Grading Tampa Bay’s First Week Of Free Agency

How have the Bucs done so far?


The first week of the 2021 NFL season is almost in the books and it was a busy one. Especially for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Bucs were able to not only sign five members of the “Elite Eight”, but they were also able to bring back some key depth pieces, as well.

There is still work to do. Ndamukong Suh remains unsigned and so are Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette. Don’t forget depth guys such as Blaine Gabbert, Steve McClendon, and others, either.

The cool thing about the “now” is that we are able to discuss Tampa Bay’s moves -or lack thereof in certain instances- and how they will affect the team.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

It’s time to hand out some grades. I’ll take a look at each individual deal that the Bucs have given out and offer my thoughts on each one. You can tell me how much you hate me in the comment section below.

Lavonte David’s five-year deal that is actually a two-year deal

Chris Godwin’s franchise tag was the first big free agency news to drop, but the announcement of David’s deal was monumental.

That’s because a) his salary cap hit for 2021 is a measly $3.36 million and b) his deal set the tone for the other deals that include voidable years. Everyone knew coming into free agency that the Bucs could backload deals in hopes of bringing everyone back. The only question was: would they do it?

David’s deal answered that question. The Bucs have him signed for two years, but the final three years are voidable. That helps Tampa Bay spread his cap hit out over those years. Granted, his cap hit does surge to over $14 million in 2022, but all that matters to the Bucs is right now, not later.

And right now, David’s deal helped open up a ton of room to bring some of the others back.

Final Grade: A

Shaquil Barrett’s ridiculously-low cap hit

Barrett’s cap hit is as low as David’s, but damn, it’s awfully close.

And now that I think about it, his is probably as low -if not lower- after applying proper context. Think about it: Barrett is a pass-rusher who is in his prime and while David is one of the best off-ball linebackers in the league, he’s 31-years-old and his position isn’t as valued as highly as Barrett’s. A $5 million cap hit for a year of service is insanely cheap.

The fact that Trey Hendrickson -who had a good year in 2020, but is nowhere near the likes of Barrett- is going to cost the Bengals nearly $13 million against the cap in 2021 while Barrett costs nearly two-thirds less is all you need to know about the inner workings of Jason Licht, Mike Greenberg, and Jacqueline Davidson.

And before you say, “Well, Hendrickson’s cap hit probably doesn’t go up as much as Barrett’s over the remaining years.”, you should know this: 79% of Hendrickson’s contract is paid out over the 2022-2024 seasons, while 87% of Barrett’s contract is paid out over the same timeframe.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the 8% increase in pay for the guy who is second in the NFL in total sacks over the last two seasons.

Final Grade: A

Tom Brady does it again

This dude just loves making the lives of every other person not involved with the Bucs a living hell. Brady is madman when it comes to how he does business in the NFL and it’s undoubtedly helped him earn seven Super Bowl rings.

Don’t think he’s being an all-around team guy and taking less money. He’s just taking it off the table and putting the bill on the backburner. But that doesn’t mean it’s selfish. Not at all. Brady knows that restructuring his contract allows the Buccaneers to keep their championship roster intact. It’s smart.

It’s how you play the game.

Who wouldn’t want to keep as many guys as possible after what we saw during the last 12 weeks of last year?

Brady’s restructure created $19 million in cap room. He has done this numerous times throughout his career and it’s estimated that while he gets paid early and often, he still saved the Patriots nearly $60 million in pay cuts during his time there.

It’s beautiful how it all comes full circle, isn’t it? This guy literally has all the answers.

Final Grade: A

Aaron Stinnie comes back on the cheap

This one isn’t too surprising considering the Buccaneers brought 2020 restricted free agent Antony Auclair back for the same price. Both Stinnie and Auclair were set to make $2.13 million each under the NFL’s right-of-refusal tender, but both signed $1.25 million deals instead.

Stinnie played very, very well during the playoffs, but it appears that a three-game sample size isn’t enough to pique an NFL team’s interest(s). I’m sure the Bucs have no issue with that. They get to bring back valuable depth at very affordable rate.

You can’t go wrong with that.

