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The Bucs had the right approach to free agency

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But will that translate to the field?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucs have often been big spenders in free agency. Generally, in my opinion, teams go big in free agency for two main reasons. The first and best reason is that they have set up their team well, were lucky enough to draft well, had a good season the year before, and have lots of extra leftover cap space to get big time pieces to fill out their roster to make a run at the Super Bowl. On the other side of that coin, sometimes teams have not drafted well and have significant holes that can’t be addressed through the draft alone. That forces them to overspend in free agency in order to try and field a competitive team. The Bucs have too often been in the latter category.

But this year’s free agency was a marked difference from many of the past years. A very vocal group of Buccaneer fans were angry with the team sitting out the first big wave of free agency. But with the tough cap squeeze Tampa Bay is in, their methodical, “cheap” approach was the right one.

Football Outsiders recently looked at the 2019 free agency and did a cost-benefit analysis of some of the more notable signings over $4 million. It’s important to keep in mind one of the keys to building a successful team is getting cost-effective, or efficient, contracts. Also, it’s possible to get good and bad value on contracts under $4 million, but those weren’t a part of this study.

How they did it is pretty simple. They used Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value (AV), and used a player’s age and their last three years of production to roughly predict their future AV, or how they will likely perform in the future. Then they compared that to what the player’s AV would need to be based on the value of their new contract, or in other words the AV they need to produce to match that contract. The difference between the two is an estimate of whether a player will provide value over the cost of their contract, or if they are likely being overpaid. A negative age-adjusted value (AAV) means the latter, and a positive result means the former. It’s worth keeping in mind though that in free agency, you’re generally going to have to overspend to get a top player.

So when it comes to the Bucs, how did they do?

Well, Adam Humphries’ $36 million dollar, $12m guaranteed contract with the Tennessee Titans came out to -0.6 AAV. So the Titans were pretty close, but probably overpaid a little. Still, it was far more than the Bucs could afford to give him.

The Bucs did sign 25 year-old Breshad Perriman to a one-year $4 million deal, and the AAV came out to 0.1. So the Bucs pretty much nailed Perriman’s expected value.

The Bucs also signed 26 year-old edge rusher Shaquil Barrett to a one-year $4 million deal. Since his projected AV is 4.0 and based on his contract his needed AV is 2.8, Barrett’s deal came out to a positive 1.2 AAV. That’s the fifth-best out of eleven notable edge rusher signings. So again, the Bucs likely found a good young player for very good value.

Kwon Alexander, a fan favorite and the heart and soul of Tampa Bay’s defense over the last several years, was not re-signed by the Bucs. He instead signed a whopping four-year $45 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers, including $14.25 million guaranteed. Based on past performance Alexander’s projected AV is 7.2, but in order to justify that contract he’ll need to produce 14.4 AV. Alexander’s resulting -7.1 value is the worst among all the linebacker contracts this off-season and the fourth-worst in this year’s free agency. While the 49ers structured the deal in a way that allows them to get out of it after the 2019 season, it seems unlikely that Alexander will ever be able to live up to that contract. After all he’s given to Tampa though on just his fourth-round rookie deal, you have to love seeing Kwon get life-changing generational wealth, even if it didn’t come from the Bucs.

What’s also interesting is that of the 20 defensive backs signed that Football Outsiders looked at, only nine had positive AAVs, and just four of them had values above 1.0. Meanwhile, seven players had negative AAVs worse than -1.0. It seems that if you want a top defensive back in free agency, you’re going to have to overspend. That may at least partly explain why the Bucs felt they had to address the secondary through the draft. Many fans wanted and thought that Tyrann Mathieu would make his way to Tampa Bay, but Mathieu’s $42 million total, $26.8 million guaranteed contract by the Kansas City Chiefs had the worst AAV of all defensive backs at -2.9.

By the way, in 2018, the Bucs badly overpaid for Ryan Jensen and kicker Chandler Catanzaro. Will this year’s strategy be the norm going forward? You have to hope so.