Tampa Bay BuccaneersThe Buccaneers have filled out their 90-man roster but could still tweak it with free agents in the weeks to come…We'll track all of the team's arrivals and departures throughout the spring and summerScott Smith
This year, the NFL's veteran free agency period began on March 15 and, like most teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did their most consequential work over the next few days and weeks. The Buccaneers moved quickly to re-sign ascending cornerback Jamel Dean, thrilled the Bay area by bringing back fan-favorite linebacker Lavonte David, got a new deal done for outside linebacker Anthony Davis and even added some outside free agents despite a restrictive salary cap situation.
There were a few more additions along the way in the latter part of March and early April, most notably safety Ryan Neal and kicker Chase McLaughlin, but the next big influx of players came in the 2023 NFL Draft and the rush to sign undrafted free agents after the seven rounds were complete. Through that process and a few tryouts from the recent rookie mini-camp, the Buccaneers have fleshed out their roster to the offseason limit of 90 players. That is the same number the team will take to training camp in late July, though there are typically a few tweaks to the exact lineup of players in the weeks preceding the reporting date.
General Manager Jason Licht got to this point by navigating a landscape that included more than two dozen players who had the option of hitting free agency, including 23 of the unrestricted variety. Facing the prospects of more than 20 unrestricted free agents isn't a new experience for the Buccaneers, who have managed some lengthy UFA lists in recent years, working hard to keep together a playoff-caliber roster after winning Super Bowl LV. The Bucs had 24 potential UFAs the day after their championship victory and another 23 a year later after winning the NFC South. Aggressive maneuvering - which involved some contracts that pushed some cap burden on to future seasons - allowed Tampa Bay to put together the most successful three-year stretch in franchise history.
The Buccaneers had to approach the situation a bit differently in 2023, however, thanks to a very tight cap situation engendered by those aggressive moves of recent years. However, that didn't stop them from getting the Dean deal done quickly or landing a new competitor for their starting quarterback job in Baker Mayfield. The Buccaneers have made some tough decisions due to their those salary cap considerations but are also trying to put together a roster that can compete for a third straight NFC South title.
"I don't want to say [we're] 'taking a step back,'" said General Manager Jason Licht. "We're still trying to restock and eventually build another championship team and it's just going to look a little different and be done a little bit differently. We were in a position in 2020 after we won the Super Bowl to be able to re-sign all of our players, which hadn't been done, or hadn't been done in a very long time. The goal is eventually to get back into a position like that, but in the short term, we still want to win and compete for this division - and we think we can. We just want to do it without sacrificing our long-term plans, our long-term goals, as well. I think we can find a way to do both at the same time."
How did the Bucs get from the unknowns of the pre-free agency period to their current 90-man roster? The various steps are listed below as we continue to monitor the comings and goings on the Bucs' roster this offseason with our 2023 Free Agency Tracker (this does not include draft picks or rookie free agents, or Tom Brady, who announced his retirement prior to the Super Bowl). Here's where the team stands as Memorial Day approaches:
RB Chase EdmondsOL Matt FeilerDL Greg GainesQB Baker MayfieldK Chase McLaughlinWR David MooreS Ryan NealQB John Wolford
The Bucs' first move in free agency for a player outside the organization was at the most critical position, as the team inked sixth-year quarterback Baker Mayfield. The first-overall pick in the 2018 draft, Mayfield spent four seasons as the starter in Cleveland before splitting last year between the Panthers and Rams. He led the Browns to their first playoff appearance in 18 years in 2020, throwing for 3,563 yards and 26 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. To begin the second calendar week of free agency, the Buccaneers added another player to the offense, signing veteran running back Chase Edmonds. The 5-9, 205-pound Edmonds has run for 1,796 yards while hauling in 144 passes for 1,078 yards and scoring a total of 17 touchdowns over five seasons. He split last year between Miami and Denver.
Three days after the addition of Edmonds, the Buccaneers found some help on defense, signing former Rams defensive lineman Greg Gaines to a one-year deal. Gaines, a former University of Washington teammate of Vita Vea, started in Super Bowl LVI and has 8.5 sacks over the past two years thanks to an increased role in the Rams' defense. Tampa Bay then closed out the month of March by landing kicker Chase McLaughlin, most recently of the Indianapolis Colts, on a one-year pact. McLaughlin had his best year yet in 2022, making 30 of 36 field goal tries, most notably nine of 12 from 50 yards and beyond. He is now an impressive 17 of 21 from that range in his career.
