Offseason preview: Bucs free agents
The Bucs wrap up their 2015 season on Sunday in Charlotte, so we can look ahead to the key offseason issues -- we'll start with free agency, which won't happen until March 15, but the Bucs can re-sign their own potential free agents.
We'll start with the unrestricted free agent
-- Doug Martin, RB, 26: Both sides have expressed an interest in a new contract -- Martin is second in the NFL in rushing with 1,354 yards and headed to his second Pro Bowl. How much will Martin merit? The Bucs, who had declined a fifth-year option that would have paid Martin $5.6-million, are likely to have to pay that much on average -- if not more -- in a deal likely to be four or five years in length. The guaranteed money is usually front-loaded in the first two years.
-- Sterling Moore, CB, 25: Brought in last year with an eye on the nickel position, he's entrenched himself as a starting cornerback in the second half of the season. He made $1.5-million on a one-year deal last year, but it's hard to ballpark his open-market value with only four career interceptions in five NFL seasons. With three tackls Sunday, he'll reset his career high, set last year with 46.
-- Chris Conte, S, 26: Missed the final two games with a knee injury, but is fourth on the team with 79 total tackles, along with two interceptions. Conte has expressed an interest in returning -- his best years have come in Lovie Smith's defenses in Chicago and with the Bucs. The Bucs have several decisions to make at safety -- Keith Tandy's also an unrestricted free agent and Bradley McDougald is a restricted free agent.
-- Henry Melton, DT, 29, and Tony McDaniel, DT, 30: The two veterans came in on one-year contracts, intended to provide depth behind Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald. Injuries have pressed them into larger roles in the second half of the season -- Melton's had 28 tackles (his most since playing for Lovie in 2012) and two sacks (down from five last year in Dallas), while McDaniel, barely playing early in the year, has 21 tackles and no sacks. Both could be back, but it's unlikely either would command significant money.
-- Bobby Rainey, RB/returner, 28: Rainey's role as a third RB has greatly diminished with Doug Martin and Charles Sims healthy all year -- from 148 touches in 2013 to 127 last season to ... eight in 2015, for a modest 34 yards. He's been the Bucs' primary returner on punts and kickoffs, ranking fifth in the NFL on punt returns (10.3-yard average) and 11th in kickoff returns (24.7 yards). No touchdowns on returns, but could come back at a modest salary to compete for a similar special-teams and backup role.
-- Keith Tandy, S, 26: Always a contributor on special teams, Tandy had a career-high 10 tackles last week in his only start of the season. He's made it clear he'd like to return, and unless another team sees him as a starter, he could return as a versatile DB and special-teams leader without costing much at all.
-- Mike Jenkins, CB, 30: Jenkins got a look as a starter early in the season, but has been relegated to special teams in the second half of the season. With 18 tackles in 14 games, he's made minimal results in two years, so he could seek a larger role elsewhere.
-- Larry English, DE, 29; Da'Quan Bowers, DT, 25: English spent the year on injured reserve and hasn't been seen around the team since August, and Bowers was only signed after multiple season-ending injuries at defensive tackle. If either came back, it'd be at the league minimum with only an outside chance of making the roster in September.
And restricted free agents -- the Bucs would generally offer them the "low" tender of one year and $1.6-million, which would allow them to match any outside offers. None of these are Bucs draft picks, so there would only be draft-pick compensation with a higher tender, which seems unlikely.
-- Danny Lansanah, LB, 30: He's been the primary strongside linebacker all year -- not the splash he had in 2014 with three interceptions, two for touchdowns, but certainly productive with 54 tackles in limited playing time. He's tied for the team lead in special-teams tackles and has started at all three linebacker spots, so he's a smart player to re-sign.
-- Bradley McDougald, S, 25: He's started all but one game at safety this season with 82 total tackles and two interceptions, so hard to imagine him not getting a chance to return with a tender, even if he has to compete with a newcomer for a starting job.
-- Russell Shepard, WR, 25: His value is on special teams, where he's tied for the team lead in tackles. Limited role at receiver, even with multiple injuries at the position -- just three catches and his first NFL touchdown this year. Again, his value on special teams is enough for a one-year tender.
-- Jorvorskie Lane, FB, 28: He beat out a draft pick to stay on the roster this season, but with limited snaps and three touches all season, nothing's guaranteed for his role beyond this season.