Is it harder to win a championship for the first time in a long time or is it harder to repeat that feat once accomplished? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are about to find out, as they enter the 2021 offseason with a challenging task of matching and even improving their chances to win a Super Bowl a year after bringing one home.
On offense, quarterback Tom Brady is the headliner, but he isn’t going anywhere. As a matter of fact, many of the Buccaneers’ top players are still under contract for next season. Along the offensive line, left tackle Donovan Smith is up for free agency next offseason, but he and the rest of the Buccaneers’ starting five are under contract through 2021. At wide receiver, Mike Evans will still run point, though there are some other passing game pieces we’ll talk about soon. At tight end, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are on the books, and at running back, the most talented back on the team, Ronald Jones, will still be under his rookie deal.
There are four offensive weapons that are currently unrestricted free agents that the Buccaneers will need to either re-sign or replace if they want to make a run at another Lombardi Trophy: wide receiver Chris Godwin, wide receiver Antonio Brown, tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Leonard Fournette.
Unlike many other championship teams we’ve seen in the past, Tampa didn't have to sell their cap health out to get the necessary players on board to win a title—you can call that “The Brady Effect.” They currently have a projected $38 million in cap space for 2021, which puts them in the top half in the NFL despite just being crowned champions. They have a few big names on the other side of the ball they have to re-sign as well—pass-rusher Shaq Barrett, linebacker Lavonte David, and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh—but there is a strong possibility they’ll be able to bring those defensive players back, and some of the offensive players they need—that doesn’t mean all, however.
Godwin, as one of the top young receivers in the game, will likely command a contract that averages out to about $17-18 million per year. But Godwin will likely work with the Buccaneers to where his contract isn’t killing the cap; they’ll make the numbers work. Brown and Fournette were playing on near-league-minimum deals last season. For those players, they’d have to play on heavily discounted deals relative to what they might be getting elsewhere if they want a shot to repeat with the Buccaneers next season. But with both having some semblance of redemption connections with the team, it could happen.
Gronkowski was getting $9 million on the Buccaneers’ cap last season. He is the offensive parallel to that of Suh on the defensive side. These were key veterans to the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl run, but they just won’t have the money to pay them as much as they did in 2020. It is highly unlikely we see Gronkowski play anywhere else in the NFL—since he already retired once—and he seems to want to come back for another run. If that’s the case, he’ll likely have to make almost half of what he made this year.
All of that is to say that when observing potential free agent targets for the Buccaneers, their first priority will be bringing back their own guys. If they do that, they’ll likely be near the cap ceiling, especially after the draft. But, there still could be some key guys to keep an eye on for free agency on the offensive side of the ball.
Matt Brieda, RB, Miami Dolphins
Brieda played three years in San Francisco before playing this past season in Miami. In the season where he was his healthiest, he finished with 814 rushing yards on 153 carries for a 5.3 yards-per-carry average. He also caught 27 passes for 261 receiving yards. He’s an athletic, now somewhat veteran option for the Buccaneers to go after if they need some juice alongside Jones. Plus, Brieda is from Brandon, Florida, just outside of Tampa.
Tevin Coleman, RB, San Francisco 49ers
The Buccaneers know Coleman well, as he had his best days as a member of the Atlanta Falcons. Coleman signed a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the 49ers two years ago, but has dealt with health issues and really hasn’t been able to perform the way he did previously in Atlanta. If Coleman can stay healthy, he would be a good option for the Buccaneers to bring in as a potential 1-2 punch with Jones. His price tag will likely be low after the unfortunate injury-riddled seasons in 2019 and 2020.
James White, RB, New England Patriots
Ah, yes, this is the one everyone was waiting for on this list. White, a former Patriot, is a player that Brady knows well and has trusted before. White is now 29 years old, but just three seasons ago he recorded more than 700 receiving yards with more than 120 targets in the Patriots’ system. Something that was seriously missing from the Buccaneers’ offense this past season was a reliable pair of hands out of the backfield. If the Buccaneers can get White on the team for cheap, they’ll likely jump at the chance to make him their third-down and passing-down running back.
Now, all of that is us being under the assumption that the Buccaneers are able to bring back both Godwin and Gronkowski, but what if Godwin is lured elsewhere at a major price? Well, then the Buccaneers would have about $20 million extra to play with, and that opens up their target market.
Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans
If the Buccaneers lose out on Godwin, bringing in a player like Fuller, who can not only stretch the field vertically but also is a good yards-after-catch player in the quick game, would be a good consolation. Fuller wouldn’t bring the full blocking portfolio that Godwin does, but he’ll do plenty in the passing game to be worth it.
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans
Davis likely won’t be as expensive as some of the top wide receivers in this free agency class like Godwin, Kenny Golladay, and Allen Robinson, but he would fit what the Buccaneers are looking for opposite Evans. He would give them plenty of versatility in where they align—not just with Evans, but also the tight ends when they game plan against certain defenses. Davis hasn’t panned out to be the top-five wide receiver the Titans thought they were getting, but he’d bring plenty to the table for Tampa.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Smith-Schuster hasn’t been the same guy these past two seasons after he recorded 1,400 receiving yards in 2018. But he’s still just 25 years old, and there is still a reason to believe that kind of dominant season could once again be on the horizon for him. Smith-Schuster would be a good Godwin replacement for Tampa for what he can bring as a blocker as well as a receiver. If they’re looking to keep the mold the same without Godwin, Smith-Schuster is their guy.
- Jun 24, 2022
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