Free agency has nearly arrived.
We made it, folks.
I put out a “first edition” of this post a few weeks back. As you can see, the list has changed pretty dramatically since then.
It’s not like the original candidates were unrealistic options or anything, it’s just that after more time of thinking, crunching numbers, reading up on the league, etc - things tend to have a different outlook.
In other words: it’s another off-season in the NFL.
One of the advantages of a new perspective is that we’ve received updates on the statuses (stati?) of some players, which makes this exercise easier. While other players have signed, these guys are still out there.
These are also in particular order:
3. OLB Kyler Fackrell (Packers)
Career stats: 111 combined tackles, 16.5 sacks
2019 stats: 23 combined tackles, 1.0 sack
Even though Bruce Arians has said he wants to keep last year’s defense intact, it’s going to be easier said than done to do so.
There’s a good shot the Bucs could still lose Carl Nassib even though Jason Pierre-Paul re-signed with the team on Monday. With that in mind, the Bucs need to be on the lookout for a potential replacement if Nassib leaves the Bay area. Anthony Nelson is certainly an intriguing candidate, but the second-year player had trouble staying healthy in 2019, so I’m not sure if you can completely rely on him just yet.
Enter Kyler Fackrell of the Green Bay Packers.
The sixth-year linebacker is just two seasons removed from leading the Packers with 10.5 sacks. However, the Packers decided to sign Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith to mega-deals in 2019, which knocked Fackrell back down to the rotational ranks.
After playing the second-lowest amount of snaps since his rookie year, Fackrell is looking for a new opportunity elsewhere.
Enter the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Nassib played 56% of defensive snaps in 2019. Fackrell played 59% in 2018, when he led the team in sacks. Fackrell also spends the majority of his time on the strong side of the defense, much like Nassib.
He plays with tremendous instincts, a relentless motor, and is a very smart player. Like Nassib, he is effective at diagnosing plays before the snap. Here, he reads the quick pass to the Lioins’ tight end and makes a solid tackle to save the touchdown.
Fackrell is lined up as the outside linebacker on the right side of the screen (#51):
Fackrell is pretty good in coverage, but can also play the run and rush the passer. He does an excellent job of fighting of the block from the Lions’ tight end and making the tackle on the running back for a minimal gain on this play.
He’s lined up on the left side of the screen:
And of course, if we’re brining in an outside linebacker, we need to know what they can do as a pass rusher, right? While Fackrell doesn’t have an array of moves, he plays with good discipline and technique.
He knows how to play with extension, which is probably his greatest strength as a pass rusher. He absolutely demolishes Duane Brown on this play. Fackrell uses his long arms to keep Brown at bay and then uses his strength to put him on skates en route to the sack.
Fackrell is on the right side of the screen:
I’m not sure if the Bucs should sign as a starter or rotational player, but that obviously depends on what happens with Nassib.
The biggest question with Fackrell is playing time and money. He could certainly sign a one-year prove-it deal with the Bucs (much like Shaquil Barrett) for a decent price. But if a team offers Fackrell a starting role, he’s likely to choose that scenario, instead.
2. WR Tajae Sharpe (Titans)
Career stats: 92 rec, 1,167 yards, 8 TDs
2019 stats: 25 rec, 329 yards, 4 TDs
The Bucs are going to need to bring in some competition for Justin Watson and Scotty Miller. The WR3 spot is currently open for the taking. Both players showed promise last year, but neither one really put a firm grip on the position (Miller was placed on IR and missed the last two games of the season).
Sharpe is a big guy who runs clean routes and can make the tough catches over the middle. The fifth-round draft pick out of Massachusetts has just one drop over the last two seasons and finished with a career-high in yards per reception (13.2) and touchdowns (4). He’s an effective red zone threat, evidenced by five of his career eight touchdowns coming from inside the 20-yard line. Four of those five touchdowns were from inside the 10-yard line. He’s a good blocker in the run game, as well.
There are plenty of ways Sharpe could help outside of valuable depth. Strategically, he could work the slot every now and then, which would allow Chris Godwin to move outside. Sharpe can play the outside in goal-to-go situations, which would allow Godwin to work the slot. The Bucs could even line up Godwin and Sharpe on the inside in trips formations and put Miller or Watson the outside position of the formation. Those are just a few of many examples.
It’s fair to be concerned with the lack of production over his career, but Sharpe has only been more than a WR4 once in his career and that was in 2016, when he just so happened to record career-highs in catches and yards. He also missed the 2017 season due to injury.
Sharpe should be affordable, too. I expect his number to stay under $4 million per year. The Titans also have a bunch of free agents of their own to re-sign. The Titans have re-signed Ryan Tannehill and franchised Derrick Henry, so their cap space has taken a big hit. They now have $28 million in cap after starting with over $50 million.
I was able to speak with a few media members that cover the Titans and the majority believe that there’s around a 70% chance that Sharpe will hit the market. He is still unsigned, so that still looks to be the case.
The Bucs could easily bring him in one a two- or three-year deal that is good for both teams.
1. RB Chris Thompson (Redskins)
Career stats: 250 carries, 1,194 yds, 4.8 ypc, 5TDs/212 rec, 1,772 yds, 8.4ypc, 10 TDs
2019 stats: 37 car, 138 yds, 3.7 ypc, 0TD/42 rec, 378 yds, 9.0 ypc, 0TD
Thompson came in at fifth on the original list, but he’s obviously moved up a couple notches since then.
He would be a perfect fit in this offense and would be able to take the load off of Ronald Jones II in the passing game. As I pointed out in the last column, the Bucs love a good screen game and Thompson is one of the best receiving backs in the NFL.
Pass protection has been a thorn in Jones’ side since he’s been in the league. Thompson is very good at protecting the quarterback and would be a much more dynamic option than Dare Ogunbowale. The ideal scenario is that Jones picks up pass protection over the offseason, but Thompson would be a good insurance plan, in case he doesn’t get better.
Thompson is 29-years-old, but has never been the main back in an offense, so there is still a ton of tread on his tires. However, one could argue that the extensive list of injuries throughout his career will balance that out.
It sounds like the Redskins and Thompson are going to part ways. Head coach Ron Rivera had Christian McCafferey - a very good pass-catching back - in Carolina, but the Redskins’ backfield is extremely crowded with Adrian Peterson set to return in 2020.
$2.75 million was Thompson’s base salary in 2019. He missed five games due to injury. I would think the Bucs could get him for around $3 - $3.2 million, which would be a good price.