SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL:
FAB 1. THE BUCCANEERS WON’T TRADE GLENNON
The drafting of quarterback Jameis Winston last year did not signal the end of Mike Glennon’s days as a Buccaneer. Nor did the fact that Winston showed durability in going wire-to-wire as a 16-game starter that threw over 4,000 yards and became a Pro Bowler as a rookie.
Glennon will remain in Tampa Bay through 2016, which is the final year of his contract. We’ve written about this before, but Bucs general manager Jason Licht told PewterReport.com on the record at the Senior Bowl that he would not trade Glennon this offseason and that he intends for the 6-foot-6 signal caller to be Winston’s backup through the 2016 campaign.
“I would hate to be in a position where your quarterback goes down for however many games it is and then you’re basically throwing the towel in, like a lot of teams did this year,” Licht said. “It wasn’t because they wanted to throw in the towel, that’s just the way it happened, without naming teams. Those were the same teams, a lot of them, that were inquiring about Mike Glennon at the time.”
Ten teams – Tennessee, Cleveland, Dallas, Baltimore, St. Louis, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Houston, Pittsburgh, Denver – were without their starting quarterback for at least four games due to injury last year. Of those teams, four – the Titans, Browns, Cowboys and Ravens – are picking in the top 5 in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Just three teams – the Texans, Steelers and Broncos – made the playoffs, and Denver made it to Super Bowl 50 thanks to quality play from their respective backup quarterbacks.
Licht saw the value of having a capable backup last year when Arizona, his former team, started the 2014 season 9-1 before Carson Palmer tore his ACL. The Cardinals proceeded to go 3-5 down the stretch, including a first-round exit in the playoffs with a 27-16 loss at Carolina, with Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley at quarterback.
“Mike Glennon is just so valuable to us right now while we have him, while he’s under contract, I feel like we have two starting quarterbacks with him and Jameis,” Licht said. “If you just go out and get a mid-round pick for him, the chances of the mid-round pick working out or drafting a quarterback and that pick working out, the odds aren’t in your favor. Unless there’s [an offer] that blows us away, I think you lean towards keeping him and having him on your roster.”
That would mean the Bucs receiving a first-round pick or a high second-round pick for Glennon, which won’t happen in a draft class that features three quarterback prospects in Cal’s Jared Goff, North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch that project as potential first-rounders.
Licht knows that Glennon, who turned 26 in December, has aspirations to become an NFL starting quarterback, but he would like to see him remain in Tampa Bay as Winston’s backup beyond 2016. Should Glennon hit free agency after this season and sign elsewhere the Bucs would get a compensatory draft pick that could be as high as a third-rounder depending on how lucrative his contract is and how much he plays next year. The only downside for Tampa Bay is that the compensatory pick wouldn’t come until the 2018 draft. Licht doesn’t mind waiting, though.
“In an ideal world, you’d like to have Mike sign long term,” Licht said. “You’re getting the value a little bit later [with the compensatory draft pick] but you’re also getting the value of having him on the roster in the short term too, and then a pick eventually if you go that route.”
When the Bucs claimed former New Orleans quarterback Ryan Griffin off waivers prior to the start of the 2015 season, Licht’s plan was to eventually have him succeed Glennon as Winston’s primary backup in time. The fact that Griffin essentially served as the scout team quarterback this year kept him from taking any reps in Dirk Koetter’s offense.
Griffin will get his first true, meaningful practice time in Koetter’s offense this offseason during the OTAs and mini-camp, and then some live game action in the preseason. Koetter loves Glennon’s football I.Q. and his physical tools and believes he’s similar to Atlanta Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan.
Glennon will also be showcased in August in the preseason games, but not to boost his trade value. He’s not going anywhere, especially with the Buccaneers believing that with better coaching, some new additions through the draft and free agency and with another year’s worth of experience for the team’s younger players that Tampa Bay can make a playoff run in 2016. In order for that to happen the Bucs will need great quarterback from start to finish – and that also means if Winston goes down with an injury.
