The NFL's 2023 league year has begun, and with it comes the start of free agency. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that means nearly two dozen players from last season's roster hit the market and were free to sign with any team.
Because there was a 52-hour "negotiation period" that immediately preceded the start of the league year on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. ET, a number of teams and prominent free agents were able to quickly and officially announce new deals they had hammered out over the previous two days. That included the Buccaneers with cornerback Jamel Dean, who signed a new four-year deal to remain in Tampa.
Facing the prospects of more than 20 unrestricted free agents isn't a new experience for the Buccaneers, who have managed some lengthy UFA lists in recent years, working hard to keep together a playoff-caliber roster after winning Super Bowl LV. The Bucs had 24 potential UFAs the day after their championship victory and another 23 a year later after winning the NFC South. Aggressive maneuvering – which involved some contracts that pushed some cap burden on to future seasons – allowed Tampa Bay to put together the most successful three-year stretch in franchise history.
The Buccaneers had to approach the situation a bit differently in 2023, however, thanks to a very tight cap situation. However, that didn't stop them from getting the Dean deal done quickly or landing a new competitor for their starting quarterback job in Baker Mayfield. The Buccaneers are navigating tight straits while also trying to put together a roster that can compete for a third straight NFC South title.
"I don't want to say [we're] 'taking a step back,'" said General Manager Jason Licht. "We're still trying to restock and eventually build another championship team and it's just going to look a little different and be done a little bit differently. We were in a position in 2020 after we won the Super Bowl to be able to re-sign all of our players, which hadn't been done, or hadn't been done in a very long time. The goal is eventually to get back into a position like that, but in the short term, we still want to win and compete for this division – and we think we can. We just want to do it without sacrificing our long-term plans, our long-term goals, as well. I think we can find a way to do both at the same time."
We'll follow those situations and all of the comings and goings on the Bucs' roster over the next few months with our 2023 Free Agency Tracker, which is being updated as roster moves develop. Here's where the team stands roughly a week into free agency:
The Bucs' first move in free agency for a player outside the organization was at the most critical position, as the team inked sixth-year quarterback Baker Mayfield. The first-overall pick in the 2018 draft, Mayfield spent four seasons as the starter in Cleveland before splitting last year between the Panthers and Rams. He led the Browns to their first playoff appearance in 18 years in 2020, throwing for 3,563 yards and 26 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. To begin the second calendar week of free agency, the Buccaneers added another player to the offense, signing veteran running back Chase Edmonds. The 5-9, 205-pound Edmonds has run for 1,796 yards while hauling in 144 passes for 1,078 yards and scoring a total of 17 touchdowns over five seasons. He split last year between Miami and Denver.
For the first time in four years, the Bucs did not make use of their franchise tag. They had done so in 2020 with outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett and then in both 2021 and 2022 on Godwin. Both players ended up with multi-year deals in the long run.
As noted above, Tampa Bay did not make any moves to whittle down its own free agency list before the start of the new league year. Still, some of those players could return with a new deal even after hitting the open market.
The Buccaneers were able to retain the most coveted player on their list of free agents, as Dean was widely considered to be the top cornerback potentially available. Coming off his best season yet, Dean has developed into a lock down corner who is a perfect complement to Carlton Davis as the team's two perimeter defenders.
Tampa Bay also re-signed Stinnie, who was in competition for the starting left guard spot last summer before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Stinnie most notably started the last three games of the Buccaneers' run to the Super Bowl LV title, performing well in place of the injured Alex Cappa.
On the second day of free agency, the Buccaneers agreed to terms on a two-year deal with Nelson, who recorded 10.5 sacks over the past two seasons and was productive as a starter and nearly every-down player down the stretch in 2022. To begin the second calendar week of free agency, the Bucs also re-signed role players Cam Gill and Patrick O'Connor. Gill had 1.5 sacks in limited defensive snaps in 2021 before spending 2022 on injured reserve, while O'Connor has been one of the team's most active special teams players over the past four seasons.
Players Released, Traded and/or Signed by Other Teams
The Bucs had to make some difficult decisions in order to get in compliance with the salary cap by the start of the new league year. That included the release of three veteran players who had contributed heavily to the team's recent run of success.
Smith was the first to be released officially by the team, on March 7, ending an impressive eight-year run as the Bucs' starting left tackle. Smith only missed seven of a possible 137 starts during his Buccaneers tenure, including the playoffs, and opened more games at left tackle than anyone in franchise history other than Ring of Honor member Paul Gruber.
Nunez-Roches was the first departure among the Buccaneers' free agents, reportedly signing a three-year deal with the Giants. Nunez-Roches joined the Buccaneers in October of 2018 and went on to play four-and-a-half seasons in Tampa, seeing his most extensive action in the 2020 Super Bowl season after Vita Vea got hurt. Overall, he played 68 games for the Buccaneers with 22 starts, recording 2.0 sacks in 2022.
The Buccaneers cleared cap space and improved their 2023 draft capital a bit by trading Mason to the Houston Texans. The Bucs got pick #179 in the sixth round and gave up pick #230 in the seventh round.
The Bucs saw one of their 2019 draft picks depart a few days into the free agency period, as Edwards signed a one-year deal to join the Kansas City Chiefs, the team he helped Tampa Bay defeat in Super Bowl LV. Edwards started 12 games last season and recorded 82 tackles, two interceptions (including one pick-six) and three passes defensed. A few days later, cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, another 2019 draft pick, signed a deal with the Tennessee Titans. Murphy-Bunting started five of the 12 games in which he played in 2022, as well as the Bucs' lone preseason contest, and had 31 tackles and two interceptions.
Remaining Unrestricted Free Agents
- OLB Genard Avery
- RB Giovani Bernard
- ILB Lavonte David
- QB Blaine Gabbert
- DL Will Gholston
- DL Akiem Hicks
- WR Julio Jones
- WR Scotty Miller
- OLB Carl Nassib
- S Keanu Neal
- WR Breshad Perriman
- TE Kyle Rudolph
- S Logan Ryan
- DL Deadrin Senat
- T Josh Wells
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. The Bucs had 23 of those when the offseason began but quarterback Tom Brady reduced that list by one when he retired on February 1.
The remaining list is highly concentrated in several areas of the depth chart. It four five players in the secondary including two from the Bucs' 2019 draft class – Sean Murphy-Bunting and Mike Edwards – that the team helped develop into quality starters. There are also four defensive linemen in the group, including starters Will Gholston and Akiem Hicks. Gholston was the second-longest tenured player on the Buccaneers' roster last season, behind only inside linebacker Lavonte David, who is also now a free agent. Compounding the concerns on the front line of the defense is the free agency status of Carl Nassib.
Remaining Restricted Free Agents
None. The Buccaneers had one potential RFA in outside linebacker Cam Gill but elected not to extend the qualifying offer.
Remaining Exclusive Rights Free Agents
Exclusive rights free agents have an expired contract and two or fewer years of free agency credit. Players in this category become exclusive rights free agents if they receive a qualifying offer from their team before the start of free agency. The Buccaneers did this with Leverett, who started 10 games at left guard last season, and Delaney, who had a big role on special teams in 2022 and can play both cornerback and safety.
Non-Tendered Free Agents
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. As noted above, that was the case with Gill, who spent the 2022 season on injured reserve after suffering a Lisfranc injury in his right foot in the preseason opener. He had 1.5 sacks in limited snaps in 2021 and also recorded half a sack in Super Bowl LV. As also noted above, Gill has returned for another season with the Buccaneers.