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March 2, 2014 @ 9:14 pm
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Pewter Report 2014 Bucs' Free Agency Preview: Special Teams

Written by Mark
Mark Cook


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With the start of 2014 NFL free agency fast approaching, PewterReport.com reviews the Bucs' current roster and previews potential fits at each position. Up first is special teams. Will the Bucs be adding a new kick returner?
With free agency scheduled to begin at 4:00 p.m. on March 11, PewterReport.com beings you our annual free agency preview by position. Starting Monday, we will take a look at what Bucs will become free agents at each position, who the Bucs have under contract at the previewed position, then take a look at five players that could fit into Tampa Bay's plans, known as the Bucs' Best Bets. Up first is the special teams preview.


Place kicker Rian Lindell, last season’s replacement for an injured Conner Barth is set to become a free agent, but most likely will be allowed to walk with Barth set to return after spending the last eight months rehabbing a torn Achilles suffered on the eve of training camp last summer.

The Bucs have a handful of special teams contributors who will be free agents, including linebackers Dekoda Watson, Adam Hayward and Jonathan Casillas.

New Bucs head coach Lovie Smith told the media shortly after being hired that Tampa Bay would put a heavy emphasis on special teams, particularly the return game. The Bucs return Eric Page, Jeff Demps and Skye Dawson but you can be assured that Tampa Bay will be looking to bring in some help via free agency.

Page, at least statistically, had a good 2013 season averaging 24.9 yards on 22 kickoffs and also 10.9 yards per punt return. The issue with Page, at times, was his decision making. Several times last season Page made mental errors as far as fielding punts too deep instead of letting the ball go into the end zone, and also struggled with indecisiveness when deciding to bring the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs. Page also fumbled three times last season, losing two, drawing the ire of former head coach Greg Schiano.

Dawson was used sparingly on special teams last year as a returner and most likely will go into camp with his concentration on trying to make the team as a backup wide receiver. Demps is the fastest player on the team and has some limited experience returning kicks in college, but didn't get that opportunity in Tampa Bay last year.

As mentioned, Barth appears to be close to being fully recovered and should step back into his role as starter. The Buccaneers missed Barth’s accuracy early last season as Lindell missed a handful of very makeable kicks, killing momentum in some games. Lindell did settle down as the season progressed, but Tampa Bay’s front office will most likely welcome back Barth’s consistency with open arms. Barth has two years left on his contract and is set to earn $3.15 million in 2014 and 2015.

Tampa Bay punter Michael Koenen had a solid season in 2013, but nothing spectacular, and carrying a $3.25 million salary cap hit could have the new front office evaluating the position. Koenen’s average was middle of the road (44.2), although his kickoff touchback percentage was among the league’s best, ranking 6th in the NFL.

Tampa Bay will no doubt be looking for an explosive, game-changing type of returner as both Smith and new special teams coordinator Kevin O’Dea have talked extensively about the importance of special teams. Smith was fortunate to have Devin Hester in place while in Chicago, and with Hester being a free agent, it makes sense that one of Tampa Bay’s first phone calls in free agency will be to Hester’s agent.

But Tampa Bay may not just be content with a kick returner and could also look for a punter who can flip field position. While Koenen is a steady directional kicker, he has never been known for the booming, 50-plus yards teams loves to have when punting from near their own goal line.

Tampa Bay would also be wise to re-sign a couple of their special team standout linebackers. Adam Hayward was the special team’s captain last season and is a valuable linebacker who can play all three positions. Jonathan Casillas started playing well down the stretch before being injured late in the season and Dekoda Watson is a proven punt blocker with three in the past two years, and is as athletic a specimen of a linebacker as you will ever see. We'll have more on those three later this week in PewterReport.com's free agent linebacker preview.

1. Chicago KR/PR Devin Hester
Hester is the NFL’s all-time leader in return touchdowns and although he only had one touchdown last season, it was an electrifying 81-yard punt return against the Redskins at FedEx Field. Hester also led the league in kickoff returns (52) and yardage (1,442 yards) and ranked seventh in yards per punt return (14.2). He may be beginning to slow down just a touch, but still has some gas left in the tank, and is a huge fan of Smith. Hester wearing red and pewter next season makes a lot of sense and most feel the Buccaneers will do their best to bring his talent to Tampa Bay.

2. Kansas City PR/WR Dexter McCluster
McCluster, a Largo, Fla. native, and just 25 years old, fits the bill of what the Bucs will be looking for to improve their return game and give a boost to their special team. In 2013, McCluster averaged 11.8 yards per punt return, returning two for touchdowns, including an 89-yarder. At age 25, McCluster may actually be a better fit for the Buccaneers, as along with his youth compared to Hester, McCluster added 511 yards on 53 receptions and two more scores as a receiver.

3. Seattle PR/WR Golden Tate
Buccaneers fans will remember Tate as he helped spark the turnaround last season in the Bucs 27-24 loss to the Seahawks with his dynamic second half punt return that eventually led to a Seahawks touchdown. Tate averaged 11.5 yards on 51 punt returns, and like McCluster, is also a threat as a receiver, nabbing 64 receptions for 894 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. Tate has expressed an interest in returning to Seattle and likely would command a much bigger contract that Hester or McCluster. But with Tampa Bay needing help at the receiver and returner position, Tate makes some sense.

4. Baltimore KR/WR Jacoby Jones
Jones is only 29, but an eight-year NFL veteran, and has been a solid NFL receiver, but an even better kick returner. Last season, Jones averaged 28.8 yards per kickoff return and 12.8 on punt returns. Jones returned one kickoff for a touchdown last season, giving him four for his career and has also added four punt return touchdowns since entering the league in 2007. His 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl two years ago set an NFL Super Bowl record.

