It’s finally April…NFL Draft month!
A lot of things have happened over the last few weeks since free agency began. The Bucs didn’t make the “big splash” that some fans wanted to see, but there’s good reason for that.
After recently restructuring Mike Evans contract (in which they converted some of his base salary into a roster bonus freeing up about $2.5M) the team should have around $5M in cap space. That’s nothing. They’ll need almost $10M just to sign their seven draft picks coming in. So, Jason Licht is going to have to make some tough decisions soon.
They could release reserve guard Evan Smith and free up another $2M. Maybe they could restructure center Ryan Jensen’s contract to free up a little bit. But to open up any significant amount of cap space whatsoever, there’s only two real options left on the table and Bucs fans won’t be happy about either of them. One way is to trade tight end Cam Brate. I don’t like the idea of getting rid of one of Winston’s favorite targets, but he is due $7M this season. The other way is to trade or release defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. I hate this idea too, but with him turning 31 years-old and due to make $13M this season it’s hard not to make this call. So without any further adieu, here’s my NEW & IMPROVED 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers battle plan for this offseason.
SIGN CB MORRIS CLAIBORNE
There’s a rumor floating around that the Bucs have already made him an offer for the vet’s league minimum (1yr/$1.5M) and he shot it down. Now the question is, how much more does Claiborne want and are the Bucs willing to pay it? I wonder if that’s the reason behind the Evans restructuring? Were the Bucs trying to free up a little more cap money to offer Claiborne? We should find out soon enough. I think they can get him on a 1yr/$3M deal.
TRADE DT GERALD MCCOY
Getting rid of McCoy’s $13M salary seems to be inevitable, unless he’s willing to drastically restructure his contract. The bad part is that I’m not so sure the Bucs will find a trade partner willing to give up a decent draft pick for him when this draft is so deep and talented with defensive linemen. My solution…the New York Jets.
Todd Bowles and the Bucs are very interested in getting current Jets linebacker Darron Lee on their roster. The Jets are apparently shopping Lee and looking for a third round pick for him. I don’t see that happening. I think they would probably get a fifth rounder, maybe a fourth if they’re lucky. But what if the Bucs offer McCoy for Lee straight up? They could use a disruptive interior lineman to help out Leonard Williams up front and they have the cap space to take on his $13M contract. In return, the Bucs get the LB they want who’s going into the final year of his rookie contract, which is much more cap friendly than drafting a LB with their #5 pick. I think it’s a win-win for both teams.
RESTRUCTURE C RYAN JENSEN’S CONTRACT
If the Bucs still need to create a little more cap room, this is definitely an option. Last year Jensen was signed as a free agent to a $10M per year deal, which made him the league’s highest paid center. Unfortunately for the Bucs, he didn’t play like it. If I was Jason Licht, I’d cut his base pay by $2M and change it to a performance based incentive bonus. That puts him at $8M, which still keeps him in the top 3 highest paid centers in the NFL and it would free up another $2M in cap space for the Bucs.
RELEASE G EVAN SMITH
This is coming soon. He’s 33 years-old this year and due to make $2M for the 2019 season. With the signing of Earl Watford, the Bucs now have six guards on their roster including Alex Cappa, Caleb Benenoch, Ali Marpet and Mike Liedtke. Each one of the other five are younger than Smith and all but Benenoch, who also makes $2M per year, are much cheaper. It seems inevitable that Smith will be released eventually.
SIGN RB TJ YELDON
The Bucs currently have five running backs on their roster. Bruce Arians seems to like Peyton Barber a lot. Ronald Jones is still a question mark. Andre Ellington didn’t even play football last year. And Shaun Wilson and Dare Ogunbowale are inexperienced and unproven. Needless to say, the Bucs could stand to add more talent to their backfield. Yeldon probably won’t be cheap though. His market value is estimated between $4-5M per year. However at 6’1″/225lbs, he offers David Johnson (who Bruce Arians drafted in Arizona) like size and dual threat abilities. Last season with Jacksonville, he was a backup but saw more action when Leonard Fournette went down with an injury and finished with 414 rushing yards, 487 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns while averaging about 7 yards per touch. Even though the Bucs signed Ellington to be their new third down back, they would be wise to add a guy like Yeldon anyway. Ellington was sitting on his couch out of football last season and there’s no guarantee that he gets back to form. If he doesn’t, the Bucs will need Yeldon to take over that third down role.
