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3 moves Tampa Bay Buccaneers may make after Mike Evans restructure

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are restructuring the contract of star wide receiver Mike Evans, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

Adjusting Evans’ deal will free up salary cap space for the reigning Super Bowl champions to make last-minute improvements to their 2021 roster. Per Over the Cap, the Bucs should have approximately $7.6 million to play with once Evans’ contract gets reworked.

Here are a few moves Tampa Bay could make based on who could be had in a trade, and what its depth chart looks like heading into Tuesday’s roster cut deadline.

Click here to see how deep the defending Super Bowl champion Bucs go in our NFL playoff predictions

Tampa Bay Buccaneers mine remaining free-agent market for veteran depth

Tampa Bay Buccaneers mine remaining free-agent market for veteran depth
Jan 11, 2020; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Tennessee Titans defensive end Jurrell Casey (99) reacts after sacking Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) during the second quarter in a AFC Divisional Round playoff football game at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Most of the top players remaining on the open market are on defense, and while the Bucs’ depth there is strong, they could stand to upgrade the players behind their starting defensive line, or even push William Gholston for a starting spot.

Vita Vea is a lock, and Ndamukong Suh is all but certain to start despite this advanced stage of his career. Beyond that, spots should be up for grabs.

Check out our NFL defense rankings, and find out if the Bucs make it all the way to No. 1

Longtime Cincinnati Bengals interior pass-rushing extraordinaire Geno Atkins is worth a look, as is five-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey. Atkins and Casey both played sparingly in 2020, so they’d each be fresh and eager to contribute to a Super Bowl contender.

Beyond Lavonte David and Devin White — who should play most or all of Tampa Bay’s inside linebacker snaps — there’s room for improvement. The young secondary may benefit from a more experienced addition such as, say, Josh Norman.

Again, we’re splitting hairs here trying to figure out where the Bucs could add depth that wouldn’t feel redundant. It’s a pretty well-stocked cupboard anywhere you look on this loaded team.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers trade O.J. Howard to set up even larger move

Tampa Bay Buccaneers trade O.J. Howard to set up even larger move
Oct 4, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard (80) catches a touchdown pass over Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Kyzir White (44) in the third quarter of a NFL game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Whether he’s involved in a player-for-player swap or traded for draft compensation, former first-round pick O.J. Howard is a luxury playmaker the Bucs didn’t have during last year’s championship run.

Evans’ restructure means the team has enough room to keep him, but dealing Howard away would save Tampa Bay another $6 million. Even if it’d only yield a Day 3 draft pick or thereabouts, GM Jason Licht should absolutely consider moving on from Howard.

A total of $13 million in cap space could really help the Bucs make a splash move for a standout veteran player who probably wouldn’t take long to get up to speed with the playbook. Scary for the rest of the league to think that the champs brought everyone back, but could still be adding another huge piece to the equation.

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With such a deep receiving corps and the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate at tight end already, it’d be worth moving on from Howard right now, rather than letting him walk in free agency for nothing in return next year.

One trade that’d make sense for both teams: The Jacksonville Jaguars land a legitimate TE1 in Howard to help out rookie No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence. In exchange, Tampa Bay could get an early Day 3 pick, or even try to poach 2020 first-round cornerback C.J. Henderson, who’s been bandied about as a trade candidate.

Jessie Bates III boards the Bucs’ ship in trade from Cincinnati Bengals

Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals
Dec 21, 2020; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III (30) reacts while running onto the field prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports
  • Bengals get: 2022 second-round pick, 2023 third-round pick
  • Bucs get: FS Jessie Bates III

In the rare instances the Cincinnati Bengals have actually hit on draft picks in recent years, they’ve struggled to retain their own talent. Rather than rewarding Pro Football Focus’ No. 1-graded safety from last season, Jessie Bates III, the frugal Bengals have opted to play hardball.

As mentioned before, it’s a young secondary in Tampa Bay, but adding Bates to the mix and guaranteeing him a multi-year contract extension would lift this Bucs defense to another level.

The more talent the front office can stockpile on that side of the ball, the better. Chances are, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will be up for a head coaching job once the 2021 campaign ends.

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Bowles is a schematic genius who maximizes what he has. Bates ensures that even if Bowles leaves, Tampa Bay’s next play-caller pretty much can’t mess things up — and he’s a phenomenal fit at free safety next to Antoine Winfield Jr.

Not many executives would be willing to do business with the Bucs. An out-of-conference trade with a rebuilding team like Cincinnati makes a lot of sense. Before Evans’ restructure, Over the Cap had Tampa Bay with only $158,835 in cap. Once that goes on the books, there would be room to take on Bates’ $2.85 million for 2021.

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