In mid-April, the Bucs added a potential new starter on the offensive line in former Charger Matt Feiler, who gives the team another versatile option as it seeks to reshuffle the offensive front after the departures of Donovan Smith and Shaq Mason. Feiler has logged 73 career NFL starts, including 33 over the last two seasons at left guard for the Chargers. He has also previously started at right tackle while with the Steelers. Two weeks after the draft, the Bucs made the necessary move of adding a third quarterback to the roster, signing former Ram John Wolford, who started five games over the past three seasons in Los Angeles, playoffs included. The team's most recent veteran acquisition was former Seahawks wide receiver David Moore, who participated in the Bucs' rookie mini-camp on a tryout contract. A seventh-round draft pick by Seattle in 2017, Moore has played in 50 regular-season games with 14 starts and has logged 78 receptions for 1,163 yards and 13 touchowns.
For the first time in four years, the Bucs did not make use of their franchise tag. They had done so in 2020 with outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett and then in both 2021 and 2022 on Godwin. Both players ended up with multi-year deals in the long run.
As noted above, Tampa Bay did not make any moves to whittle down its own free agency list before the start of the new league year. Still, some of those players could return with a new deal even after hitting the open market.
ILB Lavonte DavidCB Jamel DeanDB Dee DelaneyOLB Cam GillG Nick LeverettOLB Anthony NelsonDL Patrick O'ConnorDL Deadrin SenatG Aaron Stinnie
The Buccaneers were able to retain the most coveted player on their list of free agents, as Dean was widely considered to be the top cornerback potentially available. Coming off his best season yet, Dean has developed into a lock down corner who is a perfect complement to Carlton Davis as the team's two perimeter defenders.
Tampa Bay also re-signed Aaron Stinnie, who was in competition for the starting left guard spot last summer before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Stinnie most notably started the last three games of the Buccaneers' run to the Super Bowl LV title, performing well in place of the injured Alex Cappa.
On the second day of free agency, the Buccaneers agreed to terms on a two-year deal with Nelson, who recorded 10.5 sacks over the past two seasons and was productive as a starter and nearly every-down player down the stretch in 2022. To begin the second calendar week of free agency, the Bucs also re-signed role players Cam Gill and Patrick O'Connor. Gill had 1.5 sacks in limited defensive snaps in 2021 before spending 2022 on injured reserve, while O'Connor has been one of the team's most active special teams players over the past four seasons.
As noted above, the Buccaneers officially closed a new deal with David, one of the most accomplished players in franchise history and a nine-time team captain, on March 23, but the two sides had worked the details out more than a week earlier. The most recent unrestricted free agent to re-sign with the team is Deadrin Senat, one of five defensive lineman from the Bucs' 2022 roster to hit free agency.
The Bucs also got guard Nick Leverett and cornerback/safety Dee Delaney back in the fold when both signed their ERFA tender offers on the first day of the team's offseason workout program.
Players Released, Traded and/or Signed by Other Teams
TE Cameron BrateS Mike EdwardsRB Leonard FournetteQB Blaine GabbertG Shaq MasonWR Scotty MillerCB Sean Murphy-BuntingS Keanu NealDL Rakeem Nunez-RochesT Donovan SmithK Ryan SuccopT Josh Wells
The Bucs had to make some difficult decisions in order to get in compliance with the salary cap by the start of the new league year. That included the release of four veteran players who had contributed heavily to the team's recent run of success: tackle Donovan Smith, running back Leonard Fournette, tight end Cam Brate and kicker Ryan Succop.
Smith was the first to be released officially by the team, on March 7, ending an impressive eight-year run as the Bucs' starting left tackle. Smith only missed seven of a possible 137 starts during his Buccaneers tenure, including the playoffs, and opened more games at left tackle than anyone in franchise history other than Ring of Honor member Paul Gruber. Brate and Fournette were both released 10 days later, just two days into free agency. Brate spent nine seasons with the Buccaneers and finishes second among tight ends in franchise history in both receptions and touchdown catches. Fournette was the Bucs' leading rusher the past two seasons and most notably made a heroic run in the Bucs' 2020 postseason run to the championship, scoring a touchdown in all four games.
As free agency began on March 15, the Buccaneers cleared cap space and improved their 2023 draft capital a bit by trading starting right guard Shaq Mason to the Houston Texans. The Bucs got pick #179 in the sixth round and gave up pick #230 in the seventh round.
