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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

March 2024 | Updates

Keep informed with our daily updates: News, notes and more during the Bucs 2024 Offseason

March 26 Updates

The NFL made a move designed to increase player safety during this year's Annual Meeting in Orlando, making what is commonly known as the hip-drop tackle illegal. A player fined for using this technique will incur a 15-yard penalty for his team and could be subject to a fine by the league office the following week.

Buccaneers Head Coach Todd Bowles is not worried about that rule change affecting his defense.

"No, because we don't teach it, we don't preach it and we don't do it," said Bowles on Tuesday. "So it's really not a big deal for us, as far as getting ready for something that we don't do. If it does happen, it's definitely not going to be intentional. It just makes so you more aware. We've been aware. We don't tackle that way, we don't teach it that way, so it's not going to change for us."

The technique should probably be referred to as the "swivel hip-drop tackle," because that first word is a critical part of determining whether a play falls into this newly-banned category. On such a player, a defender grabs a ballcarrier with both hands or wraps him up with both arms from behind, then unweights himself and swivels, dragging the ballcarrier down and landing on his legs below the knee. All of those actions must occur for the play to be a foul. The impetus for the rule change, which was passed unanimously by NFL team owners, is the data indicate that it is far more likely to result in injury that other sorts of tackles. This was the same process that previously led to the horse-collar tackle being outlawed.

As General Manager Jason Licht pointed out, the NFL is not only trying to create a safer environment for the players but also for future generations.

"I think what we're trying to do as a league is try to make the game safer, and we're all for that," said Licht. "Any thing that makes the game safe…we're not trying to take away the standard tackle by any means. The data we've seen, the interest in football is rising at the youth level, and we want to keep it that way. We want to protect the game and keep it trending up like it is right now."

CLICK HERE for a closer look at another NFL rule change.

March 25 Updates

On February 12, the day after the Chiefs concluded the 2023 season with a Super Bowl LVIII win over the 49ers, the NFL's 2024 offseason effectively kicked off. That was 30 days before the official start of the new league year – and with it the opening of the free agent market – and the Buccaneers had some work to get done before that deadline.

At the time, the Bucs faced a list of 18 players from their 2023 roster who were set to become unrestricted free agents on March 13. That number grew to 19 when the team declined to pick up an option year on the contract for wide receiver Russell Gage, and essentially to 21 when neither cornerback Dee Delaney or guard Nick Leverett were tendered qualifying offers to make them restricted free agents. The Bucs also had two players, wide receiver Deven Thompkins and tackle Brandon Walton, who would become exclusive rights free agents if they received qualifying offers.

That's a total of 23 players for whom the Buccaneers had to choose either action or inaction, and if it was the former had to find a way to get a new contract in place under the constraints of a tight salary cap. As of the start of the third week of free agency, the Bucs (and a few other teams) had already pared that list down to seven.

Eight of those 23 players had new deals done – either signed or agreed to terms – before or on the first day of free agency. That list included Thompkins, Walton, wide receiver Mike Evans, quarterback Baker Mayfield, linebacker Lavonte David, kicker Chase McLaughlin, running back Chase Edmonds and defensive lineman Greg Gaines. A ninth, All-Pro safety Antoine Winfield Jr., received the non-exclusive franchise tag, allowing the Bucs more time to get a long-term deal done and all but ensuring that Winfield would at least remain in the roster in 2024.

Three more re-signed after they officially hit the free agent market: quarterback John Wolford, tackle Justin Skule and long-snapper Zach Triner.

Four have signed with other teams: Leverett (Patriots), wide receiver David Moore (Panthers), guard Aaron Stinnie (Giants) and linebacker Devin White.

As noted, that leaves just seven players remaining from that list of 23 who have yet to either return to the Buccaneers or find a new NFL home. That list is comprised of guard Gage, Delaney, Matt Feiler, defensive linemen Will Gholston and Pat O'Connor, outside linebacker Cam Gill and safety Ryan Neal.

CLICK HERE for more details in the Bucs' 2024 Free Agency Tracker.

March 19 Updates

Quarterback John Wolford and tackle Justin Skule are returning to the Buccaneers, and on Tuesday they made it official. Both veteran players came by the AdventHealth Training Center to sign the contracts they agreed to late last week.

Wolford and Skule were briefly unrestricted free agents, as the new league year began last Wednesday. Wolford is going into his second season with the Buccaneers while Skule first arrived in Tampa in September of 2022 as a practice squad signing.

