The Buccaneers’ blockbuster trade in which the team acquired cornerback Darrelle Revis from the New York Jets for a first-round pick in 2013 and essentially a third-rounder in 2014 – along with signing Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Goldson in free agency – totally revamps Tampa Bay’s secondary.
And that’s a good thing, especially considering the Bucs had the worst-ranked pass defense in the NFL a year ago, surrendering an average of 297.4 yards per game and finishing the season 38 yards shy of allowing the most passing yards in any season in NFL history.
Tampa Bay entered the 2012 season with Aqib Talib and Eric Wright as its starting cornerbacks, E.J. Biggers as the team’s nickel corner, and Ronde Barber in his first year at free safety alongside rookie strong safety Mark Barron, who was Tampa Bay’s first-round pick. The Bucs felt good about their secondary until the unit struggled in Week 2 against the New York Giants.
Although Wright returned his first and only interception as a Buccaneer 60 yards for a touchdown to help build a 24-13 lead at halftime, Giants quarterback Eli Manning torched Tampa Bay’s secondary for 510 yards and three touchdowns in leading New York back for a 41-34 come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter. It would only get worse as Talib would be suspended four games for using the performance-enhancing drug Adderall and eventually traded to New England for a fourth-round draft pick in 2013.
Wright was also suspended four games due to unauthorized Adderall use and then suffered an Achilles injury late in the season. Wright missed a total of six games down the stretch and finished the season with a disappointing 37 tackles, seven pass breakups, one fumble recovery and one interception after signing a five-year, $37.5-million contract last March.
By the end of the year, the Bucs were starting Biggers, undrafted free agent Leonard Johnson and Danny Gorrer, and also using former seventh-round draft pick Anthony Gaitor extensively late in the season. Tampa Bay’s secondary gave up 12 combined passing touchdowns to the likes Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Denver’s Peyton Manning, Philadelphia rookie Nick Foles, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and St. Louis’ Sam Bradford in a five-game losing streak from November 25 – December 23.
The acquisition of Revis and Goldson changes everything for the better.
Goldson, who signed a five-year, $41.25-million deal with $22 million guaranteed, has intercepted 14 passes and forced five fumbles in his six-year NFL career, and is a real enforcer against the run with 346 career tackles.
“We always try to find unique and it’s rare instances when you can add a player of this quality and we felt like Dashon was one of those,” said Bucs general manager Mark Dominik. “Over the last couple of seasons, he has been to Honolulu, elected as a Pro Bowl member, which is a rare class to go to two years in a row.
“He was also franchised by the San Francisco 49ers, which made him very untouchable. We had planned and hoped for the opportunity to pursue Dashon Goldson but certainly we were excited when the 49ers did not place the franchise tag on him this year and allowed him to hit free agency and us to pursue him.”
Revis, whose nickname is “Revis Island” due to his ability to be placed on a proverbial island and shut down opposing teams’ best receivers in one-on-one man coverage, gives the Bucs a true playmaker at cornerback. The four-time Pro Bowler, who was signed to a six-year extension worth $16 million per season with no guaranteed money, has picked off 19 passes and forced three fumbles in his six-year NFL career.
Revis is expected to team with Wright, who recently took a pay cut and a shortened contract to stay with the Bucs in 2013, to become Tampa Bay’s starting cornerbacks in 2013. Wright was scheduled to make $7.75 million in 2013 and was under contract through 2016, but is now operating with a one-year, $1.5-million deal.
“Now that Eric (Wright) is back in the fold that is one more number for sure,” Bucs head coach Greg Schiano said. “Eric Wright is a starting cornerback-caliber talent. He just had some bad luck last year. I’m excited. I think he is going to come in here and he is going to work hard and perform well. God-willing he stays healthy, I think he is capable of playing well.”
With Revis and Wright set to start for the Bucs at cornerback and Goldson teaming with Barron, here’s how Tampa Bay’s starting secondary will look in 2013:No. 1 CB Darrelle Revis – 5-11, 198
Revis is a supreme, playmaking, shutdown cornerback that allows Greg Schiano and Bill Sheridan the flexibility of being aggressive with blitzes because of his ability to play man coverage. Revis is a ballhawk that is capable of leading the team in interceptions in 2013.No. 2 CB Eric Wright – 5-10, 200
Wright is a good cover corner that benefits from the addition of Revis by defending lesser, No. 2-caliber receivers in man coverage. Wright should be motivated by being in a contract year and needs to stay healthy and produce. He’ll have plenty of balls thrown his way as opposing QBs will stay away from Revis.FS Dashon Goldson – 6-2, 200
The two-time Pro Bowler upgrades the free safety position. Goldson is an enforcer against the run and the pass like former safety John Lynch was. He’s a sure tackler and a ballhawk that can be the single high safety in Cover 3 or an in-the-box presence against the run.SS Mark Barron – 6-2, 213
Barron will not only benefit from a year’s worth of experience under his belt after recording 88 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble, but will also be able to learn from Goldson, who has a similar skill set and body type. Barron is expected to take a big step up in production in 2013.No. 3 (in nickel defense) CB Leonard Johnson – 5-10, 202
Johnson saw significant playing time as an undrafted rookie in 2012 and was a turnover machine with three interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Johnson will compete with Ronde Barber – if he’s re-signed – or the team’s 2013 draft pick for the nickel cornerback role.
Despite the acquisition of Revis, the Buccaneers must still address the cornerback position as veteran nickel cornerback E.J. Biggers left Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent. There is a chance that Barber could return for a 17th NFL season and become the Bucs’ nickel cornerback and give Tampa Bay three proven veterans at the top of the depth chart.
Regardless of whether the Bucs re-sign Barber or not, the team will spend at least one draft pick on a developmental cornerback. With Revis aboard, the Bucs have more flexibility in the upcoming draft and may not feel the pressure to take a cornerback early unless they are convinced that player would be the best available on the draft board.
The Bucs like several cornerbacks in the 2013 NFL Draft, including Alabama’s Dee Milliner and Washington’s Desmond Trufant, but both players are expected to be first-round draft picks. Tampa Bay also likes Houston’s D.J. Hayden, Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, UConn’s Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Rutgers’ Logan Ryan, San Diego State’s Leon McFadden and Cal’s Marc Anthony.
Schiano said that a rookie cornerback could come in and compete for playing time right away in his system.
“I don’t think it’s any more different than anyone else’s system,” Schiano said. “We were fortunate last year. You look at something that usually doesn’t happen. You have three rookies come in and start all 16 games. It might be a little naïve to say, ‘Let’s go do it again.’ But you really want to get guys that are capable of coming in here, especially with those early picks.
“If they aren’t starting, they are playing a substantial role on Sundays. That’s the goal. If it ends up being a cornerback – just like the guy that started at Will cornerback – that’s about as complicated as it can get and Lavonte [David] did an extremely good job. So did Mark [Barron], and safety is very complicated – more so than corner. Both of those are more complicated than cornerback. If that’s the way the draft ends up going, I think that guy would be capable – whoever that guy is.”
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