Thursday, November 15, 2018

Some big Bucs roster decisions are looming

The Bucs plan to release running back Doug Martin and defensive tackle Chris Baker sometime before the NFL scouting combine which begins Feb. 27 in Indianapolis.

There likely will be more, but they still are undecided on the future of defensive ends Robert Ayers and William Gholston.

The team also is expected to exercise club options for 2018 on the contracts of safety Chris Conte, tackle Demar Dotson, defensive back Josh Robinson and center Joe Hawley.

There's a lot of personnel decisions looming in the next few weeks for general manager Jason Licht and coach Dirk Koetter. These are fluid discussions, but here's where the Bucs are with some of their major decisions.

CERTAIN TO BE RELEASED

RB Doug Martin

Martin failed to rush for 500 yards in four of the past five seasons. Over the past two seasons,he missed four games serving a suspension for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs and was inactive one last year for violating an undisclosed team  rule. Martin signed a five-year, $35.75-million contract in 2016, but his base salary of $6.75 million is not guaranteed in 2018 and would represent a significant savings by releasing the 29-year old running back.

DT Chris Baker

After signing a three-year, $15.75-million contract last March, Baker underperformed in nearly every area. He had 33 tackles and a half sack. More damning is nobody liked his attitude. It came to a boil after a Christmas Eve loss at Carolina when his critical encroachment penalty on fourth down led to a locker room confrontation with teammates. Baker was scheduled to earn a base salary of $4.875 million in 2018. None of it is guaranteed.

UNDECIDED ON WHETHER TO KEEP OR RELEASE

DE Robert Ayers

Reason for cutting ties: Ayers is 32 and only two sacks last season. It's a big reason why the Bucs were last in the NFL with 22 sacks. In the past two seasons, Ayers has missed a total of eight games with various injuries. Ayers has a $1 million roster bonus due later next month and a $5 million base salary that is not guaranteed. Releasing him would save $6 million on the salary cap.

Reason for bringing him back in 2018: The Bucs already need a pretty complete rebuild on the defensive line. DTs Clinton McDonald, Sealver Siliga and DE Will Clarke all are unrestricted free agents. If you can swallow the salary, Ayers gives you a veteran presence for what is sure to be an influx of young talent on the defensive line. Despite his array of injuries, only Gerald McCoy played more snaps. Ayers also had 45 quarterback pressures, including 17 hits and 26 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.

DE William Gholston

Reason for cutting ties: After signing a five-year, $27.5-million contract last March, Gholston had only 36 tackles and no sacks. He is owed a base salary is $6.5-million for 2018.

Reason for bringing him back: Gholston wasn't signed for his pass rush ability. He is only 26 and he's good against the run. The salary isn't prohibitive for a team that could be more than $70 million under the salary cap.

CLUB OPTION LIKELY TO BE PICKED UP

T Demar Dotson

Coming off one of his best seasons, Dotson missed the final four games with a knee injury. Dotson signed a unique deal in which the team has until March 14 to exercise its option. He has a $750,000 roster bonus for 2018. With a cap figure at $4.615-million, Dotson still is a relative bargain.

S Chris Conte

The Bucs aren't deep at safety. T.J. Ward is not a player the Bucs want to return. Keith Tandy also is an unrestricted free agent. Conte had 77 tackles, three forced fumbles and an INT. He has a $250,000 bonus due on March 18 if they exercise the club option. His $2.25-million base salary is reasonable for a part-time starter.

RELATED: T.J. Ward arrested on felony drug charge

DB Josh Robinson

One of the Bucs' premier players on special teams, Robinson battled injuries (concussion/hamstring) in 2017. But he will get to finish the two-year, $5-million contract signed last March as the team is expected to pay a $250,000 bonus to exercise a club option for 2018.

C Joe Hawley

Hawley was inactive for much of the season until the injury to center Ali Marpet forced him into action. With Evan Smith expected to become a free agent, he's a versatile player to have around with starting experience and only $2.62 million against the salary cap. Bucs will likely pay his $250,000 bonus to exercise the one-year club option.

Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud.

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