Going For Two: Keeping Tampa Bay’s Championship Roster Intact

It's time to figure out how the Bucs can make it all work.

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We are officially less than a week from the start of the 2021 NFL season. The legal tampering period for free agency starts on Monday, March 15 and then the new league year starts the following Wednesday. Before you know it, we’ll be watching the Buccaneers select their guy with the No. 32 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Moves are already being made. Tampa Bay made headlines Tuesday after it announced the decision to place the franchise tag on Chris Godwin and re-signed Lavonte David. Jason Licht and co. were also able to re-sign four exclusive-rights free agents, as well.

That’s obviously great news, but there is still a ton of work left to do.

With that being said, let’s dive in.


Before we begin, we need to figure out where the Bucs stand when it comes to the roster and their available cap room:

According to Over The Cap, the Buccaneers are currently (-$5,539,267) over the salary cap with 50 players under contract. The tricky part is that I’m pretty sure they don’t have David’s $3.5 million cap hit factored into this equation. He’s not even on the roster. So, to be safe, we will add the $3.5 million to the current deficit, which now brings us to (-$9,039,267) in cap room. The number represents 51 players under contract, which fits the top-51 rule, as well. But keep in mind that we need 53 players in order to create a full roster.

There’s no reason to freak out at the deficit. There are plenty of ways to make up the difference. The first is to go ahead and trim the fat from the roster.

Who’s Getting Cut?

This is obviously the worst part of the offseason, but this is how the circle of life works in the NFL.

    • TE Cameron Brate: I really, really hate to do this, but Brate’s contract is simply unsustainable at this point. He’ll be 30-years-old when the season starts and will cost Tampa Bay $6.5 million in 2021. A restructure -no matter how small- is not a good option due to his $6.8 million hit in 2022 and $7.5 million hit in 2023. Whatever money the Bucs restructure will be added to those years, elevating Brate’s cap hit even more. It’s also not a good idea to extend him. He’ll be 33 going into 2024, which would be the first year of his extension. There’s a good chance the Bucs will be overpaying him at that point, as well. Finally, there isn’t much room for him if the Bucs re-sign Rob Gronkowski and retain O.J. Howard, which looks to be the case. Brate was on the field for just eight-percent of offensive snaps before Howard went down in Week 4. The Bucs re-signed Tanner Hudson Tuesday, so there’s a chance he could become Brate’s successor.

That’s it for cuts. There are a few other players who could be released (Justin Watson, Will Gholson, Howard), but their situations aren’t like Brate’s situation. It will be rough watching him walk, but odds are he’ll have no issue finding work elsewhere.

Practice Squad Candidates

These guys will be removed from the roster, but will likely wind up on the Buccaneers’ practice squad:

WR Cyril Grayson – $850k
CB Herb Miller – $780k
T Brad Seaton – $780k
WR John Franklin III – $660k
S Javon Hagan – $660k
WR Travis Jonsen – $660k
G Nick Leverett – $660k
TE Codey McElroy – $660k
G John Molchon – $660k
WR Josh Pearson –  $660k
DE Benning Potoa’e – $660k
DT Sam Renner – $660k
DE Kobe Smith – $660k
C Donell Staley – $660k

The Buccaneers can write off $16,170,000 in salary after removing Brate and the above list of players from the equation. When you add that to the $9+ million deficit, Tampa Bay now has approximately $7,130,733 in cap room with a roster comprised of 36 players.

This is how the current 36-man roster shakes out after the cuts/PS designations:

Quarterback: Tom Brady
Running back: Ronald Jones II, Ke’Shawn Vaugh, C.J. Prosise
Wide receiver: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, Jaydon Mickens, Justin Watson
Tight end: O.J. Howard, Tanner Hudson
Offensive line: Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, Tristan Wirfs
Defensive line: William Gholston, Vita Vea, Khalil Davis, Pat O’Connor, Jeremiah Ledbetter
Inside linebacker: Lavonte David, Devin White
Outside linebacker: Jason Pierre-Paul, Anthony Nelson, Cam Gill, Quinton Bell
Cornerback: Carlton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean
Safety: Antoine Winfield Jr., Jordan Whitehead, Mike Edwards
Special Teams: Zach Triner, Bradley Pinion

Don’t Forget To Add In The Draft Class!

This is important to remember, so let’s go ahead and figure in the draft class before we forget.

Per OTC, Tampa Bay’s draft class will likely cost around $6,728,464 in 2021. This figured doesn’t include the compensatory selection the Bucs received on Wednesday, so it could cost more.

Regardless, the Buccaneers have around $402,269 in cap room after subtracting the cost of the draft class. The good news, though, is that we can add eight players to the roster since the Bucs have eight picks. This gives Tampa Bay a 44-man roster. Therefore, we need nine more players in order to finish the job.

