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Ranking the Bucs Free Agent Priorities

Who should the Bucs prioritize bringing back this offseason?

NFL: DEC 24 Jaguars at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the offseason underway, many questions have come up for the Buccaneers. Not only do they need to find a new offensive coordinator after Dave Canales departed for Carolina, but they also have a laundry list of pending free agents and some tough decisions to make.

According to Spotrac, the Bucs currently have 48.7 million dollars in cap space and that number will surely go up with restructures and potential cuts. Even though Tampa Bay has more cap flexibility this offseason, there still is a lot of work that Jason Licht has to do. Let's dive in to who the Bucs should be prioritizing bringing back before free agency hits in March.

5. Kicker, Chase McLaughlin

Jason Licht absolutely nailed it when he signed Chase McLaughlin last offseason to a one year deal. Ryan Succop was very good for Tampa Bay and replacing him would not be easy but McLaughlin was money for the Buccaneers all year long. McLaughlin was a perfect 38/38 on extra points in the regular season and playoffs combined and also missed just three field goals all season long.

McLaughlin’s cap hit in 2023 was just 990k. Expect that number to rise exponentially but it is something Tampa Bay has to do. They cannot afford to lose McLaughlin after the season he had and the struggles the Bucs have had with kickers pre-Ryan Succop. Expect McLaughlin as this team’s kicker in 2024.

4. Quarterback, Baker Mayfield

Here is one of the main big ones and something that is sure to cause debate amongst Bucs fans. At one point during the season, the chances of Baker Mayfield being back in Tampa Bay appeared slim as the team lost six of seven and were headed towards a top ten pick and likely new coaching staff. However, the Bucs made a run during a four-game stretch to save their season and Mayfield was a big reason why. He played his best football of the season in back to back games against Green Bay and Jacksonville which catapulted Tampa Bay to the top of the division.

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

In the playoffs, Mayfield put together a great performance against Philadelphia and then played solid against Detroit, even if there were a few mistakes made. Mayfield is not perfect, but he has played well enough to earn another contract with Tampa Bay. The tough thing for the Bucs though is that his price has risen a lot from the four million he signed for last offseason.

Spotrac’s market value for Mayfield currently sits at four year, 108.5 million dollar deal with an average salary of 27.1 million. The range for Mayfield seems to be in the 25-30 million per season number with a three year deal being the sweet spot. We will see if the Bucs can get a deal done and secure their quarterback for the 2024 campaign. If the price is fair, the Bucs should look to bring him back.

3. Linebacker Lavonte David

The ageless wonder of the Buccaneers and the heart and soul of the defense, David is 34 years old and still playing at an extremely high level. Retirement is certainly an option for David at this stage in his career but if he does choose to continue playing, it needs to be in Tampa Bay.

David has an opportunity that not many great players in the NFL have nowadays, be able to spend your entire career with just one team. If David were to retire this year or run it back in Tampa Bay for one more ride, he would join the likes of Ronde Barber, Mike Alstott and Derrick Brooks as Buccaneers for life. That is very rare in today’s NFL and the Bucs are a prime example of that. Look no further than Warren Sapp and John Lynch as just two examples of franchise greats finishing their careers on other teams. Did anyone ever really expect Tom Brady to play for a team not named the Patriots?

The Bucs and David have a chance to close things out in a great way. If David continues to play, the Bucs have to make it a high priority to make sure that’s in red and pewter this fall. It goes beyond legacy as well. David is still one of the best players on the defense and with Devin White likely departing, it would be tough for the Bucs to replace both middle linebackers in the same offseason. Simply put, David must be a Buccaneer for life no matter what.

2. Wide Receiver Mike Evans

This is where the list may get a little controversial. I know how important Mike Evans is to the Buccaneers and how much he means to the community. It would be a tremendous loss if he were to depart. The Bucs and Evans had contract discussions before the 2023 season began but were unable to come to an agreement which led people to wonder if this would be Evans’ last season in Tampa Bay.

Look, the Bucs want Mike Evans in Tampa Bay and Mike Evans wants to be in Tampa Bay. I fully expect them to make that happen and I have to imagine that Jason Licht makes it a priority to sign the first ever player he drafted to remain a lifelong Buc. There will certainly be competition for Evans though if he were to hit free agency. He is arguably the best receiver available on the open market and teams like the Chiefs and Texans could come calling.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Spotrac has Evans’ market value at a four-year deal worth 95.3 million dollars with an annual salary of 23.8 million. Like with Mayfield, the average annual value appears to be right in line with what the expectations are, but a three-year deal may be more likely for the Bucs star receiver.

Evans is the best offensive player in Buccaneers history. The Bucs and Jason Licht need to do whatever they can to ensure that he remains in Tampa Bay for 2024 and beyond.

1. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr

That’s right, even though I fully acknowledge how important re-signing Mike Evans is, Winfield has to be the Bucs top priority this offseason. He will be 26 when the 2024 season rolls around and is entering his prime. He had a monster season in which he was arguably the best safety in the entire NFL.

Spotrac’s market value for the star safety has him at a five-year deal worth 92.2 million with an annual salary of 18.4 million. If that is what it is going to take to bring Winfield back, the Bucs should jump on that immediately. He has gotten better every season and still has his best days ahead of him.

There is just no way Tampa Bay can let Winfield even sniff the free agent market. He is too valuable to the defense and even if a long-term deal cannot be reached, expect the franchise tag to be slapped on him.

Either way, Winfield isn’t going anywhere and that is how it should be.