With the initial wave of free agency having concluded over the past few days, the dust has settled for many teams, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to figure out how they can proceed and with what money over the next few weeks of the offseason. In the Bucs case, they are currently 32nd (or dead last) in the entire league with cap space remaining.
So, the question now becomes: how do they free up some money to perhaps sign another free agent or get ready to sign their draft class while being creative under the cap?
First, and obviously, the Buccaneers can choose to release another player who doesn’t have guaranteed money coming to them or salary cap repercussions.
They did that with defensive lineman Vinny Curry in February ridding themselves of his $9 million salary. They further freed up money just as free agency began by trading disgruntled veteran receiver DeSean Jackson and his $10 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles for a swap of draft picks.
Still, here are the Bucs realities:
One, quarterback Jameis Winston has the fifth year option of his rookie contract kicking in and is now making $20.9 million in a massive increase over his $3.7 million contract a year ago. The Bucs are only committed to Winston for this season to see how he performs under new coach Bruce Arians, and whether they’re going to give him a much more lucrative long-term contract after this year?
Tampa Bay’s next highest paid player is receiver Mike Evans, who is scheduled to make $20 million in the second year of his new massive deal he signed last off season. It’s unlikely the team would already rework that, as they will still have to pay him at least that much or more in 2019. And, they don’t have it under the cap, right now.
Next, the Buccaneers have several players that are scheduled to make significant money in 2019 that is not guaranteed.
While on the surface it looks like that another player or two could be released, it’s more likely Tampa Bay will try to rework their deal with either a new contract or a creative way to lower their cap number for a couple of players for this season.
Two such players are veteran defensive linemen.
One is Jason Pierre-Paul, who is slated to make $14.9 million, but is coming off a great first year in Tampa Bay where had 11.5 sacks and became a locker room leader. JPP may be willing to rework his deal for more guaranteed money this season, etc.
The Buccaneers could try to do the same thing with six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who is scheduled to make $13 million. Many have speculated that the Bucs would either outright release McCoy or force him to take a massive pay cut and let it be his decision. Neither have happened, yet.
Previously, Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer for the Tampa Bay Times, reported that the Buccaneers would be doing neither of those things and McCoy would make his full salary this year. We now we’re going to find out whether that reporting is accurate, as it relates to the 10-year veteran and former number 1 pick’s salary.
Another reality, the Bucs have the most expensive offensive line in the NFL. Having re-upped left tackle Donovan Smith last week with a new contract that will now pay him over $13 million this season, the Buccaneers now have 3 offensive lineman including guard Ali Marpet and Center Ryan Jensen who are making over $10 million dollars of season. Marpet just got his large extension late in last season and Jensen signed a four-year $42 million contract last March. His $10 million for this year is fully guaranteed, but the Bucs could opt out of Jensen’s contract after this season, at no cap penalty.
So therefore, there could be some negotiating room to give Jensen a different deal starting this year that lowers his cap number.
One more issue is the Buccaneers are very thin at linebacker after losing Kwon Alexander to the 49ers in free agency and also Adarius Taylor, who started much of last season departed for the Browns in free agency.
That leaves arguably the best linebacker in the NFL who gets almost no recognition league-wide or by the national media, Lavonte David. David (above) previously signed a five-year $50 million dollar contract extension in the 2015 season. David’s 2019 deal is completely guaranteed at $9.75 million.
However, much like the veterans mentioned above, at 29 years old, David would be a prime candidate for a lengthy extension and may be willing to rework his contract depending on more guaranteed money for this year and the next couple of years.
These are the issues facing GM Jason Licht, who has successfully navigated the Bucs cap to this point.
Still, the cap reality is the cap reality.
And the Bucs, have to find some more room, and quickly.
