It’s that time of year, Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers 2018 season may be over (THANK GOODNESS!), but the 2019 offseason is just getting started. Right now, college players from all over the country are getting themselves prepared for the NFL Combine that starts on Feb. 26th. Then comes the beginning of NFL free agency starting at 4pm on March 13th. Then comes the 2019 NFL Draft which starts on April 25th. But before all of that can happen, teams have to decide which of their pending free agents they are bringing back and who they’re letting go.
In this article, the second of my Bucs offseason series, I will be diving into the list of Buccaneers free agents, who I think they could re-sign and who I think they could let go. I will also get into the salary cap numbers and some moves that could give them a bit more cap space to work with in upcoming free agency. So with any further adieu, let’s get started.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHT FREE AGENTS
These are players whose contracts have expired and who have two years or less in the league. Their original team must make them an offer by the league deadline of 4pm on March 13th, or they become an unrestricted free agent. Typically, these ERFA’s are undrafted players and/or practice squad players that teams wish to hang on to and develop. Tampa Bay only has two of these types of free agents.
OL Mike Liedtke
The 6’3″/305lb Liedtke is 27 years old and heading into his third season with Tampa after starting with the Miami Dolphins as a 2015 undrafted free agent. He has proven to be a versatile reserve offensive lineman for the Bucs in his time in Tampa playing both guard and tackle. He saw the most action of his career in 2018 playing in 9 games due to injuries. With guard Evan Smith becoming an unrestricted free agent, Liedtke could be in for a “promotion” should the team re-sign him. The guard situation might be the biggest question mark on the Bucs o-line so keeping him around at a relatively cheap price would probably be a smart move for the cap strapped Buccaneers.
S Isaiah Johnson
The 6’/209lb. safety finished 48 tackles and 1 interception in 15 games for 2018. The only thing that the second year player was consistent at was getting beat. He had an up and down season but the Bucs were forced into playing him due to injuries in their secondary. With Justin Evans, Jordan Whitehead and the emergence of free agent signee Andrew Adams the Bucs are looking pretty good at safety. However, I still think they’ll look to add a veteran to this group in free agency. If they do, then don’t look for the 26 year old Johnson to be back unless it’s on the practice squad.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
These are players with three years in the league whose contracts have expired and who are free to accept offer sheets from other teams. However, their original team has the opportunity to match any offer. The Bucs have seven players that fall into this category.
RB Peyton Barber
The 5’11″/225lb running back Barber performed well in 2018 finishing with 234 rushes for 871 yards and 5 touchdowns with limited touches. When I say “limited“, I mean limited. He never touched the ball more than 19 times in a single game. Imagine what he might be able to do with a full workload. The 24 year old Barber was one of the cheapest starting RB’s in the league this year earning just $630k. He’ll be back for the 2019 season, but the question is will he be the starter again? With Jacquizz Rodgers becoming an unrestricted free agent and Ronald Jones having a very disappointing rookie year, the Bucs will be looking to add some more talent to their backfield. They don’t have a choice. But will they do it free agency or in the draft? Either way, Barber should be back in some kind of role with the Bucs.
S Andrew Adams
Adams was an undrafted free agent out of Connecticut for the New York Giants in 2016 and played in 30 games and starting in 17 of them. He was waived during final cuts in 2018 and Tampa Bay signed him to replace Chris Conte who suffered a knee injury and ended up on IR. At 5’11/205lbs, the 26 year old Adams found a place in the struggling Bucs defense and finished the season as the starter when Justin Evans also got injured. His 4 interceptions led the team and might have been enough to earn him a new contract going into next year.
CB Javien Elliott
He has spent three seasons in Tampa after being undrafted out of Florida State in 2016. The 5’11″/176lb Elliott has had an up and down career with the Bucs going from practice squad to active roster to waived to back on the practice squad. But he somehow continues to find his way on to the roster and getting significant playing time due to injuries. He’s played in 30 games at corner and nickel over the last 2 years and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him back in camp to compete for a spot once again this summer.
CB De’Vante Harris
Harris joined the Bucs in September after being waived by the New Orleans Saints. The 5’11″/190lb corner played decently for the Bucs after coming off of IR. With Brent Grimes gone, this group of Bucs corners is young and the 25 year old Harris is already headed into his fourth NFL season so he’s one of the more experienced CB’s on the team. It’s hard to guess who’s staying and who’s going since the new coaching staff will be implementing a new defense, but I can see Harris being in the mix come training camp.
OT Leonard Wester
At 6’6″/305lbs, Wester has good size for an offensive tackle and he has developed over his first three years in Tampa. He has spent most of his time here going from practice squad to active roster and back again, but finally got his first NFL start in December when Demar Dotson was out and he played well. He’s 26 years old and plays both right and left tackle. His versatility gives him a good shot at being brought back to compete for a reserve tackle role on what might be a new look Buccaneers offensive line.
