Now that the news about Antonio Brown’s return to the Bucs has settled, it’s time to piece together what it all means going forward. How does this affect what happens in the draft? What move(s) does Tampa Bay make in order to get back under the cap? Did the resolution of the civil suit having anything to do with it? Where there any other teams interested in Brown?
Let’s piece it all together and see what we find out.
What does Antonio Brown’s return mean for Bucs and their picks in the 2021 NFL Draft?
It’s hard to envision the Bucs taking a receiver in the first three rounds at this point. The Bucs are obviously in an even more enviable spot now then they were before the re-signing. But who knows. Chris Godwin will be a free agent next year (for now) and so will Brown. Scotty Miller will be entering the final year of his rookie deal in 2022, as well. And all of this comes with Mike Evans carrying a cap hit north of $18+ million each year. So, there will be a need for a receiver at some point, just not in 2021.
Tampa Bay can now focus on re-stocking the EDGE, defensive line, offensive line, and even cornerback, safety, and backup quarterback positions in the draft. One could make an argument that this is where the focus should have been all along. Tampa Bay needs depth/youth in just about all of those spots.
How can Tampa Bay get back under the salary cap?
Per The Athletic’s Greg Auman, the Bucs were essentially $1 million under the salary cap before Brown’s return.
Before new deal with Antonio Brown, Bucs had just $934,812 in space under the salary cap, per NFLPA records, so they'll have to make cuts or restructures to get Brown's contract (and eventually draft picks) under the cap.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) April 28, 2021
Brown’s deal costs around $3.1 million right off the bat, so that means Tampa Bay is now about $2 million over the cap. Per Over The Cap, the Bucs’ draft class will cost around $7.5 million, but around $4.7 million is already accounted for via the top-51 contracts. Therefore, the Bucs need about $2.8 million to sign the draft class.
That leaves around $5 million to make up. You also want to have around $2-$3 million during the season for injury money. How can the Bucs clear the $5-$8 million needed to function in 2021?
Extend Ryan Jensen
This is the easiest way to clear cap room, and more. You could extend Jensen for one year, and clear almost as much room as you want by using voidable years. We’ve seen the Bucs do this all offseason, so why stop at Jensen?
Per Auman, however, the Bucs have yet to reach out to Jensen. That doesn’t mean it’s out of the question, but it also means that there has been no progress made, whatsoever.
Cut/Trade William Gholston or Cameron Brate
Cutting/trading Gholston would save $5.5 million, but he’s a starter on a defensive line that already has depth questions outside of Rakeem Nunez-Roches. Releasing Brate would make much more sense, considering he averaged playing 8% of offensive snaps before O.J. Howard went down for the season. Brate’s departure would create $6.5 million in cap room. In his defense, he did step up when called upon and was the team’s leading receiver through the first three games of the playoffs, so he still has a lot of value.
Extend/cut/trade another player
This is where we get into not-so-likely territory. If you look at Tampa Bay’s current contract values for the 2021 season, you’ll see there isn’t really any one player that would make a difference if moved in some fashion. Tampa Bay could make a collection of moves, but that will be hard to do and time is running out.
It makes a lot more sense for the Bucs to do something with one of the three aforementioned big-money names than anything else.
Did Brown’s resolution of the pending civil suit have anything to do with this?
If you ask Jason Licht, he’ll tell you it didn’t. But the timing is awfully peculiar when it comes to Antonio Brown’s return to the Bucs. It was reported at one point that both sides were having issues in terms of contract value, but if we’re just going off of the timing of the situation, one would think it did.
Were there any other teams interested in Brown?
We’ve already discussed the Ravens and Seahawks as the only teams with even any remote interest in Brown and even then there weren’t any Adam Schefters or Ian Rapoports tying their names to those reports.
But per the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, there was one unnamed team that was interested in Brown. Fortunately for the Bucs, they won out at the end of the day.
More on the #Bucs agreeing to a one-year deal worth up to $6.25 million with WR Antonio Brown, who always wanted to be back in Tampa. @gmfb @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/LsyLHZugba
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) April 28, 2021
There are still plenty of questions to answer. But the one thing we know for certain is that Brown’s return to the Bucs is nothing but good news for the defending Super Bowl champions.