The NFL's 2019 league year is now a week old, and it has already been a very busy new season.
The start of the new year brings with it unrestricted free agency and, as always, the most coveted players very quickly found new homes or re-signed with their original teams. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the open market with a relatively tight salary cap situation but still managed to add significant depth at several spots on the roster, most notably in the defensive front seven with the additions of linebackers Deone Bucannon and Shaquil Barrett. There is also a new punter heading to town as well as a speed threat on offense, another competitor for the one open starting job on the defensive line and a safety for a position that had been lacking in depth.
The Buccaneers have also seen five of their own unrestricted free agents sign elsewhere, beginning with the immediate departures of linebacker Kwon Alexander and wide receiver Adam Humphries (to San Francisco and Tennessee, respectively) as free agency began. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started 10 games over the 2017-18 seasons in Tampa, later made the move downstate to Miami, where he will be in line to start for the Dolphins.
The Buccaneers' busy week in free agency may not be the end of their shopping on the open market. In addition, there are still eight players from Tampa Bay's 2018 roster who, as free agents, could still find deals elsewhere or return to the Buccaneers. We'll continue to keep you up to date with our 2019 Free Agency Tracker.
(* Agreed to terms)
Through the first six days of free agency, the Buccaneers had added six new players to their roster. Bucannon, Perriman and Pinion all agreed to terms on deals on the first day of the new league year and made them official on Thursday and Friday. Pinion got a four-year contract while the other two were for single seasons. Later on that third day of free agency, the Buccaneers also landed an important addition to their defense in Barrett, the former Denver Bronco edge rusher, who agreed to terms on a one-year deal. Watford followed on Friday evening, also completing a one-year deal. Both officially signed their contracts on Monday. The new work week then kicked off with the signing of Brice, also to a one-year pact. Tampa Bay was not among the teams that gave out large, multi-year deals in the early hours of free agency but they did strengthen several areas of the roster with value signings, and may continue to do so in the weeks ahead.
View photos of Deone Bucannon.
The six additions to the roster are noteworthy. Bucannon thrived under Bruce Arians for four seasons in Arizona, in the process adapting his game from being a pure safety to a sort of hybrid linebacker. Arians and Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles, who coached Bucannon in his rookie season in Arizona, are likely to find creative ways to utilize their newest defensive piece. It's a significant move because the Buccaneers were thin at linebacker after the departure of Kwon Alexander (see below).
Similarly, the signing of Barrett not only provides Todd Bowles with another front-seven piece for his creative schemes but also adds depth at linebacker and deepens the edge-rushing rotation. Watford played in Arizona under Arians and has starting experience; he could be a top competitor for the open right guard spot. The Bucs were arguably just as shy on depth at safety but addressed that issue with the signing of Brice, who started 10 games for Green Bay in 2019. Brice could compete with young safeties Justin Evans and Jordan Whitehead for a starting spot, and Bowles has been known to get creative with the position and sometimes have more than two on the field at the same time.
Perriman not only provides depth to a receiving corps that will be losing Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson but also brings a potential speed element to an already strong passing attack. Perriman's 4.25 speed helped convince the Ravens to take him 26th overall in the 2015 draft, and he supplied a string of big plays to the Browns' offense last year.
Pinion takes over for Bryan Anger, who was released on the day before free agency. A former fifth-round pick by the 49ers, he brings added value to the Bucs' special teams in that he can also handle kickoffs and has proved to be very good at forcing touchbacks.
All but Barber, Bond and Harris were potential unrestricted free agents if not re-signed prior to the start of the league year. Those three could have become restricted free agents if they had received tender offers from the team, or essentially an unrestricted free agent if not, but that is now a moot point, as Barber and Bond signed one-year deals before the deadline instead. Harris did briefly hit the open market before re-signing in Tampa.
The Buccaneers' biggest roster development prior to the start of free agency was the re-signing of Donovan Smith, who has started 64 consecutive games at left tackle for the team since he was drafted in the second round in 2015. Smith could have hit the open market and, if so, likely would have been a coveted free agent. New England Patriots tackle Trent Brown did make it to free agency, for example, and signed a very lucrative deal with the Oakland Raiders.
Barber was the Buccaneers' leading rusher in 2018 and he started all 16 games in the backfield. Arians indicated at the Combine that he was impressed by the young and rugged running back when he studied tape on all his newly-inherited players. The Bucs signed former Cardinal back Andre Ellington in February and also expect much more out of second-year back Ronald Jones in 2019 but Barber figures to remain an important part of the team's ground attack.