Nunez-Roches was the first departure among the Buccaneers' free agents, reportedly signing a three-year deal with the Giants. Nunez-Roches joined the Buccaneers in October of 2018 and went on to play four-and-a-half seasons in Tampa, seeing his most extensive action in the 2020 Super Bowl season after Vita Vea got hurt. Overall, he played 68 games for the Buccaneers with 22 starts, recording 2.0 sacks in 2022.
The Bucs saw one of their 2019 draft picks depart a few days into the free agency period, as Edwards signed a one-year deal to join the Kansas City Chiefs, the team he helped Tampa Bay defeat in Super Bowl LV. Edwards started 12 games last season and recorded 82 tackles, two interceptions (including one pick-six) and three passes defensed. A few days later, cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, another 2019 draft pick, signed a deal with the Tennessee Titans. Murphy-Bunting started five of the 12 games in which he played in 2022, as well as the Bucs' lone preseason contest, and had 31 tackles and two interceptions. The secondary lost another contributor during the first week of March when safety Keanu Neal left for Pittsburgh and a new two-year deal.
While the departures have been more notable on defense, the Buccaneers have also seen two offensive players land with new teams in free agency. Wide receiver Scotty Miller stayed in the division, landing a one-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons on March 28. A sixth-round pick in 2022, Miller had his most productive season with 501 yards and three touchdowns during the 2020 Super Bowl campaign and contributed a game-turning TD grab seconds before halftime in the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay. Four days into April, reserve tackle Josh Wells returned to his first NFL home, re-signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars after four seasons in Tampa. Wells was the Bucs' primary swing tackle during those four years, seeing action at both right and left tackle and making a total of 10 starts.
A little over a week before the 2023 draft, the Bucs saw their former backup quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, sign with the Chiefs, as an exodus of former Bucs to Kansas City over the last two years continues (also Mike Edwards, Justin Watson and Ronald Jones). After playing behind the G.O.A.T. for three years Gabbert will now back up Brady's likely successor as the best quarterback in the league.
Remaining Unrestricted Free Agents
OLB Genard AveryRB Giovani BernardDL Will GholstonDL Akiem HicksWR Julio JonesOLB Carl NassibWR Breshad PerrimanTE Kyle RudolphS Logan Ryan
Players with expired contracts and at least four accrued seasons of free agency credit are unrestricted free agents (UFAs) and can sign with any team. The Bucs had 23 of those when the offseason began but quarterback Tom Brady reduced that list by one when he retired on February 1 (though there has been no official transaction yet).
The remaining list was highly concentrated in several areas of the depth chart. It included five players in the secondary, two from the Bucs' 2019 draft class - Murphy-Bunting and Edwards - that the team helped develop into quality starters. There were also four defensive linemen in the group, including starters Will Gholston and Akiem Hicks. Gholston was the second-longest tenured player on the Buccaneers' roster last season, behind only Lavonte David. While Murphy-Bunting, Edwards and safety Keanu Neal have already found new NFL homes, Gholston and Hicks remain free agents as of a week into April. Head Coach Todd Bowles noted at the NFL's Annual Meeting in late March that Gholston and Hicks were still potential options to return. Outside linebacker Carl Nassib could also be on the team's to-do list after he was productive in his second stint with the team in 2022. Running back Giovani Bernard announced his intention to retire in April.
Remaining Restricted Free Agents
None. The Buccaneers had one potential RFA in outside linebacker Cam Gill but elected not to extend the qualifying offer.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
CB Dee DelaneyG Nick Leverett
Exclusive rights free agents have an expired contract and two or fewer years of free agency credit. Players in this category become exclusive rights free agents if they receive a qualifying offer from their team before the start of free agency. The Buccaneers did this with Leverett, who started 10 games at left guard last season, and Delaney, who had a big role on special teams in 2022 and can play both cornerback and safety. As mentioned earlier, both players signed their ERFA tender offers, converting them into one-year contracts for the 2023 season.
Non-Tendered Free Agents
OLB Cam Gill
Players who could have become restricted or exclusive rights free agents become equivalent to unrestricted free agents if they do not receive a qualifying offer from their respective teams. As noted above, that was the case with Gill, who spent the 2022 season on injured reserve after suffering a Lisfranc injury in his right foot in the preseason opener. He had 1.5 sacks in limited snaps in 2021 and also recorded half a sack in Super Bowl LV. As also noted above, Gill has returned for another season with the Buccaneers.