The Buccaneers have a lot of work to do in the free agent market.
When the Super Bowl finally plays, either Cincinnati or Los Angeles will head into the offseason vindicated, the 2021-2022 NFL season a total success. For the other 31 franchises, the end of Super Bowl 56 officially brings the NFL into the long offseason. Many teams have already started to make important decisions about the future, but every team has more to do – and the Buccaneers are no exception.
In fact, they might be the single team that is facing the most decisions, many in the game’s most important positions. Tampa Bay has a staggering 26 players on the roster that are scheduled to be free agents. Hard decisions will likely have to be made in this offseason, but here is a list of those free agents who the Buccaneers should go out of their way to keep.
1. Chris Godwin
Chris Godwin has been one of the NFL’s best receivers since his breakout in late 2018, and subsequent superstar performance in 2019. He has been one of the best in the game in yards after the catch, blocking, and dropped passes, providing elite ability from the slot to perfectly complement the physical downfield playstyle of Mike Evans.
Even when Antonio Brown was on the field, Godwin was a target hog, the perfect mixture of route running, physicality, elusiveness, and catch ability to serve as a quarterback’s best friend. Even missing the final three games of this past year, Godwin posted 98 receptions for 1103 yards, both of which were top-15 among all wide receivers.
Simply put, Godwin is a phenomenally talented player that fits perfectly into the Buccaneers’ identity. Keeping him in Tampa Bay should be a top priority for Jason Licht and company going into this offseason.
2. Carlton Davis
The Buccaneer secondary has been much-maligned for several years now, excluding the stretch of phenomenal play that saw them finally click on their way to the Super Bowl.
But Carlton Davis has been one of the standout players in this young Bucs secondary. His physicality and intelligence gives him an edge that receivers struggle to beat. Davis has been a top-15 CB in football for a few years now, boosting a secondary that often relies his ability to win 1-on-1.
As the perfect fit for Todd Bowles’ defensive scheme, Davis is the most important defensive free agent by a long shot.
3. Ryan Jensen
Every team, linemen in particular, needs a bully. The NFL is a game of aggression and physicality up front, and few exemplify those qualities held in better balance than Ryan Jensen.
A provocateur and instigator at heart, Jensen’s ability to change the tone of a game feeds the offense’s momentum. And while he has been called an instigator, his hard-hitting play rarely spills outside the whistles. In fact, Jensen has only been called for 11 total penalties over the last three straight seasons. His resiliency and toughness is extremely underrated as well, as he has played 99% of all offensive snaps in his 4 years in Tampa Bay.
After having made the Pro Bowl this year, the price tag to keep Jensen in a Bucs jersey may be high, but his talent would be too sorely missed not to give it a strong try.
4. Alex Cappa
What can I say? Winning football starts on the line of scrimmage.
Alex Cappa has been a wildly-underrated aspect of the Buccaneers’ recent winning ways. He played every single offensive snap for Tampa Bay this past season, postseason included – the only member of the team to do so. In that time, he allowed only five sacks and committed just one penalty, per PFF.
Sure, part of that is helped by Brady’s pocket presence and quick trigger, but the Buccaneers also passed at a staggering 66.46% rate, easily the most in the league (next highest being PIT – 63.44%).
Simply put, Cappa is much more than a bit player in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense, he is a force in the interior that would provide needed high-level consistency for a team undergoing so much change.
5. Leonard Fournette
Remember when Ronald Jones was the locked-in lead back for Tampa Bay, and Leonard Fournette was fighting for a roster spot? Since Bruce Arians’ ultimatum late in the 2020 season, Fournette has been The Guy in the backfield for Tampa Bay.
Now, with Ronald Jones fighting more with Ke’Shawn Vaughn for the backup role than with Fournette for starting honors, its time for Lombardi Lenny to become a true featured back. He approached that height this season, but an injury forced him out for much of the home stretch.
Most impressive about Leonard Fournette is his dedication to improvement. Most notably, after a season in 2020 that saw him struggle in the passing game, Fournette came back strong and proved himself to be a valuable member of Arians’ gunslinging offensive identity. History has often punished teams who give RBs an inflated second contract but, without the GOAT behind center, having an established runner could be more important than ever for the Buccaneers.
1. Blaine Gabbert – QB
The need for a steady presence behind center should hardly need to be stated. Gabbert has been praised by Bucs coaches for the way he helped Brady learn the new system, and even if Tampa Bay goes after a different QB in 2022, Blaine Gabbert has proven his value in the locker room for the Bucs.
2. Jordan Whitehead – S
Defensive identity is hard to forge, and the connection between the members of the Bucs secondary has been one of the biggest reasons for their success. Removing a talented piece like Whitehead from that delicate equation could have repercussions for the rest of the defense’s play, even if paying Whitehead what he is worth will be extremely hard for any team.
3. Rob Gronkowski – TE
This one’s up to Gronk. Tampa Bay should gladly take him back if he chooses to stay – as the duo of O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate have been less-than-inspiring these past several years. Gronk has proven that he still has the ability to exploit defensive coverage with size and body control, making him an excellent safety valve for whomever is taking snaps for the Bucs next year.