Instead, Glennon will be showcased in the preseason to boost his own stock for 2017. The richer the contract he can land in free agency, the higher the compensatory draft pick Glennon will fetch for Licht in 2018. Of course if he wants to go the Jason Garrett route and remain a lifelong backup behind a great quarterback, Licht will welcome that, too. If not, the Bucs expect Griffin will assume the backup QB role next year.
FAB 2. BUCS LIKE THEIR WR CORPS, INCLUDING JACKSON, WHO RETURNS IN 2016
Despite the fact that Tampa Bay didn’t have a receiver that had more than three receiving touchdowns last year, the Buccaneers really like their receiving corps and have a lot of faith in that unit moving forward. While the defensive staff was completely overhauled with the firing of head coach Lovie Smith and the promotion of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the offensive staff remained relatively unscathed – except at the wide receiver position.
Andrew Hayes-Stoker was fired and Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken was hired to replace him as Tampa Bay’s receivers coach and Koetter’s offensive coordinator. The Bucs are expecting Monken to make Mike Evans a sure-handed receiver, continue to develop young receivers Adam Humphries, Kenny Bell and Donteea Dye, and squeeze another productive year out of Vincent Jackson.
That’s right. PewterReport.com can report that the 33-year old Jackson will be back in red and pewter in 2016 – and at his full salary.
While Jackson had his least productive season in five years with 33 catches for 543 yards and three touchdowns in 2015, he missed six full games and parts of two others with a knee injury. When he was in the starting lineup, the Bucs were 4-4 last year. Without Jackson, the Bucs were 2-6, including 0-4 down the stretch when Tampa Bay’s point production fell to 17.75 points per game.
In games in which Jackson played the Bucs averaged 22.3 points per game. In games without him, Tampa Bay averaged just 19.6 points per game. The Bucs have concluded that Jackson’s experience and skill set definitely still have a value in Koetter’s offense.
But can the Bucs justify keeping Jackson with a $9.77 million base salary and a $12.2 million cap hit next year? Yes because the free agent market at wide receiver is relatively weak and it’s not a particularly good draft for receivers, either. The Bucs will likely add a receiver for depth either in free agency or the draft, but are relatively happy with the unit they’ve assembled.
Because of the weak market, Jackson could still fetch a sizable deal in free agency if the Bucs released him. Replacing a talent like Jackson would likely cost as much as it would be to keep a player that has experience in Koetter’s offense and has become a fixture in the locker room, on the practice field and in the community.
Asking for Jackson to take a pay cut when the Bucs are flush with salary cap room would seem kind of petty, so why risk the veteran souring on his situation in Tampa Bay? The 2016 season could very well be Jackson’s last with the Bucs as he has one year remaining on his contract.
As for the future of the position, the Bucs get Louis Murphy back from a torn ACL this year, and get to see what Bell can do after he was essentially redshirted on injured reserve during his rookie season. The team is very excited about Bell’s potential due to his speed and ability to make explosive plays downfield.
“How do you win games? We went back to Southern Miss and talked about explosive plays, don’t turn it over, third-down conversions, touchdowns in the red zone and lost-yardage plays, don’t have them,” Monken said in his press conference discussing visiting Koetter and talking about offense at One Buc Place last summer. “It’s still true today – those are the ways you win. Yards are a part of it, [but] not the big part of it. If you take care of those five areas – well, explosive plays are a big part of it. It’s hard to drive it, and if you’re not explosive, you better be good on third downs so that you can continue drives. It’s all part of it.
“Bottom line is, how can you be explosive? There’s a number of ways. Getting [the ball] to explosive players. Throwing the ball down the field, which Jameis has shown he can do. It’s all of those things. I’ve always thought we don’t need more five-yard plays. Who needs more five-yard plays? How can we be explosive? That’s what the game’s about. People like big plays; I like big plays. So how do we not figure out ways to get explosive plays? That’s fun. That’s fun to me in football. … What isn’t fun about explosive plays and throwing it down the field and guys making plays?”
