By: Ian Evans
Which Star Free Agents Fit Tampa’s Mold?
The Buccaneers have had an outstanding season thus far as they have made it to the NFC Championship game. Their success does come off the brilliant play of Tom Brady, the adaptability of head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, as well as a stout defense. The Bucs have also signed free agents to one-year deals who have also contributed to the teams’ success as well.
In the offseason, the Buccaneers signed Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette, and LeSean McCoy to one-year deals. They also signed Antonio Brown to a one-year deal during Week 8 of the regular season. With many players’ deals ending after the season concludes, it can be said that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have an extremely important offseason ahead of them.
First and foremost they have to prioritize resigning their unrestricted free agents Shaquill Barrett, Lavonte David, Rob Gronkowski, Steve McLendon, and Ndamukong Suh. Next, they have to decide which one-year free agents they are willing to let go and which ones are a critical asset to the teams’ future. And finally, Tampa Bay must adhere to their team’s needs on both sides of the ball.
One of the glaring weaknesses the Buccaneers bust attend to in the offseason is the offensive line as Tampa Bay is tied for fourth in sacks allowed with 48. On defense, the Buccaneers allowed 246.6 yards per game during the regular season which was 21st in the league, so it’s safe to say that they could look at free agents that can help their pass defense.
The Buccaneers are one of the most complete teams in the league, but this offseason poses many challenges for them. Can they retain their unrestricted free agents while going after highly coveted free agents? Which free agents help them stay as lethal as they are? With all of this being said, here are five free-agent targets for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
1. Trent Williams
Trent Williams did not play a single snap in 2019. However, in his return in 2020, he has solidified himself as one of the best offensive linemen in the league. In his first year with a new team, Willaims has subtly regained his All-Pro form in San Francisco. Williams is one of those offensive tackles who can work in multiple schemes, adapt to different offenses, and bolster an offensive line in the rushing and passing attack.
The Buccaneers need to bolster their offensive line who has allowed far too many sacks on the 43-year-old quarterback Tom Brady. Williams can help in that department as he has only allowed only four sacks (T-19th) and has been penalized ten times (4th). How good is Trent Williams on the offensive front? At one point in his career, he only allowed one sack in 867 blocking attempts. That’s efficiency at its finest.
Next year Trent Williams will be 33 years old, but he is one of those tackles who has shown that he is capable of being the next outstanding left tackle who can play in well into their 30s at a high level. If the Buccaneers are serious about protecting Tom Brady and their future quarterbacks, they should strongly consider signing Trent Williams. The only problem with targeting Williams is that he will most likely resign with San Francisco. However, if the Buccaneers can match his contract, don’t be surprised if he takes his talents to Florida.
2. Yannick Ngakoue
If Shaq Barrett or Ndamukong Suh does decide to find another team to continue his career with, Tampa Bay would need to consider signing another defensive lineman stud to take his place. Suh, 34, could surely be replaced with younger and more athletic talent upfront. Enter Yannick Ngakoue. Ngakoue, 25, is one of those special edge rushers who can generate reliable pressure on the quarterback.
Ngakoue has had a solid season in 2020 as he played for the Minnesota Vikings and was later traded to the Baltimore Ravens. He garnered 23 solo tackles, four forced fumbles, eight sacks, and 11 quarterback hits. He only seven tackles for loss, but those numbers will increase as his career advances. As an unrestricted free agent, he could benefit from playing with linebackers and defensive tackles who can take the attention off of him in the pass rush and rush defense.
Tampa Bay is a team that can provide Ngakoue with that luxury. Imagine a defense with William Gholston, Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Devin White taking attention off of Yannick Ngakoue. That’s a scary sight for opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks. If the Buccaneers want to add someone who fits their scheme and has an abundance of potential, they should target Ngakoue as a top target. This signing would make sense for both parties involved.
3. Joe Thuney
If the Buccaneers can’t land a tackle like Trent Williams, why not go for a guard highly coveted guard who has played with Tom Brady? Joe Thuney has been a starter for the New England Patriots ever since he was drafted, and has yet to miss a game in his 5-year tenure. That’s not only extremely consistent but highly impressive.
He struggled early in his career but quickly found his footing as he now ranks in the 86th percentile in overall pass-blocking grade according to PFF. He has only allowed two sacks and was penalized three times in 2020. He has also played 980 snaps in 2020 which is 21st in the league. Thuney is a durable guard who can bolster an offensive line significantly.
Thuney has developed into one of the best guards in the NFL and will be a sought-after guard in free agency. And for a Tampa Bay team that had inconsistencies protecting Tom Brady this season, Joe Thuney could be a huge help in that regard. Reuniting him with his former teammate Tom Brady could benefit both parties and their respective futures.
4. Anthony Harris
The Buccaneers have allowed far too many yards through the air this year and could look to bolster their pass defense. A part of that is due to Tampa Bay’s safeties Antoine Winfield Jr., (22) and Jordan Whitehead (23), who are both young and have less than 4 seasons under their belt. Both are only going to get better playing with a veteran defense but can also benefit from veteran leadership as well.
Anthony Harris has been one of the best safeties in football and steadily seen his playing time increase with the Minnesota Vikings. Harris’ ability to read route concepts as well as quarterbacks at the same time is remarkable as he is able to position himself to make plays.
In 2020, Harris put up a career-high in solo tackles (58), combined tackles (108), and tackles for loss (2). In his six-year career, Harris has nine interceptions, six of them coming in 2019. Although he had no interceptions in 2020, that is mainly due to his lockdown defense as his specialty is playing coverages instead of man defenses.
Harris could not only mentor Winfield Jr., and Whitehead, but he could also help a team that struggles in coverage defense. If Tampa Bay wants to prioritize limiting offenses in the passing game, Harris is a safety that should be discussed in the front office this offseason.
5. William Jackson III
After getting selected in the first round of the 2016 draft, William Jackson III tore his pectoral for his rookie season even started. Ever since then, Cincinnati has seen his production increase year after year and rewarded him with more playing time year after year. In 2020, Jackson III has garnered 43 solo tackles, one interception, and has allowed 36 receptions. Jackson III had surrendered completions on just 51.4% of the passes thrown his way this year.
William Jackson III is nearing the end of his rookie deal with the Cincinnati Bengals and could be poised for a solid deal. The Bengals have already invested in Trae Waynes so Jackson III could be headed to a new squad that needs help in man coverage in 2021. Enter the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Adding Jackson III to a cornerback group that consists of Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Jamel Dean could help enhance their man coverage. Jackson III could also come a little cheaper than most All-Pro safeties and cornerbacks so targeting him won’t be as big of a hassle as other unrestricted free agents. Jackson III could be an absolute steal of a signing if Tampa Bay is willing to target this young cornerback.