With Tom Brady officially out of the picture, and the Buccaneers currently situated at approximately $55 Million over the salary cap threshold, there’s no question that roster cuts are coming in Tampa Bay.
What we don’t know is which players the Bucs will choose to move on from in order to create some flexibility.
The Bucs have a boatload of unrestricted free agents from last year’s team, including Lavonte David, Jamel Dean, Akiem Hicks, William Gholston, Julio Jones, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Keanu Neal, Logan Ryan, and more. There’s no question that the Buccaneers would like to create some cap space in order to sign some of those players.
Most notably, David and Dean. And unless Kyle Trask is about to go from a third-string quarterback, who barely cracked the roster in the preseason, to a full-time starter, they will also need to find a way to free up enough money to sign a competent starting quarterback too.
So which current Buccaneers, based on their individual performance last season combined with the money they could save the team by being cut, might the Tampa Bay Buccaneers choose to move on from?
Donovan Smith is coming off arguably his worst season in the NFL. Which is really saying something when you consider the growing pains he experienced early on in his career.
His size, durability, and improved performance during Tom Brady’s first two seasons in Tampa earned him a big contract.
But now, after taking a major step back in 2023, with the team strapped for cash, and $30M owed to Smith over the next two seasons, moving on from their under-performing LT feels like a necessary sacrifice. In this scenario, the Bucs would have to at least consider moving Tristan Wirfs over to the left side of the line to see if his dominant play translates.
Regardless of whether that happens though, come April, Tampa Bay may feel obligated to use an early draft selection on a top-tier offensive tackle, potentially in the first round.
Similar to Donovan Smith, Leonard Fournette was an important piece for the Buccaneers during their Super Bowl run in 2020. Since then, his value to the team has dissipated almost completely.
Fournette’s burst and breakaway speed has all but disappeared. Throughout 2022, he seemed tentative and indecisive in the backfield, often being brought to the ground before he even made it to the line of scrimmage.
And although nagging injuries could be partially to blame for Lenny’s precipitous drop-off in production, it doesn’t provide a positive outlook for his future in Tampa. The emergence of Rachaad White provides an additional benefit of cutting ties with Fournette.
Despite it being his first year in the NFL, White proved to be more explosive and dynamic as both a runner and a receiver. White’s best years are ahead of him, and he’ll cost the Bucs just over $1M/season over the next 3 years.
It’s time to hand him the keys.
I don’t mean to disrespect Cam Brate, but in my opinion, the Buccaneers’ commitment to him over the years has been one of the most mystifying things I’ve seen from Jason Licht and his staff.
It’s almost unfathomable that Brate has received so much money, and playing time in recent seasons, despite such an obvious lack of ability, and production.
Of the three Buccaneers’ tight ends who received playing time in 2023, Cameron Brate was by far the least impressive of the group. Which is a tough pill to swallow if you consider the fact that both of those players were rookies, one of whom had just a handful of catches in his collegiate career
Don’t get me wrong, Brate had some useful seasons in Tampa, and he should be appreciated for his contributions. He had reliable hands and deserves credit for overachieving his expectations in the NFL. But his lack of impact in the blocking game, and rapidly deteriorating athleticism proved to be a major detriment to this offense in recent years. The Bucs should look to move on from Cam Brate, and add another tight end to the roster via free agency, the draft, or both.
After agreeing to a 3-year/$30M contract with the Buccaneers last offseason, Russell Gage was clearly admired by Tampa’s front office, and as a result, expected to contribute in a big way to the Buccaneers’ offense in 2022.
Well, the Bucs didn’t experience much success on offense last season. And Gage didn’t make anywhere close to the impact that many predicted.
He started the season injured, and never seemed to get back to full health. We did see glimpses of what he’s capable of though, especially in Week 4 when he hauled in 12 catches for 87 yards and a touchdown vs. the Packers.
But with $36.5 Million already committed to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin for 2023, how much can the Buccaneers really afford to pour into the wide receiver position… especially without a proven quarterback on the roster.
To what extent the Buccaneers pursue cap-saving moves this offseason will depend on what approach the front office commits to for 2023. We’ve heard rumblings about numerous approaches, but no one outside of the building knows for sure.
Are they gearing up to make a move for a competent free-agent quarterback? Might they move up in this year’s draft for a player they believe could be the answer? Are they going to give Kyle Trask a chance to run the show?
Regardless of what path the Buccaneers take in terms of constructing their roster for 2023, one thing is for sure. Numerous players will be cut from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster prior to the 2023 season. The question is, who?