The NFL has officially moved into off-season mode, but we all know that with the exception of a four-week break between the middle of June and the start of training camps in July there really is no such thing as an NFL offseason.
As Patriots coach Bill Belichick pointed out during his post-Super Bowl press conference, most teams are already weeks into the planning stages for the 2018 season, which means decisions are already being made regarding roster spots.
With 17 unrestricted free agents of their own, the Bucs are among those who have already begun the process of figuring out who they can and can’t afford to keep around for another year and with that in mind here’s a look at the free agents we believe the Bucs must try to retain.
DE Will Gholston – Gholston won’t rack up a lot of sacks but few players set the edge against the run on the left side of the defense as well as Gholston does and he can move inside and play three technique in a pinch as well. Gholston may command a contract worth as much as $5 million per year on the open market, but that could prove to be a bargain because at the age of 25 his best football is probably still ahead of him and the Bucs don’t want to see him play that for someone else.
S Bradley McDougald – McDougald is arguably the Bucs best safety. He is certainly their most versatile and that’s what will make him valuable to other teams. Solid both in coverage and as a run stopper inside the box, McDougald provides flexibility the Bucs can use as they look to shore up this position group in free agency and the draft. Coming off a one-year $2.55 million contract, McDougald will be looking for a raise and some security. He should get both.
WR Russell Shepard – Shepard has established himself as a special teams ace and one of the Bucs top gunners on punt returns in the league but he’s much more than that. Shepard proved last year that he can contribute as a pass catcher as well and that’s a role the Bucs will probably look to expand in the future. Shepard played under a one-year contract worth $1.6 million last year and is well deserving of at least a longer-term deal worth a bit more than that.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers – The Bucs definitely want Rodgers (above) back in 2017. The question is, does Rodgers want to be back? Now 27 years old and cognizant of the fact that his chance to be an every-down back is finally at hand, Rodgers is looking for an opportunity to cash in on what amounted to a breakout season in 2016. The question is, do the Bucs feel as if Rodgers is an every-down player? If they do and are willing to promise him a shot at being the featured ball carrier he’ll probably return.
CB Josh Robinson – Robinson spent most of his time this past season working special teams and he was almost as important a piece there as Shepard was. Robinson also provides some much-needed depth at outside cornerback, where a team can never have too much talent and the Bucs have to be wary of Father Time finally catching up to Brent Grimes. After a year to adjust to coordinator Mike Smith’s system Robinson could push for playing time should injuries become an issue so he has value.
QB Mike Glennon – The Bucs have to try, right. And they will. Sure, the likelihood is great that Glennon will leave for a better opportunity to play more regularly elsewhere such as Chicago or Los Angeles (either the Rams or the Chargers) but if that opportunity doesn’t come the Bucs would no doubt be willing to pay a little more than market value for a player they are confident can step in and win games for them should starter Jameis Winston go down.
WR Vincent Jackson – Yes, he’s 34 and there were times last year when he looked like he was 34. Jackson is also coming off a second straight season in which he lost time to a knee injury. The thing you have to remember about Jackson, though, is that he’s a pro’s pro, a real team leader and mentor, and if the Bucs can get him for about $5 million, which should be the going rate, then it may be worth the slight gamble to see if he’s got one good year left in him.