Picked by some as a possible surprise playoff contender, the Buccaneers went on to tie the Titans with a league-worst 2-14 mark. The Bucs entered the offseason with serious question marks on both sides of the ball, but also with some flexibility to make changes.
- Bruce Carter, LB: Four years, $17MM. $4.25MM guaranteed.
- Henry Melton, DT: One year, $3.75MM. $3.25MM guaranteed.
- Major Wright, S: Two years, $3MM. $1.25MM guaranteed.
- Chris Conte, S: One year, $1.5MM. $1.25MM guaranteed.
- Sterling Moore, CB: One year, $1.525MM. $650K guaranteed.
- Luke Stocker, TE: Three years, $4.8MM. $500K guaranteed.
- Leonard Johnson, CB: One year, $1MM. $150K guaranteed.
- Larry English, DE: One year, $925K. $100K guaranteed.
- Mike Jenkins, CB: One year, $825K. $80K guaranteed.
- Bobby Rainey, RB: One year, $1.542MM. Signed original-round RFA tender.
- Larry Dean, LB: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Lawrence Sidbury, DE: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Jason Williams, LB: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Jorvorskie Lane, FB: One year, minimum salary.
The Bucs already had one of the best outside linebackers in football in Lavonte David and this spring they brought in another intriguing player at the position. Former Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter hasn’t lived up to expectations so far, but he does boast freakish athleticism and the Bucs likely feel that they can utilize him better than Dallas has. Carter was given a negative grade by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in 2014 and ranked as just the 34th best outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme out of 40 qualified players. However, in 13 games (with eight starts), the 27-year-old recorded 82 total tackles with an eye-popping five interceptions and one sack.
Another former members of the Cowboys, Henry Melton, will be making his home in the Tampa area in 2015. Melton, a former fourth-round pick, broke onto the scene with the Bears in 2010, when he finished with 13 tackles and 2.5 sacks. His best season in Chicago came in 2012, when he compiled 32 tackles and six sacks, earning him a trip to the Pro Bowl and a top-six spot on Pro Football Focus’ rankings (subscription required) of defensive tackles. However, his career with the Bears ended rather unceremoniously, as Melton only appeared in three games in 2013 before injuring his ACL. Melton joined the Cowboys in 2014 and played well in part-time action, recording five sacks, but the team decided not to pick up his pricey option for 2015 and beyond, making him a free agent.
Prior to March 10th, the Buccaneers reached agreement on a two-year, $3MM deal to retain safety Major Wright. Wright, a third-round pick of the Bears in the 2010 NFL Draft, is quite familiar with Lovie Smith’s defense. He was inconsistent in Chicago, but Smith saw enough in him to sign him to a one-year deal last offseason. Now, he’s slated to be in Tampa Bay through the 2016 season.
If Carter and Melton ever get wistful for Dallas, they can reminisce with ex-Cowboys cornerback Sterling Moore, who signed a one-year deal with the Bucs. Moore, 25, played an increased role for the Cowboys in 2014, starting seven regular season games for the team and appearing in all 16. Playing 866 defensive snaps, Moore didn’t grab an interception, but defended 13 passes and made 50 tackles. He also ranked 22nd out of 108 qualified cornerbacks during his time at the position, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
- Da’Quan Bowers, DE
- Adrian Clayborn, DE
- Anthony Collins, T: Released
- Oniel Cousins, T
- Dane Fletcher, LB
- Mason Foster, LB
- Michael Johnson, DE: Released
- Brandon Magee, LB: Waived
- Josh McCown, QB: Released
- Solomon Patton, WR: Waived
The Buccaneers knew they had to make a change at quarterback in 2015 and in February, they let cut veteran Josh McCown loose. Coming off an excellent run in Chicago in which he threw 13 touchdowns and just one interception in relief of Jay Cutler in 2013, McCown inked a two-year, $10MM deal with the Bucs last offseason. McCown’s age-35 season, his lone year as Tampa Bay’s primary starter, didn’t go well — he won just one of 11 starts, throwing more INTs (14) than TDs (11), and completing just 56.3% of his passes. With McCown out of the picture, the Bucs were able to clear a path for their No. 1 overall pick to take over.
