The defending Super Bowl champions have made clear their desire to retain as many of their free agents as possible. More recently, coach Bruce Arians has narrowed the objective, without naming names.
As noted by JoeBucsFan.com, Arians has said on multiple occasions that the Bucs need to keep “five out of six” free agents in order to set the stage for a second Super Bowl run.
“For us right now, it’s just keeping this team together,” Arians recently told WDAE radio. “And that’s probably going to eat up most of the salary cap if we can just keep or five or six guys that we want to keep on this football team, and keep the closeness and the accountability factor that we have in the locker room.”
Via JoeBucsFan.com, there are eight free agents of significance: linebacker Shaq Barrett, linebacker Lavonte David, receiver Chris Godwin, tight end Rob Gronkowski, receiver Antonio Brown, running back Leonard Fournette, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and kicker Ryan Succop. The fact that Arians has on multiple occasions mentioned five of six suggests that two of those eight are not regarded as priorities — and that Arians realizes one of the remaining six likely will leave.
The easiest ones to keep will be Gronkowski and Brown. Gronk likely wouldn’t play for anyone else; Brown would have a hard time getting anyone else to sign him. After that, it gets a little more delicate.
Barrett should be the team’s top priority. However, because the Bucs used the franchise tag on him in 2020, his franchise tender for 2021 spikes to $18.99 million. He has said he wants to “break the bank” with a long-term deal.
Fournette could attract a sizable offer elsewhere, and he could be replaced with a rookie or a veteran free agent who will be happy to take a seat on the Bucco Bus for a potential ride to Super Bowl LVI. Also, with Ronald Jones still under contract, it becomes easier to replace Fournette.
Godwin likely will draw interest elsewhere, and he’d be easy to replace, with Brown and Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson ready to climb the depth chart. Again, a veteran free agent also could be added to the mix; what receiver wouldn’t want to play with Tom Brady at this point?
Lavonte David could be an intriguing target for another team, if only to throw a wrench into the team’s broader leadership structure. With Devin White poised to assume full command of the defense, the Bucs could be willing to let David walk away, if he chooses to do so.
Then there’s Suh. The Bucs may need to let him see what else is out there before he’ll be ready to accept whatever the Bucs are able to pay. Then, he’ll have to decide whether whatever they can pay is worth it to keep playing. Don’t be surprised if, at the end of the day, his decision comes down to another year with the Bucs or retirement.
Whatever the Bucs do, it will be very difficult at this point to go shopping for outside free agents until after they decide what to do with their current players who are due to get new deals. Even then, the Bucs need to be careful to avoid the perception that they didn’t make good on their vow to keep the team together if/when the Bucs end up bringing in others to replace those who ultimately were allowed to leave.