Now that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2019 season is officially over, it’s time to look forward to the future.
The Bucs have some big decisions to make this offseason. There are plenty of decisions to be had on their own roster, but what about bringing in outside help?
Obviously, they will have the chance to add six potential young superstars to the roster in April, but as we all know, free agency comes before the draft. What happens in the month of March can go a long way in determining what happens in April.
I’m sure you know what’s coming next.
I decided to pick five potential free agents that could really help the Bucs in 2020. According to spotrac.com, Tampa Bay is third in the NFL with right around $91.8 million in cap room for 2020, so the Bucs will have some money to play with in the offseason.
There a few factors that I used to determine my selections and those factors are: fit, need, affordability, and impact.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Bucs should sign all of these guys - I know that’s not realistic. But if I were Bruce Arians and/or Jason Licht, these guys would be at the top of my list as I enter the offseason.
Let us know what you think about the list or who you think the Bucs should take a look at during free agency in the comments below!
5. RB Chris Thompson (Redskins)
The Bucs currently have three running backs under contract for 2020 and that’s Ronald Jones II, Dare Ogunbowale, and T.J. Logan.
I don’t know what the future holds for Peyton Barber, Tampa Bay’s semi-starting running back in 2019, but I get the feeling he won’t be back in 2020. For the sake of this exercise, let’s act like he won’t be.
Logan is primarily a returner and Ogunbowale was a great camp story, but was largely ineffective in 2019. If Jones is to take on the full-time role like the Bucs hope he will, then he’s going to need help every now and then.
Enter Chris Thompson, one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. He’s 11th in the NFL in terms of receptions amongst running backs since 2015 and has had 35+ receptions in every season over the last five seasons. His 8.47 yards per reception ranks sixth among running backs with at least 200 receptions from 2015-2019, which puts him ahead of players such as Christian McCaffrey, Le’Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon, and Lesean McCoy. He is just slightly behind Alvin Kamara (8.51 ypc) for the fifth spot.
Byron Leftwich loves to call screen plays, and with good reason. The Bucs run a pretty effective screen game and have shown the ability to very creative when dialing up those types of plays.
This is a perfect example. The Redskins line Thompson up in the slot on the right side of the formation and catch the Bears off-guard with a well-executed screen play. Thompson displays his quickness and agility while using his 5-foot-8, 194-pound frame to disappear behind his big offensive linemen. The end result is a 33-yard gain:
He’s also shown that he can be a great safety-valve/checkdown target, which is very important, as well.
Thompson would be a great complementary back to RoJo and would allow the Bucs to be flexible in their decisions with Ogunbowale, Logan, and the NFL Draft. I’m thinking the Bucs could get him for a Duke Johnson Jr.-type deal. Something like 3 years/$15 million, or around that number, which would be a good price for a relatively-young back who still has a lot of tread left on his tires.
4. RG Brandon Scherff (Redskins)
There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to Scherff.
First, the Bucs will most likely have to contend with the Redskins for his services. Washington could slap the franchise tag on Scherff, which would immediately place Tampa Bay in a bidding war and would complicate things. They also have the cap room to pay Scherff, so the Bucs are already a couple of steps behind in this race.
The Bucs also have to figure out what they want to do with Alex Cappa. He was serviceable in 2019, but had issues staying healthy and was never really dominant in any particular game. The cool thing is that the Bucs are paying Cappa around $900k in 2020 and around $970k in 2021, so if they wanted to bring in Scherff, Cappa could provide quality depth at a decent price. Cappa was has been largely viewed as a project, anyway, so why not give him a couple more years to develop under two of the better guards in Scherff and Ali Marpet?
Scherff would be an instant upgrade at the position and would help offset the potential loss of right tackle Demar Dotson. The former first-round pick is one of the best guards in the league that no one talks about and is in his prime at 28-years-old.
He can do it all. Pass pro, run blocking, setting up screens - you name it. Whatever you want done from the right guard position, Scherff will make it happen.
Brandon Scherff was fantastic on the Bibbs screen for a TD. Idea he's playing poorly this year is laughable. Nice blocks from Doctson, Quick and Roullier down the field too. #Redskins pic.twitter.com/0leeREPamD— Mark Bullock (@MarkBullockNFL) October 22, 2018
He’s nasty, tough, and physical. He’s also smart and disciplined, as well. Scherff has been one of the least penalized offensive line since he entered the league in 2015.
