Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the odds-on favorite to be selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2015 NFL Draft. However, Winston likely won’t be in Chicago to shake NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand and hold up a Bucs jersey as he wants to be at home in Bessemer, Ala. with his family.
Winston has caught some flak from some in the media about his decision not to attend. At Florida State’s pro day on Tuesday, Winston explained his decision to want to stay at home on April 30.
“To be with my family,” Winston said. “We really haven’t made that decision yet because there has been a lot of pressure, but my grandmother can’t travel. She has Type-2 diabetes and has had multiple surgeries. I want her to be there. She’s been a critical part of my life – both of my grandmothers. My mom’s mom raised me. She passed away when I was 14. She’s my motivation.
“My dad’s mom is fighting diabetes and she’s my motivation. I bought her a lift chair to make her smile. I want the people that have been there from Day 1 to be there to enjoy my moment. It’s a celebration to me and a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will look forward to spending with my family.”
George Whitfield, Jr., Jameis Winston’s quarterbacks coach and trainer this offseason, said that his prized pupil and the likely first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft told ESPN that the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner plans on making a statement by throwing the ball at his pro day workout.
“The biggest thing he wanted to do today was make a statement,” Whitfield said. “Yes, a lot of people feel like they know where he’s going [to the Buccaneers], and that may seem clear cut. But he wants to treat this process as unique as every other element of the process. Nothing is going to be taken for granted. He wants to come out and attack it like he does everything else.”
Whitfield said that with Winston quitting baseball and focusing on football, his mechanics have improved this offseason.
“This is the longest Jameis has had to be a football player full-time,” Whitfield said. “Right now he would be in the middle of baseball season, closing out games and hitting home runs. Now we’re trying to refine his footwork and shorten it up a bit and sharpen the mechanics. He’s natural in everything he does, but he wants to be more refined.
“You saw at the Combine, that it’s a little unprecedented for a prevailing No. 1 quarterback to come in and do everything. He did it, and sure enough, he’s going to come in today and push this to the max. This is going to be a heavyweight workout with extra innings. People should get comfortable because we are going to be in here for a while. He’s going to attack this thing with all sincerity.”
Despite the Tampa Bay Buccaneers not being terribly active in free agency, the team likely won’t get any compensatory draft picks in 2016. Defensive tackle Henry Melton signed a one-year, $3.75 million contract in Tampa Bay. That’s slightly more than former Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn received in Atlanta with his one-year, $3 million deal.
Linebacker Bruce Carter’s four-year, $17-million deal will likely eclipse anything that former Bucs middle linebacker Mason Foster, who remains unsigned, will get in free agency. Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, Tampa Bay’s second-round draft pick in 2011, also remains unsigned and will likely only command a one-year, league-minimum deal when he latches on with a team.
Tampa Bay didn’t truly suffer any losses in free agency that weren’t offset with its own signings – albeit minimal – so there likely won’t be any compensatory picks next year. Releasing players like defensive end Michael Johnson doesn’t count in the secret, objective formula the league uses for determining compensatory picks, either. The player has to be a true free agent loss for a team to receive a compensatory pick.
The salary cap figures are in for some of the latest free agent signings in Tampa Bay, according to multiple websites. Here’s the breakdown:
Linebacker Bruce Carter’s four-year, $17-million deal is really a one-year deal worth $4.25 million. He received a $3 million base salary with a $1.25 million roster bonus. That money is guaranteed for 2015. The final three years of his contract, which include a base salary of $3.5 million in 2016 with a $750,000 roster bonus, and base salaries of $4.25 million in 2017 and ’18, aren’t guaranteed.
If Carter doesn’t transition well to the middle linebacker position, the Bucs could part ways with him after 2015 without any salary cap ramification whatsoever. A great contract structure by general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg.
Tampa Bay safety Chris Conte signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. His $1 million base salary and his $250,000 signing bonus are guaranteed. His deal is very similar to that of Major Wright’s two-year contract, which is worth $3 million with the first year total of $1.25 million ($1 million base salary, and $250,000 roster bonus) guaranteed in 2015.
Defensive tackle Henry Melton signed a one-year, $3.75 million contract in Tampa Bay. Melton’s base salary is $2.25 million with a $1 million signing bonus and a $500,000 roster bonus.
