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March 9, 2014 @ 1:53 pm
Current rating: 4.50 Stars/2 Votes

Pewter Report 2014 Bucs' Free Agency Preview: DL

Written by Scott
Scott Reynolds


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Free agency kicks off on Tuesday and PewterReport.com is previewing all the units and taking a look around the league at the NFL's best free agents and those that might fit well in Tampa Bay. In this report we preview the defensive line.
With free agency scheduled to begin at 4:00 p.m. on March 11,
PewterReport.com brings you its annual free agency preview by position. PewterReport.com has been taking a look at what Bucs will
become free agents at each position, who the Bucs have under contract at
the previewed position, and taking a look at five players that could fit
into Tampa Bay's plans, known as the Bucs' Best Bets. Today it's Tampa
Bay's defensive line, followed by linebackers tomorrow.

Tampa Bay only has two unrestricted free agent defensive linemen in defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and defensive tackle Gary Gibson. Te’o-Nesheim started 13 games at left defensive end and was a huge disappointment after signing a one-year, $1.323 million contract as a restricted free agent in 2013. Te’o-Nesheim finished the season with just one sack, which came in the season opener and eventually lost his starting job to rookie Will Gholston. He will not be re-signed.

Gibson played for former head coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers and was strictly a backup nose tackle behind rookie Akeem Spence. Gibson played sparingly and turns 32 this year, which means he won’t be pursued in free agency by the Bucs.

Defensive end Adrian Clayborn has 13.5 sacks in three seasons after missing 13 games in 2012 with a torn ACL. He rebounded from his injury to record six sacks last year, but Smith called him a solid defensive end – not a great one. The contracts for Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers, a former second-round pick, are up at the end of this year, and neither may be re-signed.

Bowers has been a bust, notching just five sacks in three years and getting passed on the depth chart by Gholston, who recorded two sacks as a rookie and wound mes at left defensive end. The Bucs also have Steven Means, the team’s fifth-round pick last year, who rarely saw the field, in addition to unheralded ends Scott Solomon and Marvin Booker.

Tampa Bay has a two-time Pro Bowler in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has erupted for 14 sacks in the past two seasons, including a career-high nine in 2013. McCoy is the unquestioned leader of the defensive line and is the key to Smith’s Tampa 2, one-gap defense with his ability to penetrate.

The depth at defensive tackle behind McCoy is thin. Akeem Spence enters his second season as the team’s nose tackle, although the Bucs may try to find him some competition in free agency as his pass rushing skills are limited. The Bucs also have Everett Dawkins, David Hunter and Matthew Masifilo on the roster at defensive tackle.

Tampa Bay desperately needs a defensive end with the speed to get to the quarterback off the edge, according to new head coach Lovie Smith. The Bucs haven’t had a player like that since defensive end Simeon Rice produced double-digit sacks for the team in 2005 before getting injured in 2006. Smith isn’t sure the team has that player on the current roster and early reports suggest that the Bucs are in hot pursuit of Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson.

Aside from a stud defensive end, the Bucs also need some talent behind and next to McCoy at defensive tackle. If an injury would strike McCoy, the entire play of the defense would suffer. The Bucs want to get a pass-rushing nose tackle to help the inside push on passing downs and better depth is needed at both tackle spots.

1. Cincinnati DE Michael Johnson

The 27-year old Johnson is one of the most sought-after free agents this year. Despite not being as accomplished as Minnesota pass-rusher Jared Allen, Johnson does have 26.5 sacks over the past five years, including 15 over the past two. The Bengals franchised the 6-foot-7, 270-pound Johnson last year after he recorded 11.5 sacks, but he only recorded 3.5 sacks last year and the Bengals will likely move on from him. Johnson would give Tampa Bay a big, athletic speed rusher off the edge that the team is currently missing. Reports are that the Bucs will be making a big play for Johnson in free agency, but he already has drawn interest from seven other teams thus far.

2. Minnesota DE Jared Allen
Allen is one of the most prolific pass rushers of modern day football with 128.5 sacks in 10 years, including double-digit sacks in each of the last seven seasons. He’s also forced 29 fumbles in his career. The Bucs could use an edge rusher like Allen, but aside from wanting a king’s ransom in free agency, Allen will also turn 32 in April and wants to play for a legitimate playoff contender, which all but eliminates Tampa Bay. The only chance the Bucs would have of landing Allen would be the fact that he played for defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier when he was the head coach of the Vikings.

3. Chicago DE Corey Wootton
Smith drafted Wootton in Chicago five years ago and has seen him develop over the years. In 2012, Smith’s last season with the Bears, Wootton had a career-high seven sacks and two forced fumbles, but his production dipped in last year as he recorded just 3.5 sacks with two fumble recoveries and one forced fumbles. Still, at age 26 and blessed with a 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame, Wootton has the size, athleticism and experience that NFL teams could pursue in free agency. The Bucs might go after Wootton if they fail to land some of the bigger-named, more productive defensive ends in March, but they are expected to have some stiff competition from the Bears.