The Buccaneers have now re-signed or agreed to terms with eight of the players who either became unrestricted free agents last week or would have had they not gotten a new deal before the market opened. That list includes Wolford, Skule, linebacker Lavonte David, running back Chase Edmonds, wide receiver Mike Evans, defensive lineman Greg Gaines, quarterback Baker Mayfield and kicker Chase McLaughlin. In addition, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. has received the franchise tag, making it nearly certain he will also remain with the team in 2024.

Wolford was the Buccaneers' third quarterback in 2023. He started the season on Tampa Bay's practice squad but was signed to the active roster when his former team, the Rams, showed interest in bringing him back. Wolford was inactive for each of the remaining games but he does have five games of starting experience from his time in Los Angeles.

Skule served as the Bucs' primary swing tackle in 2023 and played in all 17 games. Because the team stayed relatively healthy along the offensive line throughout the season, Skule got just 19 snaps on offense. He prevoiusly logged 12 starts at left tackle for the 49ers in the 2019-20 seasons.

CLICK HERE for the Buccaneers' updated 2024 Free Agency Tracker.

Training Camp

March 18 Updates

On Friday, former Jets cornerback Bryce Hall and former Eagles guard Sua Opeta agreed to terms with the Buccaneers on one-year contracts a few days into the first week of NFL free agency. On Monday, both Hall and Opeta visited their new NFL home, and that gave them a chance to officially put pen to paper on those deals.

The Bucs were busy on Friday. In addition to the contracts for Hall and Opeta, the Bucs reached agreement on deals for former Giants guard Ben Bredeson and two of their own players from the 2023 roster, quarterback John Wolford and tackle Justin Skule. Those three will eventually visit the AdventHealth Training Center for their official signings, as linebacker Lavonte David, who agreed to terms on March 12.

Hall, a former fifth-round draft pick by the Jets, played in 39 games with 26 starts over four seasons in New York. Last season, he saw action in nine games with two starts and contributed an interception, five passes defensed a fumble return for a touchdown.

Opeta joined the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2019 and spent four seasons as a versatile reserve for Philadelphia's star-studded offensive line. Opeta made 10 starts during that tenure, exactly five each at left and right guard.

CLICK HERE to review all the Bucs free agency moves so far.

March 15 Updates

Safety Jordan Whitehead, a fourth-round pick by the Buccaneers in 2018, performed well enough in his first four seasons in Tampa to attract a lucrative contract from the Jets in his first foray into free agency. In a period in which the Buccaneers were working hard to keep their core intact as they chased another Super Bowl title, Whitehead was one of the few homegrown standouts who got away. On Thursday, after signing a new deal to return to his original team, admitted that he was "bummed out" to not be one of the many Bucs free agents who were memorably staying put in 2021 and 2022.

In the end, however, Whitehead is happy that it worked out the way it did. The two years with the Jets, in which he started every game and was on the field for 97% of the team's defensive snap, allowed him to round out his game and become a more complete safety.

"I'm happy that I got to step away to elevate my game, because who knows what would have happened," he said. "I don't want to take anything back. It's going to elevate my game now, being in this defense, being with Antoine [Winfield Jr.]. It's going to elevate my game even more."

Whitehead developed a well-deserved reputation as a thumper who was a force in the box, but he wouldn't be known as more than a box safety. Six interceptions and 17 passes defensed over the past two seasons should help with that.

"What I did learn was a different scheme, a different defense, so I had to adjust," said Whitehead. "It brought out another game in me that some people didn't know I had – or even myself. I knew it was there, but I just needed to show it. We sat back in a lot of Cover Four with the Jets. I was in the pass game a lot and didn't really have any blitzes. I sat back in pass [coverage]."

At times during his first run in Tampa, Whitehead shared snaps with Mike Edwards, who was considered more of a ballhawk. It's impossible to know on every play what the offense is going to do, but the Bucs wanted Whitehead on the field on likely running downs thanks to his physical style of play, but they also wanted to get Edwards' ball skills in the mix. In New York, Whitehead nearly always stayed on the field regardless of the situation. His 321 and 286 snaps in pass coverage in 2022 and 2023 were the two highest totals of his career, and he only blitzed on about 1% of his snaps n that span.

"I'd say my game elevated just from being in a pass defense, learning to read coverages, learning to read the offenses, reading the quarterback out of the middle of the field," said Whitehead. "There was just certain stuff that I didn't get to do as much here because I was in the box so much. I was always labeled as a box safety, but my label now wouldn't say that because I feel comfortable playing man-to-man, playing in the post. I wouldn't say I prefer it, but it's always good to sit back and get interceptions and not just be a big hitter. I'm just two years older now, I'm smarter, wiser."

