Tampa Bay Buccaneers

S.S. Mailbag: Backfields in Motion

This week, fans have questions about both the offensive and defensive backfields, as well as Florida State running back Cam Akers and more

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When this week began, Thursday looked like a fairly important day on the NFL calendar. The deadline for teams to use franchise or transition tags on players was supposed to be 4:00 p.m. ET on that day, after it had been pushed back two days from the original March 10 deadline. In addition, NFLPA members had until midnight on Thursday to cast their yes or no votes for the proposed new CBA.

However, the NFLPA pushed its vote deadline back to Saturday in order to get a higher percentage of players involved, and the NFL subsequently moved its tag deadline again, hoping to have clarity on the CBA by next Monday.

That gives the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a few more days to make some very important decisions. There appears to be a good chance that the Buccaneers will use a tag for the first time since 2012, with outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett and quarterback Jameis Winston seeming like the most likely candidates. In particular, Head Coach Bruce Arians has made it clear that keeping Barrett, the NFL's 2019 sack leader, is a top priority, and that may necessarily involve a tag.

We'll know the answer to that question by Monday, but what comes next? In many cases, the extending of a franchise tag tender offer is not the end of negotiations between a team and a player, but a way to extend the negotiating window. Tags sometimes lead to long-term deals before the start of the season, and that is likely what both the Buccaneers and Barrett want, if a contract isn't already done by Monday.

Over the previous five offseasons (2015-19), NFL teams combined to use franchise or transition tags 34 times. Some of those are instances of the same player being tagged multiple times, such as Kirk Cousins in Washington in 2016 and 2017. Of those 34 instances:

• 17 resulted in a new long-term contract with the original team before the start of the season

• 11 resulted in the tagged player signing the tag's tender offer and converting it into a one-year contract with the original team

• 3 resulted in the tagged player being traded before the start of the season

• 1 resulted in the player signing with another team and the original team not matched

• 1 was rescinded before the player signed the tag's tender offer

• 1 resulted in the player refusing to sign and sitting out the entire season

Overall, that's encouraging for the Buccaneers if they feel the need to tag Barrett by Monday. Twenty-eight of the 34 tagged players in that period at least played the next season for their original team, and fully half of them used that extra time to come to agreement on a long-term deal. Of course, that's the whole point of the tag option in the CBA.

It takes some unusual circumstances for the tag not to result in the player remaining with his team for at least one year. Le'Veon Bell refused to sign his second franchise tag in 2018 and just sat out the year, betting he could make up the lost earnings with his next deal. The Carolina Panthers tagged Josh Norman in 2016 but a few months later decided they didn't want to commit that much to the cornerback and rescinded it, allowing him to sign in Washington. Last year, Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford and Frank Clark were all tag-and-trades. The only tagged player to sign with another team was Miami tight end Charles Clay in 2015, and he's one of only two players on this list that got a transition tag instead of a franchise tag. The Bills gave him a big deal and the Dolphins didn't match.

Of course, the above numbers also means that half of the tagged players did not get long-term deals that same year. For the 11 who played on the tag, there were a wide variety of results in the following year. Five of those players subsequently signed a long-term deal with a different team the following year (in the case of Trumaine Johnson and Kirk Cousins, that happened after their second tag). Two (Johnson and Cousins, after the first tag) were tagged again and played on the tag again. One (DeMarcus Lawrence) was tagged again but came to a long-term agreement with his original team that year. One (Eric Berry) came to a long-term deal with his original team without being tagged again. One (Le'Veon Bell) was tagged again but didn't play. The 11th player was current Buccaneer Jason Pierre-Paul, who was tagged by the Giants in 2015. He had not yet signed the tag when he suffered a significant injury to his hand in a fireworks incident in the summer. Pierre-Paul and the Giants later came to a one-year agreement in October of that year.

So, if the Buccaneers do use a franchise tag on a player this year, there's a good chance it will lead to a long-term contract before the start of the season. If no long-term deal is done and the player plays the 2020 season on the tag, history suggests that the odds are against the two sides getting a longer deal done after that.

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.

Are we going to bring in a veteran safety and/or running back?

