In part 1 of this series I examined the Bucs' overall cap space as well as the "big ticket" items in free agency. In this segment I'll cover the offensive players who are available. Since restricted free agents almost never leave and exclusive free agents can only leave when cut, this covers only unrestricted free agents.
The Bucs appear far more likely to draft a quarterback than to sign one in free agency. Not every team will have that luxury and some will need to make decisions about which option they dislike most. There are a few what I would call "desperation starters." They will interview with teams and those selected will likely get a contract on par with what Josh McCown got from Tampa and Matt Cassel received from Minnesota: two years at $10 million. Here are your "desperation starters":
Ryan Mallett, 26 y/o, 6'6", 245lbs, QB, Houston Texans - He can hum it, he finally got the start in Houston then got injured during his second start. His game against Cleveland was pretty good, going 20 of 30 for 211 yards 2 TD's and an INT. He was having a pretty bad game against the Bengals when he was injured. He still has some upside but is probably more valuable to Houston than anyone else.
Brian Hoyer, 29 y/o, 6'2", 219lbs, QB, Cleveland Browns - Isn't exactly the greatest option for teams but he's solid. He's a plus backup and very marginal starter. The Browns didn't have the greatest offensive weapons but Hoyer doesn't exactly make plays to help you win.
Jake Locker, 26y/o, 6'3", 222lbs, QB, Tennessee Titans - Locker has a career QB rating of 79 , that's not exactly great but he was developing. He's looked good at times but the problem is durability, Locker is easily rattled and often hurt. However given the recent coaching carousel in Tennessee maybe some team convinces themselves they can develop Locker better.
Mark Sanchez, 28 y/o, 6'2", 222lbs, QB, Philadelphia Eagles - He might want to return to the Eagles and battle Nick Foles but would seem just as likely to get an opportunity in Cincinnati or Cleveland in case either QB falters. Chip Kelly has rehabbed his image, but is he likely to pay him?
Colt McCoy, 28 y/o, 6'2", 215lbs, QB, Washington Redskins - Probably remains with the Redskins to battle RGIII. Is a favorite of Jay Gruden's so I don't see him going anywhere.
Those who don't win the "desperation QB gigs" will most likely take backup jobs elsewhere which are likely to be near the minimum in terms of league salary. Here are some backup options (in order of remaining preference):
Matt Moore, 30, Miami. Christian Ponder, 26, Minnesota. Shaun Hill, 34, St. Louis. T.J. Yates, 27, Atlanta. Michael Vick, 34, NY Jets. Jason Campbell, 33, Cincinnati. Tavaris Jackson, 31, Seattle. Jimmy Clausen, 27, Chicago. Dan Orlovsky, 31, Detroit. Joe Webb, 28, Carolina.
The Bucs don't really need one and I wouldn't expect them to spend free agent dollars to find one. However several running backs are out there on the market. I've listed them here in descending order of what I feel their expected value would be on the open market.
2. Shane Vereen, 25 y/o, 5'10", 205lbs, RB, New England - Nice 3rd down back for some team looking for one. Vereen isn't the most effective rusher but he's a great pass catcher and blocker. I could see additional value for Vereen on any team with a young QB. Vereen's smart and can ensure line protections on 3rd and long. Value estimate hits the 3 year, $10 million dollar range.
3. Mark Ingram, 26 y/o, 5'9", 222lbs, RB, New Orleans Saints - The little bowling ball had a breakthrough year in a contract year. That always scares everyone a bit but he's also a low mileage back at this point. Additionally Ingram maybe better suited to teams with a more traditional look, though pro teams running that are fewer and farther between. Two years, $5 million sounds about fair value for Ingram.
4. Frank Gore, 31 y/o, 5'9", 217lbs, RB, San Francisco 49ers - Gore is on the downside of 30 which is the death nail for an NFL RB. He's not as explosive as he was previously and is probably more valuable to the 49ers than any other team. He's also likely looking at contract in the range of 2.5 million per season.
