Coming into the offseason, there was a lot of doubt surrounding the Buccaneers and many questions about what the team would look like come this fall. With multiple starters scheduled to hit free agency and having -55 million in cap space, many were wondering how they were going to be able to navigate this tricky situation.
As the initial free agency dust settles, one thing is clear. The Bucs did just about as good of a job as one could have asked from them with the circumstances so far this offseason. Now it is time to give out some grades for the top moves made by Tampa Bay.
Re-Sign Jamel Dean to a 4 Year, 52 Million Dollar Deal
I have to admit, I was shocked to see Dean return to Tampa especially at that price. I did not think there was any way the Bucs were going to be able to compete with some of the offers Dean was going to receive on the open market but I clearly overestimated what his market would be and luckily for the Bucs, they were able to retain their number 2 corner at an affordable rate and keep a player who has gotten better and better each year. Fantastic work by Jason Licht and company.
Trade Shaq Mason and a 7th Round Pick to the Texans for a 6th Round Pick
This one caught me a bit by surprise because Mason was a solid starter for them, but it is understandable why the team felt they could move on from Mason. They have some young depth along the interior with Nick Leverett and Robert Hainsey as well as Luke Goedeke who has experience at guard. He won’t appear on this list, but they also brought back Aaron Stinnie into the mix. They have enough depth there and Mason was scheduled to be a free agent in 2024 anyway so the Bucs cleared about 5 million in cap space and moved up in the draft in the process. Fine deal gets a fine grade.
Re-Sign Anthony Nelson to a 2 Year, 11 Million Dollar Deal (13 Million Max Value)
Like Dean, Nelson is a player that the Buccaneers have watched progress each year. After having just 1 sacks in his first two seasons, Nelson burst onto the scene in 2021 with 5 sacks and then followed that up with a 5.5 sack campaign in 2022. I thought there was a chance that Nelson would have received a bigger deal from another club, but the Bucs were able to bring him back at a solid price.
The deal is fine. The money isn’t an issue for me, but I probably would have spent it on a different player. I question whether Nelson can actually keep up this pace and sack production. If he can keep this current pace or even improve on it, then it is a really good deal. I’m just not sure the pass rushing skills will consistently be there year in and year out. Only a 2 year deal and the details of it actually make it essentially a 1 year deal due to a team option for 2024, so it certainly could be worse, but I also think it could have been better. Either way, good for Nelson to get rewarding for the work he has put in the past 4 seasons.
Sign Baker Mayfield to a 1 Year Deal Worth Up to 8.5 Million Dollars
Here is the headline grabbing move. After a lot of speculation, the Bucs found their veteran QB in the form of Baker Mayfield. The former number 1 overall pick in 2018 is now on his 4th team in a calendar year, which is likely a big reason why the Bucs got him so cheap. While the contract is worth UP TO 8.5 million dollars, that is only if he reaches all of his incentives, which means he has to win the QB battle in camp this summer against Kyle Trask. Mayfield’s base salary is just 4 million, so a pretty good value.
Mayfield still has a lot of believers among fanbases and clearly the Bucs believe there is something there also, but he also has a lot of doubters. Regardless of that, getting a potential starting QB at the price they did is not a bad deal at all. It could be an absolute steal if Mayfield can revitalize his career in Tampa Bay much like Geno Smith did in Seattle this past season.
Re-Sign Lavonte David to a 1 Year Deal, 7 Million Dollar Deal
This is the one that many Bucs fans wanted to see and were fearful of having to say goodbye to a franchise legend. David hit the open market but found his way back to Tampa for a 12th season in Red and Pewter. The money also was not a huge deal and the 1 year pact makes sense for David who could be nearing the end of his career.
Simply put, David needed to remain a Buccaneer. Not just for on the field reasons (there are plenty of those) but also because David is the type of franchise pillar that should be in Tampa for his whole career. Not many players nowadays get to play their entire career with one team and David should be the exception. Excellent job by the Buccaneers front office for getting this done and keeping David where he belongs.
Sign Chase Edmonds, Greg Gaines 1 Year Deals
The Bucs needed running back depth and they found it. Edmonds is a solid back to replace Gio Bernard. It is likely that the Bucs add another RB to their room via the draft, but adding Edmonds as a veteran is a solid, low risk option.
They also signed defensive lineman Greg Gaines to bolster that group. They were thin along the defensive line and adding Gaines gives them a solid run defender who is also an underrated pass rusher. He brings much needed depth and can even be a starter when called upon.
With such big cap issues, being able to retain their top two free agents along with adding a veteran QB and some nice depth is a great job. The Bucs have had a really solid offseason so far and they have more opportunities to add to the roster with the rest of free agency and the NFL draft coming up.
So far though, well done, Mr. Licht.