None of the contracts signed by the Bucs free agents this offseason come with any dead salary cap hits in 2016 if the team wants to part ways with the players next year. Tampa Bay has learned their lesson after paying recently released defensive end Michael Johnson $7 million to play in Cincinnati this year.
The Buccaneers passed on overpaying for offensive linemen in free agency, and gladly watched the likes of some average players like guard Mike Iupati, tackle Bryan Bulaga and the versatile Orlando Franklin cash in on lucrative deals worth $7 million or more per year. Tampa Bay’s free agent plans this year include targeting more mid-tier players, believing that the talent discrepancy between a player like Franklin and Stefen Wisniewski, a versatile lineman from Oakland whom the Bucs are targeting, isn’t as big despite the fact that mid-tier free agents can be signed for millions less per year.
Wisniewski has played center in Oakland for the past three seasons, but was a standout guard at Penn State, and also played guard during his rookie season with the Raiders. The Bucs signed Evan Dietrich-Smith to play center last year and believe his play will be improved in his second year in Tampa Bay.
Where the Bucs need help is at right guard, where Patrick Omameh underwhelmed last year in his first season as a starter. That’s where Tampa Bay sees Wisniewski fitting in along the offensive line if he ends up signing with the Bucs. The fact that the 6-foot-4, 307-pound lineman is also well versed at center helps the Bucs tremendously and brings value to the team, but Tampa Bay plans on using him to fill the right guard spot.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers inquired about Dallas free agent running back DeMarco Murray, but are not heavily interested in signing the NFL’s leading rusher from a year ago. Murray will likely wind up making nearly $8 million per season, and is being pursued by Dallas, Jacksonville and Oakland the most in free agency. After being burned by overpaying for mediocre talent in free agency last year, Tampa Bay is taking a more cautious and frugal approach this year, and Murray’s price tag is simply too high.
The Bucs are looking to improve their 29th-ranked rushing attack from a year ago by bolstering the team’s offensive line through free agency and the 2015 NFL Draft, but also by upgrading the talent at the running back position. Tampa Bay is not sold on the notion of oft-injured starter Doug Martin returning to his rookie form and will be looking to find another running back capable of creating more big runs on his own by breaking tackles and eluding defenders with more speed and quickness than Martin possesses.
It took Martin until the last game of 2014 for him to become the Bucs’ leading rusher, and he finished the season with 494 yards and two touchdowns on 134 carries (3.6 avg.). If Tampa Bay does not add another running back in free agency, it could turn to the draft, which is stocked with running back talent through the third day.
Charles Sims, last year’s third-round pick, is expected to take on a larger role on offense, and the Bucs re-signed restricted free agent Bobby Rainey to a one-year deal. Seldom used Mike James is still on the roster, but Tampa Bay wants to add more speed and playmaking ability to its running game, and James and Martin are believed to be the two slowest backs on the team.
The Buccaneers made a run at Chicago Bears defensive tackle Stephen Paea on the first day of free agency before he signed with Washington. Paea was a second-round pick by head coach Lovie Smith in Chicago, and recorded a career-high six sacks last year. He was virtually unblockable by the Bucs in Chicago’s 21-13 win over Tampa Bay last year, recording three tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.
Paea signed a four-year deal worth up to $21 million with $15 million guaranteed, according to ESPN.com. The Bucs viewed Paea as a rotational defensive tackle capable of playing both the three-technique and nose tackle positions in Tampa Bay, but he would serve as the primary backup for Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy at the three-technique spot. Instead, Paea will get the chance to start as a 3-4 defensive end in Washington, which is why he chose the Redskins over the Bucs and other teams that were bidding for his services.
In an attempt to find a fourth defensive tackle to back up McCoy and replace Da’Quan Bowers, who served in that capacity last year, the Bucs are hosting another former Smith draft pick in Chicago, Henry Melton, today at One Buccaneer Place. He played last year in Dallas and recorded five sacks and two fumble recoveries. Melton has 20.5 sacks, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles in five NFL seasons. He made the Pro Bowl in 2012 after recording six sacks and two forced fumbles.
