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Predictions for the 2022 Buccaneers free agent class

Way before the season even begins we’re going to be taking a look at players coming into a contract year and seeing if they’ll even be on the Bucs come 2022.

Los Angeles Rams v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates with his teammates after intercepting a pass thrown by Jared Goff #16
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

For this upcoming season, the Buccaneers will be returning all 22 starters from the Super Bowl after Tampa Bay’s front office worked some magic to keep everyone under the salary cap.

Coming in 2022 however, a lot of these starters and even some major role players will be off the books and will either require a new contract, or will choose to sign with someone else. For these players, 2021 is a very important year for them as this upcoming season will determine their future market value.

For players like Ndamukong Suh, Steve McLendon, and Rob Gronkowski, retirement may be on the horizon, so we won’t spend too long looking into the crystal ball for them. However, major contributors like Ronald Jones II, Carlton Davis III, Ryan Jensen, and many more are most likely going to be playing past 2021, it just depends on where they’ll end up.

As much as the Bucs would like to keep all of these players, it would be very difficult from a financial standpoint. While we did see some major cap maneuvering this off-season, this just doesn’t seem possible year in and year out, even with the increase in the salary cap.

So let’s dive in and take a stab at predicting the futures of some of these players by speculating about their 2021 performances, guessing contract requirements, and seeing if they’ll end up in a Buccaneer uniform come 2022.

Chris Godwin

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions
Chris Godwin #14 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers makes a seven yard reception for a touchdown during the second quarter of a game against the Detroit Lions
Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

2020 statistics: 65 rec, 840 yds, 7 TDs

2021 financials: $15.9 million (Franchise Tag)

Chris Godwin is obviously a star player for the Buccaneers and one who contributes much more than just his ability to catch passes. His role as a blocker in the running game isn’t necessarily irreplaceable, but it is a trait that many NFL wide receivers just don’t possess. As the Bucs continue to build through this Bruce Arians offense which relies heavily on slot receivers run blocking, Godwin is a guy that they can’t afford to lose. While his cap hit will be on the higher end come 2022, I just don’t foresee them letting him walk in free agency.

2021 statistical prediction: 85 Rec, 1,100 Yds, 10 TDs

2022 contract prediction: 4 Yr, $82 million; $20.5 million/yr

While $20.5 million/yr would end up being top three receiver money, the increase in the salary cap will see large increases to the annual salaries of players across the board in the NFL. For Godwin, this should be enough to keep him in Tampa Bay and will be a lot more than he could’ve expected after being selected in the third round in 2017.

Ronald Jones II

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ronald Jones #27 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rushes during a game against the Atlanta Falcons
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

2020 statistics: 192 att, 978 yds, 7 TDs; 28 rec, 165 yds, 1 TD

2021 financials: $1.4 million (final year of rookie contract)

Now this is where people will start to get upset with me since I don’t place a high value on running-backs like a lot of people do. I think that Jones II has played very well and has vastly improved from his abysmal rookie season. Jones is one of my favorite running-backs to watch from a pure running standpoint as he is always fighting for more yards, breaking tackles, and can even make guys miss in the open field. However, in an Arians offense that requires running-backs to come out of the backfield to catch the ball, Jones has been very mediocre in this area. Because of this, I don’t think Arians & Co. will re-sign Jones unless he greatly improves this aspect of his game, which I don’t think he will. In my eyes, I see the Bucs letting Jones walk in free agency even when he finally hits his first 1,000 yard rushing season.

2021 statistical prediction: 200 att, 1,050 yds, 8 TDs; 30 rec, 180 yds, 1 TD

2022 contract prediction: 3 yr, $12.5 million ($4.2 million/yr) - Signs elsewhere

Since Jones is such a great pure runner, I think a team that relies heavily on the run game will be willing to pay such a high premium for the former Trojan running-back. While Tampa Bay is moving towards pass-catching backs as their primary option, many teams don’t ask their backs to do the same. While it will be sad to see Jones leave, I think he will be content to compete for the number one spot somewhere else instead of being used in a committee situation like he is now.

