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. EXPLORING LIFE WITHOUT MARTIN IN TAMPA BAY
The Buccaneers are going to re-sign All-Pro running back Doug Martin to a contract extension, right?
He wants to stay in Tampa Bay. General manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter have gone on record stating they want Martin to remain a Buccaneer.
The two sides are likely $2-3 million per year apart in negotiations and they hope to close the gap next week when Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg meet with Martin’s agent, David Dunn, in Indianapolis. Martin probably wants a contract that is close to what DeMarco Murray made last year when he left Dallas for Philadelphia.
Can you blame him?
Martin is 27 years old and this will be his lone opportunity to cash in on a new contract either with the Bucs or another team in free agency. If Martin will be risking his health by running into 300-pound grown men, he’d rather do that at $7.5 million per year than at $5.5 million.
The problem is that the Bucs don’t believe he’s worth as much as Martin, who made $2,159,668 in the final year of his contract in 2015, thinks he is. They look at his four years in Tampa Bay and see two Pro Bowl seasons sandwiched around two disappointing campaigns.
While he rushed for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns last year in the first year in Koetter’s offense, Martin has not even put two good seasons back-to-back yet in his career. In fact, the only consecutive years he had that were similar in production were his worst two in 2013 and ’14 – two injury-plagued seasons in which Martin rushed for less than 500 yards.
Although the salary cap website, Spotrac.com figures Martin is worth $6.9 million per year, suggesting that a four-year, $27.75 million deal is fair market value, the Bucs won’t overpay Martin just because he had a good year in 2015. That’s a position PewterReport.com has reported before. With NFL free agency just over two weeks away from starting, if Dunn, Licht and Greenberg don’t meet in the middle the Bucs are content with letting Martin hit free agency to gauge his true value.
The market actually dictates what a player is worth, which is whatever one team is ultimately willing to pay for that player’s services. It takes just one team to give Martin what he wants from a financial standpoint, and then he will have to decide if he wants to stay in Tampa Bay and play for less.
Or will Licht and Greenberg be willing to raise their offer depending on a legitimate offer Martin receives on the open market? Right now, the Bucs are only negotiating against themselves. That changes on March 7 when Dunn can start officially fielding offers from other teams if Martin hasn’t been re-signed by Tampa Bay.
The Bucs risk losing Martin the minute free agency starts, although there are other free agent running backs that will be attractive to other teams and might come cheaper. Martin’s high price tag may scare off some teams in the early going, and that may limit his options and force him back to Tampa Bay.
Chicago’s Matt Forte, New York’s Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, Miami’s Lamar Miller, Detroit’s Joique Bell, Washington’s Alfred Morris and Arizona’s Chris Johnson are the biggest names in free agency this season. Dallas and Washington are among the most running back-needy teams in free agency this year, followed by Houston, Tennessee, Indianapolis, Carolina and New England.
The Buccaneers immediately joins the mix if Martin leaves in free agency for a team like the Cowboys or Redskins that are looking for a speed back and have owners that like to make big splashes in free agency and really open the checkbook.
So what would happen if Martin decided to take the money and run – literally?
Let’s examine that scenario in this week’s SR’s Fab 5 to get you prepared for it in case it happens. That’s exactly what Licht and new director of player personnel John Spyteck and director of college scouting Mike Biehl are doing.
The first question that needs to be asked is if there is a player on the current Bucs roster that could replace Martin. The answer is no, as the coaches and front office are in agreement that Charles Sims, who is heading into his third NFL season, is best as a change-of-pace back and an outlet receiver in the passing game rather than a workhorse back like Martin is.
Martin had 288 carries and 33 receptions last year, while Sims had 107 carries and 51 catches. Without Martin, Sims’ workload might increase to 150 carries and 70 catches, but that’s likely his optimum level for maximum effectiveness. The Bucs would need to find a bell cow runner to be the team’s feature back and handle two thirds of the carries.