OLB Devante Bond
Bond has spent the last three injury riddled seasons in Tampa Bay after being selected in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. When he’s on the field, he’s a solid special teamer. In fact, he led the Bucs in ST tackles in 2017. However with this new defense coming in, the Bucs LB corps could have a completely different look to it and the 25 year old Bond may not have a place in it. At 6’1″/236lbs, he’s a bit of a tweener to play in a 3-4 defense. I don’t think he’ll be back for 2019, but it’s hard to say what will happen with this new staff and system.
TE Alan Cross
His fate may have already be decided. Even though he hasn’t completely ruled out returning to the Bucs this summer, Cross has agreed to take a graduate assistant coaching position at his alma mater Memphis and claims that he’s retiring from football at just 25 years old. The 6’1″/235lb tight end has been a “blue collar” type player for the Bucs playing in 36 games over the last three seasons with 7 starts totaling 13 catches for 105 yards and 1 touchdown.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
A majority of the Buccaneers free agents this offseason fall into this category. UFA’s are basically players whose contracts have expired and are free to talk and/or sign with any team that offers them a contract, including their original team. There’s too many players in this group to go through individually so I’ve put them each into groups of who I don’t think will be back and who I think the Bucs will try to re-sign.
LB CAMERON LYNCH
DE RAKEEM NUNEZ-ROCHES
CB JOSH SHAW
ILB COREY NELSON
RB JACQUIZZ RODGERS
S CHRIS CONTE
LS GARRISON SANBORN
CB BRENT GRIMES
QB RYAN FITZPATRICK
All of these players are either old as dirt (Grimes, Fitzpatrick & Sanborn) or they just didn’t have a big enough impact to warrant being brought back. If anyone has a shot at being brought back it might be Cameron Lynch who is a very solid special teamer and decent reserve LB. Otherwise, I think that Arians will have this roster going out with the old and in with the new. Meaning that the players on this team over 30 could be gone. He wants young talent that his coaches can teach and mold, not older players who are too set in their ways to be coached.
LB KEVIN MINTER
I’m fairly confident that Minter will be back with the team for 2019. He spent 2013-16 in Arizona with Arians then was in training camp with the Jets last summer before signing with the Bucs in October. He totaled 175 tackles in his last two years with the Cardinals so he has the potential to be productive under Arians. If nothing else, he adds solid depth to the LB corps at a reasonable price.
WR ADAM HUMPHRIES
Maybe this one is just wishful thinking because I’d love to see Hump back in Tampa for a few more years at least. Rumor has it that his agent is asking for something close to $8 million per on his new contract, which is a ton of money for a 3rd/4th WR. I’m hoping that his desire to stay in Tampa with his roommates Cam Brate and Ryan Griffin will compel him to re-sign with the Bucs for a hometown discount. If they can get him for about $6.5 million, then that seems a bit more reasonable.
K CAIRO SANTOS
I think Santos earned a new contract after going 14 for 18 (78%) on field goals, never missing under 40 yards, and 22 of 23 extra points for the Bucs in 2018. It’s the least that Jason Licht could do since it seems Santos has finally brought some kind of consistency and stability to the Bucs kicking game.
UP IN THE AIR
LB Kwon Alexander
This is a toughy. If Kwon really is looking for a new contract in the $10-12 million per range, then it’s not likely that he’s around for 2019. That’s Luke Kuechly kind of money. And as much as I love Kwon and what he brings to the table…he’s no Luke Kuechly. He would probably be very productive in Bowles hybrid 3-4 scheme, but unless he’s willing to take less money coming off of that serious knee injury, he’ll be playing elsewhere next year.
LT Donovan Smith
This is another sketchy situation for the Bucs. Apparently, Smith is looking for top 5 offensive tackle money for his new contract in the $12-15 million per range. The problem for the Buccaneers is that Smith is NOT a top 5 offensive tackle. In fact, he allowed the fourth most QB pressures of all offensive tackles in 2018 according to ProFootballFocus.com which means he’s quite the opposite. The Bucs could use their franchise tag on him which would cost them around $12 million. It would give this new coaching staff a year to wipe away George Warhop’s bad coaching tips and see if they can get any more out of him than the previous staff. Another reason to keep him around is because the free agent left tackle market is garbage this year. So much so that should Smith hit the open market, he’d likely be one of the best if not the best LT available. There is the draft, but I think they’ll probably be looking for a new right tackle there so their best bet is to keep Smith in town for a decent price and see what happens.
LB Adarius Taylor
Taylor filled in nicely after Kwon Alexander went down with a season ending knee injury finishing with 60 tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception on the year. He would add good depth to the LB group and would probably be very productive on special teams and as an inside linebacker in Bowles system.