5. Carolina PR/WR Ted Ginn
Ginn, like Jones and Tate, would also provide another receiving threat to go along with return kickoffs (23.8 avg.)  and punts (12.2 avg.). Ginn had seven career touchdowns as a returner during his Miami and San Francisco before joining the Panthers last season. Ginn totaled 36 pass receptions for 556 yards and six TD receptions in Charlotte in 2013. Ginn also takes a very good player away from an NFC South rival, something NFL general manager’s love to do.

1. Chicago KR Devin Hester
Hester’s stats speak for themselves and the Buccaneers won’t be the only team calling on the opening day of free agency. Hester will go down as one of the best ever to return kicks in the NFL, and despite being 31, proved last year he can still be a game-changer in the return game.

2. Seattle KR/WR Golden Tate
Tate will make his money in free agency as a receiver, not a kick returner, but the added bonus fills two roster spots with one player, which is a value that coaching staffs and front offices love. The odds of leaving Seattle aren't great, however the Seahawks have a number of decisions to make as they are up against the salary cap.

3. Kansas City KR Dexter McCluster
McCluster being only 25 will certainly help his cause in free agency. With superb return skills and versatility on offense, the Tampa Bay area native will draw plenty of interest when free agency opens next week.

4. Seattle PK Steven Hauschka
Hauschka was one of the NFL’s best kickers in 2013, making all but two kicks (33-of-35) last season. Late reports out of Seattle suggest the Seahawks won’t be placing the franchise tag on him, leaving him to test the waters of free agency.

5. Indianapolis P Pat McAfee
McAfee, like Hauschka, won’t receive the franchise tag from the Colts and will most likely earn a big pay day in the next few weeks. McAfee had a cannon for a leg, although he does punt inside the climate-controlled dome at Lucas Oil Field eight games a year. Even so, with nearly a 46-yard career average, McAfee should be able to cash in.

Up Next: Quarterbacks
Last modified on Wednesday, 05 March 2014 07:51

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    If you are planning on winning games with defense, rushing and opportunistic passing you need a great punter. A great punter can flip field position. Of course we also need a great returner.
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    OK Jon, give me a break. You can not call Banks a bust yet. He was no pro-bowler, but he did not play that bad either. He arguably played just as well as all the CB's drafted ahead of him. That would mean that all of them are the busts, not Banks. Give him another year or two and I think he will evolve into a very solid, if not even very good NFL corner.
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    Well JonnyG at first glance it looks like you didn't like any of the Bucs recent selections. Not sure how the article about Free Agency turned to the Draft but I remember the Benn and Tate debate. After Golden went off the deep end it looked like we made the right choice. Of course it looked like Freemen was going to be the franchise QB we have long sought until he spiraled out of control. Claiborne may prove you wrong and it's way too early on Banks. Those drafting mistakes have really set the team back. Fortunately the choices of McCoy (who some declared a bust), Martin, David and a few others kept it from being a complete washout. I'm for limiting the reliance on high-priced free agents and focus on finding a few late round gems. Haven't had one of those in a while.
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    Keep Barth, Koenen, Watson, Cassillas and draft a KR/PR/WR in the later rounds of the draft. Pick up DE Michael Johnson and LB D'Quell Jackson in free agency. Draft an OT, QB, and CB with the first 3 picks, not necessarily in that order.
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    McCluster and Tate are my two choices. I do not see Demps being in the mix at all.
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    McCluster makes the best sense because he can fill our needs for a third down back at the same time and is only 25 years old. I definitely think Dakota should be retained as a backup for strong side linebacker and as an ace kick blocker on special teams. However, Foster should be playing at SLB this year and we need to bring in a MLB in free agency who can cover passes. We had a MLB as a backup at the start of the season who I pointed out should be playing at MLB because he had the speed to cover passes, which he confirmed by being the MVP of the Redskin Preseason Game and got a pick 6 from the MLB position. Of course stupid Schiano then cut him and left Foster in the middle which was a mistake. We need to get him back or somebody as good in Free Agency. He could play special teams too. However, given Lovie's emphais on Special Teams I am sure Licht will put players on the roster that he knows will be standouts on our Special Teams this year.
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    I wanted Golden tate in the second round of the draft and instead we drafted Arrelius Benn and was hammered by Bucs Fans for ridiculing the pick of Benn, well unfortunately I'm right again about a Bucs Player selected in the draft. So if were keeping score I am right about Freeman, Benn, Adrian Clayborne, Banks and soon to be Glennon. This yr we need to draft one of the blue chip LT's as we can address the other needs in the later rounds or in free agency, Lt's are never available in free agency and when they are you will pay a kings ransom for a average one at best see Brandon Albert this upcoming free agency period for that example
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    I don't think its pertinent to spend a whole lot on special teams upgrades. Count on Connor Barth coming back strong. Hester would be a nice addition, but I wouldn't pay him more than 2.5mil/yr at this stage of his career. Koenen makes way more money than he's worth. We are going to need an accurate punter with an inexperienced QB and the bulk of our talent on defense. I will say this... SIGN DEKOTA WATSON. He is the most versatile and athletic guy in our front 7, blocks punts, and has steadily improved in coverage every year. I would love to see us trade down if khalil mack is not available and pick up CJ Mosley for MLB and move foster to SAM- this allows watson to specialize in pass rushing situations as you can keep L.David, Mosley, and Watson as an edge rusher in the nickel package while allowing foster to specialize for our run D (which has always been his best attribute).
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