Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tags, Prospects and Free Agents | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about the franchise tag timeline, intriguing draft prospects and more

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You've probably heard this note by now, but just in case: When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9, in Super Bowl LV about a month ago (has it really been that long?!), every single point was scored by a player who was new to the team in 2020.

It's true! Rob Gronkowski, acquired in a trade last April, scored the Buccaneers' first two touchdowns on catches of eight and 17 yards. Antonio Brown, signed around midseason in 2020, notched Tampa Bay's third TD on a one-yard catch just before halftime. Leonard Fournette, added to the crew on September 6, got the Bucs' fourth and final touchdown on a 27-yard run in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Ryan Succop, who was brought in for an 11th-hour kicking competition on the first day of September, hit the extra points after all of those touchdowns and then got the final points of the game on a 52-yard field goal. Furthermore, though he doesn't count among the players who officially scored points, Tom Brady threw those three touchdowns and he was a new Buc in 2020 as well.

It's a fun note, more coincidental than consequential. It basically underscored how thoroughly Jason Licht and Bruce Arians worked to build depth all over the 2020 roster. And like I said, you've probably heard it before. What I had not heard, and which I didn't find mentioned in any of the various stories about that above fact, is whether that was a unique occurrence. In the 54 previous Super Bowls, had any other winner ever had all its points scored by players who were new to the team that season.

The answer: No.

Alright, shortest Mailbag intro ever!

Okay, I can add a bit more. I did go through each Super Bowl box score to verify this fact. The Bucs are the first team to ever win the Super Bowl while all of their points in the game were scored by players who were in their first year with said team. However, two other teams got close in that the only offensive touchdowns were scored by newcomers…and Tom Brady was also the quarterback for both of them!

Just two seasons earlier, Brady's New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3, in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever. The only touchdown in the game was a two-yard scoring run by running back Sony Michel, who was a rookie in 2018. However, recorded the Patriots' other seven points on two field goals and an extra point, and he had been a Patriot since 2006.

View the top pictures of Tom Brady from the 2020-2021 NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl LV.

Brady's' first Super Bowl with the Patriots, after the 2001 season, was a 20-17 win over the St. Louis Rams. The only offensive touchdown scored by New England in that victory was an eight yard catch by wide receiver David Patten, who had signed with the team earlier that season as an unrestricted free agent. However, Ty Law also had a 50-yard pick-six, and he had been with the Patriots since 1995. Also, kicker Adam Vinatieri recorded the Patriots' other eight points in the game and he was in his sixth season with New England.

The 2020 Buccaneers were the first team ever to win the Super Bowl in their own home stadium, and people will surely be talking about that for a very long time. But that wasn't the Bucs' only Super Bowl first.

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.

If we use the franchise tag, will we wait for the last possible day to utilize it like we did with Shaq?

- @ryyanvigue (via Instagram)

Well, this question is a little easier to answer given that I'm fielding it nine days into a 15-day window for applying franchise and transition tags and nothing has happened yet. In fact, there hasn't been a single franchise tag placed on a player by any team yet.

As Ryan notes, when the Buccaneers designated outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett as their franchise player last year, they did indeed wait until the last day they were able to do so. And why not? It's a simple thing to do, and even if it's expected by both sides there's no reason to rush it. Placing the franchise tag on a player doesn't have to be the beginning or end of negotiations on a longer deal. Might as well wait until you absolutely have to do it just in case you manage to get a deal done first.

This year, that idea makes even more sense, given the position the Buccaneers are in. That 2020 tag on Barrett was the first one the Bucs had used in eight years, since they designated kicker Connor Barth as their franchise player in March and then later got a long-term deal done in May. It was pretty obvious a year ago that if the Buccaneers were going to use a tag at all it would be on the NFL's reigning sack king.

This year, Tampa Bay clearly has multiple potential tag candidates. Wide receiver Chris Godwin is the one most commonly mentioned as a possibility by NFL analysts, but what if the Bucs and Godwin can get a multi-year contract done before March 9, the end of the tag window? Then they could conceivably use it on another prized free agent they have not yet struck a deal with…say, Lavonte David. Here's General Manager Jason Licht on the subject from eight days ago:

"The tag is an option for any one of our players right now. We don't necessarily have plans to use it on one particular player versus another. Right now, we're trying to keep as many of these players that we have and move forward to next year – [whether] that's a long-term deal, a short-term deal or we use the tag. You're not going to get me to tell you who's going to get tagged because right now we couldn't even tell you ourselves."