QB Ryan Griffin
This one I’m not too sure about. At 29 years old, Griffin has yet to take a snap in a regular season NFL game. He’s going into his 6th season, 4th in Tampa, and made $1.375 million last year. I’m not sure how Arians feels about Griffin or his inexperience, but as of right now there’s a big question mark hanging over his head. I personally think that Griff would be good in Arians system and he’d be much cheaper than any free agent QB that’s on the market.
SALARY CAP SITUATION
For the first time in a long time, the Buccaneers are entering an offseason “strapped for cash” as far as the salary cap is concerned. Jameis Winston’s fifth year option is costing them nearly $21 million. Mike Evans is set to make $20 million next season. And Jason Pierre-Paul is getting paid almost $15 million for 2019. That’s three players that account for about 30% of the 2019 salary cap of a 53-man roster. Throw in Gerald McCoy’s $13 million and DeSean Jackson’s $10 million for next season, and that cap room number starts looking pretty low. As it sits right now, the Bucs would have around $12 million in cap space to work with this offseason. That’s barely enough to sign their upcoming draft picks! They are going to have to make some roster moves and a few tough “business decisions” in order to clear up enough money to get anything done this offseason. So let’s talk about some of those moves.
Let me start this section by saying…
I LOVE GERALD MCCOY!
He’s been one of my favorite players since he arrived in Tampa and he’s a really nice guy to boot.
Now with that being said…he’s gone.
He’ll be 31 years old heading into the 2019 season and that $13 million price tag is awfully big for the broke Bucs. I’d love to see Jason Licht and Mike Greenberg work some magic on a new cap friendly contract if Gerald is willing to restructure his current deal, but I don’t see that happening. And if it doesn’t, I hope he goes to a contender and finally gets himself a well deserved ring.
Bruce Arians recently made a statement that he’d like to have Jackson back for 2019.
I’m not buying it.
He may be one of the best deep threats in football, but he’s also a high maintenance, diva like wide receiver who’s a cancer in the locker room. That combined with his hefty $10 million price tag makes him an easy cut for me. I think Arians was just trying to show interest in keeping him to drive up his trade value in case they try to deal him. There are too many other cheaper, speedy wideouts on the free agent market to keep this guy in Tampa. Besides, he obviously had no intention of returning for next season since he had his Tampa home sold before Week 17 of the 2018 season. He’s gone and good riddance!
I like Curry, but that $8 million is way too much money to pay for a guy who lost his starting job to Carl Nassib. He didn’t play bad in 2018, but he’s too pricey for a 30 year old rotational d-lineman who totaled 21 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 12 games played.
The biggest issue on the Bucs current o-line is right guard. However, the position of right tackle may not be far behind. Dotson will be 34 years old in October and had an up and down season coming off of his MCL surgery. Arians has put together a coaching staff full of experienced teachers and I think their goal this offseason is to fill the roster with young talent that they can teach and develop. Dotson does not fall into that category. I see the Bucs releasing him and his $5 million contract and finding his replacement in the upcoming draft since the offensive tackle free agent market is so thin this year.
Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to this team and it’s offseason moves. The coaching staff is completely different and I look for the roster to be much different as well. The d-line will definitely be getting a face lift and Allen could be one of the casualties. I like Beau and what he brings to the defense. But when you consider that the Bucs paid him $5 million for 20 tackles and zero sacks and that the dude lost his starting job to rookie first round pick Vita Vea, it’s not hard to imagine him not returning next season.
This might be the biggest no brainer decision for Jason Licht in this entire offseason. Unrein suffered what was apparently the worst concussion in human history in training camp and never saw the field in 2018. The Bucs will absolutely release him and put that $3.75 million towards some other free agent rotational defensive lineman.
As good a punter as Anger is, that $3 million is probably too rich for the Bucs empty pockets. Interestingly enough, the team did sign a rookie punter from Colorado named Hayden Hunt. If he’s even close to the caliber that Anger has been in recent years, the Bucs may make the change to the younger and cheaper Hunt.
Smith was part of the problem at right guard last season until he got hurt and ended up on IR. He’ll be 34 this summer and if the Bucs do in fact want to get younger this offseason, then Smith will not be back.
If these cuts are made, it frees up approximately $50 million in cap space giving them approximately $62 million or so go shopping. And they’re going to need it heading into free agency.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s a bunch of players to replace, right?Much like the coaching staff, this roster is in for an overhaul. With new systems on offense and defense, Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles will want to bring in players who are familiar with those systems to speed up the transition. And after these players are gone, they’ll have some money to do it. Stay tuned for the second part of my offseason series on free agency where I’ll dive into the free agent market to see who might be a good fit for the Bucs and their new systems.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!