Miller would be the most logical replacement as he has rushed for 1,971 yards and 16 touchdowns over the past two years for the Dolphins. While he has game-breaking speed, evidenced by a run of 97 yards in 2014 and an 85-yarder this past season, Miller is not the tackle-breaker that Martin is, despite being 5-foot-10, 225 pounds.
Yet Miller is younger, as he turns 25 on April 25, and he doesn’t fumble as often as Martin does. Miller has four lost fumbles in his four-year career, while Martin has six career fumbles, including four last year.
Miller only rushed for 194 times last year for 872 yards (4.5 avg.) after rushing for 1,099 yards on a career-high 216 carries (5.1 avg.) in 2014. Because his running style more closely resembles that of Sims than Martin, he’s not the perfect replacement – and he’ll likely cost over $5 million per year.
While not as explosive, the 6-foot, 222-pound Ivory is the most powerful feature back on the market that is under the age of 29 (New England’s LeGarrette Blount is 29 and Forte is 30). Ivory turns 28 on March 22 and is coming off three straight seasons with the Jets in which he rushed for at least 820 yards, including a career-high 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns on 247 carries (4.3 avg.).
Morris is the last power back in free agency, but his production has been in steady decline since rushing for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns on 335 carries as a rookie in 2012. Although he has never missed a game with the Redskins, Morris does have 1,078 career carries in four years, which is a lot. He rushed for just 751 yards and one touchdown on 202 carries last year, and Morris’ longest career run is 48 yards. He certainly wouldn’t replicate Martin’s production in Tampa Bay if he was signed by the Bucs to be his replacement.
Players like San Francisco’s Reggie Bush, Green Bay’s James Starks and Arizona’s Chris Johnson are more complimentary backs like Sims, and that’s not really what Tampa Bay would need to replace Martin.
A quick look at the 2016 NFL Draft reveals that there are only a handful of workhorse backs available this year, and a slew of complimentary, change-of-pace backs, which the Bucs already have in Sims.
Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott could wind up being the only running back to carry a first-round grade this year. With back-to-back seasons with at least 273 carries for 1,800 yards with a combined 41 touchdowns, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Elliot has the ideal blend of size, speed and power – although he will likely measure closer to 5-foot-11, 220 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine next week.
Elliott will likely be drafted in the top 20, and a blazing fast 40-yard dash time in the 4.3-4.4-range could boost his stock into the top 10. With the Bucs having pressing needs on defense at defensive end and cornerback, Tampa Bay does not want to spend its first-round pick on a running back to replace Martin.
The second running back to come off the board should be Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, who helped lead the Crimson Tide to a national championship with 395 carries for 2,219 yards (5.6 avg.) and 28 touchdowns last year. Henry is a massive running back at 6-foot-3, 242 pounds. His heavy workload at Alabama combined with his big frame could cause him to wear down quickly in the NFL as he invites contact and absorbs a good deal of punishment.
Henry is a powerful, downhill runner that breaks a lot of tackles, and it will be interesting to see how he times in the 40-yard dash. Former NFL big backs like Brandon Jacobs and Ricky Williams ran in the 4.5-range, while Blount ran a 4.7. If Henry’s 40-yard dash time is in that realm he could be a late-first-round pick, especially for a team like New England or Carolina, who like power backs.
One running back that could be around near the top of the second round when Tampa Bay is on the clock is Arkansas’ Alex Collins, who happens to be my favorite running back in this year’s draft class. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Collins is the closest thing to Elliot – or Martin – in this year’s draft class. He’s got quick, sudden feet, instant acceleration, good speed and power galore.
