The 2020 NFL Draft dispersed 255 former college players to their first NFL homes, including seven who will be relocating to Tampa once they get the opportunity. Like all professional sports leagues, the NFL is navigating a new and unusual landscape thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there's no clear answer yet as to when players and coaches will get back on the field. However, the work of offseason roster construction continues unabated in every league outpost, and that includes the ongoing 2020 free agency period.
This year, free agency began on March 18 after the three-day window in which teams could discuss potential contract parameters with pending free agents. The Buccaneers made one of the biggest early moves by landing Tom Brady, the most decorated quarterback in franchise history. Tampa Bay also succeeded in bringing back many of its own important free agents, and then pulled off a trade just before the draft to reunite Brady with the un-retiring Rob Gronkowski.
Now that the draft is concluded, another wave of free agency - albeit a slow-cresting one - is underway. This is the period in which teams assess what they did and did not adequately address on their roster between early free agency and the draft and look to see if answers remain on the open market. Our Free Agency Tracker has followed all the moves regarding incoming and outgoing Buccaneers since the period began; now we take another look at the picture following a very impactful draft.
• TE Rob Gronkowski (via trade)
So, this is big. The Buccaneers found an incredibly bold way to address their starting quarterback position, bringing in the player many consider the greatest of all time. Brady's credentials are certainly worthy of that G.O.A.T. status, beginning with his record six Super Bowl championship rings. He's won more games as a starter in both the regular season and the postseason than any other quarterback, and he's also second on the NFL's all-time charts in both passing yards and touchdown passes. Interestingly, the only player ahead of him on both lists, and by relatively slim margins, is his new NFC South division-mate, the Saints' Drew Brees.
On April 22, the day before the draft was set to begun, the Bucs gave Brady the player he has connected with for the most yards and the most touchdowns in his career in Gronkowski. This wasn't technically a free agency move because the Bucs acquired the all-star tight end in a trade after he chose to return to football after a one-year retirement. The deal cost Tampa Bay a 2020 fourth-round pick, though it also brought back a seventh-round selection. Between the regular season and the postseason, Brady has thrown 90 touchdown passes into Gronkowski's waiting arms.
Haeg, who inked a one-year deal on Friday, March 20, provides the Buccaneers with some much-needed depth at the tackle position, with Demar Dotson, Jerald Hawkins and Josh Wells all becoming unrestricted free agents. Haeg played his first four seasons in Indianapolis and made a total of 35 starts while playing three different positions. While his experience at right guard offers valuable versatility, the Buccaneers likely targeted Haeg for his ability to play both tackle positions, as he did in Indianapolis. After the first-round selection of Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs in the draft, Haeg will get a chance to compete for the right tackle job with Wirfs but could also end up as a valuable swing tackle.
To no one's surprise, the Buccaneers elected to use their franchise tag on Barrett when no long-term deal was in place by the tag deadline on Monday. It's the first time that the team has used a franchise or transition tag in eight years, and as was the case with kicker Connor Barth in 2012, the hope is that it will just be the precursor to a long-term deal later this offseason.
Players Released, Traded and/or Signed by Other Teams
The Bucs are doing a good job of keeping their strong defensive front intact in 2020 but they didn't bring back the entire depth chart. Allen left for a two-year deal with the Patriots, taking the reverse Tom Brady path. Nassib reportedly got a three-year contract with the Raiders, perhaps stepping back into a starting role after two good years in Tampa. Running back Peyton Barber joined the offensive backfield in Washington under new Head Coach Ron Rivera. Washington signed a second former Buccaneer after the draft, picking up Liedtke during the first week of April.
Perriman reportedly signed with the New York Jets relatively early in free agency as the Jets looked to replace the departed Robby Anderson. Perriman had his best NFL season with Tampa Bay in 2019, finishing the year with his first three 100-yard receiving games.
Winston obviously wasn't going to return to the Buccaneers after the Brady signing, but he is staying in the NFC South and he'll be working alongside the only player in NFL history who has more passing yards than Brady. Winston signed with the New Orleans Saints just after the draft, essentially replacing Teddy Bridgewater, who left to find a starting role in yet another NFC South locale, Carolina. Winston will back up Drew Brees along with do-everything offensive weapon Taysom Hill and seventh-round draft pick Tommy Stevens.
Remaining Unrestricted Free Agents*
• OLB Sam Acho
• T Demar Dotson
• T Jerald Hawkins
• S Darian Stewart
• S Orion Stewart*
• G Earl Watford
(Orion Stewart could have become an exclusive rights free agent if he had been extended tender offers from the team. Since no offer was extended, he is essentially in the same position as those officially labeled unrestricted free agents, in that he is free to sign with any team.)
Three of the remaining players on the list are offensive linemen and they may get calls now that the draft is over and teams are deciding whether or not they need added depth on the line. That's apparently what happened with Liedtke in Washington. The 34-year-old Dotson is the most accomplished player on that list, with 106 career starts.
When the Buccaneers placed their franchise tag on Barrett it meant that every other player on their list of potential unrestricted free agents could hit the market if they wanted to do so. Fortunately, both the Buccaneers and edge-rushing star Pierre-Paul were motivated to stay together. Pierre-Paul skipped free agency and signed a multi-year deal with the Buccaneers on the day before the start of free agency. The deal was a confirmation of Bruce Arians' repeated claims that keeping the team's rising defense as intact as possible was a priority for the team. That pursuit got even better in the second week of free agency when the Buccaneers also managed to retain Suh, the third major piece of their front seven whose contract expired in 2020.
The Buccaneers also re-signed the one player on their list of restricted free agents, Auclair, and brought back Bryant Mitchell, who could have been an exclusive rights free agent. In both cases, the team skipped the tender-offer part of the process and simply signed the players to new one-year deals. Auclair is likely to have a significant role in the 2020 offense as the team's best blocking tight end. Mitchell is still trying to get his foot in the NFL door after three good seasons in the Canadian Football League. He looked promising early in training camp a year ago but lost the 2019 season to an Achilles tendon tear in the preseason opener.
On Saturday, March 21, the Buccaneers also got a new deal done with Minter, who proved to be a good fit on both defense and special teams in 2019. Minter, who previously played under Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles in Arizona, filled in nicely for a month when rookie inside linebacker Devin White was injured, and he also played more special teams snaps than any other player on the roster.
The re-signings continued into the second week of free agency, as both Adams and Nunez-Roches got one-year deals done on Tuesday. Adams has started 16 games for the Bucs over the past two seasons, including 11 last year, and has proved he can take on a variety of roles and help with various depth-chart shortcomings. This would be his third season with the team but the first time he actually spends a training camp in Tampa. Nunez-Roches played about 25% of the team's defensive snaps last year as part of a down lineman rotation that helped the Bucs lead the league in rush defense. The Bucs brought back another defender over the second weekend of free agency, though Smith, the fifth-year cornerback, has made his biggest contributions on special teams.
The team's first roster move of April was to re-sign Gabbert to once again compete for the team's primary backup spot at quarterback. Gabbert had the inside track on that job last year before an injury to his non-throwing shoulder in the preseason led to him landing on injured reserve. Gabbert has started games under Arians before, in Arizona, and is already familiar with the Bucs' offense. In May, the Bucs then re-signed Wells, who had been there swing tackle throughout the 2019 season. Wells also started one game each at left and right tackle last season.