NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2021 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 17, meaning free-agent signings could be made official after that. The first round of the 2021 NFL draft begins April 29 on ESPN.
Last week, the Bucs were positioned to spend very little in free agency after franchise tagging wide receiver Chris Godwin for $15.808 million. But the Bucs extended quarterback Tom Brady, clearing $19 million off his 2021 cap figure and spreading the money across four voidable years, although it is essentially adding just one year to his current deal. Brady’s willingness to structure his salary in such a manner and the Bucs’ willingness to borrow money from the future is what will keep their Super Bowl window open.
Shaquil Barrett, linebacker
Barrett signed a four year, $72 million contract.
What it means: The Bucs will have their top two edge rushers in Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul back for 2021, which played a huge role in the emergence of their dominant defense in the postseason. Barrett may have had only 8.0 sacks in the regular season (12 counting the postseason), down from the 19.5 he had in 2019, but between the regular season and postseason, he had 14.0 "sacks created," a metric that rewards players who create sack opportunities for themselves and others. He also had 3.0 interceptions created and 36 incompletions created, which went a long way in helping the Bucs' very young secondary on the back end.
What's the risk: Barrett is only 28. He's had only two seasons as a full-time starter. He's just now realizing his potential. He's continuing to expand his pass rush arsenal. He may never touch 19.5 again, especially with the rate Todd Bowles likes to blitz players at other positions, but he could absolutely reach double digits each of the next four years. He's still hungry. Financially, sometimes it can be difficult for Super Bowl-winning teams to retain top talent because players feel slighted by a lack of resources, but the Bucs rewarded Barrett with a fair deal, although they are borrowing from the future, which is why Barrett's salary-cap charge is just under $6 million in 2021.
Lavonte David, linebacker
David signed a two-year, $25 million contract.
What it means: The Bucs are positioning themselves to make another Super Bowl run, first by giving Brady both of his No. 1 receivers with Godwin getting the franchise tag, and now with bringing back their long-time defensive captain in David, whom many in the Bucs organization feel should never put on another uniform. At 31, he's still among the league's best (and most underrated inside linebackers).
What's the risk: This move doesn't preclude the Bucs from bringing back other free agents, like Shaquil Barrett or Rob Gronkowski. Because the Bucs included three voidable years in David's deal, his cap number is only $3.5 million in 2021, compared to the roughly $16 million for Godwin under the franchise tag. If the Bucs manage to move around some money with a few of their other contracts, they can still re-sign Barrett. But in terms of David and any other player they implement this strategy with -- tacking on voidable years means borrowing from the future. But they feel they must capitalize on Brady's short window now.
Antonio Brown, wide receiver
Brown agreed to a one-year worth up to $6.25 million, his agent said.
What it means: Brown was the one major contributor from the Bucs' Super Bowl run that had yet to be re-signed. Now Brady gets every single one of his weapons back, as tight end Cameron Brate agreed to re-work his deal to clear $4.69 million in cap space for Brown. With a year under their belts together and some semblance of an actual offseason, this group could be downright scary in 2021.
What's the risk: There's more guaranteed and total money tied to this deal this year -- a reward for a solid year last season -- but it's still a discount for Brown's abilities. It's worth up to $6.25 million, with $3.1 million guaranteed, including a $2 million signing bonus, whereas last year, his deal was worth up to $2.5 million, including incentives, but they get him for a full season this time.
With Brady taking him under his wing, Brown was able to assimilate into the Bucs' culture without any problems last year. Coaches, teammates and front office members have praised his work ethic and team-first attitude, and so far, he's had no issues being away from the team structure this offseason. They're hoping that will continue.
Rob Gronkowski, tight end
Gronkowski agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal, per agent Drew Rosenhaus.
What it means: Tom Brady gets back one of his favorite targets and closest friends, while the Bucs get their most complete tight end and savviest run blockers who caught two touchdowns in Super Bowl LV. They also get a guy who works his tail off but always has a cheerful attitude, which made him truly a welcome addition to the locker room. His leadership will help players learning to deal with the spotlight.
What's the risk: The primary concern with Gronkowski is health, but a year away from football really helped heal his body, and coach Bruce Arians was proactive in giving him extra days off to recuperate. Gronkowski made it through all 16 regular-season games -- something he hadn't done since 2011 -- and four playoff games. This also helps them avoid rushing O.J. Howard back, as he's recovers from a torn Achilles tendon.
Leonard Fournette, running back
What it means: Fournette's signing means the Bucs have all 11 starters from their Super Bowl LV offense back for 2021. Fournette became just the sixth player among Super Bowl-winning teams in NFL history to amass 400 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns in a single postseason. What may be most impressive, though -- 183 of his 448 postseason scrimmage yards came after first contact. Equally impressive -- Fournette was 3-for-3 on touchdowns at the goal line, tied for most in the NFL (for comparison, Ronald Jones was 3-of-6 in that department).
What's the risk:How will the Bucs divvy up the touches between Fournette and Jones, while keeping everyone happy and egos in check? That's something coach Bruce Arians tends to do very well. Fournette had to adjust to a backup role last season -- something he admitted was difficult to accept, and understandably so -- but he became a supporter of Jones and it ultimately kept Fournette fresh for the postseason, when Jones suffered a quad injury. They'll need to make sure expectations are clear and that both players understand their unique contributions to the team. Fournette also had seven drops in 2020, including drops in the wild-Card and NFC Championship Game. Better chemistry with Tom Brady this go-around could improve that.
Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle
Suh agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: Suh's return gives the Bucs back all 11 starters of their dominant Super Bowl LV defense that kept Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes out of the end zone. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles noted that Suh's presence made things particularly difficult for Mahomes stepping into his throws. His ability to line up as a defensive tackle and a defensive end gives Bowles a lot of flexibility, and provides insurance should they encounter another injury situation like the one they did with Vita Vea.
What's the risk:Despite his age at 34, Suh has been remarkably, almost unfathomably durable. He has missed just two regular-season games in 11 seasons and those were due to suspension, not injury. He is now the NFL's Iron Man -- his 147 consecutive starts are the most of any player at any position. He also continues to play at a high level, recording 6.0 sacks and nine tackles for loss, two passes defensed and a forced fumble during the regular season.
Giovani Bernard, running back
Bernard agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: After prioritizing their own this offseason, Bernard is the one outside free agent the Bucs brought in. He'll immediately bolster a shaky short-passing game -- a must for Brady -- as Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette aren't natural pass-catchers, and there were drops last year. He'll also provide veteran leadership in the absence of LeSean McCoy. Plus, while Jones and Fournette are more "north and south" runners who can get yardage after contact, Bernard is more elusive -- he's able to avoid contact -- which can be a real positive in a high-tread position.
What's the risk:There aren't any. He's 29 and younger than McCoy, and still has a lot of good football left. It would have been more of a risk not to pick up a pass-catching back this free-agency period considering the Bucs' 15 drops at the running back position were more than any other team in the league last year. The next closest teams -- the Cowboys, Chargers and Lions -- had eight. Bernard's also an exceptional locker room guy. “I’ve always been the type of guy where I want the running backs group to be the closest group on the team," Bernard said.
Ryan Succop, kicker
Succop agreed to a three-year, $12 million deal.
What it means: The Bucs appear to finally have stability at the kicker position. For the first time since Connor Barth in 2012, they will enter the season with the same kicker they had previously. Succop put together the second-most accurate kicking season in franchise history and went 9-for-9 on field goals in the postseason.
What's the risk: It would have been a much greater risk for the Bucs to go into a new season rolling the dice with a new kicker in an effort to save. But the Bucs did right by Succop, who showed nerves of steel while the offense was still finding its rhythm, even kicking into the dreaded open-air south end zone that has vexed so many before him. His deal is for three years and $12 million, with $6.25 million guaranteed and a $2.8 million cap number, so they still have some room -- albeit a small amount -- to spare. His $4 million average per year puts him in the top 10 in the league.
Rakeem Nunez-Roches, defensive tackle
Nunez-Roches agreed to a two-year deal.
What it means: Nunez-Roches, a backup, stepped into a much bigger role when Vita Vea went down in Week 5 with a fractured ankle and did not return until the playoffs. Nunez-Roches started 11 regular-season games. He produced a 7.4% pass-rush win rate from the defensive tackle position, which included playing 60% of his snaps against double-teams. Nunez-Roches was a key reason the Bucs were able to maintain their ranking as the league's No. 1 run defense after Vea's injury.
What's the risk: There would have been more risk in not re-signing Nunez-Roches -- given Vea's unfortunate injury history, and given that Khalil Davis, a 2020 draft pick, barely saw the field and is an unknown commodity at this point. Nunez-Roches' deal also didn't preclude the Bucs from still bringing back Ndamukong Suh, which they were able to do while remaining under the cap.
Aaron Stinnie, guard
Stinnie agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: A restricted free agent who proved his worth stepping in as a starter at right guard for three postseason games when Alex Cappa's season ended, Stinnie only allowed one sack -- in the NFC Championship Game. The Bucs return all five starters along their offensive line, plus some growing depth with Stinnie.
What's the risk: Cappa is coming off a fractured ankle, which could give Stinnie some valuable offseason reps, if in fact, there is an offseason. It can also help ensure Cappa isn't rushed back. The Bucs still need to address tackle depth though, as both Joe Haeg, who is a backup interior lineman and a backup tackle, and backup swing tackle Josh Wells, are both unrestricted free agents.
Kevin Minter, linebacker
Minter agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: The Bucs get their 2020 special-teams captain back in Minter, who filled in admirably this season when star inside linebacker Devin White missed the season finale and the wild-card game with COVID-19, recording 15 tackles, two pass breakups, a batted down pass and four quarterback pressures. In 2019, he started three games for an injured White, recording 21 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a pass breakup in those games.
What's the risk: There is none. Minter is the consummate pro and teammate. He prepares like a starter each week and has been a mentor to White since White sent him an Instagram direct message as a freshman at LSU. He knows Todd Bowles' defense inside and out from their three years together with the Arizona Cardinals.
Josh Wells, offensive tackle
Wells agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: While the Bucs had returned all five starting offensive lineman, depth needed to be addressed. They helped shore up the interior by re-signing Aaron Stinnie, but needed to shore up the offensive tackle position. Wells was clearly the better option at tackle than Joe Haeg, who departed for the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency, producing a 75% pass block win rate -- although he did give up a sack in Week 16. He's been a viable protector in the kicking game, lining up at wing, end and tackle on field goals and extra points.
What's the risk: This was another situation where it would have been riskier for the Bucs not to re-sign Wells and roll the dice on a free agent with no system familiarity or pigeonholing themselves in the draft. Over the last two years, he's started three games for the Bucs -- two games at left tackle this year and one at right tackle in 2019. Haeg, however, was the one who lined up extensively as the Bucs' sixth lineman. Wells did to a smaller degree. Given the Bucs' proclivity for using an extra blocker, it's unclear who will assume that role in 2021.