Free Agency is just about to get underway officially on Wednesday, March 15th and with that, the Buccaneers will have to find answers to a lot of the questions surrounding their team.
They have an extensive list of unrestricted free agents and with some cap trouble, it is hard to imagine a world where Tampa Bay is able to keep most of their own players. In fact, it is probably more likely they lose a good portion of the players that were on the 2022 team to other clubs in the coming days and weeks.
Because of that, Jason Licht and company will have to get creative similar to what they did in the 2019 offseason with finding a hidden gem in Shaq Barrett. Here are a few free agents that could look good in red and pewter.
RB, Rashaad Penny
2022 Team: Seattle Seahawks
Penny has been a popular name mentioned when it comes to who the Bucs could target in free agency and admittedly, I tried to go in another direction and throw out a different name, but Penny just makes too much sense. For starters, the connection to Penny is obvious with Dave Canales now running the offense in Tampa Bay. Canales was on the offensive staff in Seattle for Penny’s entire career so the new offensive coordinator in town has seen plenty of him.
The other reasons are pretty simple. The Bucs want to be a better running football team this year. After a dreadful 2022 rushing attack, they are hoping adding Canales as well as development from Rachaad White can help boost that run game. But what if they were to add another Rashaad into in the mix? Penny could come in and be familiar to the type of offense Canales wants to run and also help take the load off of White from time to time.
The other reason is the price tag. Since entering the league as the 27th overall pick in the 2018 draft, Penny has not been able to consistently stay healthy so far in his career. He was the starter for Seattle’s first five games of the season, but suffered a broken fibula in week five and went on IR shortly after. The inconsistency, combined with the emergence of Kenneth Walker in Seattle may make Penny expendable. That could be good news for the Bucs as Penny’s price is not likely to be very high considering the time he has missed. It could give him a good chance to stay healthy and be a mentor to a young running back all while taking a one year prove it deal to potentially help his market next offseason. Win-win for both the team and player if it happens.
OLB, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
2022 Team: Houston Texans
Outside linebackers Anthony Nelson and Carl Nassib are both scheduled to be free agents and while one of them could be back, depth is never a bad thing when it comes to pass rush. The Bucs have two giant question marks when it comes to two guys already on the team in Shaq Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. For Barrett, the question is whether or not he can come back and be the same player he was before his Achillies injury this past season. At 30 years old, it is no slam dunk that he returns to form. As for JTS, his question is more about whether or not he can take that next step in year three. He has shown flashes, but not enough to make a team feel comfortable with him as the top option with little behind him.
Enter Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.
Originally a fifth round pick of the Los Angeles Rams in 2018, Okoronkwo saw very little playing time on a Rams team in win now mode, but when he did get on the field, he was effective, having 4.5 career sacks with LA while never having more than 28% of snaps in the Rams defense. He signed a prove it deal with the Houston Texans and did quite well for himself, racking up five sacks while playing a little less than half of the defensive snaps available.
Okoronkwo reminds me a lot of Shaq Barrett in 2019. A player who did not receive much playing time playing for a team with established starters, only to wind up being more productive in a larger role elsewhere. Heck, their measurables are almost the exact same too, Barrett sitting at 6-2, 250 pounds while Okoronkwo is 6-1, 253 pounds. After proving himself with the Texans, it would not be a surprise at all to see a team give him another one year deal and that team should be the Bucs. Maybe Okoronkwo stays in Houston, maybe his market ends up being out of the Bucs price range, but Okoronkwo, a Gainesville native, could find returning close to home and playing with more talented players appealing.
CB, Amani Oruwariye
2022 Team: Detroit Lions
My personal top target for the team is former Penn State and Detroit Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye. The Bucs like long, lengthy corners and Oruwariye and his 6-2, 205-pound frame can certainly help with that. The 27-year-old only started five games for the Lions in 2022, so he could seek a bigger opportunity elsewhere. The Bucs had real trouble taking the ball away last year and he could help with that as in his first three seasons in Detroit, Oruwariye had nine total interceptions, including six in 2021. He is a lengthy, ball hawking corner who is still young and should not cost a ton. That should be right up the Bucs alley.
Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting are both scheduled to be unrestricted free agents so there is a need for a corner opposite Carlton Davis in this defense. As an added bonus, Oruwariye went to high school in Tampa after being born in St. Petersburg. He could very well end up being the biggest bargain contract of the 2023 offseason and the Bucs should be the team to give it to him.
A theme in these three players is that each one likely won’t break the bank. This offseason the Bucs simply can’t go out and spend on the top players due to their cap situation so they will have to find those diamonds in the rough that can come in and play well for a solid price. To expect a Shaq Barrett type signing is a bit unrealistic, but there is no reason to think the Bucs can’t find a few productive players on affordable prices this free agency period.