Tampa Bay has re-signed several of its key free agents, but there are still quite a few important names left on the list.
The following 10 players should be considered top priority and we’ll find out soon enough if they are. But for now, let’s have some fun and rank them, shall we?
10. QB Blaine Gabbert
I’m not thrilled with the idea of Gabbert backing up Brady. I honestly think the Bucs could do better in free agency, but the advantage with Gabbert is his knowledge of the system and the fact that he’s affordable. Plus, Brady is the only quarterback on the roster, so Gabbert is here by default.
9. CB Ryan Smith
He’s a special teams ace, which is more important than most people think.
8. CB Ross Cockrell
Like McClendon, Cockrell was a midseason addition. The veteran stepped right in and played well, even earning praise from Bruce Arians at one point. Even though Carlton Davis III is officially considered a “veteran”, the Buccaneers secondary still needs someone who has been around the block. Tampa Bay should be able to reach a deal that includes the veteran salary benefit.
7. RB Leonard Fournette
This may come as a surprise -especially after the news broke Tuesday that the Buccaneers have made Fournette on offer- but depth is important in the NFL and Tampa Bay could sacrifice depth by re-signing Playoff Lenny. And honestly, RoJo should be good enough to carry the load. It’s a better idea for the Bucs to sign a pass-catching specialist at running back, too. Fournette has shown the ability to catch the ball, but he’s not a dynamic receiver. A pass-catching back really may be the missing piece to this offense and if the Bucs re-sign Fournette, they could ruin their chance at grabbing one. Don’t get me wrong, re-signing Fournette is not a bad thing, but the Bucs could certainly do better by not re-signing him.
6. S Andrew Adams
Adams is one of those important depth pieces and the fact that he will come cheap adds another layer to the value he provides.
5. WR Antonio Brown
AB can still make plays. We saw that toward the end of last year and against the Washington Football Team in the playoffs. Chris Godwin’s return renders AB as a luxury item again, but we know health isn’t always guaranteed in the NFL. If Godwin and/or Evans have injury issues again -like they have over the last two seasons- then the Buccaneers will need someone to step up. AB is much like Fournette in that a lot of this comes down to his price tag, but I have a feeling his market isn’t that great and that he wouldn’t have an issue forgoing a chance with another team in order to play with Tom Brady for another year. Unless that team offers him a crazy-high deal. Which is unlikely.
4. G Aaron Stinnie
Stinnie is a restricted free agent. Since he went undrafted, the Bucs can only apply the “right-of-refusal” tender, which is around $2.13 million in 2021. If another team offers Stinnie a deal, the ROR tender allows Tampa Bay to match the offer. If the Bucs decline, then Stinnie is allowed to sign with the team that offered him. The trick here is that an offering team will not have to compensate the Bucs with a draft pick if they’re able to lure Stinnie away. Knowing that a pick won’t be forfeited could cause teams to come in with higher-than-anticipated offers. Regardless, in a perfect world, the Bucs need to find a way to bring Stinnie back. He played very well in Alex Cappa’s stead and there’s no reason to think his play will decline in 2021. We are also talking about protecting Tom Brady at the end of the day. You need to attain as many assets as possible when attempting that task.
3. DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches
The defense’s most improved player during training camp was an important piece to the puzzle in 2020. “Nacho” stepped up in a big way when Vea went down in Week 5. The seventh-year player finished with a career-high 45% of defensive snaps played. Per Pro Football Focus, Nacho finished with a career-high 12 pressures and with the most “stops” (10) since 2017. He’s also a very active player in the run game. It’s safe to say that Nunez-Roches has carved out a nice role in this defense and the Buccaneers need to make sure he continues to grow in the system.
2. K Ryan Succop
If you know Tampa Bay football, you know all about the recent kicking history. And when I say recent, I mean like the last decade. Succop finally provided a consistent, reliable presence in 2020. He looks to be fully recovered from his knee injury and even though he isn’t going to boot one from 55-yards out, his range is good enough. Plus, we’re probably not going to see this offense stall out often enough to where a 55-yard attempt is needed, anyway. Succop needs to be the guy in Tampa Bay as long as that knee holds up.
1. DL Ndamukong Suh
This is a no-brainer. Easily the most valuable and most important free agent left, Suh is a key figure in the Bucs defense. The combination of him and Vea is one of the best in the NFL and it’s practically impossible to run the ball against the Bucs when Suh is in the lineup. The 11-year veteran finished 2020 with 6.0 sacks, which is the most he’s had in a single season since 2015. His second year with the Bucs was by far and away the best and it should only get better in 2021.