It’s widely known that the NFL is a league of parity. The system is designed to keep a level playing field, which in return provides fans, and teams, with a newfound annual sense of hope. It usually doesn’t matter how bad your team was the year before. Anything can happen if everything hits in an applicable year especially when it comes to the draft.
Who knows? Your team could win the Super Bowl after a 7-9 year (wink, wink).
Roster turnover is a heavy contributor to the roller coaster that is the NFL offseason. The salary cap essentially makes it impossible to retain every big-name player. And when teams do decide to retain the big names, it’s usually a lesser-known name that takes the hit.
Teams are constantly replacing veterans with cheap, younger players and they’re often looking for that veteran free agent to come in and provide a spark to the locker room. It’s a cycle that never ends.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, are a different animal this year. Not only are they returning all 22 starters from their Super Bowl LV roster, but they are bringing back key depth guys, as well. This isn’t the norm. Especially for a team looking to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Roster turnover is commonplace, it’s no mystery. Per scout Ken Grant and The Athletic’s Greg Auman, 95.5% of defensive snaps and 88.7% of offensive snaps return from the 2020 season. Both numbers stand to increase if certain free agents such as Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette, Steve McClendon, and Ross Cockrell are re-signed.
McClendon 265 (signed due to Vea injury)
Chappelle Russell 3
The Bucs are currently only losing 528 defensive snaps out of 11,770 total from the 20' regular season. That's ~4.5%. Remarkable for any team much less a unit that just won a Super Bowl. https://t.co/1KCu32PnFW
— Ken Grant (@KenGrantNFL) March 24, 2021
Let me try this one more time: Bucs now have 95.5 percent of their 2020 defensive snaps back under contract for 2021, and 88.7 percent of their offensive snaps. If they bring back Fournette/Brown, the offense goes up to 94.6 percent.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) March 25, 2021
With the roster intact and starters penciled in, Tampa Bay is in an advantageous position when it comes to the NFL Draft. The Bucs can literally choose whomever they want at this point.
You want the best player available? Sure, go ahead. What about stocking a position with good, young depth? Done. Trade back? Trade up? Whatever, let’s party.
Even though everything currently seems like it’s puppy dogs, sunshine, and rainbows, there is an undercurrent that must be respected when it comes to this year’s draft.
Tampa Bay cannot afford to screw it up. At all.
Granted, you can’t afford to screw up any draft. But the Bucs have to nail the 2021 draft if they want to continue their winning ways. Bringing these guys back is great, but it comes at a cost.
Voidable years save Bucs cap room this year, but you pay for it dollar-for-dollar down the road. For example, new deals for Brady, David, Barrett, Gronk and DSmith add up to $77 million a year, but their 2021 cap hit is just $24 million — that's $53 million borrowed from future. https://t.co/n1kT8iz9s2
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) March 24, 2021
The Bucs have had to borrow against future years and that’s going to eventually catch up with them. Take the trio of Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, and Tom Brady for instance. Those three players are set to count a little over $17.4 million against the cap in 2021. Next year, however, they are currently worth more than $51.4 million in 2022. They represent three of the Bucs’ four largest cap hits and 25% of an assumed $203 million cap.
It’s not a doomsday scenario or anything like that, but hitting on draft picks will help create a manageable environment in terms of roster construction. It will also allow the Bucs to remain competitive as opposed to stripping the roster down and starting over.
Dollars and cents aren’t the only reason the Bucs need kill it in the draft. There are a few aging veterans who are on the back end of their careers. Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, and William Gholston are three of them. The kicker with those guys is they’re also in the final year of their deals. Tampa Bay is eventually going to have to find and groom their replacements.
And then you have your younger players who are looking to cash in on their second contract. Carlton Davis III, Alex Cappa, Ronald Jones II, and Jordan Whitehead are all very serviceable players who have been major contributors over the course of their careers. All four are starting-caliber players and will likely be paid as such. Cheap rookie contracts are the best way to keep the option of paying these guys open. And not just cheap contracts, but effective ones that could even allow the Bucs to replace these guys if their price is too high.
Winning the Super Bowl is fun, but winning multiple Super Bowls is even better. The Bucs are in a good spot for the latter, but a strong draft will only strengthen their position.
Jason Licht has done a tremendous job over the last three years, but this year is his most important draft.
That is, unless the Buccaneers repeat. Then the whole cycle starts back over.