Defensive end Michael Johnson was another top pickup from the 2014 offseason who was shown the door in 2015. After signing a hefty five-year, $43.75MM deal, Johnson logged just four sacks, and Pro Football Focus graded him as the league’s 53rd-best 4-3 defensive end, out of 59 qualified players (subscription required). Now, Johnson is back with the Bengals where he’ll try to get back to his old form.
The Bucs declined their fifth-year option on Adrian Clayborn, a former No. 20 overall pick, in April of 2014. Clayborn was then in a position where he would have to prove himself in order to stay in Tampa Bay, but he never got the opportunity. The 27-year-old played in only one game before being placed on IR last September. The year prior, he made 16 starts in 2013 at right defensive end and tallied 43 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required) weren’t all that fond of Clayborn’s performance in 2013 – ranking him 47th out of 52 qualified 4-3 defensive ends – and neither were the Bucs, apparently. Clayborn will now try and rebuild his value with the Falcons after signing a one-year, make-good deal.
Less than one year after the Bucs signed left tackle Anthony Collins to a five-year deal worth $30MM, they cut him loose. A former fourth-round pick in 2008 and part-time starter with the Bengals, Collins missed time with injuries last year but rated as a low-end blocker when on the field, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Collins was the sixth-highest-paid player on the Bucs’ payroll and his release cost the team $3MM in dead money while saving an equal amount.
Dane Fletcher, 28, spent four years with the Pats before signing with the Buccaneers last offseason. When the Bucs didn’t make a great effort to retain him this offseason, Fletcher wound up returning to New England. Appearing in all 16 games for Tampa Bay, Fletcher recorded 41 tackles and 0.5 sacks in 2014. While the linebacker logged 358 defensive snaps, he also contributed significantly on special teams, racking up 11 of his tackles in kick and punt coverage.
Before hitting free agency, Buccaneers linebacker Mason Foster made it known that he would like to stay with the team for 2015 and beyond. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be. Foster was courted by the Bears at the outset of free agency and their newly acquired defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins joined in on the recruiting efforts. Near the end of March, Foster inked a deal with Chicago.
- Acquired a 2016 sixth-round pick from Washington in exchange for S Dashon Goldson and a 2016 seventh-round pick.
- Acquired DE George Johnson (RFA) and a 2015 seventh-round pick from the Lions in exchange for a 2015 fifth-round pick.
- Acquired a 2015 second-round pick (No. 61; G Ali Marpet) and a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 128) from the Colts in exchange for a 2015 third-round pick (No. 65; CB D’Joun Smith) and a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 109; S Clayton Geathers).
- Acquired a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 124; LB Kwon Alexander) from the Raiders in exchange for a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 128; G Jon Feliciano) and a seventh-round pick (No. 218; T Anthony Morris).
Dashon Goldson would have gone in the category above this one had it not been for Washington. Washington GM Scot McCloughan helped bring Goldson into the league when he was with the 49ers and he jumped at the opportunity to reunite this offseason. Goldson, 30, signed a massive five-year contract worth $47.5MM with the Bucs prior to the 2013 season, but they won’t carry any dead money since there was no signing bonus on that deal. When Goldson signed that lucrative five-year contract with the Bucs, he was coming off an All-Pro season in San Francisco. However, his production has slipped a little over the last two seasons, as he has battled injuries.
The Buccaneers signed George Johnson, a restricted free agent, to a three-year, $9MM deal with de-escalators for years two and three designed to dissuade the Lions from matching. Initially, it seemed like Detroit was gearing up for a battle with the Bucs as they asked the league office for clarification on which terms they had to match on the offer sheet in order to retain Johnson. Ultimately, however, the two sides skirted a dispute by reached agreement on a trade. Tampa Bay got Johnson and a seventh-round choice from the Lions in exchange for a fifth-round selection. The 27-year-old was quietly effective in 2014, appearing in all 16 games for the Lions and earning a positive grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), largely thanks to his excellent pass-rushing acumen.
