Fri Apr 2 6:14pm ET
By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht, left, address the audience with linebackers Lavonte David, center, and Devin White during a celebration of their Super Bowl 55 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Tampa, Fla., in this Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, file photo. When Jason Licht declared he was going to do everything he could to keep the Tampa Bay Buccaneers together, no one envisioned the process going as smoothly as it has for the Super Bowl champions. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) When Jason Licht declared he was going to do everything possible to keep the Tampa Bay Buccaneers together, no one envisioned the process going as smoothly as it has for the Super Bowl champions.
Even the team's ever-optimistic general manager, who not only has followed through on a bold promise but also defied the odds of being able to retain all 22 starters from a star-studded roster assembled around Tom Brady.
Coach Bruce Arians cites a winning culture - fostered with help from Brady and a highly regarded coaching staff that also remains intact - as maybe the biggest factor contributing to the Bucs holding on to seven key players who could have departed in free agency this spring.
A pandemic-driven, league-wide reduction in the NFL salary cap for 2021 limited the amount of money potential suitors could offer on the open market helped, too.
So did veterans such as Brady and offensive lineman Donovan Smith accepting cap-friendly contract extensions to aid Licht's mission.
''I can't really point to a single factor ... but I think everybody wanted to be back,'' Licht said. ''Everybody's getting paid fairly, but everybody's very excited to try to (win) it again.''
The first major move in a busy offseason was placing the franchise tag on wide receiver Chris Godwin.
From there, Licht proceeded to negotiate multi-year contracts for linebackers Lavonte David and Shaquil Barrett and kicker Ryan Succop, as well as one-year deals to keep tight end Rob Gronkowski, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, and running back Leonard Fournette.
''I could have gone somewhere and got more money, but I think this is just the place for me right now,'' said Fournette, who could earn up to $4 million next season. ''I'm glad to be back. They're glad to have me back.''
Somehow, there was still money left along the way to sign less heralded holdovers such as guard Aaron Stinnie, who started in the Super Bowl, and defensive reserves Kevin Minter and Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who also contributed to last season's success.
And then there's receiver Antonio Brown, a mid-season pickup who caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. There's a chance he could return, too.
''We're going to take our time. There's offers out there, and we'll see how it goes,'' Arians said.
''We're still seeing what we can do on a couple of fronts,'' Licht said of what's left to add. ''I don't think it's ever done.''
Three days after the Super Bowl, Arians grabbed a microphone several times during a downtown waterfront rally to personally declare Godwin, David, Barrett and Suh weren't ''going anywhere'' in free agency.
The 68-year-old coach isn't surprised Licht was able to ''keep the band together.''
''I think there are a number of factors. I think they all know the culture and love the culture. And they're all getting paid. Ain't nobody coming back cheap,'' Arians said.
''We obviously have a team that should be in the hunt again,'' Arians added. ''But I think the camaraderie of that football team, what they went through together with the pandemic and everything else, there's a bond ... and it's hard to break that bond.''
In some cases, including Brady, Smith and David, the Bucs included voidable years in contracts to make them more salary-cap friendly for 2021.
Licht isn't concerned about the strategy causing problems with the salary cap in the future.
''There are some corrections that are going to have to take place at some point down the road, but we're not putting ourselves in a position where next year we have to release a lot of good players,'' the GM said. ''We're going to be in good shape if we continue to make sure we make smart decisions and do things right.''
The Denver Broncos could decide to trade wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton in the coming weeks leading up to the NFL draft after they drafted wide receivers in the first and second rounds last year -- Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, respectively. Denver also has Tim Patrick, who impressed in 2020 in an expanded role, and Courtland Sutton, who will be returning from injury in 2021. The Broncos have received inquiries on Hamilton, Penn State's all-time leading receiver and former fourth-round pick. He has hauled in 81 catches in his three seasons with the Broncos and had 23 receptions for 293 yards and two touchdowns last year. The 26-year-old had a 12.7 yard-per-catch average in 2020, so he could be a nice downfield threat for another team if he's traded.
The Atlanta Falcons released running back Ito Smith on Thursday to make room on the roster for recently signed wide receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson. Smith totaled 689 rushing yards on 175 carries (3.9 yards per carry) and six touchdowns and added 55 receptions for 314 yards in his three seasons with Atlanta. On 63 carries last season, the 25-year-old had 268 rushing yards (4.3 yards per carry) and a touchdown. He also tacked on 75 receiving yards on 17 catches (26 targets) in the passing game. Smith was originally a fourth-round pick by the Falcons in 2018 out of Southern Mississippi. Patterson could be used out of the backfield in his new home, but he'll mostly be a depth piece behind Mike Davis and Qadree Ollison. The Falcons will likely address the position in the draft as well.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb is looking to be a better version of himself heading into his sophomore season after he put up 74 catches for 935 yards and five touchdowns in his rookie season. Lamb had 433 yards, including two 100-plus yard games, in his first five contests in the NFL. But he had no catches in Week 7 and no 100-yard games down the stretch. His struggles came after quarterback Dak Prescott suffered his season-ending ankle injury, and Lamb was forced to work with four different signal-callers throughout the year. With Prescott returning healthy this year and all the team's offensive weapons back, Lamb could certainly improve on his impressive rookie showing.
