Few teams in NFL history can boast the talent the Buccaneers have at the wide receiver position. It could be argued that there has been no other team with three true numbers at wide receivers on the team. Unfortunately, the cap situation in 2021 will likely prevent them from having that talent two years in a row.
Returning On Contract
First and foremost, Mike Evans, the NFL and Buccaneer record holder returns again as he looks to make it eight 1,000 yard seasons in a row. His presence on the team leaves him solidified as the number one wide receiver. There is no doubt that Evans, on contract through 2023 should walk the same fate as Ronde Barber and play for ONLY the Buccaneers for his entire career.
Also returning to the Buccaneers next season are three late-round draft picks. Scotty Miller, Justin Watson, and Tyler Johnson. Watson and Johnson have seen limited time as they are both buried on the depth chart. The Buccaneers surely are holding on to hope that Johnson will blossom into a solid receiver in his sophomore year. As for Miller, he has found himself in 43% of the offensive stats. A solid contributor, Miller continues to be a player who stretches the field and has racked up over 500 yards this season. His return is cemented.
Undrafted free agent John Franklin rounds out the returning receiving corps. The unproven and unknown player will have a shot at making the roster or practice squad next season.
All those players listed above will certainly start on the Buccaneers roster as the loss of any one of the free-agent wideouts will quickly translate to the increase in snaps for the other players.
Free Agent: Chris Godwin
Originally drafted in 2017 in the third round, Godwin finds himself at the end of his rookie contract. His performance has been stellar, and he has the makings of a number on the receiver. Ultimately, he will command upwards of $15 million a year or more on his next contract. Subsequently, the Buccaneers having many high-profile free agents they would like to retain. The highest on the priority list for the offensive side of the house is Godwin.
The suiters will be out in full force for Godwin. Since joining the league his catch percentage has only gone up, capping at 77.4% this season. Additionally, his average yards per reception have always remained north of 12 yards. When broken down it’s impressive that Godwin continues to average at least four of those yards after the catch. This equates to a chain moving wideout who can be the model of consistency and a treat to opposing defenses. The Buccaneers would be foolish to let him walk.
Free Agent: Antonio Brown
Behind Godwin awaits Antonio Brown. The once locker room distraction has remained relatively subdued during the Super Bowl run with Tampa Bay. What hasn’t been muted is his play on the field especially later in the season. A threat anywhere on the field, Brown will likely have to wait and see how things play out with Godwin before he knows his fate with the Buccaneers.
With his talent, he has been able to take some pressure off the other wideouts. He does this with a catch percentage of 72.6% on the year. All while posting an average of 5.6 yards after the catch. This has aided the team throughout his short stint on the field this season. Though he is not as dominant as he once was, the 33-year-old can still play at a high level.
Prediction: Allowed to walk. Brown only returns if Godwin does not. He will be a cheaper option.
Free Agent: Jayden Mickens
Mickens finds himself a free agent again at the end of this season. This is no surprise to himself or anyone else but that does not mean he does not have value. The shifty wide receiver has been used primarily on special teams for the Buccaneers and would be an inexpensive player to bring back. His depth and knowledge of the team make it desirable for continuity.
Prediction: Re-signed, but he will again have to fight his way onto the roster next season.
The Way Forward
The wide receiver issue is one that is difficult to handle when considering the gravity of the possibility of losing both Godwin and Brown. A high draft pick may be warranted depending on the situation once free agency opens. There will have to be a balance for Jason Licht to strike to keep this team’s talent level where it is. The priority though should be re-signing Godwin.
One thing that could aid the Buccaneers’ efforts is the amount of top end wide receivers’ available through free agency. A.J. Green, T.Y. Hilton, and JuJu Smith-Schuster will be coveted by other teams as well. These names may start to peel off before free agency starts with resigning’s and franchise tags. This will also influence the Buccaneers’ price for Godwin if the Buccaneers have not re-signed him yet.
The draft has huge options too with at least ten wide receivers being given first or second-round grades in the draft. Those teams in need of a receiver the most may lean heavily towards having an inexpensive game changer through the draft to save money elsewhere. Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, and his teammate Jaylen Waddle will surely be amongst prime wide receiver targets.
If the team misses out on Godwin they will turn back to Brown. If the team can’t sign either they likely turn their efforts to re-signing the defensive talents that are free agents and utilize a pick in the first three rounds for a wide receiver.
Primary Free Agent Target: Rashard Higgins
If the Buccaneers want to remain diligent and disciplined with the cap space they have, Higgins is certainly a target to investigate. Much like when the team signed Breshad Perriman, he would be an inexpensive high celling signing. This would allow for more flexibility in the cap and still leave the door open for drafting a wide receiver.
For the 2020 season, Higgins has quietly amassed over 500 yards on 37 receptions. With roughly a 71% catch percentage he is a formidable and reliable target. Additionally, he averages 16.2 yards a reception. His addition to the offense could be tremendous if he can handle stepping into the number two wide receiver position while a rookie learns and adapts.
For a bonus scenario, the above-mentioned Breshad Perriman is a free agent again too. He is familiar with the offense and did very well during his year in Tampa. His return to the team could be advantageous.
Prediction: Chris Godwin will remain a Buccaneer and the free agency won’t be needed to fill in for his loss.
IT IS IMPERATIVE the Buccaneers bring Chris Godwin back. The loss of himself and Brown will require the team to reevaluate and shift the offensive scheme.
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