The 6-foot-5 Evans is one of the Bucs’ most explosive players, posting five 100-yard games last year in his second season en route to catching 74 passes for 1,206 yards and three touchdowns. But Evans was also the most penalized wide receiver in the league with 10 infractions, and led the NFL with 11 dropped passes. Monken’s primary job is to clean up Evans’ game.
“It’s repetition,” Monken said. “That’s all it is. It’s repetition and putting yourself in those positions so that you look at – you know, it’s the routine. That’s all you do. And he’s a talented young man that I think is ascending and has everything in front of him as a player. I take that personally, and I hope he does. Where do you want to be? Where do you want to be in a week, two weeks, in a year, five years? What do you want out of this small opportunity that you have, that the good Lord has blessed you [with]?
“It’s all about routine. It’s a matter of – he has good ball skills, it’s not a matter of that. I don’t think anybody’s saying he doesn’t have good ball skills and the ability to compete for the ball. He wants to do it. He’s talented. I’ve talked to a lot of people about him that have coached him in college and here. I’m excited to get started and I take that personally. My job is to make sure he doesn’t drop the ball.”
Jackson only had one 100-yard game – a 10-catch, 147-yard, one-touchdown effort against Carolina last year – but the Bucs believe having Evans and Jackson on the field together for more than the nine games they were last year will help both receivers produce more explosive plays and help Koetter’s offense score more points, which should lead to more victories. While Evans is considered to be Tampa Bay’s most talented receiver, Jackson is still considered to be the Bucs’ best receiver.
Jackson’s presence on the field has a trickle-down effect. Having two 6-foot-5 receivers as targets helps prevent Evans from being double-teamed, and if he is drawing double coverage, Jackson can still produce in 1-on-1 situations when healthy. And when Humphries, Murphy, Bell or Donteea Dye is on the field, those receivers likely aren’t drawing the best or second-best defender with Evans and Jackson in the lineup, which allows Koetter and Monken to create more favorable match-ups for Winston.
Jackson was missed last season, and he’ll get one more year in Tampa Bay to see if he can help get the Bucs in the playoffs.
FAB 3. NOT MUCH LOVE FOR LOVIE AT THE SENIOR BOWL
PewterReport.com had the opportunity to speak with a few well-connected league sources at the Senior Bowl that had plenty to say about the Buccaneers’ firing of head coach Lovie Smith. And it wasn’t pretty.
One of those sources vehemently defended former defensive coordinator Leslie Fraizer, who said that Frazier got “a raw deal” when Smith stripped him of his play-calling duties and took control of the defense last year, especially after the Bucs defense showed improvement at the end of the 2014 season.
“Everybody could see the progress they were making at the end of that year,” the source said. “I don’t know why Lovie would do that other than ego. It backfired.”
Another source that was familiar with the Bucs’ revolving door in the secondary after watching the team said that Smith’s quick hook was “ridiculous” and that he “damaged the confidence of players like Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner.”
That source said that cornerbacks are taught to have a short-term memory and to move on to the next play as early as Pop Warner and high school football, but the impatient Smith didn’t apply that universal mindset in Tampa Bay. In fact, he did the opposite.
After both Banks and Verner returned to the starting lineup after being demoted, neither was aggressive in coverage and played too conservatively – afraid to take a chance on making a play on the ball and getting beat.
Verner had nine pass breakups and two interceptions when Frazier was calling the plays in 2014, but only had four pass breakups and one pick last year under Smith. Banks had 10 pass breakups and four interceptions, including a pick-six, in 2014 under Frazier, while Banks had just one pass breakup and no interceptions under Smith in 2015.
Smith started six different players at the cornerback position and four different safeties throughout the year and the secondary lacked continuity all season. As PewterReport.com reported on Thursday, Bucs general manager Jason Licht confirmed that both Banks and Verner would be getting a fresh start with the new defensive coaches this year.
“I don’t want to speak in great detail for our defensive coaches but I will say this, they are excited to work with Johnthan Banks,” Licht said. “He’s a big, long guy with really great ball skills. They’re excited to implement him and use his skills in this scheme.
