A breakdown of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2018 free-agent signings:
Vinny Curry, DE
The Buccaneers are signing defensive end Vinny Curry, who spent the past six years with the Philadelphia Eagles. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: B. It’s a three-year deal for up to $27 million with an $11.5 million injury guarantee, according to a source. By comparison, the Bucs gave fellow defensive end Robert Ayers three years and $19.5 million with $10.5 million guaranteed. So they’re paying more, but Curry’s durability is attractive. He hasn’t missed a regular-season game since 2013.
What it means: This signing spelled the end for Ayers, who had one year left on his contract, was due $6 million and had registered just two sacks in 2017. It doesn’t fix the Bucs’ edge-rushing woes, but it’s a start at overhauling a defensive line that produced a league-worst 22 sacks in 2017. It also doesn’t preclude them from drafting an edge rusher. The Bucs need more speed-rushing help with Noah Spence still recovering from his second shoulder surgery in two seasons.
The Bucs have signed three defensive linemen since free agency opened Wednesday, including two members of the Eagles’ top-ranked run defense from 2017 in Curry and defensive tackle Beau Allen. Rush defense been a big area of focus for the Bucs in a division that features some of the league’s top running backs in Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Christian McCaffrey.
What’s the risk: Curry’s had one season as a full-time starter, in 2017, when he registered 42 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble. He had one monster year, in 2014, when he had nine sacks, a big jump from his previous high of four, set in 2013. Although Curry, 29, doesn’t have a ton of takedowns, he can push the pocket, and his teammates in Philadelphia fed off of it.
Ryan Jensen, OL
The Buccaneers are signing center/guard Ryan Jensen, who spent the past five years with the Baltimore Ravens. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: A-plus. The four-year deal is for $42 million with $22 million guaranteed, making Jensen the highest-paid center in the league.
What it means: The Bucs have been looking for an attitude overhaul on their offensive line this offseason. They want “spit and vinegar” guys who are nasty in the trenches, and Jensen fits that to a T. The 26-year-old was described by a former coach as an absolute “mauler.”
Jensen was a player the Bucs truly wanted and he was considered one of the best free-agent centers available; Indianapolis also made a strong push for him, with a source telling ESPN the Colts sent a private plane to Tampa to get him.
Guards Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith, who rotated as starters at left guard last season, are both unrestricted free agents and have not re-signed. Jensen’s arrival allows the Bucs to move Ali Marpet back to guard opposite J.R. Sweezy, who’s looking to rebound two seasons removed from back surgery. The hope is that Tampa Bay can regain some of the explosive runs and dominance up front the Bucs had before Logan Mankins retired in 2015.
What’s the risk: Jensen steadily improved the past few seasons as a backup before starting all 16 games in 2017, finishing the season with Pro Football Focus’ sixth-ranked pass-blocking efficiency grade (98.4). PFF also ranked Jensen as the 13th-best starting center in the league. If there is a risk to signing him, it’s that he has started only one full season, but under the right conditions, there should be no reason why he can’t continue to thrive.
Grade: B. It’s a three-year deal worth $9.75 million, with $3.75 million guaranteed. He made 83.3 percent of his field goal last season, and will make more money per year than Stephen Hauschka (who made 87.9 percent of his kicks last season) and Greg Zuerlein (95 percent), although Hauschka has slightly more guaranteed money ($4 million). Dustin Hopkins (82.4 percent last year) also just signed a three year, $7.58 million contract to remain with the Redskins, and he’s only getting $1.2 million guaranteed.
What it means: Unless they bring Patrick Murray back as competition, the Bucs are likely to go their sixth consecutive year with a new kicker. They had three last season alone -- Murray, Nick Folk and Roberto Aguayo.
Since 2014, Catanzaro has made 84.4 percent of his field goals, including 34-of-43 on kicks from 40-49 yards (79.1 percent) and 7-of-13 on kicks from 50-plus yards (53.8 percent). Murray's made 81.6 percent, going 10-of-12 on kicks of 40-49 yards (83.3 percent) and 7-of-12 from 50-plus (58.3 percent). Catanzaro is 152-of-161 on extra points (94.4 percent) and Murray is 55-of-57 (96.5 percent). Last season, Catanzaro made 25-of-30 (83.3 percent) field goals and Murray made 19-of-23 (82.6 percent). That was the Bucs' fifth-highest percentage in the past 10 years, and just behind his own mark of 83.3 in 2014. Catanzaro made a 57-yard field goal last season and a 60-yarder in 2016. So last season their numbers were very close, but Catanzaro has a better lifetime average.