Carlton Davis III

NFL: NOV 08 Saints at Buccaneers
Carlton Davis III (24) of the Bucs looks into the offensive backfield during the regular season game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2020 statistics: 68 tackles (52 solo), 3 TFL, 4 Ints, 18 passes defensed

2021 financials: $2.4 million (final year of rookie contract)

Carlton Davis III has been one of the Buccaneers top cover corners and has ultimately been the veteran presence in this very young secondary. Despite not being able to come down with many interceptions through his first two seasons, he ramped up that aspect of his game mightily as he picked up four of his career five interceptions in 2020. Todd Bowles has tasked Davis with covering almost every opponent’s number one option like Michael Thomas with the Saints, Davante Adams in Green Bay, and Tyreek Hill in Kansas City. While Davis struggled against Hill, he demonstrated number one corner ability against the aforementioned Thomas and Adams. If he continues to build upon his successes from just a season ago, he might just price himself out of Tampa Bay.

2021 statistical prediction: 65 tackles, 5 Ints, 20 passes defensed

2022 contract prediction: 4 yr, $40 million ($10 million/yr)

While I did mention that he might price himself out, it is unlikely that Bowles and Arians would let their number one cornerback walk out of the building. While I did initially think he would sign elsewhere, their comments about Davis prior to the 2020 season make me think that they value him very highly and don’t want to risk losing him to free agency.

OJ Howard

Los Angeles Chargers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
O.J. Howard #80 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers catches a pass for a touchdown against Kyzir White #44 of the Los Angeles Chargers
Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

2020 statistics: 11 rec, 146 yds, 2 TDs (only played four games)

2021 financials: $6 million (fifth year option pickup)

OJ Howard is clearly a very athletic tight end who also has enough ability to bring something to the running game. However, he has been plagued by injuries through his career and hasn’t amounted to what was expected of him when he was drafted in the first round in 2017. After a very promising season in 2018, he sort of fell off the rails in 2019 as he had drop after drop and just couldn’t seem to match his talent with his production. While his 2020 season started out promising as well, an achilles injury in Week four took him out for the remainder of the season. I think that his 2021 season will be ok, but I don’t think the Bucs will want to keep him around much longer if that’s what this upcoming season amounts to.

2021 statistical prediction: 40 rec, 550 yds, 5 TDs

2022 contract prediction: 1 yr, $5 million - Signs elsewhere

After this upcoming season, Howard may choose to walk away from the team that drafted him in order to have some fresh scenery after a less than optimal start to his career. If his 2021 season just goes ok as I predict it will, I can see him signing a one year prove it deal with a team that needs a second tight end to supplement their offense. While I hope that he stays in Tampa Bay as I am a huge proponent of Howard, I think it may be time to let him flourish in a more tight end oriented offense.

Jason Pierre-Paul

Super Bowl LV
Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers attempts to tackle Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl LV
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

2020 statistics: 55 tackles (34 solo), 7 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 2 Ints

2021 financials: $12.5 million (final year of 2 yr $25 million contract)

JPP is a tough one to predict. On one hand, he had 9.5 sacks last season and generally outperformed expectations and on the other, he’s going to be 33 years old come 2022. With the Buccaneers selecting Joe Tryon in the 2021 draft, there is the potential that they may look to replace JPP with that selection in order to clear some room on the books for some of the other players on this list. However, based on his age and the success he has had in Tampa Bay, I could see him taking a more team friendly deal to end his career as a Buccaneer.

2021 statistical prediction: 50 Tackles (30 solo), 5 TFL, 7 Sacks

2022 contract prediction: 2 Yr, $22 million, $11 million/yr

After making $12.5 million over the last two years, JPP can take a modest cut to his salary to remain a Buccaneer in 2022. With the increased salary cap, this pay-cut will only help to alleviate some of the cap pressure for some other re-signings.