“I got very excited about talking to Mike Smith after we hired him and having a nice conversation with him. He believes that you can’t be really system specific with your players and you have to scheme around your players’ skills. You hear that a lot but it doesn’t happen a lot of times but with him, that’s one of his core beliefs so that’s exciting for a general manager and a scouting department to hear in terms of who we select and who we sign. If he’s a good football player then he’s a good football player. Even Alterraun [Verner], Brett Maxie coached him at Tennessee when he was a Pro Bowler, so maybe he can bring the best out of him.”
That means that Licht and the Bucs won’t have to go out and totally overhaul the cornerback position and that Mike Smith believes there is some talent to work with. Instead of finding three new starting-caliber cornerbacks through free agency and the draft, Licht and the scouts may only have to find one or two to challenge Verner, Banks and promising young player Jude Adjei-Barimah.
Yet another source confirmed to PewterReport.com what we’ve written at the end of the 2015 season – that Tampa Bay’s former secondary coaches – Gil Byrd (cornerbacks), Larry Marmie (nickel cornerbacks) and Mikal Smith (safeties) – were awful and a big reason why the defensive backs played so poorly.
“They were terrible,” the source said. “Frazier, [former Bucs defensive line coach Joe] Cullen and [former Bucs linebackers coach Hardy] Nickerson all found new jobs pretty quickly. Don’t think those secondary coaches are going to get hired anywhere anytime soon around the league.”
As of now, both Lovie and Mikal Smith, Marmie and Byrd are unemployed, while Frazier and Cullen quickly landed in Baltimore coaching the secondary and defensive line, respectively, and Nickerson is coaching linebackers in San Francisco.
Several NFL sources believe that Lovie Smith is done with coaching, especially with another $10 million coming to him over the next two years.
“I thought he was done coaching after he got fired in Chicago, but the Glazers threw so much money at him in 2014 that he had to take it,” said a league source at the Senior Bowl.
And finally, PewterReport.com reached out to several Bucs players to get their reaction to Smith’s firing, especially on the defensive side. No one wanted to go on the record because they think a lot of Smith as a man and didn’t want to come across as bashing him, but any disappointment they might have initially had didn’t linger long when it appeared as if offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was going to be hired as his replacement.
“As long as Dirk was going to get the job I was fine with it,” one prominent Bucs defender said about Smith’s firing, adding that he did not care for Smith’s defensive scheme.
PewterReport.com has also learned that while quarterback Jameis Winston was initially disappointed that Smith got fired, he’s thrilled that Koetter was hired as his replacement and very excited that quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian has been retained.
The buzz PewterReport.com heard was that the Bucs got a great hire in new defensive coordinator Mike Smith, whom several NFL types believe is a better defensive play-caller and coordinator than he was as a head coach.
FAB 4. SENIOR BOWL SCOOP
While at the Senior Bowl, PewterReport.com had the chance to work the sidelines and the stands and get some inside scoop on the participants and some of the top prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft.
• NFL teams can’t believe how much Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook is disliked by his Spartans teammates. It appears like Cook wasn’t named a team captain during his senior year, which at first came as a shock, was for a good reason. He pulled out of the Senior Bowl, which didn’t help his cause. Instead of being a first-round pick, Cook will likely fall to the second round, but NFL teams need to really examine his attitude in interviews.
• While there isn’t a dominant defensive end in this year’s draft, there are several very good ones with Ohio State’s Joey Bosa, Oregon’s DeForest Buckner, Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence, Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah, Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun all carrying first-round grades as potential 4-3 edge rushers. Spence really helped himself with a great showing at the Senior Bowl, and look for Ogbah and Calhoun’s stock to rise with a great performance at the Indianapolis Scouting Combine next month.
NFL scouts love how Spence, who I wrote about in December, plays with a chip on his shoulder and has some nasty to his game. He and Georgia left tackle John Theus got into on the first day with some pushing and shoving. Spence didn’t back down and flashed both speed and power pass rush moves in Mobile, Ala.
• Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman was perhaps the most polarizing figure at the Senior Bowl. Scouts either loved him or hated him. The feeling is that he’ll be overdrafted in the second round due to his physical tools and his potential despite the production not always being there when he’s really a third- or fourth-round talent.
The biggest gripe that scouts had about Oakman was that he looks top heavy with a very developed upper body from the weight room, but skinny, underdeveloped legs. Not having much bulk and muscle below his torso affects Oakman’s ability to anchor against the run.
• Many NFL teams believe that Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander is overrated and doesn’t deserve first-round consideration. One scout knocked Alexander’s ball skills and noted how no team has ever drafted a cornerback that had never intercepted a pass in the first round. That’s right. In two years as a starter, Alexander failed to record a single pick for the Tigers. NFL teams want a cornerback that can shut down a top wide receiver, but also one that can get takeaways. Alexander is considered a second-rounder – not a first-rounder – on some teams’ NFL draft boards as a result.
• Kansas State offensive guard Cody Whitehair will get overdrafted at the bottom of the first round or in the second round. Whitehair, who played left tackle for the Wildcats after an All-Conference year at guard as a junior, has decent size and strength and is a good technician, but lacks athleticism. He can be a good player in the league, but doesn’t have Pro Bowl talent. He’s better suited to be drafted in the third or fourth round.
• After a decent week at the East-West Shrine Game last week, Michigan center Graham Glasgow was exposed in the Senior Bowl. With a 6-foot-5 frame, Glasgow was repeated rocked backwards by defensive tackles that got under his pads and he lost leverage in pass protection. Most NFL teams don’t like tall centers because it makes it difficult for quarterbacks to see over them in passing situations.
Although he’s considered undersized at 6-foot-1, 297 pounds, Michigan State center Jack Allen demonstrated great power, quick hands, a brutal punch and an excellent base in pass protection. Allen also has great speed to pull and get to the edge as a lead blocker in the running game. He’s a slightly shorter Joe Hawley and is going to be a nice surprise for the lucky team that gets the chance to draft him.
• Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins had a dominant week before exiting the Senior Bowl with a minor injury. Rankins has some of the quickest hands of the defensive linemen in this year’s draft. He was putting on the type of show in Mobile, Ala. that Aaron Donald and Grady Jarrett used over the last two years to up their draft stock. Scouts were buzzing that Rankins could now be considered a first-round pick.
• Indiana left tackle Jason Spriggs and Texas Tech left tackle Le’Raven Clark showed good athleticism in pass protection. Clark did a nice job on Spence in a couple of 1-on-1 series with his long arms, while Spriggs showed good tenacity and power in his pass rush. However, Notre Dame defensive lineman Sheldon Day did get Spriggs a few times with an inside spin move.
Aside from new special teams coach Nate Kaczor and his assistant Carlos Polk, the only Buccaneers coaches at the Senior Bowl this year were offensive line coach George Warhop and assistant O-line coach Butch Berry.
• North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz has made a hugely favorable impression on NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl and may surpass Cal’s Jared Goff as the first signal caller taken in this year’s draft. At the very least, both Wentz and Goff appear to be top 10 quarterbacks, which is advantageous for Tampa Bay because it pushes another non-quarterback down the draft board to No. 9 where the Bucs select.
• Ohio State wide receiver Braxton Miller was absolutely killing it at the Senior Bowl and really helped his draft stock. Miller showed off his ultra-quick moves and juked cornerbacks left and right. Miller gained separation on nearly every route he ran and displayed great hands before a calf cramp ended Thursday’s practice early.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht has only been in Tampa Bay for a little over two years, but his hands all over Tampa Bay’s five Pro Bowlers. Licht drafted quarterback Jameis Winston, traded for guard Logan Mankins, and re-signed defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David to lucrative deals that could keep both players in Tampa Bay through 2020 and 2021, respectively. Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg are also working on re-signing running back Doug Martin.