What's the risk: It’s unclear how much Murray and his agents were seeking, but some would argue that if it’s not broken, why fix it? A big reason would be kickoffs. Of Catanzaro’s 71 kickoffs in 2017, 45 resulted in touchbacks (63.4 percent). For Murray, just 14 of 59 kickoffs were touchbacks (23.7 percent), something coach Dirk Koetter admitted was a weak spot at the end of the season.
"Pat, his strength is not his kickoffs. We have teams in this league kicking it 80 percent touchbacks and if you just look at what a kickoff return really is, if you just took a touchback every time and took the ball to the 25-yard line, you are going to be in the top 10, just taking it to the 25," said Koetter, emphasizing the importance of hang time.
"Part of kicking it to the end zone, if you can kick it to the end zone, is hang time, and that’s one thing Pat struggled with is hang time on his kickoffs. When a guy is getting the ball in not the proper hang time and you have to cover those kicks, it just makes it tougher on your coverage time."
Mitch Unrein, DT
Grade: C. It’s a three-year deal worth $10.5 million and $4 million guaranteed. Between Unrein and signing Beau Allen earlier, the Bucs got much better against the run but did nothing to address their interior rush. If this is their idea of replacing unrestricted free agent Clinton McDonald, it’s not an ideal one. McDonald had 5.0 sacks last year, he’ll be the same age as Unrein (31) and they both have missed games with injuries.
What it means: Unrein had a career-high 2.5 sacks last season as a 3-4 defensive end, but he is expected to play defensive tackle for the Bucs. He wound up as Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated free agent interior defender this year, ahead of Sheldon Richardson and Daquan Jones, finishing the season 25th overall.
He also graded out as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-highest 3-4 defensive end with a 10.8 run stop percentage. This is important to note because the Bucs surrendered 4.27 yards per rush total last season. In terms of rushing up the middle, they surrendered 4.04 yards per rush, above the league average of 3.85.
What’s the risk: Unrein missed the final four games of 2017 with a knee injury, and dealt with a back injury in 2016, which forced him to miss three games. Aside from that, the Bucs got a player on the rise at reasonable price in Unrein, as they did with Allen, but they have yet to address defensive end this free agency period, which may ultimately pigeon-hole them in the draft. They missed out on trading for Robert Quinn, who landed with the Miami Dolphins, and Michael Bennett, who landed with the Philadelphia Eagles. They also lost out on Trent Murphy, whom they were a finalist to land Wednesday but wound up with the Buffalo Bills.
Unrein has the right mentality the Bucs want in their locker room and the potential to line up all across the line. A former undrafted free agent out of Wyoming, he’s been regarded as a workhorse wherever he’s played, bettering teammates around him. That was something the Bucs wanted to emphasize more this free agency period, feeling they didn’t necessarily get the “right guys” the last few years that fit the culture they’re trying to create.
Keith Tandy, S
The Buccaneers have re-signed safety Keith Tandy, a 2012 sixth-round draft pick who spent the last six years in Tampa. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: A. Tandy is a jack-of-all-trades. He plays both safety positions and special teams, but also moonlighted as a nickelback in former head coach Lovie Smith’s defense.
What it means: Justin Evans is coming off a strong rookie campaign with three interceptions, and the Bucs also picked up the option on Chris Conte’s deal. Evans, Conte and T.J. Ward spent much of the 2017 season in a three-way rotation, which was puzzling because Tandy finished the 2016 season better than anyone -- four interceptions in the final five games -- but he wasn’t given much of a shot to replicate it.
Tandy started three games in 2017, but once he suffered a hip injury in Week 4 against the New York Giants Evans took over Tandy’s role. He played the fewest snaps of any safety on the team, with the exception of special-teams captain Josh Robinson (Robinson played just one snap on defense). To be fair, Tandy didn’t have a particularly impressive camp.
What’s the risk: Contract terms for Tandy weren’t immediately available, so the financial risk is unknown. But if the numbers are similar or slightly above those in the two-year contract he had before (two years, $1.85 million), then it’s fine for a backup who is a capable starter as long as they’re not done upgrading the position.
Before Tandy and Conte got red-hot toward the end of 2016, they struggled mightily, giving up 281.0 passing yards per game in Weeks 1 through 9 (27th in the league). Last year, the secondary as a whole struggled again, giving up more passes of 15-plus air yards than all but one team in the league, the Indianapolis Colts. In a division with two league MVPs in Matt Ryan and Cam Newton and a Super Bowl MVP in Drew Brees, the Bucs can’t afford to whiff anymore with their secondary.
Beau Allen, DT
The Buccaneers are signing defensive tackle Beau Allen, who played the past four years for the Philadelphia Eagles. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: B. Allen isn’t necessarily a starter, and ideally the Bucs would want a defensive tackle who can rush the passer, too. Allen is more of a run-stuffer, but he does it well.
