PewterReport.com continues this series of articles that predicts whether a Bucs veteran free agent will be back with the team in 2011.
LINEBACKER BARRETT RUUD
Ruud, 28, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent when free agency starts. The 6-foot-2, 241-pound Ruud is entering his seventh NFL season.
Ruud led the Bucs in tackles in 2010 with 161 stops. He had six tackles for a loss, two sacks, three quarterback pressures, one interception, four passes broken up, and two forced fumbles. Ruud started all 16 games at middle linebacker.
CAREER UP TO THIS POINT
Ruud has led Tampa Bay’s defense in tackles the last four seasons. There has been a lot of changes that Ruud has had to endure. He has had three different linebacker coaches the past three seasons in Gus Bradley (2008), Joe Barry (2009), and Joe Baker (2010). The Bucs had a failed experiment with Jim Bates’ defense in 2009, although Ruud almost broke the franchise record for tackles in a season that year with 205 stops.
Ruud has also had a lot of different defensive tackles playing in front of him over the past three seasons. With Baker returning in 2011 and the Bucs bringing back the same group of defensive tackles, which includes Gerald McCoy, Roy Miller, Brian Price, Al Woods and possibly Frank Okam, Ruud would finally have some continuity in coaches and teammates that he has lacked since the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
WHY HE COULD RE-SIGN
The Bucs coaching staff loves Ruud and wants him to come back. They would feel much more comfortable heading into the season with the general of their defense coming back rather than trying to have a crash-course for rookie Mason Foster or former practice squader Tyrone McKenzie as the new middle linebacker. The Buccaneers organization loves Ruud’s intelligence and his ability to audible the defense.
One of the reasons the Buccaneers drafted Foster was because they believe he can play multiple positions in their defense, so if Ruud comes back the Bucs will have no qualms with starting Foster as a Sam (strongside) linebacker. Starting Sam (strongside) linebacker Quincy Black could also be a free agent and he easily could see a better marketplace because he could fit into a 3-4 defense. Black, 27, is viewed as an ascending player that the Bucs believe will have more demand in free agency.
Tampa Bay’s players and staff also feel that Ruud will play better in 2011 due to improved play from young defensive tackles McCoy, Miller and Price. Last year the trio was young and battled injuries. In 2009, Ruud had veterans Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims in front of him. In 2008, he played behind Hovan and Jovan Haye. All of those veterans were let go by Tampa Bay with the later two out of the NFL.
Another issue that could help Ruud re-sign with Tampa Bay is there aren’t many teams running a Tampa 2 defense in the NFL, and Ruud is not viewed as a player that can cross over into a 3-4 defense. Thus, many believe there won’t be much of a market for Ruud in free agency. Adding in the lockout and how that will hurt players signing with new teams because they don’t know the playbook, and Ruud could see a disappointing market place.
Ruud will probably seek a contract like the one that Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk signed, a five-year contract that averages between $6-7 million per season. Tampa Bay won’t be willing to pay that. Given the lockout it is extremely unlikely that he would be able to command the big contract that he would like and Pewter Report believes that it won’t take a large contract for Tampa Bay to re-sign him.
Ruud likes his teammates and head coach/defensive coordinator Raheem Morris. He would like a long-term lucrative commitment from Tampa Bay.
WHY HE COULD DEPART
The Buccaneers drafted Foster in the third round and he is starting his career as a middle linebacker. Tampa Bay also likes McKenzie. He was a third-round pick of the New England Patriots in 2009. The Bucs have some young depth at the position with Foster and McKenzie. Plus, Foster could be the long-term starter and getting him on the field early will accentuate his learning curve.
A few months ago the situation was more murky, but with the length of the lockout and holding the draft before free agency Ruud’s options elsewhere in the NFL have shrunk dramatically. Teams aren’t going to be eager to make a change in the play-caller for their defense, so that makes Ruud much more appealing to the Buccaneers. I don’t think Tampa Bay will give him the long-term deal he wants, but I think they will come together on a one-year contract between $ 4-5 million. It also could be a longer contract that gives the Bucs an easy out after one season. Right now, Pewter Report predicts that Ruud will return to Tampa Bay in 2011.