As PewterReport.com first reported on Thursday from Mobile, Ala., Licht met with Martin’s agent, David Dunn, at the Senior Bowl and started contract extension talks. As to Martin’s value, Spotrac did an interesting analytical breakdown at the end of last year and predicted Martin’s next deal to be in the neighborhood of four years at $24.6 million, an average of nearly $6.2 million per season with $9.37 million in guaranteed money.
Martin wants to remain in Tampa Bay and the Bucs want to keep him, but will be looking at his four years as a whole. He has two injury-riddled years in which he rushed for less than 500 yards sandwiched between two Pro Bowl seasons in which he’s rushed for over 1,400 yards.
• When the PewterReport.com crew got to Mobila, Ala. on Monday night we saw an entire table of Tampa Bay’s college scouts at a table at Moe’s BBQ. I went over to toast the Bucs scouts and congratulate them for an amazing feat – finding four rookie starters from a single draft class, which was the case last year with quarterback Jameis Winston, offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander.
Then I told them that the expectation for the Bucs’ scouting department this year was to draft five starters, which drew some laughter. Yet, that is the goal for general manager Jason Licht – although a more reasonable and realistic expectation for an NFL team is to get two starters in a draft class each year.
“[Drafting four starters] doesn’t happen very often,” Licht said. “We set the bar pretty high for ourselves, which is great because we like operating under pressure –at least I do.”
• I had the chance to catch up with Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith at the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla. last week. Smith was watching a couple of former Penn State teammates in the college all-star game and I asked him what travel plans he had for the offseason, noting how tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was vacationing in Paris.
Smith told me that he wasn’t going anywhere outside of an occasional weekend getaway. He seemed unsatisfied with his performance as a 16-game rookie starter last year and wants to play with more consistency in 2016. Smith plans on staying in Tampa during the offseason and working on getting in even better shape and working on his technique.
• While Bucs cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner will be getting a second chance with defensive coordinator Mike Smith, secondary coach Jon Hoke and defensive backs coach Brett Maxie, the team may not be re-signing cornerback Sterling Moore, who is a one-year deal and is slated for free agency.
• The Bucs are giving Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins, who will turn 34 in March, time decide whether he wants to return for a 12th season or not. Mankins has one year left on contract that will pay him $6.75 million and contains a $250,000 workout bonus if he decides to block one more year for Tampa Bay.
If Mankins returns he’ll get his full salary and the team will not ask him for a pay cut because he played so well last year. Mankins told the Bucs’ brass that he was going to come back for the 2015 season in great shape and make the Pro Bowl, as he had done six previous times during his career in New England. Mission accomplished.
• Tampa Bay plans on keeping veteran right tackles Gosder Cherilus and Demar Dotson and letting them battle in training camp for the right to start. The question that hasn’t been answered yet is whether the Bucs will resume contract extension talks with Dotson, who enters a contract year in 2016.
Tampa Bay exchanged contract numbers with Dotson last year before he switched agents, but couldn’t come to terms and pulled the offer when the veteran tackle held out of the OTAs prior to injuring his knee in the preseason opener, which caused him to miss the first half of the season.
• Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht did not hire a director of player personnel at the Senior Bowl to replace Jon Robinson, who was hired to be Tennessee’s general manager two weeks ago. Licht indicated he would take his time looking for the right person.
“There’s potentially [an in-house candidate] and we’re looking at outside candidates,” Licht said. “I don’t want to be in any big rush right now, I just want to make sure I get that right. I have a lot of faith in our current group and those guys did a great job and I don’t want to take away anything from them. Jon Robinson, he was great and one of the first guys I went after, but he wasn’t making the picks. It was a collaborative effort and we have a great scouting staff. I have a lot of faith in these guys. We don’t need to make a hire right now.”
• There will be plenty of NFL action this weekend, so stay tuned to PewterReport.com on Saturday for our coverage of the Reese’s Senior Bowl and on Sunday for Pro Bowl coverage. Be sure to visit PewterReport.com on Monday for a brand new 7-Round Bucs Mock Draft, too, and follow us on Twitter at @PewterReport.