5. Knowshon Moreno, 27 y/o, 5'11", 220lbs, RB, Miami Dolphins - Productive back at times in Denver but got upstaged by Lamar Miller who's not a record breaker. He makes just under 2 million right now and that's probably where he finds his next deal. Two years, $4 million seems to be in the ball park.
Plus a little extra for the guys at the top.
Ryan Matthews, 27, San Diego. Roy Helu, 25, Washington. Stevan Ridley, 28, New England. Bilal Powell, 26, NY Jets. Jacquizz Rodgers, 24, Atlanta. Antone Smith, 29, Atlanta. DuJuan Harris, 26, Green Bay.
Don't let your babies grow up to be fullbacks. Try tight end, it pays better. The available guys include: John Kuhn, 32, Green Bay. Jerome Felton, 28, Minnesota. Henry Hynoski, 26, NY Giants. John Conner, 27, NY Jets.
Wide Receivers are not exactly what the Bucs need but it is where a great deal of talent lies in this free agency period. More options are available at this position than any other. We covered the top four options in part one: Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Jeremy Maclin and Randall Cobb.
5. Cecil Shorts, 27 y/o, 6'0", 202lbs, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars - Durability is a big issue, as Shorts has played in either 13 or 14 games in each NFL season suffering from a variety of ailments. He hasn't exactly put up world-beating numbers, but he's drawn #1 WR coverage most of his time at Jacksonville, played with some poor QBs (that's putting mildly) and still been effective at times. He's a good #2 complimentary WR and an excellent #3 in my book and a really sharp route runner. He's also due for a big pay raise, I'd guess right around 4 seasons and $22 million would be the range.
6. Torrey Smith, 25 y/o, 6'0", 205lbs, WR, Baltimore Ravens - Smith has the unique gift of speed and can stretch the field vertically. His hands and route running are inconsistent though and he's not an ideal #2 but fits nicely into three-receiver sets and can provide splash plays which has its own unique value. It's hard to perceive him ever being better than in the Ravens offense which helps his style, but 3 seasons and $16 million would seem to be his sweet spot.
7. Michael Crabtree, 27 y/o, 6'1", 214lbs, WR, San Francisco 49ers - Crabtree has missed time on numerous occasions in the six seasons since leaving Texas Tech and being drafted by the 49ers. To make matters worse he's topped 1,000 yards just once in his six seasons. Alex Smith and Colin Kapernick might not be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but they are hardly chopped liver either. Crabtree isn't much of a polished route runner despite six seasons in the league and he doesn't dominate or scare anyone. Crabtree is in an odd position: a short-term deal and an explosive season in a new scheme could help him immensely but would also rob him of the beloved pre-30 contract numbers he'd want. I think 4 seasons and $18 million is really more his value.
8. Wes Welker, 33 y/o, 5'11", 200lbs, WR, Denver Broncos - The PED issue and suspension are huge issues, and he's also worked with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning which should inflate anyone's stats. I could easily see him back in Denver. At 33 he's unlikely to get a long term deal, and one year, $3.5 million would probably be a good deal for him.
9. Eddie Royal, 28 y/o, 5'11", 208lbs, WR, San Diego CHargers - Royal is currently one of the most overpaid receivers in the game. He's not bad but San Diego paid him big after a certain team stole WR Vincent Jackson from them. Eddie's a stretch #2 and okay #3 WR, and he's probably looking at a contract in the three year, $8 million dollar range.
10. Hakeem Nicks, 26 y/o, 6'1", 208lbs, WR, Indianapolis Colts - Nicks has been up and down in his NFL career, being "down" while working with Andrew Luck isn't a good sign. Nicks probably takes a one-season prove-it offer at 2.5 million.
Left out - Reggie Wayne, probably either back with the Colts or retires or possibly heads to contender for a cap-friendly deal.
