Ranking the Bucs' Offseason Priorities
Looking forward to the offseason has become a bit of pastime for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a decade without sniffing the postseason. There appeared to be some progress made this season but whether it carries over next year remains to be seen. Enter: the offseason.
It's no big deal. The Bucs only have one or two franchise-altering decisions to make in the next few months, not least of which being what to do with quarterback Jameis Winston. The Bucs' front office also has to consider the future of the defensive line and certain key pieces of the offense aside from who is under center.
Here is the rank priorities for the Bucs this offseason:
1. Secure a starting quarterback
Notice how the priority is not to "keep Jameis Winston?" Frankly, the Bucs have no good options when it comes to their would-be franchise quarterback. After five tumultuous seasons in Tampa Bay, Winston is coming off a historic season in which he became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.
Obviously, there is a lot of good and a lot of bad to Winston. While he led the NFL's top passing attack, Winston blew away the competition when it came to interceptions. He threw two more interceptions than the four quarterbacks still in the playoffs combined, and he even set an NFL record for pick-sixes thrown in a season (7).
Despite his carelessness with the football, Winston is going to get a big contract from someone in the next year or two. Tampa has the advantage for now, as they have the option to franchise tag him. The non-exclusive tag seems to be the best option as it would cost the Bucs a relatively low rate of $27 million in 2020 while opening the possibility of netting two first-round picks from another team hoping to acquire him.
However, the franchise tag would limit Tampa Bay's options with other players they want to extend, like linebacker Shaq Barrett. As it seems unlikely the Bucs will want to give a long-term extension to the NFL's interception leader over the past five years, the next most likely option is to move on from Winston altogether.
Tampa's options on this path aren't great either. They are not well positioned in this year's draft to get a top flight rookie QB like LSU's Joe Burrow or Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa. The free agent market might actually be led by Winston. The Bucs would have to pick from potentially over-the-hill passers like Tom Brady, poor fits for Bruce Arians scheme like Teddy Bridgewater or retreads like Andy Dalton.
No option is ideal, but it's the most important position in football. Their decision will alter the course of the franchise. This has to be Tampa Bay's biggest priority.
2. Re-sign Shaq Barrett
No free agent had a bigger impact for the Bucs this season than Barrett. After playing a rotational role for the Denver Broncos, Barrett signed in Tampa on a one-year, $4 million deal and nonchalantly led the NFL in sacks (19.5).
Barrett, who also set a new Bucs franchise record for sacks, is not going to settle for a $4 million payday again. He will be one of the hottest free agents in the NFL, and the Bucs have a head start on securing his services for the foreseeable future.
What the Bucs do with Jameis Winston will impact their approach to Barrett. If the Bucs simply move on from Winston, they have complete flexibility with Barrett, allowing them to franchise tag him if they do not sign him long-term. If the franchise tag is used on Winston, the Bucs have to either get a deal done or transition tag him, which only guarantees right of first refusal but no compensation if they don't match an offer.
A long-term deal for Barrett is risky for Tampa. He was available last year because he had limited production in four years with Denver. There isn't much precedence for the Bucs to assess Barrett beyond this season.
Most importantly, sacks are difficult to replicate. It is unlikely Barrett will be able to sustain his sack rate so the Bucs would be unwise to pay him based on his previous production, which is a generally unwise strategy for paying any free agent.
3. Extend Chris Godwin
Forget All-Pro or PFWA honors—Chris Godwin was one of the top two wide receivers in the NFL in 2019. That is why the Bucs need to lock him up now.
Godwin was the only receiver in 2019 to finish the season top-three in yards (1333), touchdowns (9), yards per target (11) and yards after the catch (577). He was nothing short of electric when a football was thrown his direction, and it's extremely likely he will continue being one of the NFL's best wideouts.
While Godwin still has a year left on his rookie contract, the Bucs cannot afford to wait on a potential extension. He will command significant money after a breakout season like he just had, possibly in the $50 to $60 million range akin to Tyreek Hill's and Devante Adams' recent extensions. If he has another year like that and hits free agency, Godwin could very well reset the market for wide receivers in 2021.
In that case, the Bucs might not be able to afford him, or Godwin might not want to stick around. By paying him now, the Bucs save more in the long run while securing his services. For Godwin, he guarantees himself a solid payday offsetting the risk of injury next season.
4. Find a new starting offensive tackle
Left tackle, right tackle—the Bucs could upgrade either position. While Donovan Smith will likely be the Bucs starter at left tackle for another if only by virtue of his contract, he is not terribly consistent and his pass protection skills have likely hit a plateau.
Across the line right tackle Demar Dotson is slated to be a free agent next season and at 34, is not quite as stout as he used to be. Dotson has not played a full 16-game season since 2014, and he led the Bucs offense in penalties this season (10). While the Bucs do not need to wash their hands of their longest tenured player, they can no longer afford to rely on him as their starting right tackle.
The draft would be the best place to find a potential replacement for either tackle position. Likely first-round picks Alabama OT Jedrick Wills and Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs are plug-and-play lineman who could immediately start in place of either Smith or Dotson.
The Bucs could mine free agency which should be ripe with potential replacements particularly at right tackle. Veteran Bryan Bulaga would be the best option should the long-time Packer leave Green Bay. If the Bucs wanted to go younger, Titans RT Jack Conklin would be the top choice.