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Bucs’ 2020 outlook after free agency and the draft

Did the Bucs take care of business during the offseason?

Jason Licht and Bruce Arians had a pretty successful offseason.
| Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

And just like that, free agency and the draft are no more.

Well, technically, free agency is still around, but I digress.

Anywho, after months of buildup and speculation, we now have a somewhat-clear idea of what the Bucs will look like by the time the 2020 season kicks off in September.

This was certainly an offseason to remember. The Bucs were able to land the most-heralded free agent in NFL history, bring in a future Hall of Fame tight end, and pull off a near-perfect draft.

So now that everything is said and done (for the most part), let’s dive into the Bucs’ outlook for the 2020 season.

What did the Bucs do during free agency and the draft?

Actions speak louder than words, which essentially defines the Bucs’ offseason.

After the season ended, the team talked about how it wanted to re-sign the core of defensive players and that it was going to target a quarterback in free agency. The Bucs did just that by re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh, giving Shaquil Barrett the franchise tag, and signing Tom Brady to a two-year deal.

And of course, we can’t forget about the trade for future HOFer, Rob Gronkowski.

Bruce Arians and co. weren’t as clear with their plans when it came to the draft - which is totally understandable - but they took a very well-thought, sensible approach and selected players that many folks thought they would take.

Tristan Wirfs should bolster the offensive line for the next 5-10 years and Antoine Winfield Jr. gives Todd Bowles a true centerfielder for his defense. Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Tyler Johnson add much-needed depth to the running back and receiver rooms, while Khalil Davis, Chapelle Russell, and Raymond Calais look to carve out roles of their own in 2020.

It can be hard to keep up with all of the moves during the offseason, so let’s take a look at the current roster:

The Bucs currently have 75 players on their roster, which means they can add up to 15 more before hitting the league limit of 90 players. The Bucs won’t have to trim the roster down to the final 53 players until August.

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  • Quarterback (4): Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin, Reid Sinnett
  • Running Back (6): Ronald Jones II, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Dare Ogunbowale, T.J. Logan, Raymond Calais, Aca’Cedric Ware
  • Wide Receiver (10): Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Justin Watson, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, Bryant Mitchell, Cyril Grayson, Spencer Schnell, Josh Pearson, Jaydon Mickens
  • Tight End (7): Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, Tanner Hudson, Jordan Leggett, Codey McElroy
  • Offensive Line (11): Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, Tristan Wirfs, Joe Haeg, Brad Seaton, Zack Bailey, Aaron Stinnie, Anthony Fabiano, John Molchon
  • Defensive Line (7): Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea, William Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Khalil Davis, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Pat O’Connor
  • Linebacker (11): Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Lavonte David, Devin White, Anthony Nelson, Kevin Minter, Jack Cichy, Kahzin Daniels, Noah Dawkins, Chapelle Russell, Kendell Beckwith
  • Cornerback (9): Carlton Davis III, Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, M.J. Stewart, Ryan Smith, Deiondre’ Hall, Mazzi Wilkins, John Franklin
  • Safety (6): Jordan Whitehead, Andrew Adams, Mike Edwards, Antoine Winfield Jr., Justin Evans, D’Cota Dixon

The Bucs still need help in certain areas. Can they sign any more players via free agency, waivers, etc.?

Now keep in mind, rosters are very fluid at this time of year due to the Top-51 Rule, which means that only the top-51 players (salary-wise) count against the salary cap. If a new player is signed to a deal and said player’s 2020 cap hit is higher than any player in the top-51, then the new player will bump the whichever player - most likely the 51st player - out of the top-51.

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A player such as Clay Matthews could provide good depth at OLB and is also still on the market.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

According to spotrac.com, the Bucs will have approximately $426,598 after signing the first three picks of draft class. Picks from rounds 5-7 won’t figure into the top-51 since they won’t displace any current players in the top-51, therefore, the Bucs will technically have just three draft picks count against the cap until final cuts in August.