- @lil_engine_dat_kould, via Instagram

I think there's a good chance in both categories, but particularly at safety. There's a pretty deep group of safeties likely to hit the open market next week, and they come in all shapes and sizes. There are centerfield types like Tre Boston, in-the-box types like Karl Joseph, heady and proven veterans like Devin McCourty, rebound guys like Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, still-could-develop types like Damarious Randall…and on and on.

That should allow the Buccaneers to assess the type of help they need at safety and to address that need directly, if they so desire. I wouldn't expect Tampa Bay to shop on the high end of the market, such as Minnesota's Anthony Harris, but there are enough safeties available to put the team on the right side of the supply-and-demand equation.

Of course, figuring out exactly what is needed at safety is not as easy as it sounds because there are some question marks heading into the offseason. Jordan Whitehead started the most games at safety for the Buccaneers in 2019 and is only headed into his third season, so he seems like one of the top options to start. Mike Edwards was drafted by the current coaching staff in the third round last year, which would indicate they hoped he would be a long-term answer at one of the spots. However, he didn't really play regularly until the end of the season. Justin Evans didn't play at all as he continues to recover from a foot injury he sustained in 2018, but he's a former second-round pick who showed quite a bit of promise in his rookie season. Arians and his staff really liked what they saw from undrafted rookie D'Cota Dixon in camp last year but Dixon ended up on injured reserve with a shoulder injury so he didn't get to prove that he could be an answer in the secondary.

And that's basically it right now. Andrew Adams started the second-highest number of games at safety for the Bucs in 2020 but he's headed towards free agency again. The team will definitely take more than four safeties into training camp, and I think it could make sense to add to the position in free agency.

As for running back, while I definitely believe there will be an addition or two to that group – right now it only consists of Ronald Jones, Dare Ogunbowale and T.J. Logan – I'd be more inclined to believe it will come from the draft. The main difference there is the price tag. Can you get a comparable player in the draft, even beyond the first round, to what is available in free agency. If so, you can do it at a much more reasonable cost. You can count me among those who think it's a bit risky to give a big free agency deal to a running back. Those haven't really worked out in recent years around the league.

Do you think Cam Akers would be a good fit for Tampa? He can catch and that's what BA wants.

- @robertpkb_23, via Instagram

Yes, I do. This is a natural follow-up to the question above because if I'm going to advocate waiting for the draft to address running back I need to demonstrate that there will be good options on the Bucs' board. Moreover, I'm hoping the team uses its first-round pick to address a need such as offensive tackle or defensive line, so I would like to find an impactful runner a little later, perhaps in the third round. Akers could be that guy.

You're right, Robert, that Arians wants a running back who can contribute heavily in the passing game – as David Johnson did so well for him in Arizona – and therefore be able to stay on the field for all three downs. Akers' receiving numbers at Florida State weren't enormous but he had a good catch rate and caught seven touchdown passes. Overall, he caught 69 passes for 486 yards over three seasons, but there's potential for more at the next level.

That's true of Akers' rushing totals, too. He had 1,144 yards last season, but he averaged 5.0 yards per carry and he was playing behind what was pretty universally regarded as a bad offensive line at Florida State. His production in light of that is actually pretty impressive.

The potential obstacle to a Bucs-Akers pairing: The former Seminole might have done a little too well at the Scouting Combine. He and Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor probably had the two best overall showings at the running back position. Akers ran a 4.47 40-yard dash and did well in the bench press, vertical leap and broad jump departments. He was also very good in the new "Duce Staley" drill, which emphasize quick feet and sudden changes of direction. Taylor might have pushed his own stock into first-round territory with his workout; might Akers have vaulted himself into the second round? That doesn't mean the Bucs couldn't take him there, but a third-round price would have been easier to justify.

Biggest need for the Buccaneers this offseason?

- @brycez_16

The biggest need for the Buccaneers right now is pretty obvious: They need to figure out what they're going to do at quarterback.

I'm not implying that Arians and Jason Licht don't already have a good idea of what that answer is, but at this point they are still waiting to make sure they can evaluate every option that is or becomes available. The answer may be to try to move forward with Jameis Winston, or find a veteran in free agency, or address the position in the draft. Or some combination of those things.

