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Way Too Early Lineup Predictions

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Despite free agency only being a week in and the draft to come, let’s take a look at who might be lining up for Tampa Bay in week 1.

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Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens
Strong Safety Tony Jefferson #23 
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

With the signing of Tom Brady finally setting in, and Vegas odds for the Buccaneers winning the Super Bowl climbing, the excitement level for Tampa Bay fans is at an all-time high. I can’t remember the last time an off-season created this level of excitement, and I’m pretty sure it’s been a LONG time since anyone outside of Tampa thought the Bucs could be good.

I know I’m impatiently waiting for the season to start, and that means that some of you are too. So I decided to put together a list of who I think the Bucs will be rolling with in week 1, including some predictions for who they are going to sign in free agency and pick up in the draft.

This lineup will include starters only since depth pieces are so up in the air at this point in time. Plus, aren’t we mostly excited about the starters anyway? For positions with multiple players cycling through (RB) or different sets (2 TE, Nickel), I will be listing more than the 11 on that side of the ball.

As it stands now, the Bucs have around $16.5 million to work with now that Shaq, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Tom Brady have been signed (or tagged in Shaq’s case), according to spotrac.com. This is after the projected cost of drafted players so this amount will only be used to sign free agents, or re-sign their own.

While this is not a lot of cap room, the addition of Brady may push some free agents to sign more team friendly deals to chase rings.

Wow, the thought of people coming to Tampa Bay to ring chase is something I never thought I would say. What a wild time!

Well anyway...HERE WE GO!


OFFENSE

Wild Card Round - Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots
The GOAT
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Quarterback: Tom Brady

Ladies and gentleman, THEY GOT HIM.

The starting QB for the 2020 season will be Tom Brady, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Running-backs: Ronald Jones, Clyde Edwards-Helaire

With Ronald Jones returning after a much improved sophomore season, he will obviously be suiting up for Tampa week 1. However, with Tom Brady’s propensity to use receiving backs, a true receiving threat must be added to this roster. This is where Edwards-Helaire comes in.

At LSU, Edwards-Helaire was a true workhorse back who shouldered much of the load at RB for the Tigers in 2019. The guy can run hard (understatement), catch out of the backfield, and pass block better than Jones at this point. His top end speed is nothing to write home about, but that’s what RoJo is for, right?

A lot of people are clamoring for D’andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, or JK Dobbins, but I highly doubt these guys will be there in the third round where I believe Edwards-Helaire may fall. This is a very deep class and since he is generally seen as lower on the list as these guys, he has the opportunity to drop.

Wide Receivers: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Phillip Dorsett

The top two are obviously set. All the questions are coming down to the third receiver for Tampa Bay, which I believe will be Phillip Dorsett. While I would prefer that Perriman comes back, he just costs too much for a third receiver. His market value according to spotrac.com is $8.2 million, which even if he took less, would be too much.

My prediction is that they pick up Phillip Dorsett to take his place. He has familiarity with Brady, he is MUCH cheaper, and is capable enough to be a third receiver in this system. His 2019 contract saw him signing for $2.6 million, which even at that price is much more affordable than the aforementioned Perriman. However I doubt he even commands that much and signs for around $1.75 million.

Tight Ends: O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate

O.J. Howard isn’t going anywhere. He’s a big, physical, incredibly athletic tight end who can block, catch, and get YAC. Despite his down 2019 season, I think Brady is going to love throwing to him in 2020.

Now for Brate. While he does cost quite a lot for a second option tight end at $6 million, Brady is a huge fan of them. While you might be saying, “Arians doesn’t use his tight ends though!” According to Mike Silver, he has already said that he is willing to adapt to Brady’s strengths, which includes using his tight ends.

With Brate, we’ll find out very soon how he will fare, as he is due $4 million on Mar 22nd according to spotrac.com. Will they restructure? I guess only time will tell, but I think that no matter what, he’ll be in Tampa in 2020.

Offensive Line: Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, Andrew Thomas

The first three are already set in stone, so no arguments there. For the RG spot, I was deciding between Alex Cappa and newcomer Joe Haeg, who can play both guard and tackle. However, I decided on Cappa as he has experience in this system and showed vast improvements from 2018. While they may battle it out in training camp, I see Cappa as the day 1 starter.

For the RT position I went with Andrew Thomas, acquired through the draft. While it’s looking more and more like the Bucs will have to trade up to acquire one of the top 4 tackles in this year’s draft, they can’t go wrong with Andrew Thomas out of Georgia. He is an instant upgrade to Dotson and can take over at LT after Smith’s contract can be cut without a cap penalty.


DEFENSE

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ndamukong Suh #93
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Defensive Line: Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea, William Gholston

Not a lot of changes here, actually none. The only thing that would need to be done to get this line back would be to re-sign Suh. The team loves Suh and it seems like they’ve been looking to re-sign him for quite some time now. After taking $9.25 million in 2019, he should be looking to sign for less in 2020. I am predicting (and hoping) that he takes something in the $7-8 million range.

One piece I was teetering with was to bring Gholston back. While he is taking up $4.75 million, he improved greatly in Bowles’ defense and will look to build upon that improvement.

Linebackers: Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David, Devin White, Jason Pierre-Paul

Nothing new here, all 4 are already under contract for the upcoming season.

Cornerbacks: Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting

Again, nothing new here. All three of them displayed a lot of growth through last season and should look to build on their growth going forward.

Safeties: Tony Jefferson, Mike Edwards

Here is another signing that I predict the Bucs will make. Not only does Jefferson have familiarity with Todd Bowles’ system, he will also be cheaper than he has been in recent years. According to PFF.com, Jefferson dropped drastically in coverage ability in 2019, however I think Bowles will be able to get him back to his old ways. On top of this, he will not command another $8.5 million/yr deal. I predict he will sign in Tampa Bay for something in the $6 million/yr range.

On the other side, I think Edwards will step in and start in 2020. While this is not an exciting prospect, he improved through the year and the Bucs really don’t have a ton of options. Justin Evans showed flashes, but he is injury riddled and is already being replaced by Jefferson at SS in this scenario. Additionally, cutting Evans saves some cap space which is becoming all too valuable with the big signings they’ve already made.


Special Teams

NFL: NOV 17 Saints at Buccaneers
Matt Gay (9) of the Bucs
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kicker/Punter/Long Snapper: Matt Gay, Bradley Pinion, Zach Triner

I’m just going to get this out of the way without a lot of hoopla. Matt Gay will be the kicker, Bradley Pinion will be the punter, and Zach Triner will be the long snapper. Exciting stuff. While Gay didn’t finish the way he wanted to, he did show a lot of promise for the future and hopefully can break the kicking curse.

Kick/Punt Returner: TJ Logan

As for the returners, I think TJ logan will be stepping in to return kickoffs and punts after showing that he is capable of doing both in 2019.


Conclusion

Well folks, these are my predictions for the 2020 starting lineup. While there are not a ton of changes, this team wasn’t very far away from winning in 2019. With the team having another off-season to build off of last year’s positives, and the addition of the greatest QB of all time, I think they’re playoff bound for 2020. I would say that they will be a playoff winning roster but I really don’t want to jinx it.

The cap space leftover after these predictions is very tight (around $1.85 million), however with cuts to come, and some potential restructures, they’ll have enough to sign depth after this. Honestly, the cap doesn’t worry me too much, especially with Mike Greenberg designing these contracts. The guy has shown time and time again that he knows his way around a contract.

Would you be happy with this lineup? What changes would you make? Is this the worst thing you’ve ever seen? Let me know in the comments below.