That’s not a lot of cash. I’m sure your curious as to how this number was figured up, so let’s take a quick look:

  • The Bucs currently have $3,542,954 in cap room when you cut the roster down to the top-51. They need $7,744,874 to sign the entire draft class, but the Bucs will deduct $2,027,500 from the roster once Bailey, Daniels, and Dawkins are removed from the top-51. That brings their “current cap space” up to $5,570,454, but the Bucs are still obviously short of what’s needed to sign the draft class.
  • Spotrac.com has Wirfs’ ($2,950,550) Winfield Jr.’s ($1,328,579), and Vaughn’s ($864,727) 2020 combined cap hits at $5,143,856. So, once that’s added to the top-51, the Bucs will have approximately $416,598 left to sign their last four picks, who total a combined $2,601,018.
  • But as I mentioned, that $2,601,018 is essentially moot since it doesn’t “cross the threshold” into the top-51. So, when you deduct the $5,143,856 needed for the top-3 picks from the $5,570,454 cap figure after releasing Bailey, Daniels, and Dawkins, you get the $426,598 number.
  • Keep in mind that the top-51 includes players like Deiondre’ Hall, Jordan Leggett, and other players who are unlikely to make the roster, so there are ways for the Bucs to deduct more money, but they’d still have to replace those guys with other guys, so the money gained from releasing said players wouldn’t be straight-up savings, but it would allow the Bucs to allocate money elsewhere for other players.

Side note: Spotrac currently has the Bucs’ top-51 cap displayed as $3,751,955, but when you remove the needed contracts to get to the top-51 the website says the Bucs have $3,542,954, so there’s a discrepancy in what the website displays and what it produces when you actually crunch the numbers.

This obviously means the Bucs need to clear some room. How can they accomplish that?

Well, the easy answer is to cut guys from the roster, but you still need to sign other players to replace those guys. Or, other guys on the roster will get bumped back into the top-51, which will take away from some of the money saved from cutting the previous player. For instance, if Player A is cut and saves the Bucs $1 million, Player X will replace him at around $675k (or however much). Therefore, in this example, the Bucs will really only save around $325k, but at least they replaced Player A and saved some kind of money in the end. They will also have to find two more players to fill out the final 53-man roster, so there will need to be money allocated in that regard, as well, but that won’t come until August.

You could also re-structure contracts with the hope that some players will take a little off the top in order to create some space.

So now that we have that out of the way, which players are likely up for some type of adjustment to their contracts? Keep in mind that the bottom three players that were replaced salary-wise were Daniels, Dawkins, and Bailey, so you won’t see their names on this list.

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Ryan Griffin finally found his way onto the field during the regular season in 2019.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
  • QB Ryan Griffin - He makes $1,750,000 which is twice as much as what Blaine Gabbert makes. Gabbert is likely to be the backup, so why on earth would the Bucs pay their third-stringer more than the backup? If Griffin is released, the Bucs will deduct $1,750,000 from the roster before replacing Griffin.
  • FS Justin Evans - The Bucs currently have six safeties on the roster. They carried only four last year and just drafted Winfield Jr. in the second round. It’s hard for me to fathom the thought of them keeping more than four safeties this year. We just don’t know what Evans can bring to the table at this point. The Bucs would deduct $1,173,995 from the roster before replacing Evans.
  • S Andrew Adams - This just goes with the thought of a crowded safety room. It really has nothing to do with Adams. The Bucs like Adams, evidenced by the deal they gave him in the offseason, but they can clear around $910k before replacing Adams.
  • P Bradley Pinion - He’s 2020’s sixth-highest paid punter at $2.7 million. Tampa Bay would clear $1.7 million before replacing Pinion.
  • TE Jordan Leggett - It’s another crowded position group for the Bucs. It doesn’t look like Leggett will make the final 53 this year, so that means the Bucs will clear $825k before having to replace him.
  • RB T.J. Logan - If you’re looking for Dare Ogunbowale, he doesn’t count toward the top-51 due to his salary, but Logan does. Even though he’s a favorite, the Bucs would clear $825k with his release before they replace him.
  • DL William Gholston - There are many who feel like he is overpaid at $4.75 million, but the Bucs seem to like Gholston and what he can do. If something does happen with his contract, it feels like it would be a re-structure before anything else. But if he is let go, the Bucs would save all $4.75 million before replacing him.

