Keeping Them in House
The Deal: 5 years, $37.5M ($13.5M guaranteed)
Gholston was originally drafted as a 4th round developmental guy in the Dominik era, but has since proved his worth, particularly on obvious run plays. A shining example of a “look at the tape, not the stats” guy, losing him would have been pretty big for our D-Line rotation. At only 25 years old, Gholston is still approaching his ceiling, and we locked him down at a price that's in line with the value he brings to the team. A good signing and a player we simply couldn't afford to let walk.
The Deal: 2 Years (Value Currently Unknown)
The 2017 free agent class for centers was pretty thin, with the most sought after candidate being J.C. Tretter (who signed with the Browns). You remember the “Dalton Line” people would always joke about, back when Dalton was considered the epitome of average QB? Joe Hawley is kind of who I consider the Dalton line of Centers. What I love about Hawley is his toughness. Though he played hurt for much of the year and seemed to collapse for a few plays almost every game in the latter half of the season, he would be back on a few snaps later as if nothing happened. He’s no Fredbeard, he’s no “Secret World of” Alex Mack, and he’s no Mangold, but Hawley gets the job done.
The Deal: 1 Year, $3.0M ($2.5M Guaranteed)
The Deal: 2 Years, $6.5M ($2.5M Guaranteed)
I hope bringing back Conte was done as a depth signing and not with the intent of having him start. The 2016 season gave the Buccaneers some of the worst safety play we've seen since Sabby Piscitelli. I’m not certain I’ve ever seen a worse game played by Safeties than our week 8 loss to the Raiders where Carr put up 500+ yards and 4 TD’s. Safety may be the biggest hole on our roster right now and must be addressed in the draft (even with the Wilcox signing). We can't afford more mistakes from Conte.
While he's listed as a CB, Robinson only played a half dozen or so defensive snaps last year, establishing himself as a valuable Special Teams gunner. Watching the rapport established between Bryan Anger and Josh Robinson was a thing of beauty, and Robinson's emergence as a top gunner made it easier to let Russell Shepard (the incumbent special teams captain) hit the market and head to Carolina. While Josh Robinson perhaps has some views of the world that rival Dolphins DE William Hayes in terms of their insanity, that's neither here nor there...
New Faces in the Red & Pewter
The Deal: 3 Years, $33.5M ($20M Guaranteed)
The Deal: 3 Years, $15.75M ($9M Guaranteed)
The Deal: 2 Years, $6.25M ($3.125M Guaranteed)
Loved this signing-- in fact, Desean Jackson was my #1 target for the Bucs in free agency. In the last two seasons, Jackson averaged 17.8 YPC. He remains a monstrous deep threat that could open up our offense. Though he just turned 30, Jackson is still a blazing speedster who can be a threat in the return game as well. With Jackson stretching the field and Evans moving the chains, Hump in the slot and Brate at TE, all of a sudden, we've empowered Jameis just a little more. Was D-Jax expensive? Yes. But a necessity.
Entering the offseason, defensive line depth was one of the biggest needs on our roster, particularly on the interior. Baker is an immediate upgrade over Akeem Spence (who just signed with the Lions) and is likely to start alongside McCoy from day one. For a starter who's pretty much in his prime, the Bucs got Baker at a bargain price and should be the run stuffing complement to McCoy we've needed for a long time.
In all likelihood, Wilcox will start alongside Tandy in the secondary. Known for his hard hitting, enforcer style of play, Wilcox represents a small upgrade over Bradley McDougald. Still an extremely raw player, Wilcox looked decent in action with the Cowboys, but needs to focus on wrapping up his tackles instead of going for the guided missile hits. The funny thing about Wilcox is he played mostly receiver in college, and at 26 is still developing his skills as a Safety. There could still be a lot of unseen potential with him.
Entering Free Agency, there were essentially two camps between Bucs fans:
The "we have a ton of cap space. Let's use it to get some marquee signings" camp.
The "we have a ton of cap space, but let's not go too crazy with the checkbook" camp.
I think our free agency start has been the golden mean between those two camps. We got a deep threat and solid WR2 and a versatile DL in Baker who fills a huge need, and a potential starter in Wilcox. Best of all-- we didn't murder our cap space.
As we now head towards the draft need to be strategic here. Even though we had a winning season, our last playoff win was the Super Bowl. We're building slowly but surely, but the draft is where the seeds for our future get planted.
All in all, my takeaway from this free agency period here is that Jason Licht is learning from his past mistakes, this time using FA to fill holes rather than make a hail mary to build the roster.