Skip to main content
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers 2022 Free Agency Tracker: Pre-Draft Update

The Buccaneers have set themselves up well for this week's NFL draft with an active offseason so far…We'll track all of the Bucs' arrivals and departures throughout the spring


(Editor's Note: Since the Buccaneers typically do not make signings or re-signings official until the player has actually put his signature on the contract, there will periodically be additional reported moves that will be added when and if they are confirmed by the team. The same is true of reports of Buccaneer players set to sign with new teams.)

The NFL's new league year began on March 16, ushering in the 2022 free agency period. Teams can and will continue to add free agents throughout the rest of the spring and summer, but it's fair to call the annual draft the end point of the first and most active part of free agency. And the draft has now arrived, as the first round takes place on Thursday night.

For each team, the results of free agency, even if it's just the loss or retention of its own players, play a major role in how its strategy for the draft shapes up. That certainly has been the case for the Buccaneers, who were able to re-sign such core players as Carlton Davis, Ryan Jensen, Aaron Stinnie, Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette while adding a handful of outside free agents, including Russell Gage, Keanu Neal, Logan Ryan and Shaq Mason (via trade). There were also some departures, with Alex Cappa, Jordan Whitehead, O.J. Howard and Ronald Jones all finding new NFL homes. A few other players of note, including Rob Gronkowski, Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul, remain unsigned. And, of course, Tom Brady briefly considered retirement before ultimately choosing to return to the Buccaneers for the 2022 season. Both decisions, one in late January and one in early March, heavily influenced how the Buccaneers went about their roster building.

The Bucs came through all of that in a position somewhat similar to last year, when a rock-solid depth chart allowed them the luxury of focusing more than ever on a 'best player available strategy.' The Buccaneers have few glaring needs and a lot of flexibility thanks to the work of General Manager Jason Licht and his staff over the last couple months.

"You have to trust your board," said Licht of his team's approach to the draft. "You can't push players of a perceived need too high just because you need that position. Otherwise, they're going to trump other really good players at different positions. We could take a player literally at just about any position on our team and I think if they're a great player we're going to be happy we did it."

If roster moves in March and April help shape a draft strategy, the results of that draft can in turn dictate what happens in the rest of free agency. The Buccaneers certainly do have some holes to fill on the depth chart, and if the draft doesn't provide all of the answers there will be some more work to do.

"It's always fluid, adding players to our roster," said Licht. "It doesn't have to be during free agency. Right now we're focused on the draft. There's a lot of time between after the draft and when the season starts, so it's always fluid. We leave the door open on a lot of cases, whether they're ex-Bucs or have been with us or players that are on the street."

We'll follow those situations and all of the comings and goings on the Bucs' roster over the next few months with our 2022 Free Agency Tracker. Here's where the team stands a week into the new league year:

New Arrivals

Over the past two offseasons, with the focus being squarely on retaining their own good players, the Bucs have hardly touched the outside market. Of course the one big-name signing the Bucs made over those two seasons was really the biggest-name-ever signing, as Tom Brady chose to start a new chapter in his career in 2020.

Last year, Tampa Bay did not sign a single player who qualified as an unrestricted free agent at the start of the open market, and their only real addition of note was running back Giovani Bernard, who was waived by Cincinnati in April. The Buccaneers have been more active in bringing in new players this year, particularly if one includes the trade for Mason in those endeavors. The 2022 new additions so far include:

Gage officially signed with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent on Friday, leaving the division-rival Falcons after four seasons in Atlanta. A productive receiver who can play on the outside or in the slot, Gage put up very good numbers as a starter in the second half of last season, ranking eighth in the NFL in receptions (50) and receiving yards (611) over the last eight weeks. He could be an ideal addition to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in three-receiver sets while also giving the Bucs some insurance in the starting lineup if Godwin is not recovered from his knee injury in time for the start of the season.

After the addition of Gage, the Buccaneers then swung a trade with the Patriots to get Mason in exchange for their 2022 fifth-round draft pick. Mason has started at right guard for most of the past seven seasons in New England and blocked for Tom Brady for five years, two of which delivered Super Bowl championship rings. With both starting guard spots open, Mason is a good bet to fill one of them in 2022. He's under contract through 2023.

