Buccaneers' Last-Minute Guide to 2021 NFL Free Agency

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 14, 2021

Buccaneers' Last-Minute Guide to 2021 NFL Free Agency

0 of 3

    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made two important moves before free agency began to keep their title-winning roster in place.

    The Super Bowl champions applied the franchise tag to wide receiver Chris Godwin and brought back linebacker Lavonte David on a two-year contract.

    Now that they solved those contract situations, the Bucs will attempt to re-sign their biggest free agent in Shaquil Barrett.

    The 28-year-old will have plenty of suitors on the free-agent market because of his elite pass-rushing abilities, so that may make it hard for Tampa Bay to retain him on a deal that fits within its salary-cap constraints.

    If the Bucs want to bring back most of their title-winning roster, they will have to come to terms with a handful of veteran offensive players. Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski seem like they would return because of their connections with quarterback Tom Brady, but retaining Leonard Fournette could be more difficult.

Chris Godwin, Lavonte David Set to Return

1 of 3

    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Buccaneers got two important pieces of business out of the way before free agency began.

    They opted to use the franchise tag on Godwin, who likely would have been one of the top free agents if he hit the open market.

    Godwin was second on the team to Mike Evans in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns, but he played a valuable role in Tampa Bay's offense.

    With Evans and Godwin running at opposing secondaries for another season, Tampa Bay should put itself at, or near, the top of the list of NFC contenders in 2021.

    Since the Bucs are returning their top two wideouts, they could look to the mid- to late rounds of the draft for a depth piece to add behind Scotty Miller and possibly Antonio Brown.

    David has been the heart and soul of the Tampa Bay defense for quite some time, and his return made sense to all parties. The linebacker has only played for the Buccaneers during his professional career, and the team needed to keep an important piece in the middle of defense.

    David totaled 117 tackles and 12 tackles for loss in 2020. Only Devin White had better numbers in those categories on the Bucs roster.

    With White and David in place at linebacker, all the Bucs need is a dominant pass-rusher to complement them on a defense that played its best football in the postseason.

All Focus Should Be on Shaquil Barrett

2 of 3

    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    Tampa Bay's top offseason priority is trying to re-sign Barrett.

    The pass-rusher totaled 19.5 sacks in 2019 and followed that up with eight takedowns during the title-winning campaign.

    Barrett's pass-rushing exploits over the past two seasons will make him one of the most coveted free agents on the market.

    Tampa Bay has $9.6 million in salary-cap space to work with, but that can always be adjusted through contract restructuring if it can land Barrett.

    Barrett earned the right to command eight figures per season, which may be a price some teams are willing to pay because of how much he can alter a game.

    If the Bucs maneuver a way to get him back, they would have one of the most impressive defensive units in the league. With Barrett, White and David on the field in the Super Bowl, they held the Kansas City Chiefs to nine points. No team scored more than 26 points on them in four postseason games.

    Tampa Bay is not in dire straits on the edge if it fails to bring back Barrett, but it may have to find a pass-rusher in free agency or the draft to complement Jason Pierre-Paul and Vita Vea on the interior.

Which Offensive Stars Will Return?

3 of 3

    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Brown, Gronkowski and Fournette are all scheduled to be free agents.

    The latter seems like the least likely member of the trio to run it back with the Bucs in 2021.

    The running back played a vital role in Tampa Bay's offense in 2020, but he may be more willing to chase a large payday since the life expectancy of running backs in the NFL is limited.

    Brown and Gronkowski could return on cheaper deals because of their connections to Brady that led them to Tampa in the first place.

    If Brown returns, Tampa Bay would bring back its top four wide receivers and have an abundance of depth, with Miller and Tyler Johnson expected to take a step forward in their development.

    Gronkowski may not be the dominant player he was with the New England Patriots, but he still attracts attention across the middle and can pop up in big games, like he did in the Super Bowl with two touchdowns.

    Tampa Bay has Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard under contract, so it may have to choose one of them to pair with Gronkowski so that it is not spending a ton of money at tight end. Both players have base salaries of more than $6 million for 2021.

    Choosing who gets the ball between three strong tight ends and five wide receivers is a problem the Bucs would be willing to have since it would avoid losing Brown and Gronkowski to competitors in the NFC.


    Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from Pro Football ReferenceContract information obtained from Over the Cap.