TAMPA, Fla. — The NFL’s legal tampering period begins in exactly 31 days, which is when clubs are permitted to contact and enter into contract negotiations with players whose contracts are expiring with other teams. As of Friday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have $15 million in projected salary-cap space. The Bucs can create more cap room should they cut players such as Gerald McCoy and DeSean Jackson, who are due $13 million and $10 million, respectively.
Here are some players for the Bucs to consider:
Tyrann Mathieu, free safety
Some would say the Texans got Mathieu last year for a bargain at $7 million on a one-year deal. Tampa Bay’s Justin Evans should rebound after dealing with a foot injury most of last season that limited his ability to cover large portions of the field, Chris Conte is in the twilight of his career and Jordan Whitehead showed lots of potential as a run-stopper, but Mathieu is always around the ball and has a lot of versatility. Plus, Mathieu has played for coach Bruce Arians and coordinator Todd Bowles. He had eight pass breakups and two interceptions last season, and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best run-stopper among safeties who played at least 50 percent of their team’s defensive snaps.
Matt Bryant, kicker
The Falcons informed Bryant on Wednesday they would be releasing him (he was to make $3.5 million in 2019). Bucs fans know him well, even including him in the team’s so-called “kicking curse.” Since the Bucs’ unceremonious release of Bryant in 2009, they have had the league’s worst field goal percentage (77.3 percent) and gone through more kickers than any other NFL team. Bryant made 250 of 282 field goals (88.7 percent) with the Falcons and was 36 of 46 from 50-plus yards. He also missed only three extra point attempts in 10 seasons (Bucs kickers missed four last season). Bryant, who will turn 44 in May, is still making big kicks and has no plans to retire.
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John Brown, wide receiver
Brown possess elite 4.34 speed in the 40-yard dash and can stretch the field vertically. His deal with the Ravens last season was for a reasonable $5 million, much less than the $10 million price tag of keeping Jackson. Having spent four years with the Cardinals, including a 1,000-yard season in 2015, he knows Arians’ offense well. Brown can also line up in the slot and contribute in the short passing game, especially in the event Adam Humphries doesn’t return. Beware of injuries, because last season was the first time since Brown’s rookie season in 2014 that he played all 16 games.
Kareem Hunt, running back
It is unknown whether Peyton Barber can become the franchise back the Bucs need him to be and 2018 second-round pick Ronald Jones still has a lot to learn. Tampa Bay brought Hunt in on a pre-draft visit in 2017 and liked him a lot. But, would the Bucs take a chance on the former Chiefs running back who was captured on video kicking and shoving a woman during an altercation? General manager Jason Licht and Arians believe in giving second chances, but this would ultimately be an ownership call by the Glazer family — including Darcie Glazer-Kassewitz, who is a prominent female voice within the organization and in the community.
Preston Brown, linebacker
If there’s no movement on the Kwon Alexander front — and the Bucs are expected to move to a 3-4 defense in 2019 — Brown is an option, having spent the 2018 season as the Bengals’ starting middle linebacker. He can play in both a 4-3 and 3-4 scheme. When he was with the Bills, at times, he looked to be a liability in coverage, but he performed better in seven games with the Bengals (he picked off Winston in Week 8 in 2018).
Deone Bucannon, linebacker
Bucannon is also a name to watch here because of his ties to the Cardinals under Arians and Bowles. Bowles converted the Cardinals’ 2014 first-round pick from a safety to a hybrid linebacker. Granted, the Bucs already have this skill set in coverage with Lavonte David, who is to make $9 million next year — none of which is guaranteed.
After experiencing a career year in 2017 for the Bucs, Demar Dotson had a down 2018 season and might be experiencing some decline at 33. The Bucs also have not re-signed left tackle Donovan Smith, who is their best candidate for a franchise tag — should they opt to use one. Williams, 26, makes sense here, although it’s not a great market for offensive linemen. He is coming off a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve last season. Still, he was one of the NFL’s top offensive tackles in 2017. James, the Miami Dolphins‘ 2014 first-round draft pick, is also 26, but suffered season-ending injuries two of the past four years.