Isaiah Johnson and Mike Liedtke each took a big step forward in their respective NFL careers in 2018 as, for the first time, they spent the entire regular season on an active roster. That was Tampa Bay's roster, to be specific, and the Buccaneers would like to witness the continued development of those two young players.
As such, the Bucs extended tender offers to both Johnson and Liedtke on Friday, meaning they will be exclusive rights free agents when the new league year begins next Wednesday, March 13. Exclusive rights free agents, or ERFAs, are players with expiring contracts who have two or fewer accrued seasons of free agency credit. Johnson, a safety, and Liedtke, a versatile offensive lineman, were the Buccaneers' only two players in that category this year.
ERFAs can only negotiate with their original teams, which means it's a virtually certainty that both Johnson and Liedtke will be back with the Buccaneers in 2019. Most ERFAs eventually sign their tender offers, converting them into one-year contracts for the upcoming season.
Johnson, an undrafted rookie signed by the Bucs in 2016,graduated to a full-time member of the 53-man roster in 2018 after two seasons spent mostly on Tampa Bay's practice squad. Liedtke logged time with four other NFL teams before arriving in Tampa but also spent almost all of 2017 on the team's practice squad. Both made an opening-day roster last fall for the first time after impressive performances in training camp. Johnson essentially took a spot in the safety rotation from veteran Keith Tandy, while Liedtke overcame the odds to be part of the O-Line crew after being pressed into service, and performing well, at left tackle in the preseason.
Johnson ended up with more playing time than Liedtke during the regular season simply because the safety position had much worse injury luck than the offensive line. Johnson played in 15 games with four starts and finished seventh on the team with 45 tackles. He also logged his first career interception, broke up two passes and added three stops and a fumble recovery on special teams. His recovery of a fumble on a punt return in overtime led to the Buccaneers' game-winning field goal against Cleveland in Week Seven.
Liedtke was inactive for the first seven games of the season but was then a game-day reserve for each of the last nine contests. Tampa Bay's five O-Line regulars combined to make 79 of a possible 80 starts and rarely missed offensive snaps, so Liedtke was on the field for just three offensive plays in 2018. However, he took part in special teams and gave the line depth at all five spots.
The Buccaneers have used the last full week before the start of free agency to cross a few items off their roster to-do list. Most notably, the team re-signed starting left tackle Donovan Smith to a new three-year contract on Tuesday. Linebacker Devante Bond also avoided restricted free agency by signing a new one-year contract, also on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Bucs picked up their contract option for 2019 on starting right tackle Demar Dotson. The tender offers to Johnson and Liedtke finished up the week.