versatile defensive back to the group to push players like Ryan Smith, Javien Elliott and Maurice Fleming in training camp. That’s where this 6’1″/205 lb DB comes in. He ran a 4.41 forty at the Combine and is considered a height, weight, speed guy with great ball skills. He’s athletic, quick and a big hitter who’s better at run support than he is at coverage. He’ll probably fit better as a nickel corner or even strong safety.
Rd 7, Pk #255: WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling– The Bucs don’t necessarily “need” a wide receiver in the draft, but they could stand to add some size to their group. At 6’4″/205lbs, he ran a 4.37 forty and put up 19 bench reps at the Combine. Another one of those height, weight, speed prospects who had more than 26% of his catches go for 25 yards or more (and it would’ve been even more if his QB had been more accurate on deep balls). He’s a bit of a project and has a lot to learn, but who better to watch and study in the game right now than Mike Evans? He may not make an immediate impact but might be a good option for the practice squad.
So after spending about $65 million on free agents and another $10 million signing draft picks, I should still have roughly $8 million in cap space left and my roster would look like this at the start of training camp:
QB- Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RB- Carlos Hyde, Nick Chubb/Sony Michel (R), Peyton Barber, Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers
OT- Donovan Smith, Demar Dotson, Alex Cappa (R), Leonard Wester, Brad Seaton, Caleb Benenoch
G/C- Ali Marpet, Andrew Norwell, Frank Ragnow (R), Will Clapp (R), Mike Liedtke
TE- Cameron Brate, OJ Howard, Antony Auclair, Alan Cross
WR- Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries, Freddie Martino, Bobo Wilson, Marquez Valdes-Scantling (R)
DT- Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Clinton McDonald, Stevie Tui’kolovatu, DaVonte Lambert, Taven Bryan (R)
DE- Vinny Curry, Robert Ayers, Noah Spence, Channing Ward, Marcus Davenport/Arden Key (R), Will Clarke
LB- Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, Kendell Beckwith, Shaquem Griffin (R), Devante Bond, Riley Bullough, Jeff Knox, Nigel Harris, Eric Nzeocha
CB- EJ Gaines, Vernon Hargreaves, Brent Grimes, Robert McClain, Josh Robinson, Javien Elliott, Ryan Smith, Maurice Fleming, Dane Cruikshank (R)
S- Chris Conte, Justin Evans, Keith Tandy, Justin Reid (R), Isaiah Johnson
P- Bryan Anger. K- Chris Boswell, LS- Drew Ferris
After it’s all said and done, I re-signed nine of the Bucs free agents, another six free agents from other teams, and drafted ten new players. I added players at each position of the offense and defense with the exception of the quarterback and tight end positions. I may not have fixed all of the problems, but it would be damn close. The Bucs aren’t as far “off” as some people think despite their 5-11 season. They lost 7 games decided by 6 points or less. A touchdown here or a defensive stop there and the 2017 Buccaneers could’ve been a 12-4 football team and in the playoffs with a first round bye. They’re right there, folks. Hopefully, an offseason like this could put them over the top and get them winning again.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!
***THIS BATTLE PLAN IN NO WAY REFLECTS THE INTENTIONS OR OPINIONS OF THE TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS ORGANIZATION OR ANYONE ASSOCIATED WITH THEM. THIS IS FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!***