TAMPA, Fla. -- The NFL’s new league year kicks off on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just re-signed left tackle Donovan Smith to a three-year, $41.25 million deal. What does his signing mean for the Bucs in free agency?
They have only an estimated $3.5 million in salary-cap space. And while they will get $11 million more in cap space when the new league year starts, they'll need about $9.2 million to sign their draft picks. Does this preclude them from making additional signings? Let's look at a few notable names.
Kwon Alexander set to hit the open market
GM Jason Licht called Alexander the “heartbeat of the defense” last week at the NFL combine, but the linebacker is preparing to enter free agency without a new contract.
“You do want to keep your own guys -- it started with Mike [Evans] and Cam [Brate] and Ali [Marpet]. Every team has the same salary cap and every team strives to draft good players,” Licht said. “When you do hit a run with guys like Donovan and Ali and the guys that I’ve mentioned, it puts you in this situation."
Multiple teams have expressed interest in Alexander. How much are they willing to pay? That’s the big question, considering he’s coming off a torn ACL, although it doesn’t appear to have affected his market.
Prior to Alexander’s injury, he was seeking $12 million annually. The Bucs weren’t willing to go above $10 million, which is consistent with the salaries of Bobby Wagner, Alec Ogletree, Benardrick McKinney and Eric Kendricks, and teams tend to look at comparable deals when negotiating. Alexander still may get $12 million from some team, but the Bucs should be prepared to at least hit the $10-million threshold if they hope to keep him.
“We’ve had several talks throughout the course of this, dating back to last offseason,” Licht said. “I think now, we just have to see what the market is and take it from there. We certainly value him, though. I’m not trying to say that we don’t value him. We do value him -- we just have to come together and figure out what that is. And hopefully we can get something done.”
Humphries, who is also a free agent, is looking for a deal worth $8 million annually, according to sources. By comparison, Danny Amendola is making $6 million per year with the Miami Dolphins. Julian Edelman earns $5.5 million annually and Golden Tate earns $6.2 million annually. If Humphries’ $8 million asking price seems too high, sources told ESPN that Jamison Crowder is actually looking for $10 million a year.
No decision has been made yet on Jackson and whether the Bucs will keep him for the final season of his three-year deal for $10 million, but lack of cap space may force their hand, especially considering their question marks at linebacker and in the secondary.
Jackson is playing the wait-and-see game, while the Bucs are considering all their options, including whether to trade him. Jackson's frustrations with the Bucs were well-documented last season. Some teams merely expect Jackson to be released.
The Bucs feel their top need offensively is to add more speed, and they have been eyeing possible replacements for Humphries and Jackson.
Can the Bucs actually afford any big-name free agents?
Let's start with the biggest name: running back Le’Veon Bell. There has been no indication that the Bucs have expressed interest in Bell, who turned down a deal worth $14 million to 15 million annually in 2018 and isn't backing down from that price range. Signing Bell by Tampa Bay would require a significant amount of cap maneuvering and roster cuts.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu, who played for coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles in Arizona, is looking for more than $10 million annually, according to sources. Mathieu played on a one-year, $7 million deal last season with the Houston Texans, who are trying to re-sign him so he won’t even have a chance to hit the market.
LB Lavonte David isn’t going anywhere
Not only will David remain with the Buccaneers in 2019 despite his $9 million salary-cap hit, he is expected to play a large role in Bowles’ defense. Prior to the NFL combine, there was a rumor David could be a salary-cap casualty. When that rumor was presented to multiple members of the Bucs’ brass at the combine, it was shot down quickly.
Who could be cut?
The Tampa Bay Times reported that defensive tackle Gerald McCoy will return in 2019, despite counting $13 million against the salary cap. The team has given no official indication of this yet. Some members of the coaching staff said they weren't sure of McCoy’s status for next season.
Some players on lesser deals who are candidates to be cut include defensive end William Gholston ($3.75 million against the cap in 2019), defensive tackle Beau Allen ($5 million) and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein ($3.75 million), although Allen is already guaranteed $1.5 million and Unrein $1 million in 2019.
One of the free-agent moves the Bucs will need to make is finding a backup quarterback. If Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t re-sign, one attractive scenario would be trading for Cleveland Browns backup Drew Stanton, who played for Arians in both Indianapolis and Arizona. But sources told ESPN that Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens is too fond of Stanton to part ways with him.