With 24 potential unrestricted free agents, including seven who started in the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers have a lot of balls in the air right now. They will probably still be juggling many of them and the franchise tag right up to March 9.

View the top pictures from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' during the 2020-2021 NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl LV.

Should we expect Shaq's contract numbers to be similar to JJ Watt's with Arizona?

- @jacobdonaldrules (via Instagram)

I think the Buccaneers would be thrilled if they could get a long-term deal done with Barrett that had the same yearly average.

It often helps to wait a few days after a big free agency contract is announced in order to get the finer details. According to Spotrac, Watt's new deal with the Cardinals is for two years and $28 million. That includes a $12 million signing bonus and $23 million guaranteed. Watt can also earn an additional $3 million by getting 10-plus sacks in 2021 and 10-plus sacks in 2022 (those are separate incentives), but since Watt did not have 10 sacks in 2020 those will be classified as "Not Likely to Be Earned" incentives and they won't count against this year's cap. (I wrote more about NLTBE and LTBE earned incentives in last week's Mailbag, if you're interested.)

So if we just take Watt's deal as two years at an average salary of $14 million, that's about $3 million less than he was due to make with Houston in 2020 before the two mutually decided to part ways. While playing on the one-year franchise tag tender last year, Barrett made close to $16 million. I doubt he is looking for that number to go down, though of course players can choose to trade the highest possible one-year salary for long-term security and more guaranteed dollars overall.

If the Buccaneers were to tag Barrett again, the price tag in 2021 would be more like $19 million, which is why I believe they're more likely to use that tag on one of their other free agents. In addition, while Barrett has said on many occasions over the past 12 months that he would like to remain with the Buccaneers, he also made it clear after the Super Bowl that he is anticipating getting a long-term deal this time around. Hopefully those two desires can meet and he can remain a Buccaneer.

Frankly, the situations are different for Watt and Barrett. With three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards and 101 career sacks, Watt has a much longer history of top-notch production. That's not Barrett's fault, because he didn't get a chance to start until joining the Buccaneers two years ago. On the other hand, Barrett just turned 28 last November while Watt is due to turn 32 later this month. Watt also missed a significant amount of time due to injuries in three of the last five seasons while Barrett has very little injury history since entering the NFL. Barrett also has 27.5 sacks in 31 games over the last two seasons, compared to 9.0 in 24 games for Watt.

Watt's age and recent injury history is probably why he ended up with a two-year deal in Arizona. When Barrett talks about long-term security for him and his family, I'm guessing he probably means more than two years. And since he is only 28, a team signing him can reasonably expect him to remain productive for all or most of a four, five or six-year deal. Since this is the Buccaneers' team website and Jason Licht has made it clear he won't be discussing the specifics of the negotiations with any of the team's pending free agents, I'm not going to speculate about specific contract details with Barrett. I just don't think the Watt signing will make much of a difference in those negotiations.

What position do we need the most depth improvement in?

- @nklepes3 (via Instagram)

The answer to this question will be quite a bit clearer by the end of this month, by which time the status of most of the team's free agents will likely be determined, one way or another. For instance, if Ndamukong Suh does not return, the interior defensive line could probably use some help, particularly considering that Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Steve McLendon are also pending free agents. Likewise, the Bucs don't have a lot of depth at inside linebacker (Kevin Minter is also a free agent), and if Lavonte David were to end up in a different uniform (a horrifying thought), that position could surely use some attention.

But, for the purposes of his exercise, let's assume that the Buccaneers do manage to keep most or all of their key free agents. In other words, let's operate from what was essentially the team's 2020 depth chart. That will include injured players like O.J. Howard who are expected to be back in prominent roles in 2021.

I think inside linebacker still qualifies, even if David remains in Tampa. Minter has definitely done a nice job of filling in when Devin White missed time the last two seasons, but he has played those two years on one-year contracts and might not be back in 2021. Otherwise, the Bucs have in reserve Jack Cichy, who unfortunately has had difficulty staying healthy, and Deone Bucannon, who hasn't seen any defensive action the last two years.