Minimum Wage Territory:
Nate Washington, 31, Tennessee. Miles Austin, 30, Cleveland. Dane Sanzenbacher, 26, Cincinnati. Leonard Hankerson, 25, Washington. Denarius Moore, 26, Oakland. Kenny Britt, 26, St. Louis. Greg Salas, 26, NY Jets.
Tampa doesn't really need a tight end, but a few teams will go shopping.
1. Charles Clay, 25 y/o, 6'3", 255lbs, TE, Miami Dolphins - Really strong in-line blocker and good possession receiver. Clay is young and the general perception is he's coming into his prime. He's probably looking at what Brandon Pettigrew got from the Lions. He's liable to pick up a four-year, $17 million dollar contract.
2. Jordan Cameron, 26 y/o, 6'5", 249lbs, TE, Cleveland Browns - Cameron has injury history and only a single good all-around year two seasons ago. It's a lot of risk and Cameron is likely to be considered an injury risk for a team, though I would say 3 years and $11 million is probably his value. He may be worth more to the Browns than other teams.
3. Jermaine Gresham, 26 y/o, 6'5", 260lbs, TE, Cincinnati Bengals - Originally a flex tight end, Gresham was sidelined by injury and then the drafting of Tyler Eifert. Eifert's injury this past season re-opened the door for Gresham. He's been okay, totaling just under 500 yards but he still doesn't stretch the field vertically as much as teams would like. I think a one-year deal worth $3.5 million would give him the opportunity to prove his contention that he's capable of being an effective every-down receiving option.
Other "cheaper" options include:
Lance Kendricks, 26, St. Louis. Matt Spaeth, 31, Pittsburgh. Owen Daniels, 32, Baltimore. Niles Paul, 25, Washington. Ed Dickson, 27, Carolina. Bear Pascoe, 28, Atlanta.
I know I made you go through nearly two whole primers before getting to this, but it really is the biggest area of need for Tampa Bay. The Bucs' offensive line was downright dreadful and that's probably a deeper insult to other dreadful lines. The unit surrendered 52 sacks, while its running backs rushed for just 85.9 yards per game at 3.9 yards per clip. We did have some slight improvement towards the final part of the season but the whole line needs work. Based on the comments we've seen so far, I expect colossal free agent bust Anthony Collins to find a new home in 2015 and I anticipate Tampa will field the following starters:
Left Tackle - Demar Dotson
Left Guard - Logan Mankins
Center - Evan Dietrich-Smith
In reserve Kevin Pamphile showed some promise and could have a future as a swing tackle.
When assessing how solid our line is, something Tampa has totally forgotten over the years of five seasons of not drafting a lineman is to count to eight; you don't need five linemen. Injuries happen, so you need eight. Depth is critically important as is talent, and right now the Bucs are lacking both. For this section I've ranked them in terms of what I would consider "priority" signings for Tampa (rather than simply contract value).
27 y/o, 6'7", 320lbs, RT/LG, Denver Broncos
Franklin switched over to guard last season and played well after 3 seasons at Right Tackle. The only "dip" in his play from the move was that he drew more penalties than he did in any of his previous 3 seasons. Franklin played left tackle at Miami and while he isn't athletic enough to be elite at that position, he's been among the game's better right tackles when he played there.
Franklin has a nasty streak and finishes blocks in the run game, but where he really excels is in pass protection. Franklin has shorter arms but a long frame, his size and lateral speed make him very difficult to convert speed to power against. His versatility also brings added value, if Pamphile exceeds expectations at right tackle and Mankins rapidly declines Franklin could take over inside, additionally should Dotson go down for a spell Franklin could kick to the left side if necessary. The Broncos have so many priorities this off-season they may be forced to let Franklin hit free agency. Tampa should show up checkbook in hand and private plane ready to take him to Tampa. He should be the #1 off-season acquisition target and by paying him tackle money (instead of guard) it would be hard to think Franklin wouldn't find Tampa an attractive option.
Contract Estimate: Premium right tackle money: Five years, $35 million with the first two years guaranteed would seem to get a deal done. That's on par with what Gosder Cherlius received last season and probably in the range of what Franklin should receive.
