Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Presented by

Drafts, Caps and Quarterbacks | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about the Bucs' plans for the running back position, salary cap machinations, the backup quarterback job and more

Mailbag

The NFL revealed on Tuesday the 39 compensatory selections that have been added to this year's draft, creating a 261-pick process overall. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got one of those picks, number 260, as compensation for last year's free agency departure by tackle Joe Haeg.

The NFL also updated its overall statistics on the compensatory pick selection process, which was first introduced with the original CBA in 1993. The first compensatory picks were added to the 1994 draft and that system has persisted for nearly three decades now through the ratification of multiple new CBAs. In that time the Baltimore Ravens have received the most overall comp picks, with 55, followed by Dallas at 49 and Green Bay at 47. Cleveland and New Orleans bring up the rear with 13 each.

The NFL's count for the Buccaneers is 22 compensatory picks through the years, including the one just added this week. That means the Bucs have been awarded 21 comp picks before this year, according to the NFL's new numbers. Despite cross-checking multiple sources, I have only been able to find 20, starting with one in 1997. I can't really explain the discrepancy, but I can give a look at what those compensatory picks have brought to the franchise.

The overall answer, actually, is not much. The vast majority of those 20 picks have been late seventh-rounders and the Bucs didn't hit on most of those, which is not terribly surprising. Probably the most useful picks of the bunch were that very first one in 1997 and the most recent one the Bucs got before 2022. That latter, one, in 2020, proved useful because of a rule change that allowed compensatory picks to be traded, which took effect in 2017. Prior to that, teams were not allowed to swap out those extra selections.

Here is what the Buccaneers have done with their previous 20 compensatory selections:

·    1997, Round 4, #128 overall: Drafted Temple LB Alshermond Singleton

·    1997, Round 6, #197 overall: Drafted Michigan State WR Nigea Carter

·    1998, Round 6, #184 overall: Drafted Florida State CB Shevin Smith

·    1999, Round 7, #240 overall: Drafted Kansas State WR Darnell McDonald

·    2001, Round 7, #234 overall: Drafted Arizona DE Joe Tafoya

·    2002, Round 7, #251 overall: Drafted Nebraska TE Tracey Wistrom

·    2002, Round 7, #254 overall: Drafted Kansas State WR Aaron Lockett

·    2002, Round 7, #255 overall: Drafted Stanford C Zack Quaccia

·    2003, Round 4, #133 overall: Drafted Northwestern C Austin King

·    2004, Round 7, #252 overall: Drafted Southern CB Lenny Williams

·    2005, Round 7, #253 overall: Drafted Louisville WR J.R. Russell

·    2006, Round 6, #202 overall: Drafted North Carolina State TE T.J. Williams

·    2006, Round 7, #241 overall: Drafted Clemson DE Charles Bennett

·    2006, Round 7, #254 overall: Drafted Michigan TE Tim Massaquoi

·    2007, Round 7, #245 overall: Drafted Virginia CB Marcus Hamilton

·    2007, Round 7, #246 overall: Drafted Alabama RB Kenneth Darby

·    2010, Round 7, #253 overall: Drafted Stanford DE Erik Lorig

·    2011, Round 7, #238 overall: Drafted Idaho TE Daniel Hardy

·    2018, Round 7, #255 overall: Included in a trade with Buffalo in which the Bucs moved from #7 to #12 in the first round and selected DL Vita Vea (Buffalo moved up for QB Josh Allen)

·   2002, Round 4, #139 overall: Traded to New England for TE Rob Gronkowski and a 2020 seventh-round pick

Don't feel bad if you don't recognize a lot of those names. Seven of the 18 players listed above (Carter, Wistrom, Lockett, Quaccia, L. Williams, Russell, T. Williams and Hardy) never played a game in the NFL and another three (Tafoya, King and Massaquoi) never played for the Bucs in the regular season. A strangely high number of those picks were used on tight ends, but none of them panned out.