Aside from Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden, Collins, a junior entry, is the only other rusher in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards in his first three seasons, finishing his Razorbacks career with 3,703 yards and 36 touchdowns on 665 carries (5.6 avg.). A bigger version of DeAngelo Williams in his prime, Collins rushed for 1,577 yards and 20 touchdowns on 271 carries (5.8 avg.) as Arkansas’ feature back without Jonathan Williams, whom he split carries with in 2013 and ’14. Williams, a senior and a candidate for the third round after rushing for 2,321 yards and 16 touchdowns in his Razorbacks career, suffered a season-ending foot injury in August and was unavailable this season.
Collins had 17 games with over 100 yards rushing, including 10 last year. He rushed for 173 and a career-high five touchdowns on 16 carries (10.8 avg.) against Tennessee-Martin in a 63-28 victory. Collins, who hails from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. also had some great showings against some of the SEC’s elite defenses.
He rushed for 105 yards and a score in a 54-46 four-overtime victory against Auburn, 130 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-3 win against Missouri, 141 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-14 win at LSU, 151 yards and a touchdown in a 28-21 overtime loss against Texas A&M, 154 yards and two scores in a 24-20 victory at Tennessee.
While he was held to just 26 yards on 12 carries in a 27-14 loss at Alabama, Collins did rush for 108 yards in a 53-52 overtime win at Ole Miss that featured one of the craziest runs you’ll see to convert a fourth-and-25 situation near the end of the game. Check out Collins’ highlights from his junior season below to see that play and several other amazing runs.
Collins ended his college career in grand style as he was the Liberty Bowl MVP with a career-high 185 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries (8.0 avg.). I was at that game cheering on my alma mater, Kansas State, which had no answer for Collins, who also had a 73-yard kick return against the Wildcats, in a 45-23 loss to Arkansas. While K-State’s defense lacks the athletes found in the SEC it was still impressive to witness Collins’ speed, power and determined running style in person. As the highlight video will attest, Collins juked and barreled through several Wildcats defenders in his final game as a Razorback.
With six runs of 50 yards or more in his career, including a pair of runs that topped 80 yards, Collins would be an ideal candidate to replace Martin in the draft if it came to that. PewterReport.com still believes that a deal can get done prior to the start of free agency, although we’ll know more after the face-to-face meetings between the Bucs and Dunn in Indianapolis.
If Martin hits free agency, the chances of him remaining a Buccaneer slide down to 50-50 at best and the pool of ideal candidates to replace him isn’t deep. But I like Collins the best out of the available options.
FAB 2. BUCS HAVE FAMILIAR OPTIONS AT SAFETY POSITION
While much of the discussion this offseason is upgrading the defensive end and cornerback positions in Tampa Bay, the Bucs will also need to address the safety position. The team currently has only three safeties under contract for 2016 – veteran Major Wright and unproven youngsters in Kimario McFadden and Gerod Holliman.
As PewterReport.com reported on Thursday, the Bucs have some interest in possibly re-signing starting free safety Chris Conte, who was fourth on the team in tackles with 78 along with two forced fumbles and two interceptions, if the price is right. Bucs general manager Jason Licht will talk to Conte’s agent in Indianapolis next week at the NFL Scouting Combine to see where they stand in terms of contract demands.
Conte signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million last year and is an unrestricted free agent, in addition to Keith Tandy, who was a sixth-round pick in 2012 and has primarily been a backup and special teamer. It is unknown whether the Bucs will attempt to re-sign Tandy.
Tampa Bay’s starting strong safety, Bradley McDougald, is a restricted free agent, and it is believed that he will likely get a one-year tender offer from the team as he didn’t develop as quickly as the Bucs hoped last year after recording 88 tackles, which ranked third on the team, along with four pass breakups and two interceptions.
While he is the lone experienced safety on the team, it is not a lock that Wright, who is slated to earn $1.75 million in 2016, makes the 53-man roster. Wright was signed in 2014 due to his history with former Bucs head coach Lovie Smith, who drafted him in the third round in 2010 while in Chicago. With no interceptions in either of his two seasons in Tampa Bay, the team is seeking an upgrade in talent and playmaking ability.