But that’s not a lot of money. At all. Surely some cash can be freed up by restructuring/extending contracts, correct?

Absolutely. This has been a hot (and accurate) talking point over the last month or so. There are a variety of candidates up for extensions or in a spot to have their deals re-worked. Granted, it’s going to take a lot of cooperation from a lot of people, but let’s pretend like everything works out for the sake of this exercise.

    • WR Chris Godwin: Sure, the Buccaneers are saving money by tagging Godwin, but they can save even more by giving him a long-term deal. If I’m Licht, I’m offering up a five-year, $85 million extension with $45 million due at signing. Throw in a $2 million base salary and Godwin’s cap hit drops from the aforementioned $15.983 million to $11 million in 2021. He actually gets to make $47 million in the first year of this deal and the $17 million AAV would be a top-10 number for a receiver, as well. Tampa Bay would save $4,983,000 in the process. Talk about a win-win.

 

    • QB Tom Brady: Brady holds the keys to all of this. He’s in the best spot to free up a lot of money. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers were able to create close to $15 million in cap room last week, which is what could happen here. Brady has even cleared as much as $24 million in the past, that was under different circumstances, obviously. It’s not unfeasible to think the Bucs could add an extra year to Brady’s current deal and then add a dummy year per LVD’s deal to help spread out the hit. This one is tough to gauge, but you’d think the Bucs would follow the Big Ben blueprint. So, knock $15 million off the cap when it comes to Brady and his contract.

 

    • WR Mike Evans: The Buccaneers have already made three trips to the Bank Of Evans since he signed his $82.5 million extension back in 2018, so this is probably the most optimistic outlook of all of these, but Evans has shown no issue with taking less money for the team. Tampa Bay should give him a one-year, $12 million extension and then convert $4 million of this year’s $12,250,000 salary into a roster bonus for 2024 (the new year of his deal). Evans has an $18+ million cap hit in 2022 and 2023, so it’s not the best idea to spread more money over these years without getting very close to the $20+ million cap hit range. Moving a third of your salary back three years doesn’t seem like much of an incentive, but here’s where the Bucs help Evans out: His entire 2024 salary becomes guaranteed at the start of the 2022 league year, which essentially puts the money right back in Evans’ pocket. This would lock Evans up until the age of 32 and save Tampa Bay $4 million in 2021.

 

    • G Ali Marpet: Like Evans, Marpet has already helped the team out, but that shouldn’t stop the Bucs from going to the well once more. He’ll be 30-years-old at the end of his deal in 2023, so adding an extra year isn’t a bad idea, either. An ideal situation is to give Marpet a one-year $10 million extension, but then spread $3 million of his 2021 salary out over the next four years. This way, the Bucs save $2,250,000 in 2021 and Marpet’s cap hit only increases by 750k each year from 2022-2024.

 

    • P Bradley Pinoin: He hasn’t been too great of a punter and he hasn’t been cheap, either. Right now Pinion holds a $2.8 million cap hit in 2021. What gives him value, however, is his ability to kick the ball out of the end zone. Regardless, Pinoin can’t make nearly $3 million in 2021. The good news is that he will be 28-years-old when the season starts and he improved from 27th in net punt yards in 2019 to 17th in 2020. The Buccaneers can give Pinoin a two-year, $4 million extension through 2024 and then they can spread $2 million of his 2021 salary over four years, which would reduce his cap hit to $1.3 million and save the Bucs $1.5 million in 2021. The catch here is that he will be on the books for $3.4 million in 2022, but if he shows the same improvement in 2021 that he did in 2020, it will be worth it.

 

    • C Ryan Jensen: It seems like just yesterday Jensen signed his four-year, $42 million deal with Tampa Bay. Jensen is entering the last year of his deal and will cost $10 million in 2021. He will be 30-years-old this year, but is coming off one of the best years of his career. Rewarding him with a two-year, $20 million extension not only shows his value in the long-term, but the Buccaneers could also use that to spread some of his 2021 hit over those extra years. If Tampa Bay could convert, let’s say, $5 million of his 2021 salary into a bonus and spread it over three years, it’d save the team $3,333,334 in 2021 and Jensen’s future cap hits would go up by $1.67 million each year.

 

    • LT Donovan Smith: This will probably make some folks cringe, but Smith played well enough in 2021 to warrant an extension. A three-year, $42 million extension would all but guarantee that Tom Brady’s blind side is protected for the duration of his time in Tampa Bay. Plus, Smith’s position is one that comes with a high price tag, so it’s a good idea to add more years in order to help manipulate the numbers. But what’s most important is the Buccaneers could convert $6 million of his 2021 salary into a signing bonus and it spread it over all four years in order to save $4.5 million in 2021.

That is a lot of moving parts, but it can be done. So, how much did we free up with the extensions and restructures?