Final Grade: A

Due diligence is served with the quartet of RFAs

The re-signings of Zach Triner, Pat O’Connor, Jeremiah Ledbetter, and Tanner Hudson were all good decisions. Triner has been the team’s long-snapper for the past two seasons, O’Connor had a vicious block on a punt against the Broncos, Ledbetter has provided depth in the past, and Hudson has periodically found himself playing on game days over the last two years.

These guys have shown enough flashes to warrant roster spots. Especially at $850k ($3.4 million total) apiece.

Final Grade: A

Nacho returns for two more years

Rakeem Nunez-Roches was labeled the most improved player on defense during last year’s training camp and we saw why during the regular season.

Nacho filled in admirably for the injured Vita Vea. Tampa Bay’s No. 1 run defense remained as such and per Pro Football Focus, he recorded career-highs in pressures and quarterback hits on a career-high 588 snaps.

As a result, he was given a $250k raise. Nacho is on the books for $1.75 million in 2021 after making $1.5 million last year. It’s a modest raise for a depth player who earned it and it also serves as tremendous value for the Bucs.

Final Grade: A

Chris Godwin receives the franchise tag

This one is tricky. I still think it’s a bad idea for the Bucs to allow Godwin to PWT (play while tagged). However, I’m taking the optimistic approach that Tampa Bay tagged him with the mindset of giving him a multi-year extension.

That’s what keeps this grade respectable. Hopefully they get a deal done before July 15.

Because I’m going to whine and complain if they don’t. And no one wants to hear that.

Final Grade: B

Succop’s consistency pays off

Succop was Tampa Bay’s most consistent kicker in what feels like an eternity in 2020 and boy, did he get paid like it.

But did they pay too much?

The former Mr. Irrelevant will make the most cash in 2021 and will tie for the NFL’s 13th-highest cap hit among kickers. The latter number serves the Bucs well, but the former number represents the current trend of backloading deals. Sure, backload the hell out of David’s deal, Barrett’s deal, Brady’s deal, and Godwin’s (hopefully) eventual deal. But to backload a kicker’s deal? I’m not so sure if that’s the best move.

Succop’s cap hit jumps to the 10th-highest in 2022 and the fifth-highest in 2023. By that point he will be 37-years old. But this is where the genius of the Bucs front office comes into play. The Bucs can save $3.75 million of Succops $4.83 million cap hit by releasing him. They can also save money in 2022 if things take a terrible turn in 2021.

It’s a solid deal that hopefully pays dividends for a position that has stunk it up on an annual basis for a long time now.

Final Grade: B

Gronk needs more tuddies in his life

If you would’ve told me at the beginning of last year that I would think Gronk is an almost-necessary component for a repeat title run in 2021, I probably would’ve had you drug tested.

There weren’t many who saw Gronk’s impact coming last year. He played exceptionally well -and all 20 games, mind you- while serving multiple roles. His blocking prowess paid off in a major way for the Bucs and he also came through in the clutch as a receiver.

His $3 million cap hit is extremely low, but it’s hard to ignore the entire scope of this deal. First off, he’s making $8 million and can make an extra $2 million in incentives this year. If he reaches the $10 million plateau then he’ll hold the eighth-highest yearly average and the fifth-most cash in 2021. The latter number means he’ll earn more cash than George Kittle, Darren Waller, and Zach Ertz.

You also have the four voidable years that kick in right after this season ends. If Gronk retires or decides to play elsewhere, he’ll cost the Bucs $5 million in dead cap in 2022.

It’s a lot of investment from my personal standpoint. Especially when you consider the Bucs currently have two capable tight ends who are making over $6 million apiece. Overall, the move is fine, I just wish the approach was slightly different.

Final Grade: C

The final word

I think it’s safe to say that the Bucs offseason has gone pretty well thus far. We all knew that they were going to have to find creative ways and go against the grain in order to bring everyone -or at least the majority- back.

So, far that’s been exactly what’s happened. And they’ve done it in ways that are not only effective in the short-term, but in the long-term as well.

Overall, you have to be happy with how the first week has played out. Here’s to more good news in the future.

Overall Grade: B+