The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to lose a whopping 17 players in unrestricted free agency this year, from veteran starters like Vincent Jackson to low-impact players like John Hughes.
The Bucs also have nine players who are set to be either restricted free agents, or exclusive-rights free agents, who are trivially easy to retain — if they want to do that.
Those players will see their contracts run out this offseason, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll leave. The Bucs have until the start of free agency to re-sign them to a longer contract, and they’ll likely retain a few.
They certainly have the cap space to do it: $70 million, per Over The Cap, fourth in the league. And that’s before they make some cap-related cuts, which they’re likely to do. With Alterraun Verner, for instance, as they can save $6 million by releasing the veteran cornerback.
First, though, let’s see who the Bucs should make an effort to retain this offseason, and how strong that effort should be.
Must re-sign, regardless of cost
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
The Bucs should make a lot of effort to re-sign Rodgers, now that Doug Martin is suspended for three more games, and in rehab. Martin’s availability and level of play next year are very much in doubt, and Rodgers has shown himself to be a solid replacement. Rodgers is highly unlikely to break the bank, so re-signing him shouldn’t be a problem.
Other than that, the Bucs have no must-resigns among their free agents. There’s no one who isn’t replaceable, or whose absence would have a catastrophic impact on the team’s performance. That’s good!
Should re-sign, at a reasonable price
DE William Gholston, S Bradley McDougald, WR Russell Shepard, C Joe Hawley
Gholston has been the team’s best run defender for four years, and can make a small impact against the run. He’s good for 2.5 sacks per year, but that’s not really why the Bucs would keep him. Their run defense was surprisingly weak this year, and retaining Gholston would help fix that issue — and he shouldn’t be too expensive.
McDougald started the full season at safety and did reasonably well. He didn’t stand out, either negatively or positively, and is a good player to have on the roster. The Bucs may want to find a better starter at safety, but he’d be a very good backup and should not be too expensive to retain.
Similarly, Joe Hawley’s an okay-ish center, but someone the Bucs could look to upgrade on this offseason. If they do, Hawley would a very good and versatile backup, though they also still have Evan Smith on the roster. Offensive line depth is hard to come by, though, and Hawley’s a reliable, veteran player.
Shepard is the Bucs’ best special teamer, and has been a useful fourth receiver for years on end. He might be ready to take the step to being a full-time starter at receiver, but at minimum, he’ll be an impact player on special teams. The Bucs shouldn’t pay a massive amount of money to keep him, but he’s certainly worth a nice contract.
Re-sign if they come cheap
DT Akeem Spence, LB Daryl Smith, CB Josh Robinson, TE Brandon Myers
These are all useful, part-time players who can add some value, but are easily replaced as well. Spence is probably the most significant player on this list, but he’s still a somewhat limited run-stopping defensive tackle who could fairly easily be improved upon. Daryl Smith is aging and slow, but his veteran knowledge and limited playing time still make him a useful. Robinson is almost entirely a special teamer, but a very good one, while Myers is a backup tight end who does everything at an okay level, and nothing very well.
Let ‘em go
WR Vincent Jackson, T Gosder Cherilus, S Chris Conte, WR Cecil Shorts, QB Mike Glennon, RB Antone Smith, DT Sealver Siliga, DT John Hughes
These are likely to be a little controversial, but the Bucs will lose little if they just let these guys walk. Vincent Jackson had three outstanding seasons but was very limited by injuries the past two years, and didn’t make a huge impact when he was on the field. His time as a top receiver in the NFL is likely over, and the Bucs are likely to look for a younger replacement, possibly in the draft.
Cherilus was just bad this year, and the veteran is likely at the end of his NFL career. Conte did not have a good year either, though he did make a few impact plays, and he was replaced by Keith Tandy late in the year. Cecil Shorts was a mid-season fill-in for injuries who did very little, while Antone Smith got injured after just a few plays. Siliga and Hughes barely even played.
That leaves Mike Glennon, who will almost certainly be too expensive to keep. He’s a good backup quarterback and the Bucs actually want to keep him around, but with reports suggesting he could get as much as $13 million on the open market, he’s simply going to be too expensive. Besides, they’ve spent two years keeping Ryan Griffin on the roster as a third quarterback for this very moment. Glennon can go and be some other team’s future.
The restricted and exclusive-rights free agents
Restricted: DE Jacquies Smith, LS Andrew DePaola, QB Ryan Griffin
Exclusive rights free agents: TE Cameron Brate, WR Freddie Martino, LB Howard Jones, LB Adarius Glanton, WR Adam Humphries, CB Jude Adjei-Barimah
Restricted and exclusive rights free agents are players who have fewer than four or three accrued seasons in the NFL, respectively. They can be retained by offering them one-year contract tenders at a CBA-specified amount, generally well below what they’d get on the open market. In the case of exclusive-rights free agents, these numbers are generally just above the minimum contracts, while for restricted free agents they’re generally between $1 and $2.5 million.
These contracts are not guaranteed, so there’s little downside to tendering these players. Adam Humphries, Jude Adjei-Barimah and Cameron Brate may be good targets for longer-term contracts, but that’s not a necessity in any way.
Long story short: the Bucs should retain all of these players, except arguably Andrew DePaola, who tore up his knee in the final game of the season and may not be healthy at all next year.