25 y/o, 6'5", 315lbs, RT, Green Bay Packers
Bulaga is one of the better right tackles in the game when health. A torn ACL cost him all of 2013 and he's missed 28 games with injury over 4 seasons. Bulaga is a tactician who excels at pass blocking and is an above average positional run blocker. Not a road-grader but fits in well with zone blocking schemes where Bulaga is asked to seal the edge and allow outside runs.
Contract Estimate: Bulaga is looking for Cherilus money, though I doubt anyone thinks he's worth that. His play is, but not his injury history. Eventually I think Bulaga settles for a shorter deal, perhaps three seasons at $21 million, or takes a longer five-year, $25 million deal with more guaranteed money but a lower overall cap hit.
32 y/o, 6'7", 313lbs, LT, Tennessee Titans
Roos for the past seven or eight years has been my favorite example of an above average left tackle. Not an All-Pro but playing the toughest line position, doing it well, and a stalwart on that side. He's slowing down a bit but the Estonian-American is still one of the toughest guys to bull-rush in the NFL. He's still got some more seasons of high-quality work ahead of him and despite finishing the season on IR has been fairly durable over the last few seasons.
Contract Estimate: Left tackle money on a shorter deal, three years at $24 million.
28 y/o, 6'6", 315lbs, OT, Dallas Cowboys
Parnell came out of Oklahoma where he played basketball for all but one season as a defensive end. His athleticism led coaches to put him there originally and he tried out for the Saints before being released a season later. Parnell caught on with Dallas in 2014 and has been an offensive tackle ever since. Parnell has steadily worked his way up into the rotation bringing Dallas versatility and he finally got five starts this past season at right tackle. Parnell still hasn't had a ton of pro experience but appears on his way up. If other options are off the table Parnell wouldn't make a bad choice.
Contract Estimate: 2 years, $5 million.
30 y/o, 6'6", 325lbs, RT, Dallas Cowboys
Doug's not exactly great, but he's not terrible either. He's gotten more consistent over the past couple of seasons, not surprisingly the improvement in his play has been tied to improved technique. Doug Free isn't a world-beater but he's a solid tactician and someone you can pencil in as a starter.
Contract Estimate: 3 years, $10 million.
29 y/o, 6'9", 330lbs, LT, San Diego Chargers
King's not a special player, but he plays the most valuable offensive line position. He doesn't offer much impact as a run blocker, he's not a shutdown pass blocker; however he's not a liability at either. There simply are not enough great left tackles to go around the league and a guy like Dunlap who doesn't cause an OC to have to scheme around him for poor blocking still earns a pay day.
Cost Estimate: 6 years, $45 million
27 y/o 6'5" 326lbs RT San Diego Rams
Barksdale had a better 2013 than 2014, but some of that difficulty may be attributed to blocking for rookie Austin Davis and the less than talented Shaun Hill. He spent much of his first two season with Oakland who waived him, and the Rams picked him up when they needed an emergency left tackle starter in 2012. Barksdale was below-average there but earned the starting job at right tackle the following season and has started the past two seasons. He is not a household name but he looked better as a run blocker this season and while he regressed in pass blocking he showed some promise.
Contract Estimate: 3 years, $9 million.
Minimum Wage Types
Ryan Harris, 29, RT, Kansas City. Below average.
Benjamin Ijalana, 25, LT/LG, NY Jets. Never healthy at 9 total games in the last two seasons.
Byron Bell, 25, LT, Carolina. A virtual turnstyle. I know Cam holds the ball too long but Bell gets whooped often.
Bradley Sowell, 25, LT, Arizona. 40 hurries and 7 sacks last season and rode the pine this season.
Tyler Polumbus, 29, RT, Washington. Below Average at right tackle.
Marshall Newhouse, 26, RT, Cincinnati. Mediocre and some injury history.