Now keep in mind all of these numbers come from my brain and none of them have been reported in any fashion, so all of this comes from me. But, if Tampa Bay is able to make these moves, then it will free up $35,566,334 in cap space. Adding the previous total of $402,269 gives the Buccaneers $35,968,603 to work with in 2021.

Now we’re talking. Remember, our roster currently has 44 players, so we need nine more to create our final 53-man roster.

We all know the Buccaneers have a lot of their own free agents to bring back. Now that we have some money to work with – who returns?

One trick that is really going to help the Bucs is the minimum salary benefit. If you’re not sure what that is, click here to brush up on how everything works.

The minimum salary benefit should help the Bucs re-sign some key depth players. The key is only two players can receive this benefit, however, so we have to choose carefully.*

S Andrew Adams – The Bucs can offer Adams a one-year deal up to around $1.1 million, but he’d count $850k against the cap thanks to the MSB.

LB Kevin Minter – Minter stands to make slightly more than Adams thanks to more credited seasons. Tampa Bay can offer up to $1.2 million for his services while Minter counts $850k against the cap.

T Josh Wells – Wells isn’t a terrible option for a backup tackle. He’s cheap, too. A deal close to the minimum – let’s say, around $1.1 million should get it done for another year.

QB Blaine Gabbert – The Bucs will eventually have to move on from Gabbert, but in terms of cost and familiarity within the system, he’s arguably the best option out there. $1.2 million should keep Gabbert in Tampa Bay for another go.

CB Ross Cockrell – Arians lauded Cockrell after his arrival, so it’d make sense for the Bucs to bring the veteran corner back. He was sitting on the couch last year when Tampa Bay made the call, so a $1.1 million salary for 2021 should be plenty.

K Ryan Succop – Hell, I’d say lock this dude up for five years if he were younger. But he’ll turn 35 two weeks into the season and you don’t know if his knee is going to act up again. A one-year, $2.5 million deal should make both parties happy.

G Aaron Stinnie – The Buccaneers will have to hit Stinnie with the right-of-first-refusal tender since he’s a restricted free agent. That mean’s he’ll cost the Bucs at least $2.133 million. Stinnie could receive a decent offer from another team, but I get the feeling that he’ll stick around and see what happens. Alex Cappa played really well in 2020, but he’s missed time over the last two years due to two separate injuries and Stinnie played really, really well in Cappa’s stead during the playoffs. Who knows, Stinnie could have a shot at competing for the starting gig in 2022 if things break in his favor.

OLB Shaquil Barrett – That’s right, baby! The Bucs have enough to “break the bank” and bring Barrett back. A three-year, $62 million deal with $30 million at signing and a $3 million base salary in 2021 will register Barrett as a $13 million cap hit in 2021. The deal is also a top-dollar deal. He’ll make $33 million the first year and he’ll average over $20 million per year. The Buccaneers could even get fancy and throw in some voidable years like they did with LVD to spread the cash out even more.

DL Ndamukong Suh – 2020 was Suh’s best year as a Buc. Another incentive-laden deal should get the trick done. A $6 million deal that could be worth up to $9 million after incentives is fair and Suh hit four of his five incentives in 2020, so there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again.

TE Rob Gronkowski – Gronk has already said that he wants to come back, it’s just a matter of how much. An incentive-laden deal seems likely, here, too. Gronk has made -and will continue to make- enough off endorsements, so there’s also a good chance he comes back for cheap. A $5 million deal with around $2.5 million in incentives should be enough to employ the league’s best blocking tight end’s services for another year.

These moves leave us with $2,235,603 in cap room for 2021, but the Bucs have a 54-man roster if they sign all of their draft picks. So, there’s room to gain a few extra dollars. 

Or…

The Buccaneers could use a draft pick or two to move up in the draft. Tampa Bay was awarded a sixth-round compensatory selection for losing Breshad Perriman to free agency in 2020. The extra compensatory pick now gives the Bucs eight picks (first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and seventh) in the 2021 draft.

Tampa Bay picks toward the back end of every round. There’s always value to be had in the second round. That’s where I’m moving up if I’m the Bucs.

But before we get into a mock draft, let’s see how the roster is shaping up for 2021. Re-signed players are denoted by an asterisk:

Quarterback: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert*
Running back: Ronald Jones II, Ke’Shawn Vaugh, C.J. Prosise
Wide receiver: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, Jaydon Mickens, Justin Watson
Tight end: Rob Gronkowski*, O.J. Howard, Tanner Hudson
Offensive line: Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, Tristan Wirfs, Aaron Stinnie*, Josh Wells*
Defensive line: Ndamukong Suh*, William Gholston, Vita Vea, Khalil Davis, Pat O’Connor, Jeremiah Ledbetter
Inside linebacker: Lavonte David, Devin White, Kevin Minter*
Outside linebacker: Shaquil Barrett*, Jason Pierre-Paul, Anthony Nelson, Cam Gill, Quinton Bell
Cornerback: Carlton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, Ross Cockrell*
Safety: Antoine Winfield Jr., Jordan Whitehead, Mike Edwards, Andrew Adams*
Special Teams: Zach Triner, Bradley Pinion, Ryan Succop*

So now that we know what we need heading into the draft…

Let’s mock it up! And don’t forget, we accounted for the draft class earlier in this exercise, so we don’t have to worry about money.