Tafoya ended up playing six NFL seasons for the Bears, Seahawks and Cardinals, with 76 games, nine starts and 3.5 sacks. King played three seasons in Atlanta, with one start. McDonald stuck for one seasons in Tampa and had nine catches for 96 yards and one touchdown. Bennett's three NFL games all came with the Bucs as a rookie. Hamilton got into two games for Tampa Bay and eight more for Chicago. Darby only played one game in a Buccaneers uniform but stuck with the St. Louis Rams for three seasons and produced 739 yards from scrimmage.

As mentioned, the first player on that list was the most successful. Singleton was largely a special teams standout for his first five seasons but he took over as the team's starting strongside linebacker in 2022 when Shelton Quarles was moved into the middle. After helping the Bucs win Super Bowl XXXVII, Singleton signed with the Cowboys and started for most of the next four seasons. He finished with 140 games played and 55 starts.

The only other player on the list to make it into 20 or more games for Tampa Bay was Lorig, who arrived as a defensive end but was converted to fullback the next season. He played four seasons in Tampa and one in New Orleans, appearing in 66 games with 30 starts. Smith is third on the list with 19 games played as a Buccaneer, which constituted his whole NFL career.

The two most recent compensatory picks the Bucs received both ended up being involved in trades. When Tom Brady signed with the Buccaneers in 2020, Gronkowski quickly came out of retirement but was still under contract with the Patriots. The Bucs sent their fourth-round comp to New England to reunite Gronkowski with his pal in Tampa.

The 2018 compensatory pick was the most minor asset in the trade that put Buffalo in position to select Josh Allen, who has developed into a franchise quarterback. The Bucs got two second-round picks from the Bills to move back five spots and still landed Pro Bowl defensive lineman Vita Vea. The Buccaneers later traded down again from the second of those two picks from Buffalo and then nabbed cornerback Carlton Davis. That brought in an extra fourth from the Patriots that was used to select safety Jordan Whitehead.

So the Bucs get an extra selection late in the seventh round this year. Perhaps they will make it a footnote in another trade, or perhaps they will hold onto it and try to get lucky with the penultimate pick in the whole draft. Hit rates for seventh-rounders overall aren't too high overall, so the anonymous nature of the list above is unsurprising. But you never know. Just a year ago the Buccaneers landed linebacker Grant Stuard with the very last pick in the draft and he looks like he could be a core special-teamer for the Bucs for a while.

And now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

Will the Bucs be looking to pick up a RB in the draft if Fournette doesn't re-sign?

-official_lynchie (via Instagram)

That definitely seems like a possibility. I wouldn't even rule out the idea of the Bucs using their first-round pick on a running back, though that position in the draft is not particularly top-heavy this year.

The Buccaneers have just one running back under contract right now, and that's third-year man Ke'Shawn Vaughn, originally a third-round pick in 2020. Head Coach Bruce Arians has said on multiple occasions, most recently at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, that Vaughn is a talented ballcarrier. Arians wants Vaughn to get better at some of the other aspects of the position, like pass-catching and pass protection, and if he can do that he certainly would have a shot to be the lead man in the Bucs' backfield.

As it stands, though, I'm not sure the Buccaneers have enough evidence – 62 carries and nine receptions over two seasons – to head into 2022 knowing for sure that Vaughn is their number-one back. Meanwhile, Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones and Giovani Bernard all became unrestricted free agents yesterday. I would think the Buccaneers would be more interested in bringing Fournette back given that he clearly took over the number-one job last year over Jones. And even if Bernard is re-signed, he wouldn't really be a candidate to be an every-down ballcarrier.

So if we're looking at a situation in which Fournette departs, the Buccaneers would probably need to add at least one running back who has a real shot to compete for and win the starting job. It might be tough to find that in free agency, in part because Tampa Bay's cap room is relatively slim and the team is already restructuring existing contracts to make space for the players they have already added and re-signed. Plus, it doesn't appear to be a very robust market for starting-caliber backs, with James Conner, and Chase Edmonds already getting new deals. The best options available may be Melvin Gordon, Rashaad Penny and Raheem Mostert.