Scherff’s price tag will be steep. Spotrac currently has his market value at $12.4 million, which would give him the seventh-highest cap hit for a guard in 2020. The signing would also give Tampa Bay the fourth most-expensive offensive line in the league, and that’s before the Bucs figure out what they want to do at right tackle.
3. DE Yannick Ngakoue (Jaguars)
The Jags have already come out and said that Ngakoue is their number one offseason priority, but his potential price tag may keep him from returning. It could also keep him out of Tampa Bay, as well.
Spotrac currently has his value at around $17.1 million per year, which is about $2 million more per year than Shaq Barrett, the NFL’s sack leader in 2019. Jason Fitzgerald of overthecap.com reported back in June of 2019 that Ngakoue could command as much as $21 million per year in order to be on the contractual level of your Frank Clarks and Demarcus Lawrences.
If the Bucs want Ngakoue, then odds are they don’t bring back either Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, or any combination of the three. All three players were major contributors to a Tampa Bay defense that improved as the year went on.
But Ngakoue is one of those guys who will make you think twice in terms of roster management. There is no argument that he is one of the elite pass rushers in the league and that he could form a deadly tandem with Barrett (if he’s back) for the next half-decade.
The soon-to-be fifth-year player has had at least eight sacks in every season and his 37.5 career sacks are the ninth-most over the last four years.
The production and talent is there. It’s just a matter of who the Bucs want to keep around and how will they construct their roster around Ngakoue if they do choose to sign him.
2. DT Jordan Phillips (Bills)
Tampa Bay’s front seven has been an effective unit this year, but has some aging, expensive pieces in Pierre-Paul, Suh, and Lavonte David.
Phillips probably won’t fix the expensive issue, but he can certainly fix the aging issue. His addition would also keep the front seven playing at a high - possibly higher - level.
The 27-year-old defensive tackle is a mammoth at 6-foot-6, 328-pounds. His 9.5 sacks are a major reason why the Bills made the playoffs this year. Remember, Todd Bowles’ defense isn’t a two-gap defense. Phillips would still be free to make plays in the backfield and would be paired up with Vita Vea, which should scare the shit out of every offensive line coach in the league.
Phillips was a second-round pick in 2015 and made just $4.5 million in 2019. Spotrac currently doesn’t have a market value figure on him, but if the Bucs could talk him into a salary of around $8-$10 million/year, then they should definitely consider the move.
The downside is that Phillips managed just 6.5 sacks over the first four years of his career. The Bucs will need to take that into account if they do in fact decide to take a look at him. The NFL is all about developing players, but you always have to be cautious when it comes to paying a player who is coming off one good year - that just so happens to also be the best year - in their career.
But if his 2019 season proves to be the real deal, then the potential pairing of Vea and Phillips could help transform this defense into a top-10 squad in 2020.
1. CB Logan Ryan (Titans)
How many times did we hear about Tampa Bay’s “young secondary” in 2019? Or how about the one where if “they brought in a veteran corner, it would help tremendously”?
The young secondary began to turn it on toward the end of the year, which is always promising, but it will still be a thin, young unit when the lights come back on in September of 2020.
Logan Ryan would not only be the perfect piece for this defense, but he would be an immediate upgrade - no knock on the Bucs’ current group of defensive backs - and provide stability in the secondary.
He can literally do everything. He can play the slot (his primary position), he can blitz, he can play outside when needed, and he can play both safety spots. He is a sound tackler - evidenced by his 113 combined tackles in 2019 (!!) - and is not afraid to lay the big hit on anyone.
Ryan also possesses some of the best instincts and is one of the smarter players in the league. Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees loves to move him all over the defense, which has allowed him to have one of, if not the best, years of his career.
As I mentioned earlier, he has 113 tackles on the year, which leads the Titans and is good for 21st out of all defenders in 2019. He also led the team with four forced fumbles and was second with four interceptions and third with 4.5 sacks.
But as with all players, Ryan won’t come cheap. Word around Nashville is that he’s seeking Malcom Butler-type money, who signed a 5-year/$61.25 million deal back in 2018. That’s a pretty steep tag, but it could be worse when you look at what some of the other top corners in the league are making.
I know this is hallowed ground, and trust me, I’m not making a direct comparison BUT if Ryan were to come to Tampa Bay, he’d be the closest representation to Ronde Barber in terms of what he can do and how he does it since Barber retired.