The Bucs then reconnected Brady with another former Patriot, versatile defensive back Logan Ryan. Ryan mostly played cornerback during his tenure in New England but later converted to safety, though he remains a defender that can be used at multiple spots on the field. A ball-hawk and a defensive back who has shown some pass-rushing skills, particularly in recent seasons, Ryan has career numbers that include 18 interceptions, 95 passes defensed, 13.0 sacks and 26 QB hits.

Tampa Bay made two new additions in the first week of April, starting with versatile offensive lineman Fred Johnson, who signed with the team on Monday, April 4. Johnson had originally been given the qualifying offer by Cincinnati to make him a restricted free agent, but after the Bengals added a number of other linemen early in free agency they released Johnson after he signed the offer. The fourth-year veteran has experience on both sides of the line and should battle for a backup job either as a swing tackle or an interior lineman. Three days later, the Bucs landed a potential impact player for their defense, signing former Cowboy Keanu Neal. The Bucs knew Neal well from the five seasons he played safety for the Atlanta Falcons after he was drafted in the first round in 2016. Neal agreed to switch to linebacker after reuniting with former Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn in Dallas last year but is now moving back to the position at which he earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2017. Less than a week before the draft's first round, the Bucs added one more former Falcon, signing fifth-year defensive lineman Deadrin Senat. A former third-round draft pick out of the University of South Florida, Senat spent last season on injured reserve in Atlanta.

Franchise Tag

The Buccaneers used their franchise tag for the third offseason in a row, with Godwin getting it for a second time after it went to Shaquil Barrett in 2020. Prior to this current run, the franchise had never used a franchise tag in consecutive seasons. For the first time in these past three years, however, the franchise tag led directly to a new long-term deal that same offseason. On March 21, the team announced that Godwin had signed a three-year contract running through the 2024 season.

Re-Signed Players

A year ago, in addition to placing the franchise tag on Godwin, the Buccaneers also got new deals in place for potential UFAs Lavonte David and Shaquil Barrett on or before the day free agency kicked off. This time around, the first couple signings addressed an offensive line that was in danger of losing up to three of its 2021 starters. That made the return of Stinnie, a valued reserve who could step into a more prominent role in 2022, more of a priority and he got a deal done over the weekend prior to free agency.

Next was Ryan Jensen, the team's starting center and emotional lightning rod on the field. Jensen is coming off his first Pro Bowl campaign, which came at the end of the fourth and final year of his original UFA contract with the Buccaneers. That 2018 deal provided such good returns that the Buccaneers gave Jensen another three-year contract on Monday. With Pro Bowl left guard Ali Marpet retiring and the Bucs other starting guard cashing in on the open market (see below), retaining some continuity between tackles Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs was very important.

The Bucs weren't done. If Jensen was "a major priority" for the Buccaneers in free agency, as Licht said on Monday, Davis wasn't far behind. The 2018 second-round pick, who is still just 25 years old and in the prime of his career, surely would have had plenty of teams interested in him if he hit the open market, but he chose to stay in Tampa with a new three-year deal, signing the day before the start of free agency. Davis has led the NFL over the past three seasons with 48 passes defensed despite missing 11 games in that span.

With Brady back and the offensive line appearing to remain strong despite some transition, the logical move was to bring back Fournette, assuming he wanted to remain in red and pewter. Fournette was a massive offensive force for the Bucs during their 2020 postseason run to the Super Bowl title, and he followed that up by taking control of the lead job in the backfield in 2021 and putting up strong numbers as both a runner and a pass-catcher, not to mention scoring 10 touchdowns. The Bucs officially announced his return on Wednesday, March 23.

Defensive lineman Will Gholston later chose to return for a 10th season with the only NFL team he has known so far. The second-longest tenured player on Tampa Bay's roster, Gholston has been a steady contributor in several different defensive schemes but has seen his production spike over the past three seasons under Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles. Gholston had a career-high 4.5 sacks last year and has 37 quarterback hits over the past two seasons. The Buccaneers made that move official on March 24, along with the re-signing of wide receiver Breshad Perriman. Perriman had one of the Bucs' biggest plays of 2021 with a game-winning touchdown catch-and-run in an overtime win over Buffalo, and had an extremely productive final month in 2019 in his first stint with the Buccaneers. On March 28, the Buccaneers also re-signed two more players, eighth-year veteran tackle Josh Wells and long-snapper Zach Triner. Wells spent most of the past three seasons as the team's swing tackle, starting a total of eight games. Triner has been Tampa Bay's long-snapper for those same three seasons and he overcame a finger injury that forced him to injured reserve for half of the 2021 campaign to return and reclaim his job. Triner and O'Connor had both become the equivalent of unrestricted free agents when they were not extended tender offers to become restricted free agents, and O'Connor also eventually returned to the Bucs, re-signing in mid-April.