So the draft might be the best way for the Buccaneers to go, and I mention the idea of doing so in the first round only because Tampa Bay picks very late in the round, at number 27 overall. The Giants' pick of Saquon Barkley with the second-overall pick in 2018 is somewhat of an anomaly in today's NFL, but teams still seem willing to use late first-rounders on the position. Since 2018, no other backs besides Barkley have gone in the first 20 picks but six have been chosen between picks 24 and 31: Penny, Sony Michel, Josh Jacobs, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Travis Etienne and Najee Harris. That's a pretty good list.

The question is, is there a back that the Bucs would want to take at number 27? I have looked at a lot of mock drafts in recent weeks – I just scanned about 15 more while writing this – and very few of them have even one back coming off the board in the first round. The most common choice as the first back taken is Iowa State's Breece Hall. So maybe Tampa Bay could even trade back, pick up some extra draft capital and address the position in the second round. Actually, forget that. The Buccaneers can probably stay put at number 60 in the second round and still have a shot at somebody like Hall, Texas A&M's Isaiah Spiller or Michigan State's Kenneth Walker.

I think what makes this even more of a possibility is that the Buccaneers' roster moves over the past four or five days have put them in a good place, one in which they don't have to chase a specific position too drastically. First Tom Brady decided he is going to play in 2022 (not technically a roster move but effectively one), which means the team definitely remains in win-now mode. The re-signings of center Ryan Jensen and guard Aaron Stinnie and the reported trade for Shaq Mason means the Bucs' previously glaring need on interior line isn't much of an issue anymore. Carlton Davis also re-signed, which means finding a cornerback early in the draft is less of a priority. And the franchise tag on Chris Godwin plus the reported signing of Russell Gage may take the Bucs out of the receiver market earlier in the draft.

Honestly, after all that the running back position – and maybe interior defensive line and edge rusher – look like the spots at which the Bucs are currently the leanest. With the aforementioned cap restrictions and perhaps a few more of their own free agents to re-sign, the Bucs may be able to do only so much in free agency. We'll know by late April if running back is still a position of obvious.

Or maybe Leonard Fournette will come back and this will all be moot. I would like that.

How are the Bucs able to get cap compliant with all of the players they've brought back?

-j.m.dineen22 (via Instagram)

The same way they did last year and the same way many teams do year after year: By structuring new contracts and restructuring existing player contracts to spread out their cap hit over multiple seasons.

The Buccaneers (and therefore, me) don't announce when they restructure a player's contract, but I'm sure you've seen multiple reports of that happening last year and this year. The basic idea is to take a player who has a high salary for this season and convert a lot of that salary into a signing bonus. This is by no means a hard sell for the players, because they're getting the same amount of money but they're getting it sooner.

Let's take a very simple example. Joe Smith has a contract that is going to pay him $14 million in 2022 and he has four years left on that contract. As it is, that $14 million counts against the team's 2022 salary cap. If, instead, that $14 million is converted two a $2 million base salary and a $12 million signing or roster bonus, the cap hit comes down. That signing bonus, for cap purposes, is spread out over the remaining four years on the contract, so it counts $3 million towards the cap in each of the four remaining years. And, voila, Joe's 2022 cap hit is now $5 million (base salary plus prorated bonus). And just like that you've created $9 million in cap space for 2022.

For a long time, the Buccaneers avoided these types of contracts. For about a decade, the team structured almost all of its contracts as "pay-as-you-go" type deals. That mean most of it was in base salary, which avoided the "dead money" hits that happen when a player with signing and roster bonuses is cut before the deal is through. However, when Tom Brady arrived and an obvious championship window opened, the Bucs switched gears into that win-now mode I mentioned earlier. They began to use contracts that essentially kicked some of the cap hits down the road to future seasons. That was done to keep the team's strong core intact while not running afoul of the cap, and also because that cap is expected to rise significantly in the coming years. When the bills come due on those kick-the-can deals, the Bucs (and all teams) should have more room to make them work.

Some teams have been using that approach for a long, long time. The Saints seem to be in "salary cap hell" every single offseason due to backloaded and restructured contracts, but they always seem to find a way to get under the limit and still be competitive. Hopefully, the Buccaneers can do the same in the coming years, but even if there are some difficult decisions looming in the future it will still be worth it to make the most of the roster (and especially Brady) that the Bucs have right now.

What are the chances that Gronk returns to the Bucs now that Brady is back?