As expected, the Buccaneers passed on dishing out – and perhaps overpaying – big money for high-profile free agents on the first day of NFL free agency in 2015. PewterReport.com advised fans that were hoping to land guard Mike Iupati, right tackle Bryan Bulaga or versatile lineman Orlando Franklin that the best option for Tampa Bay would be to draft and develop offensive linemen rather than overpaying for mediocre talent in free agency. The Bucs were aware of the fact that 15 out of the 16 Pro Bowl offensive linemen last year were drafted by their teams. The one that wasn’t, Philadelphia left tackle Jason Peters, was acquired via a trade with Buffalo – not in free agency.
The Bucs learned their lesson last year about overpaying for the best available talent in free agency, whiffing on the top three free agents the team signed a year ago – left tackle Anthony Collins, defensive end Michael Johnson and quarterback Josh McCown. McCown was 1-10 as a starter and was released last month. Collins was cut on Tuesday, and Johnson could still be on the chopping block.
As a result, the Bucs decided to pass on Iupati, Franklin and Bulaga, choosing to bid on just one high-priced target, defensive end Trent Cole, who ultimately signed a two-year, $16 million deal with Indianapolis. The Bucs didn’t like Iupati in pass protection, especially with the thought of drafting a rookie quarterback like Florida State’s Jameis Winston. Tampa Bay didn’t think Franklin was good enough to pay an average of $7 million per year. The same with Bulaga, who decided to re-up with the Packers.
The Bucs wasted enough money last year with mediocre talent, and didn’t want to repeat those mistakes again. Two of the team’s more reasonable signings, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and cornerback Alterraun Verner, proved to be Tampa Bay’s best free agent additions in 2014. That’s why the Bucs are targeting more mid-tier free agents this year, lining up visits with Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter, Oakland lineman Stefen Wisniewski, Titans defensive end Derrick Morgan and two former Chicago Bears draft picks under Lovie Smith, defensive tackle Henry Melton (now with Dallas), and Bears safety Chris Conte.
When asked about Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston on ESPN’s Mike and Mike radio show on Tuesday, and whether the Buccaneers should draft him with the first overall pick, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Winston “scares me.”
“I don’t know yet,” Mayock said. “I take (Winston) No. 1 from a talent perspective. I’m all over it from a talent perspective, but I would have to do more homework off the field because, right now, he scares me. He was the face of Florida State football, and he continued to make bad decisions off the field.”
On the field, Mayock admires the fact that Winston won the Heisman Trophy and a national title in 2013 as a redshirt freshman and compiled a record of 26-1 as a starter. But the draft guru admitted that Winston’s penchant for throwing interceptions is bothersome. His 18 interceptions in 2014, which was eight more than the previous season, were tied for the second-most in the nation.
“I think Jameis throws way too many interceptions,” Mayock said on the show. “Obviously, he has the ability to close games. … He was at his best when the best was needed and I give him credit for that. But he threw (a combined) seven interceptions vs. Louisville and Florida, and it could have been 14 if the other team could catch the ball. He throws the ball up for grabs, in my opinion, way too often. That’s my big issue with him on the field.”
Mayock said that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is competing with Winston to be the first overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, has solid character, but has his own concerns about his transition to be a pocket passer in the NFL.
“My concern, again, is that most of that pocket awareness feel is innate,” Mayock said. “I think you’re born with it or you’re not. So, it’s a little bit of a projection. I love the kid, and I think both of them will certainly be gone in the first six picks and probably in the first two.”
To read more of Mayock’s comments on Winston and Mariota, click this link.
The Buccaneers have hired University of Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian as the team’s quarterbacks coach, replacing Marcus Arroyo, who was let go last week. The news was first reported by Sports Illustrated’s Thayer Evans. Bajakian was an offensive quality control coach with Lovie Smith in Chicago from 2004-06, so he has ties to Tampa Bay’s head coach.
Bajakian left the Bears in 2007 to become the offensive coordinator at Central Michigan where he coached quarterback Dan LeFevour and wide receiver Antonio Brown. The Chippewas offense set several school record. Bajakian became the offensive coordinator for Butch Jones and the Cincinnati Bearcats in 2010 and then moved on to become the offensive coordinator for Volunteers in 2013 when Jones became UT’s head coach.
Bajakian was in the running for some collegiate head coaching opportunities prior to joining Tampa Bay’s coaching staff.
Tampa Bay also hired Andrew Weidinger as the team’s offensive assistant coach. He spent the last seven years with Atlanta, including three with new Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The Bucs will be retaining Ben Steele, an offensive quality control coach last year. Like Weidinger, he will also be an offensive assistant coach.