What it means: The Bucs vowed to improve their run defense last offseason, but that didn’t happen after they signed Chris Baker from the Washington Redskins last year. He was cut after just one season, and the Bucs surrendered 117.5 yards on the ground per game, 23rd in the league, in 2017. Allen helped the Eagles become the league’s No. 1 rushing defense last season, allowing just 79.2 rushing yards per game. He played 406 snaps in 15 games, with 363 of those snaps coming on first and second down.
What’s the risk: It’s tough to assess the actual risk involved until contract terms become available, but Allen is 6-foot-3, 327 pounds and is just 26. Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who is an unrestricted free agent, may have had 5.0 sacks last year, but he's 31 and has accumulated some injuries. It’s still entirely possible that the Bucs bring McDonald back. He benefited from rotating with Baker last year.
The Bucs do already have a run-stuffing defensive tackle already on their roster in Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, a rookie last season, but he doesn’t have the experience Allen has and he missed all of last season with an MCL and meniscus injury in his right knee. So while the Bucs are addressing one area of need along the defensive line with this signing, they should continue to search for interior pass rush help -- a defensive tackle who, like six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy, can truly wreak havoc by getting into the backfield.
Brent Grimes, CB
The Buccaneers re-signed Grimes, who played the past two years for them. Here's a closer look at the signing:
Grade: A. It’s a one-year deal for the four-time Pro Bowler, worth up to $10 million and helps erase some questions in a secondary where two of three starters last season are now free agents.
What it means: This move not only gives the Bucs a starter from the past two years with proven production in their system, but a veteran presence to continue helping youngsters Vernon Hargreaves III, Ryan Smith and Javien Elliott along. Plus, Hargeaves struggled in 2017, which is why the Bucs moved him to nickelback. They're hoping Hargreaves can regain some confidence and eventually move back outside, but Grimes gives them another year, if needed. That's especially important if Robert McClain, who stepped in for Hargreaves on the outside last season, doesn't return. Sources tell ESPN that there's been mutual interest in bringing McClain back, but he wants more than just another one-year deal -- especially after starting nine games and finishing with three interceptions in 2017.
Re-signing Grimes also means they don't necessarily have to go after Trumaine Johnson (although it's still possible) who could collect more than $13 million a year, or Malcolm Butler, who has some red flags after his benching in the Super Bowl. They could still draft a cornerback, but they have some freedom to address a bevy of other needs that might not all be answered in free agency, including defensive end, defensive tackle, interior offensive line, running back and safety.
What's the risk: The one real risk factor is Grimes' age, but it's only a one-year deal. He'll be 35, but the Bucs don't view him as over the hill, even if he did miss three games in 2017 becuase of a shoulder injury. After all, he led the league with 24 pass breakups in 2017. They love the way he takes care of his body, with his training and diet, and the example he sets for their younger players. Some would also point to his wife, Miko Grimes, and the problems she had with the Dolphins' front office, as a risk factor. It is not viewed that way in Tampa, however. She's had a respectful relationship with general manager Jason Licht and their family has generally been pretty happy in Tampa, making it a good fit for them.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB
The Buccaneers re-signed veteran quarterback Fitzpatrick, who spent last season as the backup to Jameis Winston. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: A. Fitzpatrick was the Bucs’ top choice for a backup quarterback. He won two out of three starts last year, completing 57 percent of his passes and throwing three touchdowns and one interception.
What it means: Winston is still under league investigation for an alleged Uber groping incident and is recovering from a shoulder injury. Fitzpatrick's calm, steady demeanor can also be a great help to Winston, who had some emotional outbursts on the field in 2017, shoving New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore and charging after an official in the Bucs' Week 16 loss to the Carolina Panthers after it was ruled that he lost a fumble. Fitzpatrick can help him learn to better keep his composure, and he can also help Ryan Griffin develop before Griffin becomes the second-string passer behind Winston.
What’s the risk: It’s another one-year deal, so there really isn’t one contractually. The only risks actually associated with Fitzpatrick involve interceptions -- he threw 17 picks in 2016, third-most in the league. But that has really only happened to him in Dirk Koetter’s offense when he’s pressing or playing too far behind. That’s what happened against the Arizona Cardinals, when he threw three touchdowns and two interceptions in the second half of Week 6, helping the Bucs climb out of a 31-0 deficit in the third quarter. As long as he’s in manageable down and distance situations, isn’t forcing the ball downfield where his accuracy wanes, and the defense keeps it close, then he’s fine. He also does a better job at checking down than Winston does at this point in his career.