-emwil5 (via Instagram)

To be clear, I have no special access to Rob Gronkowski's current thoughts, so I don't mean to be speaking for him. That said, I have to believe that the odds of MORE GRONK for the Buccaneers went up dramatically on Sunday.

I mean, come on. It's obvious that Brady's move to Florida in 2020 was the reason that Gronkowski decided to end a one-year retirement and specifically join the Buccaneers. And those two years sure seem like they've been pretty enjoyable for the veteran tight end. He won another Super Bowl, he added some impressive numbers to his Hall of Fame career and he stayed healthy for the majority of those two years. Plus, he had a good time with his buddy Tommy.

I could see Gronkowski choosing to retire again if Brady had also stayed retired. His original retirement was due to the cumulative wear and tear on his body from nearly a decade of an extremely physical style of play. He's only missed five of a possible 39 games since joining the Buccaneers, but two more seasons is two more seasons of the grind. Depending upon what the team was able to do at quarterback in Brady's absence, it might not have looked like prime contenders. Not only could Gronkowski choose to call it a career again – with nothing much left for him to prove – but he also could have (and still can) look around for other options in free agency.

But now I think it's fair to say that the Bucs are prime contenders in 2022 and, like Brady, Gronkowski clearly still has plenty left in the tank. He may not have quite the same speed or fluidity as a 25-year-old Gronk, but his 66.8 yards per game last year were nearly double what he put up in 2020. He also remained quite good as a blocker, meaning he remains in that small pool of NFL tight ends who truly are good on all three downs and in every phase of the game. And, of course, he has a very well-established chemistry with Brady, which makes him more dangerous than most other tight ends the Bucs could slot into their offense.

I'd be willing to bet that Gronkowski was one of the first people that Brady called when he decided that he wasn't quite ready to hang up the cleats. I'd also be willing to bet that Gronky finds Tommy very persuasive.

Will the Bucs look to bring back Blaine Gabbert or give Trask the chance to be Brady's backup in 2022?

-bucs_uk

Can't it be both?

Brady and Kyle Trask are under contract for 2022 but the Buccaneers need at least one more and probably two more before they start workouts, and definitely by training camp. They have to sign (or draft, though I find that unlikely) somebody and Gabbert sure seems like an obvious option. Bruce Arians is clearly fond of him and he has served as Brady's primary backup for the last two years. He already knows the offense and even logged five starts in it for Arians' Cardinals back in 2017. Seems like a no-brainer.

The Buccaneers went into camp last year with Brady, Gabbert, Trask and Ryan Griffin. Given that Gabbert had been the number-two quarterback in 2020 and that the team had just used a second-round pick on Trask, it seemed almost certain that those two would join Brady on the active roster in the regular season. That's exactly what happened, while Griffin spent the season on the practice squad. It also seemed quite clear that Gabbert would remain ahead of Trask on the depth chart in 2021, given his huge edge in experience.

But it's possible that second part won't be so cut-and-dried in 2022. Before Brady made his very welcome decision to return for this season, Buccaneers brass had begun exploring all the options to replace him. While discussing that search at the NFL Scouting Combine, Arians said that Trask had "earned a shot" at the starting job and that it would be a "very great shot."

Obviously, that's not on the table for 2022 anymore, but if Trask was going to get a real chance to beat out (a presumably re-signed) Gabbert, shouldn't that mean he's going to get a shot to compete with Gabbert for the number-two job? The Bucs still think Trask is a possible answer down the road when Brady leaves the team for good, so they might want to give him a chance to begin progressing towards that goal in 2022.

"I definitely think he's got a chance," said General Manager Jason Licht, also at the Combine. "He's shown all the signs that it's pointing that way, with his intelligence, his ability to pick up the offense, his work ethic, the way he absorbs information and retains information, and the way he throws the ball. This year, he's changed his body a little bit. He's surprising athletic out there, more so than he was coming off his senior year at Florida."

In the end, if Gabbert returns I would still give him the best shot at being the top backup to Brady. Again, it's the experience factor. But I think there's more wriggle room for Trask on the depth chart in 2022, which will certainly make this coming preseason more interesting.

Related Content

Advertising