Alex Cappa

NFL: OCT 18 Packers at Buccaneers
Alex Cappa (65) of the Buccaneers looks for a Packer defender to block during the regular season game between the Green Bay Packers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2020 statistics: 16 G, 1 penalty

2021 financials: $2.1 million (final year of rookie contract)

I’ve been very hot and cold about Alex Cappa through his first three years in the league. He was drafted as a diamond in the rough prospect who entered his rookie year and couldn’t even earn the starting job over Caleb Benenoch. In 2019 he was serviceable, but still had a lot of glaring flaws in his game that ultimately led to me thinking he would be replaced when Brady came to town. However, I think he surprised everyone in 2020 as he had a much improved season that left many fans sounding the alarms when he was injured during the playoff run. If his 2021 season goes as it left off in 2020, big things may be happening for Cappa while he looks to ink a new contract. In fact, I actually see him as pricing himself out of Tampa Bay which we’ll get into in a moment.

2021 statistical prediction: 16 G (who knows how many penalties)

2022 contract prediction: 4 yr, $38 million ($9.5 million/yr) - Signs elsewhere

According to Over the Cap (which is where I’ve been loosely basing my contract predictions from) Cappa has a valuation of $9.5 million which is where I decided to leave it. As the Buccaneers are already committing 22.1% of their cap to the offensive line in 2022 (based on current cap and the addition of our next player’s predicted contract) they just won’t have enough to go around to sign another offensive lineman to a near $10 million contract. While I would hope it goes differently, I think the Bucs will have to find a replacement for Cappa after the 2021 season.

Ryan Jensen

Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ryan Jensen #66 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepares to snap the ball to Tom Brady #12 during the second half against the Carolina Panthers
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

2020 statistics: 16 G, 4 penalties

2021 financials: $10 million (final year of 4 yr $42 million contract)

After a less than optimal start to his career in Tampa Bay, Jensen has been spectacular over his past two seasons and is looking like one of the best centers in the NFL. Despite not getting as much attention as some other centers like Jason Kelce and Frank Ragnow, he has been a highly consistent mauler who never shies away from initiating contact or fighting for his teammates. If he is able to maintain his high level of play in 2022, then he’s definitely going to garner attention on the free agent market. Yet, Tampa Bay cannot afford to lose Jensen as he has been one of the most consistent players on a Super Bowl winning offensive line.

2021 statistical prediction: 16 G (who knows how many penalties)

2022 contract prediction: 3 Yr, $32 million, $10.7 million/yr

While Jensen’s agent may receive calls from other potential suitors after this upcoming season, I think Jensen would be content to stay in red and pewter for another few seasons even if he has to take slightly less to do so. This contract is a slight increase to his current salary, but with the increase in the cap, this may not be as much of an increase as he could’ve seen elsewhere.

Conclusion

Despite the cap increasing after the 2021 season due to the newly signed media contract by the NFL, this doesn’t mean that every player can come back. With every cap increase comes new salary demand expectations that negate a lot of what the increase would do in the first place.

With that being said, I think the Buccaneers will look to bring back the majority of their core players before the 2022 season. While I do have players like Jones II, Howard, and Cappa leaving in free agency, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they find a way to bring them all back as well.

For players like Jensen, Godwin, JPP, and Davis III, their value is higher than that of the three aforementioned guys. Godwin is one of the best receivers in the NFL, Jensen is one of the best centers, Davis III is highly touted by the Buccaneers coaching staff and is coming on as one of the better corners in the NFL, and JPP is a model player and someone you want coaching up Tryon in his second year.

All in all, this is a very difficult thing to predict, especially seeing as none of these players are even close to fielding a snap for the 2021 season. However, it never hurts to start thinking about these things early.

* all stats taken from Pro Football Reference

**current contract numbers taken from Over the Cap

Poll

Who is the first player that you’d re-sign for 2022?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Chris Godwin
    (448 votes)
  • 0%
    Ronald Jones II
    (6 votes)
  • 25%
    Carlton Davis III
    (202 votes)
  • 0%
    OJ Howard
    (5 votes)
  • 2%
    Jason Pierre-Paul
    (21 votes)
  • 1%
    Alex Cappa
    (12 votes)
  • 11%
    Ryan Jensen
    (90 votes)
784 votes total Vote Now