Jason Licht and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have drafted well in recent years, particularly on the first two days of each of the annual selection meetings. In the 2022 Pro Bowl played less than two weeks ago, the Buccaneers had six players on the NFC roster that they had drafted in the first or second round since 2015: Mike Evans, Ali Marpet, Vita Vea, Devin White, Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield, Jr.
Those aren't the team's only hits in the draft over the last half-dozen or so years. The entire starting secondary (when healthy) in 2021 was made up of draft picks in the first four rounds from 2018-20. The Bucs' offensive line in 2021 was the best in the business, and while Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen was an astute free agency find the other four starters were all first, second or third-round draft picks since 2015.
With the glaring exception of the Los Angeles Rams, most NFL teams hope to operate this way. Hit on as many draft picks as possible, get great value out of their initial four or five-year contracts and then try hard to keep those players on a second deal. That last bit is what the Buccaneers will be facing repeatedly in 2022 and the next few years. Of the 23 potential unrestricted free agents on the team's current roster, five are players who are finishing up their first NFL deals. The Bucs will surely want some of them back, and Head Coach Bruce Arians has said that retaining as many of the team's own free agents will be the first order of business this offseason, just as it was in 2020 and 2021.
The Bucs won't be able to keep all 23 of those potential free agents, but they'll try. And so, in the weeks leading up to the start of the new league year, we are going to look at 10 key players who are currently poised to become unrestricted free agents in mid-March. This is the full schedule of our 2022 Free Agent Focus rundown:
February 15: TE Rob Gronkowski
February 17: G Alex Cappa
February 22: CB Carlton Davis
February 24: QB Blaine Gabbert
March 1: DL Ndamukong Suh
March 3: RB Leonard Fournette
March 8: DL Will Gholston
March 10: WR Chris Godwin
March 14: S Jordan Whitehead
March 15: C Ryan Jensen
This list is subject to change based on potential roster moves in the coming weeks. However, today we will focus on one of those players who has performed well on his rookie deal and is now in line to be rewarded with a second contract, hopefully in Tampa but certainly somewhere in the NFL.
Player: Alex Cappa
Age at the Start of the 2022 Season: 27
Experience: Entering fifth NFL season
How Acquired: Selected in the third round (94th overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft
Previous Contract(s): Cappa played his first four seasons under the standard four-year contract given to draft picks outside of the first round.
Rank in Pro Football Focus Top 100 NFL Free Agents for 2021**:** 64th. PFF comment: "Cappa was drafted in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Division II Humboldt State. And he's gotten better each season as he made a huge adjustment to the speed of the NFL game, culminating in career highs as a pass-blocker (71.1) and run-blocker (71.4)."
2021 Performance: The Buccaneers placed three of their five starting offensive linemen in the Pro Bowl, which is a rare and impressive feat. Cappa was not one of those three, but that doesn't mean he was any less valuable of a performer on the offensive front. In his fourth year and his third as a starter, the former small-school prospect (Humboldt State) had his best season yet.
Cappa started all 19 games, including the playoffs, at right guard and was the only player on the team to be on the field for every one of the 1,328 offensive snaps. He was a key performer on an offensive line that allowed a league-low 23 sacks and led the NFL with a 3.15% sacks per pass play rate. Pro Football Focus credited Cappa with allowing only five sacks on the season and committing just one penalty.
According to NFLGSIS, the Buccaneers averaged 4.89 yards per carry while running over right guard, the ninth-best mark in the league. Football Outsiders measured the Bucs at 4.76 adjusted line yards per carry when running the ball over the interior offensive lineman.
Career Accomplishments: Cappa spent his first season adjusting to the NFL in a reserve role before taking over as the starting right guard in 2019. He has since played in and started 46 of a possible 49 regular-season games; an ankle injury kept him out of the final three games of the 2020 postseason but he started both contests in this year's playoffs.
Offensive linemen aren't burdened with many statistics, and the ones they do have (e.g. penalties against) aren't usually positive. But the Buccaneers' offense has thrived through Cappa's three seasons as a starter, and it's an accepted bit of NFL wisdom that good offense starts up front. Over those three seasons, the Buccaneers rank first in both gross (312.0) and net passing yards per game (300.0) and are third in total net yards per outing (383.1). The Buccaneers also allowed the seventh-fewest sacks (92) over those three seasons despite having the most passing attempts (1,987) by nearly 100 over the second-place team.
Other Potential Free Agent Guards: Brandon Scherff (Washington), Laken Tomlinson (San Francisco), Connor Williams (Dallas), James Daniels (Chicago), Andrew Norwell (Jacksonville), Austin Corbett (L.A. Rams), Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (N.Y. Jets), Mark Glowinski (Indianapolis), A.J. Cann (Jacksonville), Trai Turner (Pittsburgh), Will Hernandez (N.Y. Giants)
Top Guard Prospects in 2022 NFL Draft: Kenyon Green (Texas A&M), Zion Johnson (Boston College), Sean Rhyan (UCLA), Darian Kinnard (Kentucky), John Michael Schmitz (Minnesota), Lecitus Smith (Virginia Tech), Thayer Munford (Ohio State), Spencer Burford (UTSA), Jamaree Salyer (Georgia)