Buccaneers: Top 5 Free Agent Targets

Buccaneers Should Add an All-Purpose RB

Winning a Super Bowl is one of the hardest things in sports to do. Going back to back is nearly impossible. Since the turn of the century the New England Patriots were the only team to do so winning Super Bowl 38 against the Carolina Panthers and then Super Bowl 39 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Ironically enough, led by current Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady.  Brady is now just the second starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl with multiple teams, joining Peyton Manning. 

Tampa Bay is now facing a very tough offseason with key contributors in the Super Bowl run such as wide receiver Chris Godwin, running back Leonard Fournette, tight end Rob Gronkowski and outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett are all set to hit free agency. 

Currently slated to have $24 million in salary cap space per Spotrac, and they will have to use it wisely to try and repeat. Today we’re going to explore the top-5 free agent options for Tampa Bay.

Chris Godwin, wide receiver:

Chris Godwin had a lackluster season for the most part if you just look at the numbers. Godwin saw a three year low in targets (84), yards (840) and touchdowns (7). All of which were the least since his rookie year. This can entirely be attributed to missing four games due to injury.  Assuming Godwin was to have played all 16 games, he was pacing for 112 targets, 86 receptions for 1120 yards and nine scores. This would have put his numbers very similar to his 2019 campaign. 

In a free agent class that is loaded at the receiver position it is important for Tampa Bay to retain their top asset. Godwin will be looking for top end money, as he should, and Tampa should be willing to pay him so. Signing Godwin will take up a significant portion of the $24 million cap space. Tampa can make other roster moves and restructure contracts to make this realistic. Step one in repeating as Super Bowl Champions is keeping the core of Tom Brady, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin together.

Shaquil Barrett, outside linebacker:

 Since coming to Tampa Bay in 2019 from Denver, Shaquil Barrett has been an absolute monster. In his two seasons as a Buccaneer, Barrett recorded 27.5 sacks (19.5 in 2019), 115 tackles and 30 tackles for a loss. In addition to stuffing the stat sheet in the tackle department, Barrett forced eight fumbles.  With Ndamukong Suh, Lavonte David and Shaquil Barrett all set to hit free agency, Tampa Bay is going to have to make some tough choices.  

Going into his age 28 season, Barrett still has a few elite years left. There was a slight falloff in the sack department but he was dominant in all other aspects of the game. Locking up Barrett you will be able to consistently expect eight to ten sacks a year for the next few seasons. As important as it is to retain Lavonte David, Tampa Bay does have Devin White who may be the best young linebacker in all of football. Retaining the anchor of your defensive line will be key to repeating. The pressure that they got on Mahomes was the difference maker.

Sheldon Rankins, defensive lineman:

Having one of the deeper defensive lines in the league was vital in the late season and Super Bowl run. Guys were able to stay fresh and healthy. Insert Sheldon Rankins. Rankins would be a very solid depth piece who would replace Ndamukong Suh at a very affordable price. Rankins was not the most productive the past few seasons missing a total of 10 games over the two years, he would likely be seeking a one year ‘prove it’ deal. This type of deal worked out for Tampa Bay with the signing of Shaquil Barrett. Both players had a very similar track record. Five years with the previous team, going into their age 27 season while hitting the open market. The only difference, Rankins last full season in 2018 he recorded 40 tackles, eight sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble.  With only $24 million in cap space, not all the moves this offseason will be big splashes.  Rankins has shown flashes, and can be added for an affordable price. Should Tampa Bay move on from Suh, Rankins would be a perfect replacement.

Kyle Van Noy, inside linebacker:

Tampa Bay had an elite linebacker core in Lavonte David, Devin White and Shaquil Barrett this past season; arguably the best in the league. Two of the three are set to hit free agency and it is unlikely they will be able to retain the full core. Van Noy was recently released from Miami one year into a four year deal. Van Noy had 69 tackles with 10 for a loss, six sacks while adding a pair of forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. Previously playing with Tom Brady in New England could be beneficial in getting him into Tampa Bay. At this stage of his career, Van Noy may be looking to chase another ring. What better than to go to the defending champions with the greatest quarterback of all time and a defensive coordinator who is an aspiring head coach who has shown the ability to get the most out of his linebackers. Should Tampa Bay lose Lavonte David depth at the position would be most important. Van Noy should be another player that has been productive and is affordable.

James White, running back:

At this point there is a recurring theme; solid depth players who have been productive, affordable and have played with Tom Brady.  James White would be the perfect fit in Tampa Bay. Ronald Jones improved leaps and bounds on the ground, Leonard Fournette is a free agent and Tampa Bay needs a pass catching back (for a decent cap hit). In his last five seasons playing with Tom Brady, White had at least 50 targets, seeing at least 70 in four of them. White is most known for his three touchdowns against the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl including the game winner. 

White would be the most organic fit in the Tampa Bay offense and would be affordable too. Jones would be the primary back seeing most of the carries while White could see between 60-100 carries and not hinder Jones development.  The production of the two backs would not take away from the strengths of the receiving core as Brady has had multiple relevant pass catchers in New England. 

Regardless of what Tampa Bay does this offseason there will have to be a balance; from retaining their home grown stars to signing free agents. The cap for some teams is a friend but in Tampa Bay’s case it may be their enemy. Top free agents from their 2020 roster should command top money and it will be difficult to retain all of them. Adding depth pieces while retaining one or two of their stars is the recipe for a Super Bowl repeat.

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