The conundrum the Bucs face is that the safety position was poorly coached over the past two years by Mikal Smith, Lovie’s son, who is not a very good coach. In fact, two NFL sources at the Senior Bowl told PewterReport.com that Mikal Smith, who is currently out of football, wouldn’t have had an NFL assistant coaching job if his father hadn’t hired him.
All of Tampa Bay’s safeties combined for just six interceptions over the past two years, which is an embarrassingly low total and certainly justified Smith’s dismissal. The Bucs certainly need more takeaways from their safeties.
So how much better could players like Conte, McDougald and Tandy become with better coaching? That’s something the Bucs front office is curious to see happen under new defensive backs coaches Jon Hoke and Brett Maxie. Hoke actually coached Wright in Chicago from 2010-13, so that could help Wright’s cause in Tampa Bay if he liked him – or hurt his cause if he didn’t.
The same could be said of Conte, whom Hoke coached in Chicago from 2011-14. Even if both Conte and McDougald are re-signed the Bucs will likely add a couple of safeties to the mix through free agency and/or the NFL Draft to compete for the right to start.
Conte and McDougald aren’t the only familiar options to the Buccaneers in free agency at the safety position.
New defensive coordinator Mike Smith coached Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson after Jacksonville made him its first-round pick in 2007. Nelson had seven interceptions in his three years in Jacksonville, including five as a rookie, but didn’t really mature and blossom as a player until going to the Bengals in 2010.
While in Cincinnati, Nelson recorded 23 of his 30 career interceptions, including a career-high eight picks last year. That led to his first Pro Bowl berth at the age of 32. Nelson will be 33 this year, and while his age is not ideal, several safeties have been able to play at a high level into their late thirties, including the likes of Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson and Tampa Bay’s own, Ronde Barber.
Nelson was a durable starter in Cincinnati, missing just three games in six years, but none over the past two seasons. He could definitely help the Bucs secondary from a playmaking perspective as he averaged nearly four interceptions per year with the Bengals.
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Nelson played collegiately at the University of Florida and hails from Melbourne, Fla. He may wish to return to his home state to finish his NFL career, and that could help Tampa Bay’s efforts to sign him at a discounted rate if Smith, head coach Dirk Koetter and Licht are interested in Nelson.
Nelson, who had six tackles and a pass breakup in a 14-13 win over the Bucs two years ago at Raymond James Stadium, had a base salary of $4.1 million last year. I’m guessing that if he comes down significantly from that number that the Bucs may be interested, despite his age. Licht saw firsthand how impatient the Glazers are last month when they fired Lovie Smith. Getting an experienced playmaker at the safety position – even as a stopgap – could help the Bucs for the short term, especially if the Bucs plan on starting a rookie cornerback acquired through the draft.
The Bengals’ other safety, George Iloka, is the player Cincinnati is more interested in re-signing given his age and upside. Iloka turns 26 on March 31 and has Kam Chancellor size at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. If he hits free agency, Iloka will likely make a fortune and expects to be sought after by Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer, who was Cincinnati’s former defensive coordinator.
But Iloka doesn’t have the production that Nelson has. The Boise State product has 189 tackles, 20 pass breakups, five interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in his career, but had just 47 stops, four pass breakups and one interception in 12 games last year. Nelson, who will get paid less due to his age, had the better year in Cincinnati last year.
Of course, if Licht wants to continue building the Bucs with young players, another familiar face is Cleveland’s Tashaun Gipson, who was acquired by new director of player personnel John Spytek when he was Cleveland’s director of college scouting (2010-12). Gipson was discovered by Spytek and the Browns scouts during the draft process and was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010 out of Wyoming.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Gipson will turn 26 in August and has 240 tackles, 22 pass breakups, 14 interceptions, including two for touchdowns and one forced fumble in his four-year career in Cleveland. Gipson earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2014 with a career-high six interceptions, including one against Tampa Bay in a 22-17 win over the Bucs. But his play fell off last year as he recorded just two picks.
