Jason Licht has shown that he has a savvy and shrewd business mind in his first few months as GM of the Buccaneers. He was not going to pay the inflated non-guaranteed salaries of some of the players he inherited. Darrelle Revis, no way. Donald Penn, not worth it. Davin Joseph, why bother. Mike Williams, "burned" that bridge. Jeremy Zuttah, don't want to play guard - get out. Dakota Watson, go get your money elsewhere.
Instead he chose to use that money to fill those positions with better fits or younger "value" guys like Alterraun Verner, Anthony Collins, Evan Dietrich-Smith, and Mike Evans. Additional spending was used to reinforce Lovie's all-important defensive line by signing Michael Johnson and Clinton McDonald. Along with other notable draft picks and free agents rounding out the roster restructure, Mr. Licht has turned positions of weakness in the past to possible strengths such as CB, TE, and WR. His blueprint for the Buccaneers, utilizing what we now know about his use of analytics and what he deems as "value", could field a very competitive football team for years to come. This could be his version of the NFL's moneyball, and could set a tone of perpetual improvement for this franchise by positioning itself to deal with roster turnover and being proactive about personnel moves.
Looking to the immediate future, we know Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David will get paid handsomely to don the Pewter and Red for years to come at their respected key positions on this football team. There are a couple of other guys that might not merit a hefty new contract. Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers are at the forefront of the next wave who could be asked to move on. Bowers will likely not see his second contract payday with the Bucs even if he steps his game up. Clayborn, on the other hand, could prove that he is best suited as a LDE which should be less expensive than a RDE's contract. Worse case scenario, we don't re-sign either.
Lovie has been talking an awful lot about "prototype" players and some guys already on the roster fit that mold. We have built some depth and have the staff to develop D-line talent, so bringing someone like William Gholston up and drafting the next guy wouldn't be a bad idea. Chaz Sutton is an interesting developmental guy too, but we'll see how training camp plays out. Oh, did I mention these would be cheap options. This is a theme that I've recognized with these moves and how contracts are timed to our advantage.
Carl Nicks, Dashon Goldson, and Vincent Jackson would be the next group of questionable keepers. Most of their contracts will not be guaranteed next year and it will definitely be a "prove it" year for a couple of them if not all three. VJax will most likely stay for another year and if they all ball out it's good for us. Worse case we don't keep any of them, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Well, our guard situation is already pretty scary, but we drafted Kadeem Edwards (or IHOP, as some call him because he's always serving up pancakes) and the staff feels confident that he can develop. There have also been some really good safety classes in the past couple of drafts and with the priority for solid DB's shooting through the roof, you can rest assured we could find a young replacement next year, plus Tandy's coming along unexpectedly well and has shown great range and ball skills. As for VJax's replacement, he's already on the roster, and a fill for the #2 could be also depending on how Louis Murphy shapes up. Of course, with those cap numbers potentially gone, next year's free agency could be pretty interesting as well. So, again we have less expensive, young, and "value" options available.
Mason Foster is another key player that is coming up on UFA. He definitely has alot to prove this year, but is still a viable option to move to SLB on the cheap. Linebackers are fairly inexpensive nowadays as is, but quality MLB's are relatively hard to find. This could be a priority move in next year's draft to find Lovie's "QB" of the defense if he's not retained. Who knows, though, Dane Fletcher could be a wildcard as the next guy up to man the middle and Nate Askew already had that "prototype" tag placed on him. All inexpensive options moving forward.
A quick recap would show that we'd be in pretty good shape next year using free agency and the draft to fill key spots like MLB, S, DE, OG, and WR if needed. If we happened to lose all the above listed guys, we could fairly easily find "value" replacements and young up-and-comers on the cheap while continuing to add quality depth. We could also get some compensatory picks in future drafts. I feel much of the foundation to build upon has been laid and that youth and cap space will be on our side moving forward.
Now, I intentionally left this for last. Feel how you may about Josh McCown and Mike Glennon, but what the coaching staff and front office has done was quite brilliant with the options available to them. They brought in McCown, who Lovie is comfortable with and fits what Jeff Tedford is looking to do, to properly mentor Mike Glennon and give him time to fully develop. Also, McCown can lead this new offense and get it clicking more quickly than a second year guy could. They did not overpay or reach for a QB in free agency or the draft. They very well may have wanted to draft another QB, but felt the value just wasn't there in a trade up perhaps. Instead, they surrounded their signal caller with some very dangerous weapons and a potential juggernaut defense. McCown is on short-term and very cheap contract, so if he fails, we'll see what Glennon is really capable of.
If things play out fairly well, we would not have to reach or pay a ridiculous amount of money for a QB in the near future leaving extra cap space for other players like Mark Barron and Doug Martin. The Bucs would have this year to evaluate the QB position and future draft prospects. They could have potentially up to two years to stockpile draft ammunition or sit pat to pull the trigger on a great QB prospect. If McCown plays well through this contract term, then that puts Glennon in a situation where his contract will be close to expiring when he hits the field again. Even if he does play well on his last contract year, he would not command a $100 million salary unless he happens to win the Superbowl, which is highly unlikely. And if he does demand a ridiculously high contract, we will already have his replacement on the roster or be positioned to pay with some of the less expensive players already in place and the ballooning salary cap.
This type of forward thinking strategy is how teams are built to contend year in and year out. Establish a competitive brand and have a good plan to build through the draft, develop young talent, not be short-sighted or pigeon holed, and have options available for those uncomfortable contract situations. They don't get caught up with failed draft picks, but are prepared to move on when it is necessary. Supplementing the roster with free agents, but not over paying them. And by all means, look to upgrade your QB if you don't have a franchise guy on the roster already. It doesn't take a high draft position, but when you don't have many holes to fill, picks can be used to move up with very little sacrifice.