There’s been a lot of talk about what the Buccaneers might do to fix their defense in the coming weeks and months. Another big topic of conversation has been on the other side of the ball, particularly in the trenches. Tampa Bay surely needs to make an addition or two (or three?) to its offensive line through free agency and the draft.
As of now, the Bucs appear to have at least three of the five spots on the line filled out. Ryan Jensen will be back at center, Ali Marpet is still at left guard and the recently re-signed Donovan Smith will occupy the left tackle position. That leaves the right side of the line open. Demar Dotson could presumably still be the guy at right tackle, though the team is going to have to find his replacement sooner rather than later.
That leaves one glaring hole. The right guard spot was a problem in 2018, and while Caleb Benenoch is still around, it has been decided that he will be moving to play tackle rather than guard. So, the Bucs need someone to fill that guard position.
As we continue our free agent spotlight series, we take a look at a potential answer to that right guard problem: veteran D.J. Fluker.
D.J. Fluker’s Career
After being the starting right tackle for three years at Alabama, Fluker entered the 2013 NFL Draft. He was selected by the Chargers with the 11th overall pick, becoming the fourth Crimson Tide offensive lineman in five years to be drafted in the first round. As a rookie, he started 15 games and was selected to the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie Team. Then, after starting all 16 games in 2014, he moved from right tackle to right guard in 2015.
Fluker started 12 games in 2015 and 16 in 2016 before being released by the Chargers in March of 2017. His option for 2017 had been previously picked up by the team, but before his money became guaranteed, he was let go.
Fluker signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Giants for the 2017 season. He played in nine games (six starts) before landing on injured reserve in November. He got a one-year, $1.5 million deal from the Seahawks in 2018. With Seattle, he started nine games at right guard. Late in the season, he missed time with a hamstring injury.
Why The Buccaneers Need Him
As referenced above, the Bucs have a huge need at right guard. Alex Cappa could be a potential answer in his second NFL season, but the team is unlikely to fully give him the nod before seeing whether or not he has made significant strides from his rookie year. That kind of situation sounds like one that would call for a plug-and-play veteran that has flexibility to play multiple positions. If Fluker needs to step in at guard for Cappa, that would work. But if Cappa is holding down his spot, Fluker might be a good guy to have behind Dotson. There are a number of possibilities the Bucs could have with a player like the 6-foot-5, 342-pound Fluker.
How Much Will Fluker Cost?
When free agency opens up on March 13, Fluker will be celebrating his 28th birthday. A 28-year-old with somewhat of an injury history probably isn’t going to command all that much money or a lengthy deal. Especially considering his last two contracts have been cheap one-year deals and he hasn’t played a full season since 2016, he is likely to get another short-term contract in 2019. His 2018 deal was worth $1.5 million, so somewhere between that and his 2017 deal’s total of $3 million seems reasonable.
Will It Happen?
This feels like a realistic option for Tampa Bay. On the Seahawks’ 247Sports site, Derek Lewis said Fluker seemed “indispensable” while he was healthy in 2018. There’s clearly talent still there for the Alabama product, but he probably hasn’t shown enough consistency to get a big deal anywhere. His injury issues have never been overly significant, but he has dealt with nagging issues here and there.
For what the Bucs need, he makes sense. Tampa Bay doesn’t have a significant amount of cap space to work with, so filling some needs with cheap veterans would be a smart course of action. Signing Fluker and having a combination of him and Cappa at right guard would allow the team to spend its early picks in the draft on defense. A guard could still be selected in the mid-to-late rounds to complement what already exists on the roster, but for 2019, Fluker could be a good transitional option for the offensive line.