If the Bucs feel better coaching and a better supporting cast around Gipson could get him back to his 2014 form he could be a free agent steal. Gipson is a ballhawk who has averaged four interceptions per year over the past three seasons. Gipson signed a one-year deal worth $2.356 million with Cleveland last year as a restricted free agent, and after a lackluster 2015 campaign he could be had for a similar figure again this year.
Licht and Lovie Smith wasted millions of the Glazers’ money with overpaid free agents like Michael Johnson, Josh McCown and Anthony Collins, who underperformed in 2014 and were released after just one year. Conte, Gipson and Nelson would likely come cheaper than the likes of Iloka, Philadelphia’s Walter Thurmond, Kansas City’s Eric Berry and San Diego’s Eric Weddle, and for a value-conscience general manager like Licht, that’s important.
FAB 3. BENJAMIN COULD BE TARGETED AS BUCS RETURN SPECIALIST
Free safety Tashaun Gipson is not the only Browns standout that new Bucs director of player personnel John Spytek was responsible for bringing to Cleveland. Spytek also selected wide receiver Travis Benjamin in the fourth round of the 2010 draft class, and the former Miami star could be one of the sleepers in this year’s free agent class.
The return of Vincent Jackson, Louis Murphy and Kenny Bell from the injured reserve list gives Tampa Bay’s wide receiver corps such a boost that the Bucs may not have to invest in the position this year, but the team should be interested in adding the unique abilities of the 5-foot-10, 175-pound blazer, who possesses 4.36 speed. With new Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter wanting more explosive plays in Tampa Bay’s passing game, Benjamin’s skill set would look good in red and pewter.
Benjamin totaled 109 catches for 1,683 yards (15.4 average) and 10 touchdowns in his four years in Cleveland, including 68 receptions for 966 yards (14.2 avg.) and five touchdowns – all career-highs – last year. The fact that Spytek was in part responsible for drafting Benjamin is an important tie that could help the Bucs lure him in free agency if it sees the same value he brings as I do.
After catching passes from a multitude of mediocre quarterbacks in Cleveland over his career, including Brian Hoyer, Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel, one would think that Benjamin would salivate over the opportunity to play with up-and-coming star quarterback Jameis Winston, who is fresh off his first Pro Bowl and a 4,000-yard rookie season. Benjamin, who hails from Belle Glade, Fla., would probably relish the chance to return to his home state after spending four years in Cleveland, which is known for its harsh winters.
The Bucs have seen Benjamin’s developing talent in person over the last two years. In 2014 coming off an ACL injury he suffered the year before, he caught two passes for 52 yards in Cleveland’s 22-17 victory over Tampa Bay. In last year’s preseason loss to the Browns, Benjamin had four receptions for 39 yards and returned a punt 53 yards for a touchdown at Raymond James Stadium.
In addition to being a potential challenger to Bell and Murphy as a slot receiver, special teams is really where Benjamin’s immediate value would be. At the University of Miami, Benjamin averaged just 5.5 yards per punt return, but did have a 79-yard touchdown. He also averaged 23.2 yards per kick return for the Hurricanes.
Benjamin has fared much better in the return game in the NFL. He’s averaged 26 yards per kick return (18 kick returns for 468 yards), including an 86-yarder touchdown in 2014. The wiry-built receiver also has returned 68 punts for 857 yards (12.6 avg.) with three touchdowns covering 78, 79 and 93 yards in his Browns career.
Tampa Bay’s return game is stagnant and primary return specialist Bobby Rainey was lackluster in that role last year. He’s also an unrestricted free agent and may not return in 2016.