CLICK HERE to watch Jordan Whitehead's press conference.

March 14 Updates

The last time Baker Mayfield went to the postgame podium it was shortly after the Buccaneers were defeated by the Lions in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Obviously, that loss ended what had turned into a very encouraging season for Mayfield and the Bucs in their first season together, so questions about the game were intermingled with questions about the future. That future was uncertain, since Mayfield had played the 2023 season on a one-year contract.

As he had done multiple times during the season, Mayfield expressed a desire to remain a Buccaneer. He also had his mind on another player whose contract was coming to an end – wide receiver Mike Evans, who had caught 79 of his passes for 1,255 yards and 13 touchdowns. "If I'm back," said Mayfield, "I want Mike back."

The feeling was obviously mutual, but big-dollar contracts – of which both were clearly deserving – can take some time to bring together, especially with tight cap space restrictions. As of the third day of March, just 10 days before the start of free agency, neither Mayfield nor Evans had a new deal.

That changed in a hurry. The Bucs announced that they had agreed to terms with Evans on March 4 and then got his actual ink on paper on March 8. Similarly, Mayfield's new agreement was announced on March 10 and he actually signed it on March 13. Before all that, however, Evans put in a call to Mayfield to see how the process was going.

"I truly didn't know Mike was going to be back until he signed," said Mayfield. "I was actually out of town and Mike called me and he said, 'Are we doing this, or what?' That was a couple days before they announced that he was signing back. Obviously, he's a big part of that."

Would Mayfield have still re-signed with the Buccaneers if Evans had changed teams? Thanks to the chronology of events, we'll never know. However, Mayfield made it clear that the relationships he made in his first year in the Bucs' locker room were a big reason why he wanted to stick around. That included strong bonds with such offensive linemen as Tristan Wirfs and Luke Goedeke, who made a point of attending his post-signing press conference.

"'The Big Dawg' [Wirfs] is back in the corner there – he's one of my best friends now – knowing that we have that relationship," said Mayfield. "Obviously, Luke is in here, as well. But, how close I became with these guys, it became a huge factor in the decision – knowing that I'm going to fight for them and they're going to fight for me. That's a big thing for us. It's a great group."

CLICK HERE to watch Mayfield's Wednesday press conference.

March 13 Updates

The Bucs' anticipated list of unrestricted free agents at the start of the 2024 league year ended up being pleasantly shorter by the time the market opened, thanks to new deals for Lavonte David, Mike Evans, Baker Mayfield, Chase McLaughlin, Chase Edmonds and Greg Gaines, plus the usage of the franchise tag on Antoine Winfield Jr. However, there were also three additions to that list, which was originally published right after Super Bowl LVIII.

One was wide receiver Russell Gage, who became an unrestricted free agent when the Buccaneers chose not to pick up the 2024 option year on his contract. Gage spent the 2023 season on injured reserve after tearing an ACL during a joint practice with the New York Jets in August. In 2022, his first season in Tampa after four years in Atlanta, Gage caught 51 passes for 426 yards and five touchdowns.

The other two additions to the list were cornerback Dee Delaney and guard Nick Leverett. Neither is technically in the "unrestricted free agent" category, but they are functionally part of that group after not receiving the qualifying offers that would have made them restricted free agents. Delaney and Leverett are now free to sign with any team, including the Buccaneers.

Delaney helped the Buccaneers weather a variety of injuries in the secondary in 2023, seeing action at outside corner, slot corner and safety. He played 449 defensive snaps overall, plus another 118 on special teams, and contributed 24 tackles and two interceptions. Leverett, who started 10 games at left guard in 2022, was inactive for most of the Bucs' games in 2023 as the offensive line stayed relatively healthy.

The Bucs' decision not to extend the offers that would have made Delaney and Leverett restricted free agents is part of a league-wide trend. Restricted free agents, which are players with expiring contracts who have three seasons of accrued free agency credit, have become relatively rare, largely because every draft pick now receives a four-year contract. Draft picks who play out their rookie contracts skip right past restricted free agency to unrestricted free agency. Only seven players across the entire NFL received RFA qualifying offers this year, and only the Rams and Seahawks had more than one.

CLICK HERE to review the Buccaneers' 2024 Free Agency Tracker.

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