Welcome to Bucs Report’s “Make-Or-Break” series!
We are going to highlight the players heading into their final contract year and discuss what they need to do on the field in 2021 in order to obtain another contract with the Bucs. One prerequisite that must be checked off in order to qualify: The profiled player(s) have to be in the final year of a multi-year deal. Players who signed one-year deals in 2021 will not be considered.
Alex Cappa and the Buccaneers so far…
It seems like every year general manager Jason Licht identifies a small-school prospect that turns into a solid player for the Buccaneers. This is exactly the case with right guard Alex Cappa, who hails from DII’s Humboldt State. The Buccaneers actually moved up in the draft to select him, trading a third- and sixth-round pick in order to move up six picks before taking him in the third round.
In what was essentially a redshirt year his rookie season, Cappa only saw action in the final six games. He had zero starts.
2019 saw Cappa step into a starting role. Per Pro Football Focus, he finished the season with an overall grade of 62.7. His first year as a starter had both good moments and bad, evidenced by four allowed sacks and three penalties. Cappa broke his arm in Week 6 against the Saints, but finished that game and only missed the next two matchups. However, he suffered an elbow injury a few weeks later against Jacksonville, which knocked him out of that game and caused him to miss the following game against the Colts. None of the deterred the young man, as he finished the season on a high note.
2020 was a much stronger season for Cappa. It was clear that everything was starting to come together. He started all 16 games during the regular season, allowed zero sacks, and even led his position in Pro Bowl voting at one point. Unfortunately, Cappa suffered a fractured ankle in the Wild Card matchup game against the Washington Football Team, which ended his season.
What does he need to do in order to get that second contract?
Cappa has to stay healthy in 2021. That’s been his biggest issue so far. He’s suffered two pretty big injuries over the last two seasons. That’s nothing against him, but another serious injury could put his future with the team in serious question.
He’s a better in pass protection than opening up lanes in the run game, but not to the point where he’s a detriment, or anything. It would be nice to see him improve in that area and to continue his development in pass pro.
The fourth-year guard also had a rough first half against a talented Washington Football Team defensive front. He allowed two pressures in the first half after averaging just 1.68 per game in the regular season and “finished” with the second-lowest pass blocking grade of his 2020 season. Everyone has a bad game, but the hope is that this isn’t indicative of future performance(s).
How are his prospects shaping up for 2022?
Keeping continuity along the offensive line will be key with Brady behind center. Unfortunately, with a bevy of free agents including Jason Pierre-Paul, Carlton Davis and, Jordan Whitehead in 2022, it might be hard to pay Cappa at the top of the market for guards. Especially when you combine his ascending play and how much money is invested into that offensive line already.
PFF graded Cappa as the 18th-best guard among players with at least 196 run blocking snaps last year. The top-20 guards in the NFL average nearly $11 million per year, with salaries ranging from $6 million AAV to numbers as high as $18 million AAV.
It’s obvious that Cappa is going to cash in as long as he takes the next step in his development.
A lot will hinge on what the Buccaneers decide to do with Ryan Jensen this year. If they extend and restructure Jensen’s contract for the 2021 season, it will be hard to pay Cappa top-market money in 2022. Having already invested over $30 million into three offensive lineman, Cappa may test free agency.
There’s also Aaron Stinnie. He filled in admirably for Cappa over the last three games of the postseason, including the Super Bowl. If Cappa is too expensive or deemed unworthy of a return, then the Bucs could turn to him. Don’t forget about a 2021 draft class that is loaded in terms of offensive linemen, either.
If Cappa’s contract demands aren’t exorbitant there is the realm of possibility they bring him back in the fold. Another Super Bowl ring could also play into Cappa’s decision as well deciding to leave for high money after winning back-to-back championships. But, with next year’s increased salary cap and the way the Bucs managed their contracts this year, I think they can make room for him. One would also probably assume that Tampa Bay wants to keep this offensive line intact for as long as Brady is around. A two-year, $22 million deal seems plausible at this point, which means that a) Brady survived another year in the NFL and b) Cappa was a big reason why.