The Bucs have Bell, who had a 99-yard kick return for a touchdown for Nebraska, as a return specialist candidate, in addition to newcomer 5-foot-9, 175-pound Bernard Reedy, who played under Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith in Atlanta. More shifty than fast, Reedy, a native of St. Petersburg, Fla. returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown at Toledo, in addition to three kick return touchdowns, including one covering 91 yards. All of those touchdowns came during his junior year in 2012.
Adding Benjamin would give the Bucs a player that is a proven return specialist at the NFL level, as well as a young, developing receiver that is able to stretch the field vertically. It will be interesting to see if Tampa Bay agrees, and also what price Benjamin fetches on the free agent market.
FAB 4. BOYKIN COULD FILL VOIDS AT NICKEL BACK, RETURN GAME
Each year I have certain favorite draft prospects that I would like to see in Tampa Bay after scouting them in college.
Some of those players eventually make it, such as Michael Johnson and Larry English, who were two defensive ends I liked in the 2009 NFL Draft (and turned out to be mediocre pros). While others don’t, such as defensive tackle Aaron Donald and receiver and return specialist Tyler Lockett, both of whom I campaigned for over the last two years.
One of the players I really liked in the 2012 draft was Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin. The 5-foot-10, 182-pounder had three interceptions in each of his last three seasons for the Bulldogs, in addition to returning 32 punts for 180 yards (5.62 avg.), including a 92-yard touchdown, and 100 kickoffs for 2,660 (26 avg.) with four touchdowns, including two from 100 yards.
Despite having 4.4 speed and great athleticism that he showcased on offense with an 80-yard touchdown run against Boise State and five catches for 71 yards and two scores lining up at wide receiver, Boykin fell to the fourth round in part because of a fractured fibula he suffered at the Senior Bowl. He was selected by Philadelphia where he spent three years before being traded to Pittsburgh last year.
In his four-year NFL career, Boykin has recorded 146 tackles, 37 pass breakups, eight interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, five forced fumbles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. Boykin only saw limited playing time in Pittsburgh for the first half of the season before head coach Mike Tomlin finally came around to playing him after Antwon Blake was being routinely targeted and taken advantage of. Boykin finished the season strong with 25 tackles, five pass breakups, one interception, one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery as Pittsburgh’s nickel cornerback.
The nickel cornerback spot is one that has seen very little production with just two interceptions from the position over the past two years – Leonard Johnson in 2014 and Alterraun Verner in 2015. Despite a high salary and low production, Verner is slated to return this season to compete at both nickel and cornerback, but he’s not a lock to make the 53-man roster.
Adding a player like Boykin can not only help the Bucs out in that capacity, but he could also be a competitor in the return game. Boykin returned 54 kicks for 1,242 yards (23 avg.) in his first two years in the NFL.
Pittsburgh is interested in re-signing Boykin. Now that Chip Kelly is gone in Philadelphia, vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, who helped draft Boykin in 2012, is back in power after being stripped of his personnel authority by Kelly last year. The Eagles might be another suitor in free agency.
I’d like to see the Bucs join in the bidding as Boykin would add athleticism, competitiveness and playmaking ability to Tampa Bay’s secondary and special teams.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• New Bucs director of player personnel John Spyteck is not only familiar with the likes of Browns safety Tashaun Gipson and receiver Travis Benjamin from his days in Cleveland. Spytek also helped draft right tackle Mitchell Schwartz in the second round. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Schwartz is poised to hit free agency and will be one of the more sought after offensive linemen.
The Bucs may not have a pressing need at right tackle with Demar Dotson and Gosder Cherilus on the roster, but Dotson turned 30 last year, and is entering the final year of his contract. Cherilus will be 32 this summer, has chronic knee issues and is also in the last year of his contract.
If the Bucs wanted to take a step towards solidifying their offensive line for years to come with a younger player at right tackle, the 26-year old Schwartz wouldn’t be a bad option. Reserve offensive tackle Kevin Pamphile is slated to move to left guard when Logan Mankins eventually retires, so the team needs another young tackle.
