Now that the draft is over, it’s time to start figuring out the roster for the 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
So, that leaves the team with a need of right around $8,650,632 in order to sign the eight players it just drafted.
A popular - and very reasonable - theory has prevailed over the last few months that this deficit would be overcome by either the trade or release of long-time Buccaneer Gerald McCoy, who is due $13 million in 2019.
McCoy may be on the wrong side of 30, but he can still be an effective player. Especially in the new system Todd Bowles will employ in Tampa Bay.
However, with the Bucs’ recent draft, there is no reason for the Bucs to cut the player due to salary cap reasons. They can easily make up ground elsewhere without losing a player who can still produce.
Unfortunately, I do not have inside information. This is a theory I have come up with after looking at Tampa Bay’s roster and analyzing what Bowles does with his defenses. Sprinkle in the draft results and this is what I have.
But don’t get me wrong, there aren’t any pay cut-type scenarios and all dead money has been accounted for. These are hardline facts on paper that work out when moved correctly.
Addition By Subtraction
Let’s keep it simple. Take a look at Tampa Bay’s draft class:
LB Devin White
CB Sean Bunting
CB Jamel Dean
S Mike Edwards
DE Anthony Nelson
K Matt Gay
WR Scott Miller
DT Terry Beckner, Jr.
All of a sudden, the secondary is bursting at the seams with the additions of Bunting, Dean, and Edwards. The last of the trio, Edwards, is very intriguing because he could line up at slot from time to time, depending on who lines up opposite of him. Regardless, the Bucs now have a total of eight cornerbacks and six safeties on the roster.
Obviously, they won’t carry 14 defensive backs on the roster in 2019. Tampa Bay could trim the roster down to five corners - Vernon Hargreaves III, Carlton Davis III, M.J. Stewart, Bunting, and Dean - and four safeties - Justin Evans, Kentrell Brice, Jordan Whitehead, and Mike Edwards - which would mean Devante Harris, Ryan Smith, and Isaiah Johnson are gone.
Those three players count toward’s the team’s top-51 contracts. Releasing them would create $3,390,000 in space, leaving the Bucs with a need of $5,260,632 left to sign the draft class.
Edwards and Stewart can rotate in the slot and safety positions while Bunting can man an outside position, allowing Hargreaves to slide inside when needed. This versatility will allow Tampa Bay to shed one of the more expensive contracts in Ryan Smith’s $2,173,041 hit, which made up 64% of the money that was just saved.
Go ahead and take another $1,000,000 off with the impending release of Cairo Santos, but even if Gay can’t beat him out for the job, the Bucs will save around $576,133 if they don’t sign Gay. Figure in worst case scenario that Santos wins the job and the Bucs now need $4,684,499 (that could drop to $4,260,632 if Gay wins the job).
Bunting for Smith. Dean for Harris. Edwards for Johnson. Gay for Santos.
The draft played perfectly into Tampa Bay’s hands, but it doesn’t stop here. There are two more picks that will help determine McCoy’s future with the Bucs.
Devin White and Anthony Nelson
This is where it gets interesting.
All of this blends together beautifully, but let’s start with heart of it all in Devin White.
White will automatically become a three-down linebacker, managing the middle of the field while serving as the captain of the defense.
His presence alone already locks up one of the more important positions on the field and frees up other positions, as well.
Take Lavonte David for instance. David will likely slide inside, forming a one-two punch with White. Don’t forget free-agent signing Deone Bucannon, who can play inside as well.
This already gives the Bucs excellent depth at the inside linebacker position. When you include Kevin Minter, it only ups the ante. And even though I wouldn’t count on it - Kendell Beckwith’s return would have this unit in excellent shape.
But what’s even more intriguing is the outside linebacker or EDGE positions. Bowles already runs a hybrid system and can use this current roster in a variety of ways. Both Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib can put their hand in the dirt and rush from a two-point stance, which will allow flexibility between the base- and sub-packages on defense.
If the Bucs go nickel, JPP and Nassib can put their hand in the dirt. If the Bucs go base, then they could bring in Shaquil Barrett, Devante Bond, or even use Bucannon or David on the outside. Again, JPP and Nassib could be used there, as well.
All this makes Noah Spence and his $1.9 million cap hit expendable. Spence would likely only find playing time on special teams and that is way too much money.
It then leads us to the selection of Anthony Nelson, who is a carbon-copy of William Gholston, but much more athletic.
Nelson can slide in and replace Gholston, who has underwhelmed during his time with the Bucs. He is due $3.75 million and has just one sack over the last two years.
Nelson for Gholston.
Cutting Spence and Gholston would free up $5,023,000 in cap space, giving the Bucs more than enough money to sign the draft class.
The front seven would holster these players at linebacker: Devin White, Lavonte David, Deone Bucannon, Kevin Minter, Jason Pierre-Paul, Carl Nassib, Barrett, Devante Bond, Riley Bullough, and Corey Nelson. The defensive line would consist of Vita Vea, Gerald McCoy, Beau Allen, Anthony Nelson, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, and a the occasional JPP/Nassib switch out.
This gives the Bucs plenty of playmakers, depth, and bodies for special teams while trimming fat.
Now, they have about $340K left over after signing the draft class and there is still some work left to be done.
Too Many Quarterbacks
Tampa Bay currently has four quarterbacks on the roster, two of which have never taken a regular-season snap in the NFL.
Those two quarterbacks - Ryan Griffin and Joe Callahan - also count a combined $1.45 million against the cap.
Cutting those two - or a combination of one of those and Blaine Gabbert - would give the Bucs enough money to fill the roster out to 53 players.
Bruce Arians has been to known to carry three quarterbacks during the season, but common sense would say that keeping McCoy over a quarterback that has never stepped foot on the playing field is the better decision.
(EDIT: Callahan was cut by the Bucs a couple of days ago, but the formula can still work. Swap his contract out with another player’s and remember: we only need 45 players since the Bucs drafted eight players.)
To recap, the Bucs executed the 2019 draft perfectly. The players they chose not only filled needs, but they give the franchise options when it comes to roster management - especially the option of retaining McCoy.
Most the players that are released will be exchanged with a younger, cheaper rookie that the coaching staff has hand-selected as their own.
This also marks the official start of the Bruce Arians era. He is bringing in players that fit what he wants to do and is pushing out those who don’t .
The Bucs would have to sign a couple of more players to get to 53 players, but can do so while still having some money left over. Thanks to spotrac.com’s roster management tool, you can get a good picture of what I’m talking about here.
If this was the grand plan all along, then Jason Licht, Arians, and Bowles all deserve major ups for playing the long game.
I’m sure Gerald McCoy is gracious, as well.