Extensions and restructures:
- Brandon Myers, TE: Restructured contract. Lowered 2015 base salary from $2.25MM to $1MM in exchange for $500K guaranteed. Non-guaranteed $1.75MM salary in 2016.
- 1-1: Jameis Winston, QB (Florida State): Signed
- 2-34: Donovan Smith, T (Penn State): Signed
- 2-61: Ali Marpet, OL (Hobart): Signed
- 4-124: Kwon Alexander, LB (LSU): Signed
- 5-162: Kenny Bell, WR (Nebraska): Signed
- 6-184: Kaelin Clay, WR (Utah): Signed
- 7-231: Joey Iosefa, FB (Hawaii): Signed
Despite all the moves listed above, Jameis Winston stands as the face of the Bucs’ 2015 offseason. When Tampa Bay officially drew the No. 1 pick in the draft, there was little question that they would select the Florida State star, even though some evaluators saw Marcus Mariota as the best QB in this year’s class. Still, despite questions about his makeup and character, Winston is undeniably talented. When he’s on, Winston has shown a level of football intelligence than many rookie signal callers simply don’t have.
In the second round, the Bucs scored a pair of promising offensive lineman. The first, Donovan Smith, started 31 games while at Penn State, all at left tackle. Some wonder if he’s athletic enough to stick on the outside of the O-Line, but the Bucs probably think so after watching him excel at the Senior Bowl. Marpet, meanwhile, hails from Division III Hobart and it’ll be interested to see how quickly he can adjust to the pace of the NFL.
- Hired Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator to replace Marcus Arroyo.
- Arroyo had been acting as interim OC, replacing Jeff Tedford.
- Declined 2016 fifth-year option for RB Doug Martin ($5.621MM).
- Claimed LB Khaseem Greene off waivers from the Bears.
- Claimed P Spencer Lanning off waivers from the Browns.
- Claimed S D.J. Swearinger off waivers from the Texans.
- Claimed TE Tim Wright off waivers from the Patriots.
- Signed seven players to reserve/futures deals.
- Signed 13 undrafted rookie free agents following the draft.
In May, the Buccaneers decided to decline the fifth-year option on Doug Martin, which means that the running back is now entering his walk year. Martin, 26, burst into the league in 2012, racking up 1,454 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, en route to a spot in the Pro Bowl. However, injuries and underwhelming production have limited him during the last couple seasons, as he has been repeatedly usurped on the Bucs’ running back depth chart. As the 31st overall pick, Martin would have been in line for a $5.621MM salary in 2016 had the Bucs elected to pick up his option.
In addition to having the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, the Bucs also had top priority on the waiver wire and they repeatedly took advantage of that. Their most notable waiver pickup of the bunch was tight end Tim Wright, who burst on to the scene with the Bucs as a rookie in 2013. Wright, 25, grabbed 54 balls for 571 yards and five touchdowns in his first season but after drafting Austin Seferian-Jenkins and signing Brandon Myers, the Bucs took advantage of their depth at tight end and sent Wright to the Pats in a deal for veteran guard Logan Mankins. Wright’s former Rutgers teammate, Khaseem Greene, and safety D.J. Swearinger, are also in Tampa Bay thanks to the Bucs’ top draw on the waiver wire.
Top 10 cap hits for 2015:
- Gerald McCoy, DT: $14,595,000
- Vincent Jackson, WR: $12,209,777
- Michael Johnson, DE: $7,000,000 (dead money)
- Logan Mankins, G: $7,000,000
- Carl Nicks, G: $4,714,000 (dead money)
- Jameis Winston, QB: $4,609,323
- Bruce Carter, LB: $4,250,000
- Alterraun Verner, CB: $4,250,000
- Dashon Goldson, S: $4,000,000 (dead money)
- Evan Smith, C: $3,750,000
The Buccaneers’ success in 2015 and beyond will largely be tied to the development of Winston. It remains to be seen whether he can justify his No. 1 overall selection, but at the very least, he should help improve an offense that graded out as one of the league’s worst last year.