Do Bucs have a better shot at free agency this year?

by Gary Shelton on March 28, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Monday, 6 a.m.

When evaluating the players in a team's shopping cart, you start with this admission.

This might not work out, either.

Doug Martin may be the Bucs' most explosive free agent signing.

Doug Martin may be the Bucs' most explosive free agent signing.

That's the thing you have to keep in mind about free agency. Failure is always an option. It doesn't matter how much you spend, or how many years you invest, or how much you need the help. Some players, upon being rich, simply check out. Sometimes, you just scratch your head and wonder what you got for your millions.

And so it is with the Bucs and their new haul. Robert Ayers could level off. Brent Grimes could suddenly play old. J.R. Sweezy might

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struggle on the other side of the line. Doug Martin could get hurt again. And so forth.

Still, the collection of free agents under this new coach (Dirk Koetter) certainly seems to have a better chance than the collection of free agents under the old new coach (Lovie Smith). It's cheaper. It's more proven. It appears to be more carefully selected.

For the sake of the Bucs, it had better be.

Two years ago, the Bucs were in desperate need of free agents to be major pieces. They signed a quarterback. A defensive end. A left tackle. Cornerbacks. This time, the pieces seem designed to augment what the Bucs have. They don't need the free agents to be stars, just solid players.

Going into 2014, the Bucs were coming off of a four-win season, 11 in the previous two years. This time, the Bucs are coming off a six-win season, eight in the previous two years. Back then, the Bucs signed a lot of players who have become starters for them. This year, the Bucs have done the same thing.

If there is a reason for optimism, it is this: If every player the Bucs signed has the exact same season next year as this one, the Bucs will prosper with Martin, Ayers, Grimes and Bryan Anger. Two years ago, they needed for Collins, Johnson and McCown to be the best players they had ever been.

So how do they compare?

Michael Johnson (2014) vs. Robert Ayers (2016).

Johnson was supposed to make an immediate impact, which is why the Bucs gave him almost $44 million over five years. Instead, it was as if the team had signed Eric Curry all over again. Johnson was a spectator the Bucs the next year, getting only 4. 5 sacks.

Should the Bucs have seen it coming? Maybe. Johnson had only 3.5 sacks in his contract season the year before. The team immediately cut Johnson in the off-season, taking a bath on Johnson's guaranteed money.

Ayers? He's coming off a season with 9.5 sacks, three times what Johnson made. And the investment is less than half what the Bucs gave to Johnson.

The question with Ayers is that he hasn't done it over the long haul. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, he started only four games in three seasons. He had 5 and 5.5 sacks the two years before last and only six in his first four seasons.

Still, Ayers can play on the edge and can also line up at tackle, which Johnson couldn't.

Give the edge to Ayers.

Brent Grimes (2016) vs. Alterraun Verner (2014).

Grimes is a four-time Pro Bowler who was cut loose, in part, because his wife was a distraction on social media. Verner was coming off a Pro Bowl season with the Titans.
Still, Verner struggled to adjust to the Bucs, starting only 20 games since coming.

The Bucs are paying Grimes roughly twice as much as they paid Verner (8 million per season to four). They're expecting more production, too.

Edge: Grimes.

J.R. Sweezy (2016) vs. Anthony Collins (2014).

If it's possible, Collins was a worse investment than Johnson. It remains a mystery what the Bucs ever saw in Collins. He had seven starts the previous two years combined and 12 the previous four years. The Bucs paid him $30 million, but he couldn't even get on the field after 10 games. In a league with 160 starting offensive lineman, Collins couldn't find a job this year.

Sweezy is switching sides of the line, but he's started 46 games over the last three years. To the Bucs, that's worth a five-year, $32 million contract.

Edge: Sweezy.

Josh McCown (2014) vs. Doug Martin (2016):

With their different positions, it's not a true comparison. McCown is a quarterback, Martin a running back. As players, there is no comparison, either. Martin finished second in the NFL in rushing this year. McCown was 1-10 as a starter with the Bucs and 1-7 this year with the Browns.

Really, why would a team expect more? McCown had a nice finish to 2013 as far as his quarterback rankings; still, he was only 2-3 as a starter. In his career, he's 18-39.

The Bucs signed McCown to a two-year, $10 million contract. They paid Martin 3½ times that much money so he wouldn't leave. This risk is if injuries hobble him the way they did in 2013 and 2014 when he failed to gain 500 yards in each season. But if he's healthy, he's a big-hitter for the Bucs. McCown never was.

Edge: Martin.

Mike Jenkins (2014)  vs. Josh Robinson (2016).

Jenkins has started only five games in his two years with the Bucs, the same number Robinson started with the Vikings. At least Robinson is younger and has more upside.

Edge: Robinson.

Clinton McDonald (2014) vs. Darryl Smith (2016):

McDonald has been a solid starter, not a star, since joining the Bucs. But coming here, he had two starts in four seasons.

Smith doesn't figure to be a star, either, although Ravens' coach John Harbaugh called him the most underrated player in the league. He has been a regular starter since coming into the league, however.

Edge: Smith.

Brandon Myers (2014) vs. Chris Conte (2016).

Myers hasn't been a great player with the Bucs, but that may be Tampa Bay's fault. In the two years before, with two teams, Myers was thrown to 181 times. With the Bucs, he's averaged only 17 catches per year. Conte played decently for the Bucs in spurts, but he didn't make enough plays.

Edge: Myers.

Louis Murphy (2014) vs. Bryan Anger (2016).

Murphy had become the team's No. 3 receiver when he was injured. That's not bad, but Anger has averaged 46 yards per punt in three seasons. Murphy has 41 catches in 17 games, which gives him a slight edge over a specialist.

Edge: Murphy.

Also to consider: Evan Smith (2014). Smith has 20 starts in two seasons on the Bucs' offensive line.

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