TAMPA — Bucs general manager Jason Licht has made some splashy free agency signings since the team hired him in 2014.
Some have been cannon balls (cornerback Brent Grimes, center Ryan Jensen) and others have just been belly flops (defensive tackle Chris Baker, safety T.J. Ward, tackle Anthony Collins, kicker Nick Folk).
The Bucs will wade much more carefully into those waters this season as the focus becomes attempting to retain some of their own unrestricted free agents, most notably left tackle Donovan Smith, receiver Adam Humphries and linebacker Kwon Alexander.
The Bucs are currently about $17-million under the salary cap, which will increase another six percent from $177.2-million to about $191-million in 2019. They also could clear more space with the trade or release of some players such as receiver DeSean Jackson ($10-million in 2019).
Here’s a breakdown of the team’s notable free agents.
Donovan Smith: If he were to make it to free agency, Smith would be the top left tackle on the market and could earn anywhere from $12-million to 14-million per season. While Smith isn’t perfect, he’s been incredibly durable and hasn’t missed a game in four seasons, starting 64 in a row.
He’s a big personality in the locker room and a hard worker. At 25, he has room to get better and the Bucs are anxious to see the improvement he makes under offensive line coach Joe Gilbert and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin.
The Bucs will have more talks about a contract extension for Smith at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. But failing an agreement, they will use the franchise tag on Smith, guaranteeing him $14-million on a one-year contract. That represents the average salary of the top five left tackles in the NFL.
Adam Humphries: The word is that Humphries was seeking $8-million a year last off-season. That was before he produced career highs with 71 receptions and five touchdowns in 2018. Humphries was discovered in a rookie tryout camp, so the Bucs have great respect for his development.
Like many things, it will come down to value. The Patriots’ Julian Edelman signed a two-year deal worth $11-million last season. Edelman also can play outside and was the Super Bowl MVP. Humphries is almost exclusively a slot receiver. Production aside, the Bucs are committed to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as their starters and still haven’t resolved what to do with DeSean Jackson, who is owed $10-million if he plays for the Bucs.
Kwon Alexander: Talk about horrible timing. The middle linebacker may have been looking at a long-term deal worth $10-million per year had he not tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against the Browns last Oct. He said he expects to begin running next week but is probably at least four months from being cleared for any football activities.
Alexander brought emotion to the Bucs defense. But this will be a tricky deal to negotiate given his health concerns. Considering their cap situation, each signing will have a domino effect. There also are some other free agent linebackers available such as the Vikings’ Anthony Barr and the Eagles Jordan Hicks.
Other Unrestricted Free Agents
Ryan Fitzpatrick: Went 2-5 as a starter last season but passed for more than 400 yards and at least three TDs in each of his first three games. Bucs like Fitzpatrick but don’t want Jameis Winston looking over his shoulder. That’s why Bruce Arians made it clear this is Wiinston’s team. This no longer feels like a great fit.
Ryan Griffin: All together now: Griffin has never taken a snap in a regular-season NFL game. But the new Bucs coaching staff evaluated his tape of preseason games and practices and like the quarterback, who will start his sixth season in 2019. Griffin makes more sense as the No. 2 behind Winston at this juncture than Fitzpatrick does, even if it’s a leap of faith.
Jacquizz Rodgers: Third down back whose role will be replaced by former Cardinals Andre Ellington. Team expects Ronald Jones to have an expanded role in his second season.
Adarius Taylor: Versatile backup at all three linebacker spots but not likely to be a re-sign priority for the Bucs.
Garrison Sanborn: — Reliable long-snapper form Tampa Jesuit who has played 10 seasons in the NFL, most of them with Buffalo.
Cairo Santos: The kicker took over after the release of Chandler Catanzaro and made 9 of 12 field goal attempts and was perfect on 12 extra points the final seven games. A consideration, but Bucs may look for a stronger kickoff leg.
Restricted Free Agents
Peyton Barber: The running back, entering his fourth year, led the Bucs in rushing with 871 yards and five touchdowns. Signing him to an offer sheet will be a priority.
Andrew Adams: Fourth-year safety tied for the team lead with four interceptions, including three in a win over the Panthers. Bucs could make a qualifying offer to retain his rights.