The Buccaneers' inability to secure defensive talent other than safety Dashon Goldson has many fans on edge. Losing two starters from the defensive line has made the tension and stress levels rise even more. Is there a plan? Can the Buccaneers come out as winners in free agency? What will Dominik do to improve the defense?
The actions – or lack thereof – by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers thus far in free agency have some fans abandoning their cars atop the Skyway Bridge getting ready to jump, and as of Saturday afternoon, general manager Mark Dominik isn’t answering the emergency crisis hotline. An answer may be coming soon if Dominik and the Jets can work out a trade for superstar cornerback Darelle Revis, but tension is building each hour that passes – and another free agent CB signs elsewhere.
In the meantime, the natives are getting restless, and with the departure of defensive end Michael Bennett and defensive tackle Roy Miller, combined with the lack of any cornerback additions, the luster of signing safety Dashon Goldson has quickly worn off.
The Buccaneers were a complete defensive Jekyll and Hyde in 2012. The team was No. 1 in the NFL against the run, but dead last against pass, it was almost unfathomable that there could be such a huge disparity between the two. And the Bucs coaching staff last season was just as bewildered. On two occasions last season, PewterReport.com asked defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan if the emphasis on stopping the run was affecting the team's ability to play pass defense. Sheridan said no both times, and said in fact it should benefit the pass rush as stopping the run on first and second down normally put the opposing offense in third-and-long situations which should be wins more often than not for the defense.
Since last Tuesday, the Bucs have lost their most productive pass rusher in defensive end Michael Bennett, and a big run-stuffing defensive tackle in Roy Miller. Bennett was also super against the run, notching 18 tackles for loss, which was the second-most in Tampa Bay last season.
So how does a team allow two of its better defensive players to walk away in free agency? And why would a team allow two of its better players to get away for relatively small contracts by NFL standards?
Sources told PewterReport.com that the organization liked both players but believe it can upgrade the positions with more productive players. Over the last three seasons, Tampa Bay has been very poor at getting to the quarterback and has not recorded 30 sacks or more in any season during that span. What has been a constant over the last three years? Bennett and Miller.
While a solid space-eater in the middle, Miller hasn’t had a sack since 2010. That is two years where he hasn’t sniffed the quarterback. Of course an argument can be made, how many nose tackles in the NFL get sacks? Very few. But Tampa Bay wants more pressure from that position. It's the same thing with Bennett PewterReport.com was told. Bennett was the team's best pass rusher, but nine sacks in 16 games is far from elite. Bennett could flash at times then disappear just as quickly. He had four of his sacks in two games against Dallas and Philadelphia.
Aside rom allowing Miller and Bennett to flee, Tampa Bay has failed to address the cornerback position, which was the biggest area of need. Sean Smith, Dominique Cromartie-Rodgers, Greg Toler, Derek Cox, Keenan Lewis and Antoine Cason are all off the board in free agency. Re-signing E.J. Biggers is looking pretty good to some Bucs fans at this point.
So far in free agency the Buccaneers appear worse on paper than when the season ended with a 7-9 record. Sure, Goldson most likely will be a huge upgrade at the safety position, but he and strong safety Mark Barron can’t cover the whole field. Wide receiver Kevin Ogletree and tight end Tom Crabtree may very well be productive contributors on offense, however, neither play cornerback.
PewterReport.com has been told the Buccaneers just didn’t value the free agent cornerbacks the same way that many in the media or even the fans did. And when you look at the deals that Cromartie-Rodgers, Cox and Smith received, the money was much lower than predicted prior to free agency. The Buccaneers weren’t going to spend money just for the sake of spending money, no matter how desperate for cornerback help they are. Is that a mistake? Time will tell.
Many have also wondered why cornerback Eric Wright is still on the roster, but with the ruling on Friday by a mediator that Tampa Bay can void the remainder of Wright’s contract due to his suspension for Adderall, the release is just a formality. However, Wright could very well be back in the starting lineup come opening day in September. Not at his current salary of $7.75 million, but in the lineup and a member of the Buccaneers at a reduced price nonetheless. Depending on the Revis outcome, the Buccaneers may not have a choice but to bring Wright back for at least one season.
Even with the black plume of smoke seen hanging over One Buc Place the last few days by some fans, Dominik and the Buccaneers can still come out smelling like roses with a trade for Revis and finding a good cornerback or two in the draft. They could also add some pieces to the defensive line via free agency still then address it more in the draft.
While the Saturday deadline for the $1 million roster bonus for Revis has passed, a trade deal is still in the works, according to sources. The annual NFL Owners Meeting kicks off Monday in Phoenix and the two sides most likely will meet face to face and get a deal done. If it hits a snag by chance, Dominik and Tampa Bay will be scrambling and the dark cloud will grow larger. Dominik and the Buccaneers need the Revis deal to happen or suffer the wrath of the Buccaneers fan base and more losses on Sundays this fall.
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