TAMPA, Fla. -- With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first season under Bruce Arians coming to a close, it’s time to start looking at 2020 and the big decisions that loom this offseason with free agency. The Bucs are currently slated to have 19 unrestricted free agents with roughly $90.9 million in projected salary-cap space. Here's a closer look at some of the bigger decisions:
Current contract: Four years, $25.35 million, plus a fifth-year option picked up for 2019 at $20.92 million.
What the Bucs should do: In his first year in Arians’ offense, Winston has accounted for a league-high 4,908 passing yards through 15 games. But his 28 interceptions are 10 more than the closest players (Philip Rivers and Baker Mayfield). His 31 passing touchdowns are second only to MVP candidate Lamar Jackson. That warrants a return, but they should not give him a long-term deal at this point.
Just a few weeks ago, there were members of the Bucs organization who were absolutely ready to be done with Winston. Following the Bucs’ four-game win streak, things got more optimistic with the belief that the coaching staff might be able to help Winston work through his turnover issues. They also saw that the Bucs’ draft positioning likely wouldn’t warrant a suitable rookie replacement.
“I think it’s about 50-50," Arians said when asked how much of Winston's mistakes are correctable versus those just being who he is. "The corrections have been made, but the results aren’t happening.”
Arians also believes having a full offseason to review his mistakes will help.
“I think that’s the best lesson you can have," Arians said. "You’ve been watching someone else. You’ve been watching Carson [Palmer] run the offense or whatever, but [now] you see yourself do it."
A franchise tag, a transition tag or a short-term, two-year deal would be ideal, as it would reward Winston for some of the positives, while still reinforcing the notion that he must cut down on his turnovers, which Arians believes will drop after Year 1.
Franchise tags for quarterbacks are pricey and projected to be $26.7 million for 2020, while transition tags are expected to be roughly $24.27 million. Transition tags guarantee the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player might receive from another team. In 2020, teams are allowed to use both a franchise tag and a transition tag because it’s the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement.
OLB Shaquil Barrett
Current contract: One year, $4 million
What the Bucs should do: Barrett led the NFL in sacks through much of the season, until Chandler Jones passed him last week. Barrett is now second with 16.5 sacks through 15 games; and his six forced fumbles are the league's third most. His 24.5% pass-rush win rate also is sixth in the NFL -- better than Aaron Donald's. And Barrett registered 17 sacks created, according to data from NFL Next Gen Stats, which measures the number of sacks created for other players.
Arians already has said that Barrett will be back next year, in some capacity. If the team is pressed for cash, it can use the franchise tag on him for roughly $16.26 million. Granted, Barrett has performed well enough to receive a long-term deal, but a loophole here is that the NFL doesn’t differentiate between inside and outside linebackers when calculating franchise tag numbers.
If Barrett played a 4-3 defensive end role, the franchise tag amount would be an estimated $19.3 million (he could still argue that he plays more of a 4-3 defensive end role to receive this designation). Another option, such as that for Winston, is the transition tag, at $14.08 million, but it is far less ideal for the team, as it gives the player more leverage to negotiate.
While Barrett desires long-term security, tagging would give the Bucs more time to work out a deal for him after the new CBA is implemented. If the Bucs wind up using a franchise tag on Winston, however, they would not have this option with Barrett and would have to either re-sign or give him a transition tag -- as teams can’t tag two players with the same designation.
OLB Carl Nassib
Current contract: Two years, $3.598 million, $889,752 million guaranteed
What the Bucs should do: With 6.0 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on the season, Nassib doesn’t have the gaudy numbers that Barrett does, but Nassib's 20.3% pass-rush win rate (74 snaps) against double-teams is the best in the NFL, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The team loves Nassib's demeanor, attitude and flexibility.
“Carl can go inside and do damage against guards,” said Arians, who also has called Nassib the Bucs' “best run stopper at outside linebacker.”
Prediction: Re-sign at the right price
Current contract: Following Pierre-Paul’s offseason neck injury, the Bucs restructured his contract by reducing his 2019 salary from $13.65 million to $10.5 million and eliminating the final year (2020) of his contract.
What the Bucs should do: Pierre-Paul overcame a fractured neck this offseason to register 6.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, a forced fumble and three batted-down passes in nine games. While Arians said he would really like to keep this core group of players together on defense, it’s going to be very difficult for the Bucs to hang on to Barrett, Nassib and Pierre-Paul while still addressing their other needs this offseason.
Nassib’s age (26) might make him more appealing to the Bucs. But Pierre-Paul, 30, has the natural athleticism to keep playing well into his 30s, even with his neck and hand injuries.
“He’s a Gumby -- I call him Gumby, the way he moves, the way he rushes,” outside linebackers coach Larry Foote said of Pierre-Paul. “As long as he keeps that up, he can play as long as he wants.”
Current contract: One year, $9.25 million fully guaranteed
What the Bucs should do: Suh’s 261 snaps against double-teams this year are the third most in the NFL behind Donald and Kenny Clark. And that has been hugely beneficial for Barrett, Nassib, Pierre-Paul and Vita Vea. The penalties that were a concern during his earlier years haven’t been an issue.
“He’s been a model citizen. I wish I had 10 of him,” Arians said. “When you have a veteran guy who’s been to the Super Bowl recently, and you put him in a room and he really knows how to prepare, and he’s really pro -- not just mentally, but physically, how to eat, how to stretch, how to do all the things he does to take care of himself -- it really helps young players.”
Prediction: Re-sign at the right price
Current contract: One year, $4 million (all guaranteed)
What the Bucs should do: Perriman struggled through much of the season, catching just 33% of his targets in Weeks 1 to 11. But from Week 12 on, he caught 70% and had 416 receiving yards. His three-touchdown performance against the Detroit Lions came when the Bucs already were without Mike Evans and then lost Chris Godwin late in that contest. Perriman demonstrated he can be a viable third receiver and the vertical threat this team has been missing. The one concern is health, as Perriman has struggled with injuries throughout his career, so this deal should be on the shorter end.
RT Demar Dotson
Current contract: Four years, $16.5 million, $4.25 million guaranteed
What the Bucs should do: Few players are more respected in the locker room than Dotson -- the longest-tenured team member, who worked his way from a developmental prospect to full-time starter after signing with Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent in 2009. But the Bucs have needed to get younger at the right tackle position for at least two years and haven’t found any viable players who could truly be groomed into a starting role. If they re-sign Dotson, it should be purely as a backup.