I’ve put out three mock drafts so far this offseason. The first was in my original 2019 Buccaneers battle plan. The second was my Mock 2.0 version with no trades. And the third was my Mock 2.0 version with trades. This will be my fourth mock draft and I made my picks for this one as if the Bucs did sign Claiborne and Yeldon in free agency, as well as getting Lee in the trade for McCoy before the draft. This mock also involves a trade where the Bucs send their 5th pick to the Cincinnati Bengals in exchange for their 11th pick of the first round, their 42nd pick in the second round, their 198th pick in the sixth round AND a 2020 fourth round pick. That’s about 1,800 points worth of picks in exchange for the Bucs 1,700 point pick. So here we go with my Buccaneers seven-round Mock 3.0 for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Rd.1-Pk.5: *TRADED TO BENGALS*
After 8 seasons and no playoff wins, Cincinnati finally decides to move on from Andy Dalton. They want their pick of this QB class (minus Kyler Murray of course) and want to jump ahead of the Giants at #6 to grab Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, so they call Jason Licht and make him an offer he can’t refuse. Bucs move from the 5th pick back to the 11th pick in the first round and end up with two extra picks in this draft.
Rd.1-Pk.11 (from Bengals): DL Christian Wilkins, Clemson- 6’3″/315lbs
I was tempted to take Ed Oliver of Houston here like I did in my last mock after his impressive Pro Day. However, I decided to go with Wilkins instead for a couple of reasons. First, I’m not sure that Oliver is still on the board at this point. Second, Wilkins offers more versatility than Oliver, which fits better in Todd Bowles defense. Not only could he replace McCoy at the 3-tech, but he can also play the 5-tech, nose and end.
Rd.2/Pk.39: OL Dalton Risner, Kansas State- 6’4″/315lbs
Bruce Arians seems to be focused on improving the Buccaneers offensive line and for good reason. They need to run the ball better and they need to protect Jameis Winston better. In my opinion, it starts on the right side. They did sign Earl Watford who is presumably the starter at right guard going into training camp, but Jason Licht also said that he thinks Alex Cappa is ready to “compete” for that position. I’m not convinced that either guy is the answer there. Risner is another guy who offers versatility to the Bucs with the ability to play multiple positions. He played right tackle in college, but started out as a center and could also play guard. If the Bucs can grab him, it gives them options not only at right tackle besides the aging Demar Dotson and the inconsistent Caleb Benenoch but at right guard as well. Even if he doesn’t win a starting job right away, he would end up adding quality depth on the o-line.
Rd.2/Pk.42 (from Bengals): DB Nasir Adderley, Delaware- 5’11″/205lbs
Versatility and speed are the theme for the Buccaneers in this draft. Adderley offers both. He primarily played free safety in college, but has the size and the speed to play nickel. With Vernon Hargreaves moving back outside, the Bucs could use another guy that can play inside. He’s one of the best safeties in this draft, but the fact that he can play nickel too is a bonus. He was very productive in his four year college career finishing with 226 tackles, 10 interceptions and 31 passes defensed.
Rd.3/Pk.70: Edge Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech- 6’4″/256lbs
I had Ferguson in my mock before and I kept him in for good reason. He’s another guy that offers some versatility for the defensive line with the ability to play on the edge or even inside as a pass rusher on third downs. There’s a possibility that he goes earlier than this, but I think he would be a steal in this third round.
Rd.4/Pk.107: RB Darrell Henderson, Memphis- 5’8″/210lbs
I’ve seen Henderson going anywhere from the middle of the second round to the late fourth round in most mock drafts. With the Bucs signing TJ Yeldon, they can afford to wait a little later to draft another running back and they’d be really lucky if he was still on the board at this point. He gives Bruce Arians another option as a third down back and could be an interesting offensive weapon for him to utilize much like Kareem Hunt or Alvin Kamara.