The Bucs continued to chip away at their list of free agents in the early part of April. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who has served as Tom Brady's primary backup the past two years, re-signed with the team for the third offseason in a row, which means the entire quarterback group from the 2021 squad is intact. Two days later, the Buccaneers brought back another veteran reserve on offense, re-upping with running back Giovani Bernard. Though he was limited to 31 touches last year, Bernard scored three touchdowns and continued to be a productive pass-catcher out of the backfield, as he had been for eight years in Cincinnati.

Players Released, Traded and/or Signed by Other Teams

A third-round pick in 2018 out of Division II Humboldt State, Cappa took over as the starting right guard in his second season and has since opened 46 games on one of the NFL's most explosive offenses. He was the only Buccaneer to play every single offensive snap in 2022 and he helped the team lead the NFL in passing yards while allowing the fewest sacks. Cappa goes from one prime contender to another, joining a Cincinnati team that just lost Super Bowl LVI to the Rams and has a talented roster with a clear need for better blocking up front. His departure means the Buccaneers will be starting two new guards in 2022. Whitehead, who signed with the New York Jets, missed time with hamstring and calf injuries last season but otherwise started all 16 games in which he played, including the playoffs. He was fourth on the team with 78 tackles and he added two interceptions and eight passes defensed. Particularly effective around the line of scrimmage, Whitehead was known as one of the hardest hitters on Tampa Bay's defense.

Howard, who signed with the Buffalo Bills, was the Buccaneers' first-round pick in 2017 and he averaged 485 yards and four touchdowns per season over his first three years in Tampa. However, he missed all but four games in 2020 with an Achilles tendon injury and was limited to 14 catches and 135 yards in 17 games last year. Howard now settles in at the site of arguably his best game as a pro, as he had six catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns in Buffalo during his rookie season. Jones also signed on with a top AFC contender, joining the Kansas City Chiefs on March 27. Jones was surpassed on the Bucs' depth chart by Leonard Fournette but did finish second on the team with 428 yards and four touchdowns on 101 carries.

Remaining Unrestricted Free Agents

  • S Andrew Adams
  • CB Pierre Desir
  • TE Rob Gronkowski
  • DL Steve McLendon
  • ILB Kevin Minter
  • OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
  • S Curtis Riley
  • CB Richard Sherman
  • DL Ndamukong Suh

Players with expired contracts and at least four accrued seasons of free agency credit are unrestricted free agents (UFAs) and can sign with any team. After their exit in the Divisional Round of the 2021 playoffs, the Buccaneers had 23 players who could have landed in that category on March 17, including seven who started in the title game. However, they have already made good headway on the list with the tag for Godwin and the deals for Stinnie, Jensen and Davis.

That list, however, still contains primary backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert and Tom Brady's mind-melded passing connection, tight end Rob Gronkowski. The interior defensive line could take several hits as Ndamukong Suh, Will Gholston and Steve McLendon are all on the list, as well.

Remaining Restricted Free Agents

· None

Players with expired contracts and three years of free agency credit become restricted free agents if they are given a tender offer prior to the start of free agency. There have been fewer players in this category since the NFL made four-year deals standard for every draft pick. The players in this category either did not make it through that four-year deal or were undrafted players who got shorter original deals.

Remaining Exclusive Rights Free Agents

· None

Exclusive rights free agents have an expired contract and two or fewer years of free agency credit. This year, the Buccaneers have no players in that category.

Remaining Non-Tendered Free Agents

· None

Players who could have become restricted or exclusive rights free agents become equivalent to unrestricted free agents if they do not receive a qualifying offer from their respective teams. That was the case for defensive lineman Patrick O'Connor and long-snapper Zach Triner, both of whom have three years of accrued free agency credit but were not tendered offers by the Buccaneers. O'Connor was one of the Bucs' most active special teams player before a late-season knee injury shut him down. As noted above, both O'Connor and Triner eventually re-signed with the Buccaneers.

Related Content

win monthly prizes, download the app and turn on push alerts to score

Download the Buccaneers app and turn on push alerts for your chance to win

Latest Headlines