Griffin was one of two reserve quarterbacks from the 2018 roster who were set to become unrestricted free agents but the Buccaneers headed that off by re-signing him to a two-year deal. General Manager Jason Licht indicated at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Bucs were hoping to re-sign just one of those two, and it's Griffin who returns rather than Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has considerably more experience and even started 10 games over the past two seasons for the Buccaneers, but the team remains intrigued by the potential of Griffin, who has yet to throw a regular-season pass in the NFL.
Santos handled the Bucs' kicking duties for the last seven games of 2018 after the team parted ways with Chandler Catanzaro. Santos, who was the Kansas City Chiefs kicker from 2014-16 before sustaining a groin injury that eventually led to his departure, made nine of 12 field goal attempts for the Buccaneers and was perfect on 17 extra point tries.
Barber and Bond two of six players to whom the Bucs had an option of extending a tender offer in order to make them restricted free agents (RFAs). As it has done with similar players in recent years, the team essentially simplified that process by giving the potential RFAs a one-year deal prior to the start of free agency. Bond started four games last year at strongside linebacker but has primarily been a special teams player, and a productive one, the past two seasons. That said, there will likely be several starting linebacker jobs open when the Bucs hit training camp this year, particularly if new Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles leans on 3-4 looks. Kevin Minter, who played for Arians in Arizona, will be another option in that effort after getting a new deal done just before free agency.
The Bucs have also retained two players who did briefly hit the open market, re-signing Harris on Thursday and defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches on Friday.
Players Released, Traded and/or Signed by Other Teams
· S Andrew Adams (signed with Lions)
· LB Kwon Alexander (signed with 49ers)
· QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (signed with Dolphins)
· WR Adam Humphries (signed with Titans)
· LB Josh Shaw (signed with Cardinals)
· LB Adarius Taylor (signed with Browns)
The Buccaneers made the first of what could be several moves to maneuver under the salary cap, as their cap situation is considerably more restrictive than it has been in years, when they released Curry a month before the start of free agency. Curry signed with the team last March after being released by the Eagles following that team's Super Bowl championship run. He began the season as the Bucs' starting left end but missed time due to injury and was eventually supplanted in the lineup by Carl Nassib. Curry finished the season with 2.5 sacks.
A more impactful salary-cap maneuver was the trade of wide receiver DeSean Jackson to his original NFL team, Philadelphia, which became official early on Wednesday evening when Jackson signed his new contract with the Eagles. Jackson had played the first two years of a three-year deal he signed with the Buccaneers in 2017, 91 catches for 1,442 yards and four touchdowns.
The Buccaneers also released punter Bryan Anger on Tuesday, on the eve of free agency. Anger handled the Bucs' punting duties the past three seasons, first on a one-year deal in 2016 and then on a new multi-year contract signed at the very end of that season. Just after the start of the new year, the team released Unrein with a failed-physical designation; he had missed all of his one year with the Buccaneers due to a concussion suffered in training camp.
The most significant departures for the Buccaneers, particularly in terms of how they will affect the team's compensatory draft pick formula in 2020, were Kwon Alexander, Adam Humphries and Ryan Fitzpatrick. All three got multi-year contracts and Alexander and Humphries in particular received (well-deserved) lucrative deals. Those two signed very quickly with the 49ers and Titans, respectively, after free agency began while Fitzpatrick found his new home in Miami on Sunday, the fifth day of the new league year. Fitzpatrick appears to be in place to start for the Dolphins, who traded former starter Ryan Tannehill to Tennessee.
Remaining Unrestricted Free Agents*
· S Chris Conte
· CB Javien Elliott*
· CB Brent Grimes
· LB Cameron Lynch
· RB Jacquizz Rodgers
· LS Garrison Sanborn
· T Leonard Wester*
(* Elliott and Wester could have become restricted free agents if they had been extended tender offers from the time. Since they did not, they are essentially in the same position as those officially labeled unrestricted free agents, in that they are free to sign with any team.)
The Buccaneers obviously demonstrated their priorities on their list of pending free agents by re-signing Smith, Griffin, Minter and Santos before they hit the market. They could eventually strike deals with some of the other players on the list. Last year, for instance, offensive lineman Evan Smith re-signed a week after free agency began and guard Adam Gettis did the same three days later. The team later brought back running back Charles Sims in April, just before the draft.
Received Tender Offers
Johnson and Liedtke both were tendered as exclusive rights free agents, meaning they can only negotiate with the Buccaneers. Both players took a big step forward in their careers in 2018 as they made the team's opening day roster and stayed there for all or most of the campaign.