Other candidates up for a contract adjustment: CB Deiondre’ Hall ($825k), TE Tanner Hudson ($750k), T Anthony Fabiano ($750k), G Aaron Stinnie ($750k), DE Pat O’Connor ($750k), and WR Jaydon Mickens ($750k)

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Bruce Arians has his eyes set on a Super Bowl in 2020 or 2021.
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we have everything in front of us, what’s the official outlook for the 2020 season as of this moment?

If there is in fact a regular season, then there’s plenty of reasons to be excited if you’re a fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The offense appears to be absolutely loaded, but there are still some depth concerns. The first concern that comes to mind is, “What happens if Brady goes down with a serious injury?”. Gabbert seems like a great guy, but there is no way that he would be able to offer the offense what Brady can. A serious injury to Tampa Bay’s most-heralded signing will likely set the team back quite a bit.

There’s also a bit of worry at the running back position. If Jones gets hurt or if he is ineffective, how much can the Bucs rely on Vaughn and the others to get the job done? Brady did win a Super Bowl with a rookie running back in Sony Michel, so it’s definitely possible, but that’s not a road the Bucs want to go down, either.

Tampa Bay appears to be stacked when it comes to the receiving corps and the tight ends. The tight end group is arguably the best in the league and could possibly help out the receivers in case Evans or Godwin goes down again. The Bucs can use Howard and Gronkowski in a variety of ways in case that happens.

The biggest question on the offensive line is obviously Wirfs, but it’s more of a “how good will he be” question. If he can turn in a solid rookie year - it doesn’t even have to be Pro Bowl-level - then it will surely benefit the line as a whole. Haeg brings a ton of versatility due to the fact that he can play both tackle and guard, which really helps out the depth in a big way.

The defense is in decent shape, but there are depth questions all over. The defensive line and outside linebacker positions are one major injury from taking several steps back in production. Who will fill the void if let’s say, Vea, David, JPP, or Barrett go down? What about Suh? Do you feel confident that Nacho or Nelson or Cichy will be able to step in and get the job done? The Bucs likely missed out on adding depth to these areas by removing themselves from the fourth round of the draft. That’s not ideal, but there are worse ways to spend your fourth round picks.

The secondary was given a small boost with the arrival of Winfield Jr., but again, there are depth questions. If Davis, Dean, or SMB go down, that means Stewart or Smith is likely the third corner on the team. And if Whitehead, Winfield, or one of the other safeties go down, it’ll be slim pickens there, as well.

But overall, the defense should be in good shape due to the fact that every single starter from 2019 returns. We saw this unit improve mightily over the back half of the season and with Bowles at the helm, it’s hard to envision a step back unless injuries occur.

If the team can live up to its potential on paper and just get an average year out of the defense, then it’s not unrealistic to think the Bucs can make it to the postseason for the first time since the 2007 season.


In all, the Bucs had a tremendous offseason. Not only was it the most memorable offseason in franchise history, but it has put the team in the position to win now - and they have a great shot at doing just that.

Of course, there is always the possibility that something could go wrong and make it harder for the team to reach its goal(s), but that won’t change the fact that the team did just about everything it could to maximize its potential in 2020

But what do YOU think? Let us know in the poll/comments below!!

Poll

How do you feel about the Bucs’ offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    I absolutely loved it
    (536 votes)
  • 26%
    I liked it
    (210 votes)
  • 2%
    Meh
    (18 votes)
  • 0%
    It was somewhat disappointing
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Traaaaassssshhhh
    (11 votes)
779 votes total Vote Now

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