The Atlanta Falcons signed free-agent safety Duron Harmon to an undisclosed one-year deal on Thursday. In eight NFL seasons, Harmon has played in 127 games (45 starts) and has recorded 248 tackles (191 solo) with two tackles for loss, 19 interceptions and 33 passes defensed. He spent seven seasons with the New England Patriots and was traded to the Detroit Lions last year. Harmon started in all 16 games for Detroit in 2020 and had a career-high 73 tackles (54 solo) with two interceptions and five passes defensed. He was originally selected in the third round (91st overall) by New England out of Rutgers in 2013. Harmon won three Super Bowl rings in his time with the Patriots.
The Seattle Seahawks signed free-agent pass-rusher Aldon Smith to an undisclosed one-year deal on Thursday, according to sources. Smith was an All-Pro for the San Francisco 49ers back in 2012 and recorded five sacks, 14 QB hits and 50 pressures for the Dallas Cowboys last season in his return to action after being out of the league from 2016 to 2019 due to a number of legal issues. The 31-year-old has 52.5 career sacks since entering the NFL in 2011. Seattle has had interest in Smith for a while now and even tried to trade for him last year. If Smith can continue to avoid off-field distractions, he could form a formidable trio with Carlos Dunlap and Kerry Hyder on the Seahawks defensive line.
The Atlanta Falcons agreed to terms with free-agent wide receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson on a one-year, $3 million deal on Thursday, according to a source. Patterson hasn't really made his mark in the NFL on the offensive side of the ball, but he's become one of the best kick returners in the league, as he was named a first-team All-Pro as a kick returner in both of his seasons with the Chicago Bears. He was also earned a second-team All-Pro nod as a gunner on special teams in 2019. Patterson led the league in kick-return yards in both his seasons in Chicago and averaged 29.2 yards per kick return, including two for scores. The 30-year-old had just 32 catches for 215 yards with the Bears, so he's unlikely to provide any real fantasy value unless you're in a league that counts return yardage.
The Miami Dolphins signed free-agent linebacker Calvin Munson and defensive back Jamal Perry to undisclosed deals on Wednesday. Both players were exclusive-rights free agents. Munson began his career with the New York Giants in 2017 and joined the New England Patriots the next season. He has appeared in 18 games for the Dolphins in the last two years. Munson played 49 percent of the team's special teams snaps in all 16 games in 2020. Perry was with the Philadelphia Eagles and Patriots before joining the Dolphins in 2019. He's appeared in 27 games (seven starts) and had 26 total tackles and one pass defensed last season.
The Cleveland Browns re-signed free-agent defensive tackle Sheldon Day and tight end Stephen Carlson to undisclosed deals on Wednesday on the same day they inked Pro Bowl edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney to a deal worth up to $10 million. Day was on the team's practice squad after signing with Cleveland late last season. He last played for the Indianapolis Colts and has five years of NFL experience. Carlson was tendered earlier this offseason as an exclusive-rights free agent. In his two seasons with the Browns, he has six catches. He also played over 80 percent of the team's special teams snaps last year. Both players will serve as depth at their respective positions in 2021.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are re-signing inside linebacker Vince Williams to an undisclosed one-year deal on Wednesday, according to sources. Williams was released in March in a move to get the team under the salary cap. In 14 starts for Pittsburgh last year, he had 70 tackles and three sacks for the Steelers. Williams' usage jumped significantly in 2020 after the departure of Mark Barron, as he played 65 percent of the defensive snaps, up from 37 percent in 2019. The 31-year-old was a full-time starter for the team in three of the last four seasons after he was a sixth-round pick in 2013. Williams has two interceptions (one returned for a TD), 20.5 sacks and 333 solo tackles in 121 career games (69 starts) in eight seasons with Pittsburgh. There's a good chance he could retire after the 2021 season.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said that "Justin could come back" in reference to veteran free-agent defensive end Justin Houston. Houston is visiting with the Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday, but there's still a chance he re-signs with Indianapolis this offseason. If Houston isn't retained, Irsay is confident that the team can draft an edge rusher later this month. Houston had 19 sacks in the last two seasons with the Colts and was a solid starter on the defensive line. However, last year also showed that the 32-year-old was more inconsistent as a pass-rusher. Houston is hoping to sign before the draft later this month, but the Ravens want to wait until after the draft so that they do not lose a compensatory pick.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signed defensive tackle Steve McLendon to an undisclosed one-year deal on Wednesday. McLendon is the latest player to return from the team's Super Bowl-winning squad from a year ago. The Buccaneers acquired McLendon last year in a trade with the New York Jets, and he played a key role in the team's championship run while filling in for the injured Vita Vea on the defensive line. In nine games for the Bucs (no starts), the 35-year-old managed 17 tackles (two for loss) and 10 assists. In six starts for the Jets before being traded, McLendon racked up 14 combined tackles (eight solo). He'll continue to serve as valuable defensive line depth for a stacked Tampa Bay roster in 2021.
