Bucs leery of building through free agency

GM Jason Licht says bringing in the wrong free agent at an inflated salary can be disruptive.
GM Jason Licht says bringing in the wrong free agent at an inflated salary can be disruptive.
Published Feb. 12, 2016

TAMPA — It already has been a shock-to-the-system offseason for the Bucs, who have a new head coach in their old offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter; an entirely new defensive staff; and general manager Jason Licht controlling the draft, free agency and the final 53-man roster.

But the surprises might be just beginning, folks.

The team that raised ticket prices by more than 20 percent and has the fifth-most salary cap space in the NFL with $52.8 million won't be players for the big-ticket talent in free agency again this year.

Given the Bucs' history, it's probably not a bad idea.

Oh, if a miracle happened and somehow Super Bowl MVP Von Miller made it out of Denver, the Bucs would back up a Brink's truck. But there's a better chance that Peyton Manning returns to Denver than Miller leaving.

However, even if other high-priced talent, such as Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon, make it to free agency, they likely won't find a bidder in the Bucs.

"We'll be selective and strategic," Licht said Thursday night. "We don't want to put ourselves into a position where if you take the wrong guy and give him too much money, it can disrupt your team. I've said since Day 1, we are going to build through the draft. And from Day 1, the most success we've had is with draft picks.

"We still believe the best way for us to go is to draft and develop players. You can't think you're going to put yourself over the top by signing these high-dollar guys."

Licht is right. Free agency can be fool's gold. That's not to say the Bucs won't sign players, because they will.

But here are some things that might surprise or even shock you:

• Doug Martin will make it to free agency and test the market.

There is still time to strike a deal before the signing period begins March 9.

Martin, 27, is hoping to hit the jackpot after becoming the NFL's second-leading rusher with 1,402 yards and six touchdowns last season.

"We've had great discussions, and I think it's pretty mutual he'd like to be here and we'd like to have him," Licht said. "We'll have to see how it goes."

But the two sides aren't really that close in reaching an agreement. There's no reason to think Martin shouldn't ask for DeMarco Murray money. The league's leading rusher in 2014 got $8 million per year from the Eagles to leave the Cowboys.

Fortunately for the Bucs, there are options available in the Dolphins' Lamar Miller and the Jets Chris Ivory. And Miller is only 24.

• Mike Glennon is in the final year of his contract and many speculate the Bucs will try to trade the back up quarterback. That won't happen, at least not for a midround pick.

The Bucs value Glennon, who has 18 NFL starts, as a backup to Jameis Winston. In fact, an option Licht might want to explore is signing Glennon to an extension with a considerable salary.

Who knows how Glennon would react to this, knowing Winston is the franchise quarterback? But if Glennon could be guaranteed north of $7 million per year, in some ways having him locked up for multiple seasons might only enhance his trade value versus a team taking a one-year flier on him as a player to compete for a starting spot.

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• The team wants receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Logan Mankins back. No question.

Mankins, who turns 34 in March, is supposed to make a decision whether to retire or return within the next few weeks. Jackson plans to play in 2016, the final of a contract that includes a $9.8 million salary.

Both players add incredible intangibles to the locker room. And Jackson can still play. Don't be fooled by his knee injuries last season. He took dangerous hits directly on the left knee, so the Bucs don't believe his production falloff was the result of an aging, 33-year-old player.

All that said, don't assume Jackson, Mankins or other veterans under contract will each return under their current deals. They may, but it's not guaranteed. Players such as linebacker Bruce Carter ($4.25 million) and cornerback Alterraun Verner ($6.75 million) could also face adjustments, but there is no reason for those discussions now.

The draft, ascending players and free agency could change that.

The silly season for the league is about to begin, and the only thing that's certain is there will be no shortage of uncertainty surrounding the Bucs.

Around the league

GIANTS HIRE MAYHEW: New York hired former Lions general manager Martin Mayhew as director of football operations/special projects. The team said Mayhew, 50, a former defensive back with FSU (1983-87) and the Bucs (1993-96) will help assistant general manager Kevin Abrams on all aspects of the salary cap, CBA compliance and player contract negotiations. He will also handle special projects as assigned by general manager Jerry Reese.

ALLEN BACK TO RAIDERS: Oakland re-signed former USF safety Nate Allen, two days after he was released. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Allen's initial $4.9 million salary for next season would have been guaranteed if he was on the roster Wednesday. Also, four weeks after being stymied in their effort to move to Los Angeles, officials announced agreement to a one-year lease extension to remain at the O.Co Coliseum for 2016, with two one-year options beyond that.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.