25 y/o, 6'5", 310lbs, LG, Cincinnati Bengals
I know , I know another Bengals offensive lineman just what we need, right? This has more merit however. Boling could be just what the doctor ordered for this line. Unlike Collins, Boling has been a full-time starter. Originally at right guard until the Bengals drafted Kevin Zeitler and Boling shifted to the left side. Boling isn't exactly a road grader but he's more than solid in terms of run blocking and he brings enough mobility to pull. His pass blocking is more than solid in 26 starts and over the past two seasons Boling has surrendered just 3 sacks. He does have some minor injury history but nothing to get bent out of shape about.
Contract Estimate: Boling isn't an elite guard but he's certainly better than average contracts in the range of what Jon Asamoah & Geoff Schwartz got last season plus a little for cap inflation seems to make sense. Call it four years and $18 million.
27 y/o, 6'5", 331lbs, OG, San Francsico 49ers - Covered in Part I
31 y/o, 6'3", 312lbs, OG, Detroit Lions
The nine-year veteran has been a stalwart for the past five seasons starting every game at left guard for the Lions. Sims bring mobility to the position and is one of the better lead blockers for Reggie Bush on screen plays and is above average in other regards. Sims is coming off a disappointing start to 2014 but he finished strong. Sims had been coming off arthroscopic knee surgery.
Contract Estimate: Sims currently makes about #3.5 million, that seems about right, though a shorter deal with fewer guarantees seems in order. Two years, $7 Million.
27 y/o, 6'6", 302lbs, OG/OT Kansas City Chiefs
After four okay seasons in Indianapolis, Linkenbach moved onto Kansas City where he started 3 games and served as a reserve player in all 16. He's nothing to write home about but the former Bearcat isn't a bad injury replacement for anyone. He's played better on the inside than he did at tackle and given that he entered the league as an undrafted free agent would probably enjoy some long term security.
Contract Estimate: 3 years, $6 million.
25 y/o, 6'5", 321lbs, OG, Seattle Seahawks
Carpenter has battled injury and inconsistency during his career in Seattle and has been pretty below average but not horrid all in all. It's time for Carpenter to get a change of scenery. He's improved since arriving to the Seahawks from Alabama as a first-round pick. However, he may be in the mood for a "prove it " contract.
Contract Estimate: 1 season, $1.5 million
Minimum Wage Options
Eric Pears, 32, Buffalo. One of the poorest performing starting guards this past season
Paul Fanaika, 28, Arizona. Has been abused in Arizona for the most part.
Dan Connolly, 32, New England. Has regressed mightily the past two seasons.
Jah Reid, 26, Baltimore. Consistent underachiever.
Vladimir Ducasse, 27, Minnesota. Never really developed.
Adam Snyder, 32, NY Giants. Turnstile express.
Chris Spencer, 32, Tennessee. His best days are behind him.
Daryn Colledge, 32, Miami. Was an average guard, but fell off the map in Miami this past season.
25 y/o, 6'2", 300lbs, C, Kansas City.
Hudson's not elite, but he's better than average. He consistently holds his own at the center position and that's saying something. He's not playing a premium NFL position, but he's young and durable with KC in cap trouble my guess is someone else finds a way to pay him.
Contract Estimate: 4 years, $16 million
25 y/o, 6'3", 315lbs, C, Oakland Raiders.
Wisniewski is a good strong center who has a high football IQ and is a solid all-around player. 2014 wasn't his best season but he's had a really complete four-year career in the league so far.
Contract Estimate: Probably worth more to the Raiders given the family connection. On the open market I would say four years, $14 million.
Brian De La Puente
29 y/o, 6'3", 306lbs, Chicago Bears.
De La Puente finished the season on injured reserve a season after overplaying his hand in free agency. Brian has always graded out "ok" by most services but isn't really an impact blocker. He's a valuable player though.
Contract Estimate: One season, $1.35 million
Will Montgomery, 31, Denver.
Samson Satele, 30, Miami.
Doug Legursky, 28, San Diego.
Joe Berger, 32, Minnesota.
Kevin Matthews, 27, Carolina.