Veteran free-agent wide receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson is visiting with the Atlanta Falcons on Wednesday, according to sources. The expectation is that the two sides will agree on a deal soon. Patterson hasn't done much offensively in his eight-year career, but he remains one of the league's best kick returners who can also be effective on offense in spot duty. He was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro with the Chicago Bears on special teams the last two years, leading the NFL in kick-return yardage each season. Patterson returned 35 kicks for 1,017 yards, with a 104-yard touchdown, in 2020 alone. In his career, he's averaging 29.8 yards per kick return, with Atlanta averaging 20.5 yards per return in 2020. The Falcons haven't had a kick returner with more than 700 yards since Andre Roberts in 2017. Unless your league counts return yardage, Patterson has very limited fantasy appeal.
A Pittsburgh attorney intends to seek assault charges against Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald on behalf of his client, according to multiple reports. Todd Hollis said that Donald assaulted his client, DeVincent Spriggs, on April 11 at a club in the Pittsburgh area. Spriggs was left with a concussion and other injuries. Donald is a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and seven-time Pro Bowler with 85.5 career sacks. "We are collecting more information and will have no further comment at this time," the Rams statement said. The former 13th overall pick in 2014 is in the middle of a six-year, $135 million contract extension. It's unclear if this incident could lead to a suspension for one of the NFL's best pass-rushers. Stay tuned.
Free-agent QB Joshua Dobbs (Steelers) agreed to terms on a one-year contract to remain with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday, April 14. Financial terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed.
Free-agent DE Aldon Smith (Cowboys) is scheduled to visit with the Seattle Seahawks on Wednesday, April 14.
The Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to an undisclosed one-year deal to re-sign quarterback Joshua Dobbs on Wednesday, according to his agent, Mike McCartney. Dobbs will return to Pittsburgh as the fourth signal-caller on their roster, joining Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph and former Washington Football Team QB Dwayne Haskins. Dobbs spent his first two seasons with the Steelers after being taken in the fourth round. He was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019 but returned to Pittsburgh last year as a free agent. Dobbs has completed 10 of 17 passes for 45 yards and an interception in six games played in the NFL. Obviously, Dobbs won't be on the fantasy radar.
Alabama running back Najee Harris' ankle checked out well with no concerns recently, and the injury shouldn't affect his draft stock, according to sources. Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith's (finger) dislocated finger with torn ligaments is healing fine, and he doesn't have any issues ahead. Wideout Jaylen Waddle (ankle), the top pass-catching prospect in this year's draft, is also healing properly after an ankle dislocation last season. All three Alabama offensive weapons should come off the board early in this year's NFL draft, and the injuries that they suffered last season shouldn't make teams hesitant to select them in the early rounds. Smith's size is his biggest question mark moving to the next level.
The Cleveland Browns are signing free-agent pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year deal worth up to $10 million on Wednesday after he passed his physical, according to sources. Clowney has been on Cleveland's radar for years, so they finally get their man. The pass-rusher is fresh off another lost season in 2020 due to a knee injury, but he has high hopes with his new team. In eight games with the Tennessee Titans last year, Clowney failed to record a sack but did register six QB hits. The former first overall pick by the Houston Texans in 2014 is fully recovered from knee surgery that he had last December. He can play any position on the defensive line and can be incredibly disruptive on the interior or off the edge, but he'll need to remain healthy to make an impact for a potentially nasty Browns defense in 2021.
Free-agent LB Jadeveon Clowney (Titans) agreed to a one-year deal with the Cleveland Browns Wednesday, April 14, that could be worth around $10 million after incentives.
Former Dallas Cowboys free-agent pass-rusher Aldon Smith is visiting the Seattle Seahawks on Wednesday. Smith is a potential low-risk, high-reward defensive addition for the Seahawks if he checks out. Smith returned to the NFL in 2020 and had 50 QB pressures and five sacks for Dallas. The 31-year-old's promising career was derailed for years due to off-the-field issues, but he managed to play in 16 games for the Cowboys last year and was impressive in his return to action after a long layoff. Smith was among the best pass-rushers in the league in his first two seasons in the NFL, but that was all the way back in 2011 and 2012.