Rd.5/Pk.145: G Ben Powers, Oklahoma- 6’3″/307lbs
Powers seems to be a popular mid-round pick for the Buccaneers in a lot of mocks that I’ve seen. Right guard is a huge problem on this Buccaneers o-line and probably can’t be addressed enough this offseason. With Benenoch moving to reserve tackle, question marks surrounding Cappa and Watford being a journeyman guard, the Bucs might want to look for more help at the position. Powers could end up being starter eventually, but at worst he would add decent depth on their interior.
Rd.6/Pk.197: WR Andy Isabella, UMass- 5’10″/195lbs
Speed. He was one of the fastest wide receivers at the NFL Combine running a 4.3 forty. After becoming a full time starter his sophomore year, he totaled 229 catches for 3,519 yards and 30 touchdowns while averaging 15 yards per catch. Arians always says you can’t coach speed and he can never have enough of it on his roster. Isabella offers it and then some. He could add depth to the slot position, as well as provide kick/punt return capabilities.
Rd.6/Pk.198 (from Bengals): CB Clifton Duck, Appalachian State- 5’10″/180lbs
If Duck had a little more weight to his 5’10” frame, then he’d likely be a mid-round pick. In his three years at App State, he totaled 158 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 12 interceptions and 19 passes defensed. During his sophomore season, he allowed the 8th lowest QB passer rating among all draft eligible cornerbacks. The skill and the will is there, but his size might scare teams off until these later rounds. It may not bother the Bucs though who could be looking for a nickel corner in this draft.
Rd.7/Pk.215: ILB/OLB Ulysees Gilbert III, Akron- 6’1″/225lbs
After having four of their LB’s go down with season ending injuries last year, the Bucs might want to think about overloading that position a bit. Gilbert III is a smaller, hybrid type linebacker that can play inside or outside. He flew all over the field and was a tackling machine for Akron. He could add some versatile depth to the Bucs LB group, as well as contribute on special teams. After becoming a starter during his sophomore year, he totaled 346 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 8 passes defensed and 3 forced fumbles in his last three seasons.
Taking into account all of the offseason transactions that I’ve made here and that the Bucs have made up to this point, here’s a look at what the roster could look like going into training camp (not counting undrafted free agents or any other free agents signed after the draft).
Jameis Winston, Ryan Griffin, Blaine Gabbert
RUNNING BACK (7)
Peyton Barber, TJ Yeldon, Ronald Jones, Andre Ellington, Shaun Wilson, Dare Ogunbowale, Darrell Henderson (R)
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Breshad Perriman, Justin Evans, Bobo Wilson, Andy Isabella (R)
TIGHT END (5)
OJ Howard, Cam Brate, Antony Auclair, Donnie Ernsberger, Tanner Hudson
OFFENSIVE TACKLE (5)
Donovan Smith, Demar Dotson, Caleb Benenoch, Cole Boozer, Dalton Risner (R)
Ali Marpet, Earl Watford, Alex Cappa, Mike Liedtke, Ben Powers (R)
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4)
Vita Vea, Beau Allen, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu
DEFENSIVE END (4)
William Gholston, Christian Wilkins (R), Jeremiah Ledbetter, Jaylon Ferguson (R)
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (5)
Jason Pierre-Paul, Carl Nassib, Noah Spence, Shaq Barrett, Devante Bond
INSIDE LINEBACKER (7)
Kevin Minter, Darron Lee, Lavonte David, Deone Bucannon, Riley Bullough, Jack Cichy, Ulysees Gilbert (R)
Vernon Hargreaves, Carlton Davis, Ryan Smith, De’Vante Harris, David Rivers, Clifton Duck (R)
Justin Evans, Jordan Whitehead, Kentrell Brice, MJ Stewart, Nasir Adderley (R), Isaiah Johnson
SPECIAL TEAMS (5)
P Bradley Pinion, P Hayden Hunt, K Cairo Santos, K Phillip Andersen, LS Zach Triner
There you have it. My seven-round Buccaneers Mock Draft 3.0 in all it’s glory. This battle plan is a bit more realistic than my previous one. We’ll find out soon enough how close I am to what the Bucs actually do during the rest of this offseason. I may put out one more mock draft before the actual draft begins on April 25th depending on what the Bucs do between now and then so keep an eye out for that one.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!