Round 1, Pick No. 32: RB Najee Harris, Alabama

I’d rather not watch Tampa Bay use a first-round pick on a running back, but picking last in the first round usually requires the “best player available” mentality. Harris will be the BPA if he is available at 32. He’d be an excellent complement to RoJo and we saw how well that worked last year with Leonard Fournette. RoJo is heading into a contract year and still has something to prove, as well. Harris could be a potential replacement in case things don’t work out between RoJo and the Bucs.

Round 2, Pick No. 64: BUCS TRADE UP TO SELECT: DL Dayvion Nixon, Iowa

The Bucs end up trading their 2021 second-, one of their 2021 sevenths-, and their 2022 second-round pick to the Dolphins in order to move up to No. 36 and select defensive lineman Dayvion Nixon out of Iowa. Nixon has all the upside in the world and provides Tampa Bay with an eventual replacement for Suh, Gholston, or both.

Round 3, Pick No. 96: G Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater

Licht is no stranger to picking small-school offensive linemen just to watch them grow into solid starters. Cappa is heading into a contract year and even though Stinnie played well last year, we don’t know if the latter can carry starting weight. Meinerz would be good insurance in case one of the two aforementioned players can’t carry the torch at guard after 2021.

Round 4, Pick No. 139: CB Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina

Todd Bowles loves him some big, physical corners. At 6-foot-4, 205-pounds, Mukuamu is every bit of big and physical. He does have issues with quicker, more agile receivers, but that’s to be expected. He could play a role on special teams in 2021 while he develops under the likes of Bowles and the Bucs secondary. Tampa Bay needs some kind of plan with Carlton Davis III and Jordan Whitehead entering the final year of their contracts.

Round 5, Pick No. 178: QB Kellen Mond, Texas A&M

There won’t be a major need for a quarterback as long as Brady is around. That’s likely to be at least two more years, so it wouldn’t make much sense for the Buccaneers to select a quarterback with a high draft pick. Mond will have a chance to learn under the G.O.A.T. before he receives an opportunity to step up and lead the team.

Round 6 Pick No. 218: ILB Garrett Wallow, TCU

He’s a thumper and could provide a solid special teams presence as well as insurance in case something happens to David, White, or Minter.

Round 7 Pick No. 261: TE Matt Bushman, BYU

This may sound crazy, but Bushman could end up being a steal in this draft. It obviously depends on where he goes, but the former Cougar was having an excellent career before a ruptured Achilles prematurely ended his 2020 season. Instead of red-shirting, Bushman decided to declare for the draft. The unknowns surrounding his medicals could cause him to fall this far – maybe even out of the draft. Regardless, Tampa Bay’s “Mr. Irrelevant” selection could be the opposite in a few years.


Whew. That was a lot. Let’s take one last look at the Buccaneers roster before we head out:

Quarterback: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kellen Mond
Running back: Ronald Jones II, Najee Harris, Ke’Shawn Vaugh, C.J. Prosise
Wide receiver: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, Jaydon Mickens, Justin Watson
Tight end: Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Tanner Hudson, Matt Bushman
Offensive line: Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, Tristan Wirfs, Aaron Stinnie, Josh Wells, Quinn Meinerz
Defensive line: Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston, Vita Vea, Dayvion Nix, Khalil Davis, Pat O’Connor, Jeremiah Ledbetter
Inside linebacker: Lavonte David, Devin White, Kevin Minter, Garrett Wallow
Outside linebacker: Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Anthony Nelson, Cam Gill, Quinton Bell
Cornerback: Carlton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, Ross Cockrell, Israel Mukuamu
Safety: Antoine Winfield Jr., Jordan Whitehead, Mike Edwards, Andrew Adams
Special Teams: Zach Triner, Bradley Pinion, Ryan Succop


The NFL is a tricky business, as you can see. The Buccaneers have the ability to make all this happen, it’s just a matter of it all coming together. And that’s a lot harder than it sounds.

But at the end of the day, this roster should be in good shape and it should have quite a few big names returning this year.

But what do YOU think? Who do you hope to see the Bucs bring back and how do you want to see it happen? Let us know via the comment section below!

*Correction: Minimum salary deals aren’t limited to just two contracts per team, that’s four-year qualifiers. The Bucs can offer vet minimum deals on an unlimited basis.
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