Buccaneers' Top Players to Prioritize in 2021 NFL Free AgencyMarch 10, 2021
Buccaneers' Top Players to Prioritize in 2021 NFL Free Agency
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers completed the first major move of their offseason on Tuesday by applying the franchise tag to wide receiver Chris Godwin.
While that was an important first step for the Buccaneers and their title defense, they still have plenty of work to do to retain most of the championship-winning roster from 2020.
Tampa Bay's focus should now turn to Shaquil Barrett, who should be coveted by countless teams looking for defensive upgrades. It recently locked up the services of Lavonte David for two more years, per ESPN's Jenna Laine.
Offensively, the Bucs are in decent shape, but they could use a veteran at running back to replace Leonard Fournette.
Bruce Arians' team has two young running backs in Ronald Jones II and Ke'Shawn Vaughn, but it wouldn't hurt if it went after a veteran who has experience playing with Tom Brady.
Now that Godwin is confirmed to be back through the franchise tag in 2021, the Bucs can focus on retaining their most important players on the other side of the ball.
Barrett has been a pass-rushing dynamo in the last two years, after racking up 27.5 sacks and 53 quarterback hits. Any team in the NFL would love to have his pass-rushing skills at its disposal, which is why he could be so hard to retain.
However, Tampa Bay would be doing itself a disservice if it just let the 28-year-old walk in free agency without making a strong offer.
Its best proposal could be limited by its current salary-cap situation, though, as it has $7.3 million open heading into the free-agent period.
The Bucs could always look move to cap space around through contract restructuring, but even that may not be enough if Barrett is commanding top dollar on the market.
Before he signs elsewhere, they need to try avenue possible to land the top pass-rusher from their Super Bowl-winning season.
If the Bucs fail to keep Barrett, they could look within the NFC South to fill their pass-rushing need.
Trey Hendrickson turned in a terrific 13.5-sack season for the New Orleans Saints, which was far and away his best campaign in the NFL.
One year of pass-rushing excellence may not be enough for teams to splash a ton of money in his direction, especially if Barrett is available.
Since Barrett is the top pass-rusher on the market, the Bucs would get Hendrickson at a cheaper cost than any deal they would offer their top sack earner from 2020.
The 26-year-old would be an intriguing backup candidate compared to Barrett since he has familiarity with the NFC South and has the potential to earn more double-digit sacks in the future.
Going after Hendrickson could be a bit of a risk with a small sample size of sacks, but he may be a great fit in a Tampa Bay defense that has David and Devin White providing support on the second level.
James White seems like the perfect low-cost signing for the Buccaneers offense.
The 29-year-old has seven years of experience with the New England Patriots and spent six seasons with Brady.
With Fournette likely off the roster, White could fill his shoes as the top pass-catcher out of the Tampa Bay backfield.
In the last two seasons, White earned more receptions than carries and could fill the outlet role to perfection, with Jones expected to earn most of the touches in the ground game.
He could be an inexpensive free-agent signing because he isn't a primary running back, and he would be the No. 2 at best on the Tampa Bay roster.
As we saw in 2020 with Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown, former teammates of Brady have been willing to join him in Tampa Bay. If the veteran quarterback makes an appealing case to White to leave New England, they could be reunited in an attempt to win another Super Bowl together.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference.
Contract information obtained from Over the Cap.