Last week we covered 2019 Free Agent to be, Donovan Smith. This week we look at the next Tampa Bay Buccaneer facing free agency questions.
In 2015, the Buccaneers entered the draft with the leagues worst record and bottom rankings on both sides of the ball. After going all offense with the first three picks, GM Jason Licht decided to look at defense. The 4th round isn’t exactly ideal for finding day one starting talent, but this ended up being one of the rare exceptions. LSU Linebacker, Kwon Alexander’s name was announced and he was officially a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
When Mason Foster left for the Washington Redskins as a unrestricted free agent in 2014, he left a void at a crucial position in the Bucs defense. Foster wasn’t the most dynamic or flashy player, but he rarely missed tackles. Enter Kwon, the epitome of flashy. Unbeknownst to some, his college career was met with a few concerns that maybe his character, or swag, would get in the way of his focus as a Pro. In fact, there was an actual list posted outside the LSU Athletic Directors office that had a full list of names. A list that some players wished they could avoid. Kwon was on this list of names that coaches warned scouts as being “unfocused” or “selfish”.
Whether that be accurate or meant to motivate, it definitely was not the case for Kwon as a Pro. Potentially, yes it could have been a reason for his low draft stock, but his loss was Tampa Bay’s gain. Kwon made the 2015 All-Rookie team as a Middle Linebacker and became a lethal combo next to All Pro Lavonte David.
Career High’s and Low’s
As impressive as Kwon’s rookie season maybe have been, his sophomore follow up was just as good. Multiple double-digit tackle games, including the NFL double-double against Dallas in week 15 with 11 solo tackles, 10 assisted (21 total) with 2 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. Kwon was coming in to his own and confidence was sky rocketing with both him and the fan base. In addition to his All-Rookie team accolade, Kwon was designated a 2017 NFC Pro Bowl player despite missing several games due to a hamstring injury.
With all the being said, not everything was sunshine and rainbows for Kwon.
His rookie season was almost overshadowed by a failed test for a banned substance. The aforementioned injuries nagged him almost every season of his career. Most notably, in his contract season where it’s paramount for players to show up and play. At this point, all Kwon can do is hope his career leading up to now has shown Buccaneers brass enough for a contract extension.
The Bowles factor
Not only does Kwon have to worry about his durability perception, he has to do so with a new coach. Todd Bowles is a very quiet, yet concise coach. During his press conference, he was asked about plans for keeping the defense a 4-3 or moving to a 3-4. “Versatile” was the keyword in his response. Though somewhat vague, it does leave the door open for players that some may feel wouldn’t fit a 3-4 design.
For the sake of discussion, let’s say the Defense moves to a predominantly 3-4 scheme. Where does this leave Kwon? Ever since his years at LSU, Kwon has been a mike 4-3 Linebacker. However, and thankfully for him, he would definitely have a home in a 3-4 scheme. Essentially, a “MIKE” Linebacker is needed in both 4-3 and 3-4 design. Worrying about him not being in the Bucs plans fit wise is one box we can un-check.
As previously reviewed Donovan Smith’s potential for return, we had to identify cap space impact versus expected contract. For middle linebackers, the cost isn’t as back breaking as it would be for a left tackle. The average per year for middle linebackers is about $7M per season, $12M guaranteed over the course of the contract. To compare that to another Linebacker, that would be in the Danny Trevathan territory.
The talented, yet oft injured, Kendall Beckwith may not be ready to step in. I don’t see a way that Kwon isn’t a Buccaneer come April when all the dust settles in free agency.