Cornerback could be another answer if neither Ryan Smith nor Ross Cockrell returns. The Buccaneers seem to have a very good and young trio of starters in Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, but it's hard to count on all three staying healthy for the entire season. On the other hand, if the Bucs liked what they saw in some brief cameos from practice squad corner Herb Miller they might have a little depth there.

Finally, I would say offensive line. On one hand, all five of the team's starters plus late-season fill-in Aaron Stinnie are under contract for 2021. That's great. On the other hand, that is the last year on the relatively large contracts for left tackle Donovan Smith and center Ryan Jensen. The Bucs could work to extend one or both but there's nothing wrong with planning for the future a little bit, like they did with the third-round pick of Alex Cappa in 2018.

The Bucs may have found something in Stinnie, who filled in quite nicely through the final three games of the Super Bowl run after Cappa fractured an ankle. But he is the only reserve linemen with any regular-season experience under contract for 2021. The Bucs could try to bring back Joe Haeg and/or Josh Wells, and they might think they have something for the future with, say, John Molchon, but at the moment there's not much O-Line depth and it never hurts to look a season or two down the road.

Who is the most intriguing draft prospect in your opinion? Anyone who could make an immediate impact like Wirfs, Winfield?

- @gabe_villalobos_ (via Instagram)

Throw in Devin White and Vita Vea from the two drafts before the one that produced Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield, Jr. and you can see how the Bucs have been able to build a good core with some affordable standouts that they could then bolster through free agency. Obviously, the Bucs would like to keep doing that every year, but the level of difficulty will be tougher in 2021. The Bucs got Wirfs at pick number 13, White at five and Vea at 12. (Winfield was a huge second-round hit.) This time, the Buccaneers are picking at 32, barring a trade. It is encouraging that three of the last four players picked at number 32 (Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Lamar Jackson and Ryan Ramczyk) have made quick impacts with their teams; I'm just saying the odds are longer.

Are we just picking out of the entire draft pool here, Gabe? I mean, I love Ja'Marr Chase as much as the next guy and I'm very intrigued by linebackers Micah Parsons and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and I'm pretty sure all three of those prospects will be instant impact players but the Bucs aren't getting any of them unless they swing a dramatic trade.

If we're talking about prospects who could actually make it to 32, or close enough that it would only take a small trade to get them, then I guess I would start with Iowa interior defensive lineman Daviyon Nixon, since I did make him the Bucs' pick in our first mock draft last week. Now, I'll admit that I've seen Nixon all over the board in various mock drafts, not all of which include him in the first round. This mock draft by NFL.com's Chad Reuter has the Bucs getting Nixon with their second-round pick.

That may be because Nixon was kind of a late-bloomer as a highly regarded draft prospect. After one JuCo year and an uneventful first season at Iowa he exploded onto the scene last year. But he is loaded with talent and could end up being a steal. He's both quick and extremely powerful, so he could end up as that rare commodity of an interior lineman who can apply a significant amount of pressure up the middle.

If the Bucs do end up with an air-tight depth chart and can make a "luxury pick," as Licht recently called it, how about Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore. I happened to watch his very first college game because the Boilermakers happened to be playing my alma mater, Northwestern, and all he did was score on a 36-yard reception and run for a 72-yard score. In the first quarter. (Northwestern won the game.) He was positively electric and it was pretty clear he would end up in the NFL. Moore isn't big (5-9, 180) and he might have some trouble against press coverage but I'm confident the Bucs' sharp offensive minds could figure out how to use him, perhaps similar to what Curtis Samuel has done for the Panthers. I haven't seen Moore in the first round of too many mock drafts so he could be there at 32, or maybe even a bit deeper if the Bucs trade back.

Clemson running back Travis Etienne might be available at pick number 32, and the Bucs could have an open spot in the backfield if Leonard Fournette does not return. Tampa Bay could do exactly what the Chiefs did last year and add another piece to an already scary offense. And if he is taking Fournette's spot he would probably be able to pick up his role in the passing game as well.

To be honest, there are a lot of intriguing possibilities out there for the Bucs in the first round, and hopefully they'll have the freedom to go in whichever direction they want. It might be a bit much to expect any of them to have the same sort of rookie impact as Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield, Jr., however.

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