Arians: Bucs will be ‘reloading,’ not rebuilding

  • Covered the Buccaneers since 2009
  • Joined ESPN in 2016

TAMPA, Fla. — Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said Monday that he doesn’t see the Bucs rebuilding but instead “reloading” after their quest to “go for two” after their 2020 Super Bowl LV victory came up short Sunday in a 30-27 NFC divisional-round loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

He said the priority, like last year, will be to re-sign their own in free agency but acknowledged the realities of trying to re-sign all 22 starters on offense and defense again, something that hadn’t been done since the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1979, will be difficult.

“Our [priority] in free agency will be our guys — see how many that we can get back and then build a team from there,” Arians said Monday. “I always look forward to that part of it, and then the draft. Each year is so different and so new. Last year, to get everybody back was amazing. I doubt we can do it all again this year, but we’re sure going to give it our best.”

The Bucs now have 23 players on their 53-man roster set to become unrestricted free agents, including wide receiver Chris Godwin, who played under the franchise tag this season, tight end Rob Gronkowski, running backs Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones and Giovani Bernard, outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, center Ryan Jensen, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston, cornerback Carlton Davis, safety Jordan Whitehead and right guard Alex Cappa. Twelve of those players are over the age of 30.

According to the Roster Management System, the Bucs currently have $10,314,077 in salary cap space in 2022, which is 22nd in the league. But last year, they had just $13 million entering free agency and were able to retain every starter on offense and defense from their Super Bowl team.

Gronkowski, who came out of retirement two years ago to rejoin quarterback Tom Brady, said Monday that he will take the next three to five weeks to weigh his options after signing one-year contracts the last two seasons.

“I mean, the process of the season, of losing the playoffs, whatever it is, the emotions are flying high, your feelings all over the place last night to today,” Gronkowski said Monday. “Seeing all the guys, you know, it’s kind of an emotional battle up and down for sure. I believe you really can’t make a decision in that mindset. The process I would say, is take some time off, recover, let the body heal, see where your thoughts are, see where your feelings are, give it a couple weeks and then go from there.”

Brady isn’t technically a free agent as he’s under contract through the 2022 season, but sources close to Brady told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington and Adam Schefter that he is contemplating retirement. Family will play an integral role in the decision.

The team will give him time to weigh his options while looking at contingency plans. Arians said he is happy with the players they have at the position — Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask and Ryan Griffin — but they will look at outside free agents.

[We’ll] see where we’re heading and wait and see what Tom does. But we’ll be doing our homework, that’s for sure,” Arians said.

“I like what we have, but again, you never know what’s behind Door No. 2,” Arians said. “We kind of went down that road two years ago and there was Tom Brady. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Gronkowski, who said in 2018 he would have retired versus playing with any other another quarterback, said “there could be a scenario” where he’d considering returning even if Brady doesn’t. He finishes the season with only minor “bumps and bruises” (he did, however, suffer cracked ribs and a punctured lung, forcing him to miss five games earlier this season). He loves the closeness of the Buccaneers’ locker room and the mix of youth and experience. But he needs some time to figure things out.

“The decision of playing football — I can’t even really, like I said, I need time to myself,” Gronkowski said. “Whatever Tom does, Tom’s gonna do too. I’m sure that he needs time to himself too to see where he’s in this stage, but we’ll see in couple of weeks, of where I’m at. But right now, I’ve just gotta heal up totally and just see where I’m at.”

Pierre-Paul, who is 33, said he’d wait to make a decision if he’ll continue playing after he undergoes surgery this offseason to repair a torn rotator cuff he played with all season in his shoulder. Jensen, who spent the last four seasons with the Bucs, expressed a desire to remain in Tampa.

“Obviously, I love it here, it’s home,” Jensen said. “We’ll see what happens and figure out what’s going on. For now, we have a little bit of time to figure things out and go forward with what’s going to happen.”

The Bucs are facing not only the realities of possible player departures, but also coaching departures. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich is scheduled for a second interview with the Jacksonville Jaguars for their head coaching position Tuesday, and he interviewed with the Chicago Bears, while defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has interviewed with the Jaguars, Bears and Minnesota Vikings.

“Yeah, I’ve gone through a number of different scenarios in the last few weeks, just in case, and we’ll have to wait and see,” Arians said.

Arians handed offensive play-calling duties over to Leftwich when they came to the Buccaneers in 2019, which was one of the conditions of him returning to coaching after retiring for a year. The delegating helped him manage his health better, but he said there “would be a really good chance” he’d take the role back if Leftwich were to leave. He believes he could handle the role by shifting some of his day-to-day responsibilities to other members of his staff, who have been together a long time.

“It would be a number of different things just with who is on the staff and what we’re doing, [how] we’re compiling and doing the meeting each day and all those things that go with it,” Arians said. “I wouldn’t be doing all of that. So, it’s just a matter of who and what happens in the next few weeks, how we put that staff together.”

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