Brees out with thumb injury for Bucs and Jaguars games
The expected bad news on Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ injured thumb has come on Monday. And, it means the New Orleans quarterback will miss upcoming October games with the Bucs and the Jaguars.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday morning that Brees will be sidelined up to 6 weeks with the injured ligament in the thumb on his throwing hand:
Saints' QB Drew Brees is expected to undergo thumb surgery as early as today that would be expected to sideline him approximately 6 weeks, per leagues sources.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 16, 2019
Brees was injured in the second quarter of Sunday’s 30 – 9 loss to the L.A. Rams at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. He was shown on the sideline with his thumb in a splint (above), as the game worn on and did not return to action.
Brees, who will be a certain first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and who led the Saints to their only Super Bowl appearance/win in franchise history in 2009, has been one of the 2-3 top quarterbacks in the NFL for over a decade. Brees, in his 19th season, currently has the NFL’s all time record for completions and passing yards that he accomplished a year ago. He has a staggering 115 games with 300 or more passing yards and another remarkable 12 straight seasons with 4,000 passing yards that is now in jeopardy with the injured thumb.
The Saints will now turn to veteran back up Teddy Bridgewater who filled in Sunday but did not have much success against the stout Rams defense in the loss. Bridgewater, the former Vikings QB, was 17-30 for 165 yards, as New Orleans never found the endzone in the game.
The Sains also have young third QB Taysom Hill, and he’s also been used as a receiver and a special teams ace by New Orleans.
The Bucs, who were winners Thursday night at Carolina, will travel to play the Saints at the Superdome on October 6th in the first of their two NFC South meetings. The following week, New Orleans will be at TIAA Bank Field to take on the Jaguars in their first appearance in North Florida in eight years.
Bucs defense dramatic stand saved night in Charlotte
So much has been made of first-year Bucs coach Bruce Arians’ offensive mindset, starting quarterback Jameis Winston’s arm talent and the weapons around them carrying the team, but Thursday night it was the Buccaneers defense that showed up big, as in the end, with the game on the line in the final two minutes, they save the day with a fourth-down heroic play.
Former first-round pick , DB Vernon Hargreaves, came up with a key one-on-one tackle on Carolina star RB Christian McCaffrey (above) on fourth down at the Tampa Bay one-yard line to keep the Panthers from getting a first down. And, it gave the Bucs the ball back to run out the clock and secure a much needed 20 – 14 win.
Hargreaves’ individual effort epitomized the Buccaneers solid defensive play all night in Charlotte, as they did not allow Carolina to score a touchdown and held them to only three points on offense the entire second half. .
As for the aforementioned Winston and his support on the other side of the ball, they supplied enough, including Peyton Barber running tough for 82 yards on 23 carries and a crucial third-quarter 16 yard touchdown run the gave Tampa Bay the lead for good at 17 – 12.
Winston finished 16-25 for 208 yards, including a first-half touchdown pass to third year receiver Chris Godwin. Godwin is quickly becoming Winston’s new favorite target, as he hauled in eight catches for 121 yards and the score.
Meanwhile, Panthers Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton had an off game, as well. Even though he threw for 300 yards, he still had 26 incompletions on 50 attempts and Carolina repeatedly had one drive after another fizzle out in Bucs territory.
Newton was also battered by Tampa Bay’s rush, as new DE Shaq Barrett had three sacks, and the Bucs front seven repeatedly hit and knocked him down. Another key moment came near midfield in the third, when Newton was stripped of the ball for a lost fumble. And, another new Buc, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, fell on it.
And, to top it all off, McCaffery could mount very little offense Thursday night, either. A week after amassing over 200 yards from scrimmage against the Rams, he was held to 16 carries for only 37 yards and just two catches for just more 16 yards.
As for the key stop of McCaffery to preserve victory, Hargreaves said after the game late Thursday,
“It looked like it was going to be the Philly special from the Super Bowl. A reverse pass. When Cam walked up to the line of scrimmage, that’s what I thought it was going to be. As the play developed, McCaffrey faked it and he came right to me. I just stayed at home and he came right to me. I just had to make the play.”
A play that has Tampa Bay sitting 1-1 after a tough divisional win.
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