As the NFL heads into the 2021 free agency, Bucs General Manager Jason Licht has a difficult task to ensure Bruce Arians and team have the right pieces in place to keep a championship caliber team together coming off their best season in 18 years. What makes it more difficult is staying under the salary cap.
The Bucs have a total of 30 players set to become free agents this offseason — making them one of the teams to be potentially hit worst by free agency. Five of those free agents are linebackers alone. Only Jason Pierre-Paul and Devin White remain under contract. The options are to keep this team fully in tact, or start looking outside the current roster.
I think there are some considerable notions that we’ll still see Shaquil Barrett and Lavonte David return for at least one more season. Barrett was placed on the franchise tag last season at just over $15 million, but he’s already come out publicly stating that he fully expects to get paid.
Last off-season Barrett was given a value of around $18+ million, but his representation could easily try to match Pierre-Paul’s contract which includes $20 million guaranteed. It will likely come down to who bends more and takes a discount. I have a feeling Lavonte David might take advantage of the better situation and take the discount. This would then leave the outside linebacker position available.
There’s already been talk about J.J. Watt coming to Tampa to play opposite JPP. I definitely agree that looks like the most influential and exciting acquisition for the Bucs. Especially if they can keep it close to the $18 million Watt was owed this season. Maybe Watt takes a discount, who knows. It could also come down to how those conversations go prior to Licht making any further decisions. Perhaps they opt for the value option and consider unrestricted free agent Matt Milano from the Buffalo Bills.
Matt Milano’s career thus far
Matt Milano was drafted in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft (163rd overall) by the Buffalo Bills. He’s played inside and outside linebacker, as well as Safety at Boston College. He’s currently listed as the Will linebacker in Leslie’s Frazier’s 4-3 defense.
The fourth-year player has dealt with frustration over the past couple of years. He unfortunately didn’t see the long term contract extension he was hoping for that his fellow 2017 draft class members saw, including Tre’Davious White and Dion Hawkins.
Milano set out to prove his value in 2020, but instead he was riddled with injuries. Beginning with a hamstring injury leaving him sidelined in week two. He then continued on the season to then miss six games being placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral since week eight.
The Boston College product began his collegiate career as a safety, then moved to play linebacker his sophomore year. Measuring in at 6’ tall and 223 lbs. (pre-draft), he’s played inside and outside linebacker, and seemed to excel in 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes.
During college he accrued 140 total tackles, 32.5 of those for loss with 14 sacks. He reeled in one interception his senior year. Since being drafted by the Bills he’s managed himself a fairly decent stat line - 273 tackles with 30 tackles for loss. He accrued six sacks, five interceptions, and five fumble recoveries.
Why it works
Milano clocked an impressive 4.67s 40-yard dash with a 35 inch vertical. To put that into perspective, Buccaneer’s starting safety Jordan Whitehead has a 34 inch vertical with a 4.59s 40-yard dash. Shaquil Barrett has a 4.73s 40, and a 29 inch vertical. So, physically it seems Milano checks all the boxes.
It all comes down to the salary cap situation and if Jason Licht can manage to keep the current starters together, potentially under their respective market value. In order for him to do that, some of these guys will be forced to take a discount. Barrett is likely to go after the same money JPP got last off-season. If the Bucs aren’t able to re-sign Barrett, it will free up significant cap space to then bring Milano in at a lower price tag possibly on a two or three year deal.
The question is how would Todd Bowles use Milano. If the Bucs are able to retain David, they have the middle remains intact. If the Bucs manage to acquire J.J. Watt, well then the outside position is taken. So, where does Milano fit?
One thing to consider is that the Bucs are about to potentially lose their entire linebacker depth to free agency. This includes Kevin Minter, Deonne Bucannon, and Jack Cichy. As we saw Devin White go down with the injury at the end of the season, opposing offenses took full advantage. Milano could be convinced to play second-string behind White and David (assuming David gets resigned).
Milano is not likely to play second fiddle. He’s too good and should be in demand across the league. He’s been a starter since being drafted in 2017, having his breakout season just one year prior. He may be able to come in at value, but there are plenty of other teams wanting to put together a linebacker corps similar to what the Bucs have.
Milano and his representation will look at the long term situation and weigh all the options he’s presented with. They should also consider that even though it doesn’t look good short term, Tampa may still be a good fit long term as he could be a featured linebacker.
The Bucs will also consider his injury situation, especially being so fresh. 2020 did not look very good for Milano overall having only played more than 75% of defensive snaps in only five games, but he finished strong during the Bills’ playoff run.
What’s the cost?
Milano made $2,133,000 in 2020 based on his original contract. This is right in the arena of what Kevin Minter was getting paid, so it could be a nice swap for a younger linebacker. Any agent would pursue a whole lot more, and the right team will pay at least market value. Especially how well the Bills’ defense performed these past two seasons.
Barrett was placed on the franchise tag last season around $15 million. Spotrac places Lavonte David’s value at over $38 million on a 3-year deal. Barrett could rake in close to $20 million with the right team, and that could be too rich for the Bucs.
If this team is at all serious about signing Milano to a three or five year deal, they would have to look around the $12-$15 million per year price tag as that seems to be the market value for a starting linebacker in the NFL.
What we don’t know
We’re not sure how well he’ll gel with the current linebacker room and Todd Bowles. Nor are we sure what the best situation will be for him. Do they want him in pass protection or protect against the run, or do they want to take advantage of his speed on the outside as a solid edge option? His versatility is a benefit, as it will allow the Bucs to remain flexible with where they want to play Milano.
All signs are pointing to Milano definitely leaving Buffalo. It’ll be interesting to see how many suitors he’ll have.
Make the decision
Now it’s your turn to make the decision. Place yourself in Jason Licht’s shoes. How would you handle the situation with Matt Milano?
The Bucs are down to two linebackers, so they need to make big moves in that position. There are a lot of other options though, and some of those guys could be asked to come back as well. What would you do?
When it comes to Matt Milano, what would you have the Buccaneers do?
This poll is closed
Sign him no matter what
Make an offer, but keep it reasonable
Invite him for a cup of coffee and see where it goes
Call him up if they have a need after the draft
Don’t need him