We should be getting some idea of the Bucs' preferred approach soon. The deadline for applying franchise and/or transition tags is next Monday. That's also the day when team officials can begin speaking to the representatives of potential free agents without it being considered tampering. And next Wednesday is the start of free agency. The tag deadline will probably give us some clue as to the team's approach with Winston, and then we could hear some possible options during that "legal tampering" period.

If by "biggest need" you meant missing piece on the depth chart, the answer could still be quarterback, since even if the team wants to continue on with Winston he is not currently under contract for 2020. The only quarterback in that category is Ryan Griffin, who has thrown four career passes during the regular season.

The other glaring need, at least as long as Demar Dotson remains unsigned, is right tackle. Dotson has been the starter at that spot for most of the past decade when healthy, but even if he returns the team needs to start thinking long term for his replacement. Arians shot down the idea of moving right guard Alex Cappa out to tackle in 2020, saying that would be a step back for Cappa and that he would prefer the third-year player continue to improve at his current spot. The Buccaneers' backup tackles from 2019, Jerald Hawkins and Josh Wells, are both pending free agents, as well.

The answer to this question could also change in the next week or two. If the Buccaneers do not succeed in bringing back as many of their front-seven players as they hope to re-sign, edge rusher or defensive line could become a very glaring need. The only primary players from 2019 at those positions who the Bucs currently have under contract are Vita Vea and Will Gholston.

Scott…

I know the bucs got an extra fourth round comp pick the other day but it would ve been nice to get a third round pick like a bunch of other teams did. In the long run, is another fourth round pick going to make that much of a difference. Would have liked to have seen something more for the loss of Kwon Alexander.

Anyway, Thanks! – Mark Evans, Tampa (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

The Buccaneers got the pick they were expecting and at least it was the first of the 10 picks added at the end of the fourth round (number 139 overall). There were eight picks tacked onto the end of the third round. It's possible that the Bucs could have snuck into that range if Alexander hadn't missed eight games due to an injury. Part of the formula for determining where the compensatory picks are slotted is the playing time the free agent receives that season with his new team.

But let's not be too sad about this. A fourth-round pick can actually be quite valuable. The Bucs actually got Alexander with a fourth-rounder, and you know how that turned out. Jordan Whitehead, who I mentioned above, was a fourth-round pick in 2018. Some other fourth-rounders in the last decade who have turned into, at the least, good contributors, include Will Gholston, Akeem Spence, Luke Stocker, Mike Williams and Ryan Smith. We don't know yet what the Bucs will get out of last year's fourth-rounder, outside linebacker Anthony Nelson, but they were very happy to nab him at that spot. It's actually been a long time since the Buccaneers have outright missed on a fourth-round selection; I'd say the last one was USC defensive end Kyle Moore in 2009.

That extra pick also gives Licht some more maneuverability on draft weekend. I'm not saying he will definitely trade pick 139, but the NFL changed the rules to allow compensatory picks to be traded in 2017 so he'll have that option. What if that fourth-round pick is what it takes for the Buccaneers to move up four or five spots in the first round and get a player they didn't think was going to make it to 14?

Or Licht could use his two fourth-rounders or some combination of those picks and the fifth and sixth-rounders to move up in the middle rounds. He did that in 2017, packing a fourth with a sixth to move up 18 spots in order to land Kendell Beckwith. Though an offseason car accident led to an ankle injury that has derailed Beckwith's career, he was clearly a good pick before that misfortune. Licht also used a fourth-round pick to trade for Logan Mankins in 2015, which worked out well.

Last year, the 139th pick was used by Arizona on safety Deionte Thompson who performed reasonably well when pressed into service for D.J. Swearinger. Other players picked in the next 10 spots included the Bucs' Matt Gay, the 49ers' Dre Greenlaw, the Lions Amani Oruwariye and the Raiders' Hunter Renfrow. All played a lot as rookies and were quite productive.

All in all, Mark, I'm pretty pleased that the compensatory system spit out a fourth-round pick for the Bucs. There's a good chance it comes in handy this April.

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