Schwartz made $2.356 million in the final year of his contract in Cleveland and could triple that amount per year when he hits free agency. The Bucs are flush with salary cap room with $49 million, according to OverTheCap.com.
• Although no final decision has been made, it doesn’t look like cornerback Sterling Moore is part of the team’s plans moving forward. Moore, 26, signed a one-year deal worth $1.525 million last year and entered the starting lineup in the middle of the season as the cornerback carousel spun in Tampa Bay all season. But by the end of the year, Moore’s play had dipped, and he’s regarded more as a depth cornerback rather than an ideal starter.
So why not re-sign Moore? We’re hearing there were some chemistry issues last year that may be behind the team’s desire to move on. Moore wasn’t a bad apple in his only season with the Bucs, rather he just wasn’t an ideal fit.
The Bucs are lacking a lot of enthusiasm for re-signing cornerback Mike Jenkins, but aren’t ruling it out. The team brought in former Miami cornerback Brice McCann, who was released earlier this week, but he’s viewed more of as a potential candidate for depth rather than to start if he is signed.
• The Buccaneers probably won’t be re-signing defensive tackles Henry Melton and Tony McDaniel – both of whom are unrestricted free agents. Both Melton and McDaniel were solid, but not spectacular. The 29-year old Melton made $3.75 million last year after signing a one-year contract. The 31-year old McDaniel signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million last August after being cut from Seattle.
Melton had 30 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in a reserve capacity last year, although he did start one game against Atlanta after Gerald McCoy suffered a broken hand. McDaniel posted 25 tackles and one sack last year as a backup nose tackle.
The Bucs want to get younger – and thus cheaper – in the reserve ranks at defensive tackle where Akeem Spence and Will Gholston are heading into contract years. Keep an eye on Cincinnati defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, who was coached by new Bucs defensive line coach Jay Hayes.
Thompson is a big, 6-foot-2, 315-pound run stuffer out of Clemson where he notched just 4.5 sacks in four years. He has just three sacks in four years with the Bengals, but has accumulated 53 tackles as a reserve lineman. The Bucs need another nose tackle in the mix as both Clinton McDonald and Spence are coming off season-ending injuries.
Thompson, who is coming off an ACL injury he suffered in the Bengals’ season finale, will likely come cheap – likely around $1 million per year – but won’t be ready until training camp. Yet he could be a good pick up that is familiar with what Hayes wants out of the nose tackle position.
Due to his quickness, Thompson, 26, has also seen time at the three-technique defensive tackle spot, replacing Pro Bowler Geno Atkins in the starting lineup two years ago. Although he didn’t record any statistics against Tampa Bay in Cincinnati’s 14-13 victory in 2014, he helped cause center Garrett Gilkey to commit four penalties and botch a couple of snaps.
• I’m also hearing that the Bucs will likely part ways with fullback Jorvorskie Lane, who suffered a gruesome broken leg last year against Chicago. Lane, 29, is an unrestricted free agent after signing a one-year deal worth $585,000 last year. The team will likely address the fullback position this offseason by signing a veteran and also with a rookie during Day 3 of the 2016 NFL Draft or with an undrafted free agent.
Kansas State’s Glenn Gronkowski, the younger brother of New England Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, is the highest-rated fullback in this year’s draft with a fifth- or sixth-round grade. Wisconsin’s Derek Watt, the younger brother of Houston Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt, and Northwestern’s Dan Vitale carry similar grades.
Georgia’s Quayvon Hicks blocked for Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, and carries an undrafted free agent grade, as does Georgia Tech’s Patrick Skov and Michigan State’s Trevon Pendelton.
• Although we no longer have the weekly PewterReport.com Chats on Friday, our staff will be hosting several PR Chats this offseason with the first one following the NFL Scouting Combine and prior to the start of NFL free agency in early March. Look for an announcement in next week’s SR’s Fab 5 for the day and time of that free agency PewterReport.com Chat.