TAMPA — The Bucs’ approach to free agency was to retain as many of their good players as possible rather than make big splash signings.
The priority was re-signing left tackle Donovan Smith, who agreed to a three-year, $41.25-million contract last week. But now they are bracing for the possibility that both linebacker Kwon Alexander and receiver Adam Humphries will strike deals with other teams. The signing period begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Free agents can begin negotiating and reaching verbal agreements with other teams at noon today. The Bucs have about $2.1 million over the salary cap, the least amount of any team in the NFL, according to Overthecap.com.
That means the Bucs will likely have to begin releasing players if they intend to sign another free agent beginning Wednesday.
Humphries is expected to earn between $9 million to $10 million per year, with the New York Jets as one of his primary suitors. He’s coming off his best season with a career-high 71 receptions and 5 touchdowns.
The Jets and 49ers are considered big contenders for Alexander, who wanted an elite contract of $10 million to $12 million and could get it despite recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
The Bucs have made Alexander an offer on a long-term extension, but like Humphries, he could be headed elsewhere.
It was always going to be hard to retain Humphries, who was signed in a rookie tryout camp. He had been asking for $8 million per year before the start of 2018, but at the time, was the Bucs fourth receiver behind Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin.
Evans is due to make $20 million in 2019 and Jackson is on the books for $10 million if he remains in Tampa Bay. The Bucs can’t allocate $40 million to three players at the receiver position with all the other needs on defense.
Alexander is another story and likely a bigger priority. Although he won’t be cleared for football activity for another four months, Bucs general manager Jason Licht has called Alexander the “heart and soul,” of the defense. If the Bucs lose Alexander, they will have a dire need for linebackers, especially switching to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Kendell Beckwith missed all of last season on the physically unable to perform list after sustaining an ankle injury in an automobile accident last off-season. It’s unknown whether he will play in 2019.
Likewise, rookie Jack Cichy sustained another season-ending knee injury in 2018. So outside of Lavonte David, the Bucs are in need of some healthy and productive linebackers.
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @NFLStroud