Wednesday July 21 is a league-altering day on the calendar. However, that league is not the NFL. The National Hockey League is holding their expansion draft as the Seattle Kraken draft their roster from players that other teams from around the league chose not to protect.
Lightning fans (or Red Wings fans) will tell you that this makes for a stressful and thought-provoking exercise: To look over your roster and have a limited number of players you can protect from being stolen away by another franchise. So much so that I applied the concept to the NFL.
Hypothetically, imagine a new team is entering the league. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, along with every other team, can protect six players on offense and six players on defense from being taken. The only players not eligible are 2021 rookies. Everybody else is available to be drafted and the Bucs will lose one non-protected player.
So, who should they protect? Here’s who I would make untouchable.
Wirfs may have been the best rookie in the NFL last year. He consistently stonewalled some of the best pass rushers in the league. To say he’s established himself as perhaps the best right tackle in the league would not be an exaggeration.
The best part? The Bucs have him on a cheap rookie deal for the next five years. This combination of talent and team-friendly contract make him perhaps the most valuable player on this team in terms of draft targets.
Every team in the league wants a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver on a relatively cheap contract. Evans is certainly one of the best playmakers in the game. And while he is well compensated, he is underpaid compared to other top pass-catchers.
As Evans enters his eighth season at 28, he is right in the prime of his career. He’s a long-term asset for the Bucs and one of their best overall players.
At age 44 it might not be likely that a brand new franchise would select Brady as their option at quarterback. However, the Bucs are trying to win a Super Bowl right now. That means they can’t mess around and chance losing their trigger man.
After all, factors like mentoring, marketing and short term quality play could be enough for a new team to target the greatest of all-time.
Marpet is another Buccaneers star who is in the heart of his career. He is one of the best guards in the game and there isn’t a team anywhere who wouldn’t want him. For a team who is looking to repeat as champions with a non mobile quarterback, a great interior offensive lineman is a premium player to protect.
There are few relationships more unique than that of a quarterback and his center. And it just so happens that the Bucs have one of the best in the league at both positions. Jensen is valuable for all the same reasons Marpet is. And while Jensen is a little older and under contract two years less than Marpet, he’s still a must keep in any scenario.
There are reasons I considered not protecting Godwin. Between his pending free agency and the depth of pass catching talent on the roster. With that said, he is far too important for the Bucs to lose.
His skill set is so different than Evans’ and can’t be replicated by their other star receiver. His ability after the catch, his sure hands and his blocking are key for this offense. Despite reason to pass on him, keeping him was an easy choice.
Vea is the foundation of the Bucs defense. The best run stopping team and the league and consistently collapsing pockets are a direct result of what he brings to this team. A case could be made that he’s the most indispensable player on this side of the ball.
In addition to that, he still has two years left on his rookie deal. This means he is cheap and dominant. A perfect combination for any team.
There aren’t many rising stars in the league who shine as brightly as White. His combination of size and speed are very rare. As a result he is becoming one of the best playmaking linebackers in the game today.
On top of that, his intangibles are out of this world. He’s a leader on this team despite only being in the league two years. He is undoubtedly a franchise player and a no Brainer in terms of protecting.
It has often been said that this is a passing league. And if you don’t have a great corner to help slow down the passing attack then it’s very hard to win. That’s what Davis is.
We have seen this young star shut down some of the best receivers in the game. From DeAndre Hopkins to Allen Robinson to Michael Thomas, Davis has done as good of a job locking them down as anyone. He’s the best player in the Bucs secondary and irreplaceable for this defense.
David is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. However, he’s still one of the best linebackers in the game if not the best. A young team would love to have him as the face of their defense and the experience of a potential future hall of fame player.
Just like with Brady, the Bucs can’t afford to lose David. While other players might be taken ahead of him due to his age, he is too important to this team in their quest to repeat.
Winfield Jr has star potential. We watched him improve before our eyes as a rookie, capped off by a memorable postseason run. Now he is on the verge of a big breakout season in year two.
Winfield Jr isn’t the best player on the defense; or even the second or third. However, there aren’t many who project to be more important to this defense in the years to come.
The Bucs have a few good pass rushers worth protecting. With that said, Barrett is the best of the bunch. He’s also younger and under contract for longer than Jason Pierre-Paul. This gives him the nod between the two if who to keep.
In addition to that, it seems the Bucs have already drafted Pierre-Paul’s eventual replacement in Joe Tryon. It’s a bit of a calculated risk, but one that has to be taken.
With just six players protected on each side of the ball, that leaves several key guys vulnerable to be drafted away. A few significant names include Antonio Brown, Ndamukong Suh, Ronald Jones, OJ Howard, Rob Gronkowski, Jamel Dean, Jordan Whitehead as well as Pierre-Paul.
If I were predicting who I believe the Bucs would lose in the experiment it would be third-year corner Sean Murphy-Bunting. His ability to play inside and out brings value in versatility. And just like with Winfield Jr, he made strides through the season and appears to be developing into a very good player who’s best football is ahead of him.
This would be a significant loss for the Bucs. Of course losing any of these guys would hurt the team. But that’s the beauty of this team. Potentially losing such good players are a testament to the talent and depth on this roster.