4. Chicago DT Henry Melton
Melton was a Pro Bowl defensive tackle in 2012 with six sacks, but tore his ACL in late September last year and was lost for the season. Complicating matters is the fact that Melton was arrested for a misdemeanor in October and is not fully recovered from knee surgery. Still, at age 27, Melton, who was the Bears’ franchise player in 2013, could be a nice wave defensive lineman for Tampa Bay as he recovers unless he can break the bank in free agency and take advantage of a somewhat weak defensive tackle market. It’s unclear if the Bucs would want his services, but he does have a past with Smith from their time together in Chicago.

5. Seattle DE Michael Bennett
The Buccaneers made a huge mistake in not re-signing Bennett last year as the team struggled to produce a pass rush from the defensive end position. Adrian Clayborn finished with six sacks, but Bennett’s replacement, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, only had one. Meanwhile, Bennett opted to take a one-year, $5 million deal with Seattle where he won a Super Bowl. Now, after leading the Seahawks with eight sacks, Bennett wants a long-term lucrative deal although many NFL teams consider him to be a good, but not great pass rusher. Bennett would be better than any defensive end currently on the Bucs.

1. Cincinnati DE Michael Johnson
The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Johnson is a freak of an athlete, running a 4.69 and possessing a huge wingspan. But he has underachieved in all but one of his five NFL seasons, and that should concern some teams about his motor and future production.

2. Minnesota DE Jared Allen
Allen turns 32 this year and although he is still a high-level pass rusher, his productivity could diminish at any moment. Allen won’t be returning to Minnesota and wants to cement his NFL legacy by playing for a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2014.

3. Dallas DT-DE Jason Hatcher
Hatcher was a solid defensive end in the Cowboys’ 4-3 scheme, but took his game to another level as a defensive tackle in the 4-3 defense, notching a career-high 11 sacks and two forced fumbles earning a Pro Bowl berth. The Cowboys really want to re-sign him.

4. Seattle DE Michael Bennett
A year after leading the Buccaneers in sacks with nine, he produced a team-high eight for Seattle and helped the Seahawks win their first Super Bowl. Bennett wants more than a one-year deal and will be looking to get paid substantially in free agency.

5. NY Giants DT Linval Joseph
The 26-year old Joseph is a big, powerful run-stopper that has the ability to get to the passer. Over the past three years the 6-foot-4, 323-pounder has compiled nine sacks and the Giants would love to have him back.

UP NEXT: Linebackers

Last modified on Sunday, 09 March 2014 17:50

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  • avatar

    Good points Buctebow and FLBoy84. I have always liked Z. Hood, and remember wishing we would draft him, and would absolutely LOVE to draft Donald! What if we got Hood or Joseph, and M. Johnson in FA then went out and drafted Donald. That would really solidify our D-line and give us some solid back-ups too. Would have McCoy, Donald, and Joseph or Hood at DT. We would have M. Johnson, W. Gholston, A. Clayborn and D. Bowers at DE. Would be a very solid front with solid backups to rotate in. Just my opinion, and I know I am in the minority, but I really do not want M. Bennett. I think he was overpaid already and now will be even MORE overpaid. Although I think he will be able to produce with some talent around him like he did in Seattle, I think M. Johnson has the potential to be a lot better.
  • avatar

    Johnson or Allen are the only guys on this list I'd touch with a 10 ft pole.
  • avatar

    I agree we need to go with Johnson (or get Bennett back) despite the high cost because we need a double digit sacker in the beginning of our season. I believe with superior coaching this year Gholston will end up being the future starter at the strong side DE. He got two sacks at the end of the year. If he had played in all the games as a starter last year instead of Teo (how stupid of Schiano to keep him in there with one sack all year!!! DUMB) then Gholston would have been a double digit sacker last year. I hope we can get our Clemson underachiever finally coached up to be the productive sacker we have expected too, and with Johnson we would have a great rotation at DE to keep fresh sackers there putting pressure on the opposing QB all the way to the end of the fourth quarter.
  • avatar

    I want Donald from the draft. It looks like we are not going to have a superstar DE anyway, so why not have two great disrupters at DT, it might make the difference, with chaos on the inside, the DE's may play above their normal levels.
  • avatar

    Another value DT is Ziggy Hood, who seems really miscast in the 3-4 in Pittsburgh. Think he could really thrive playing in Lovie's 4-3 behind or beside McCoy.
  • avatar

    Now those Bengals wear some bad looking uniforms.
  • avatar

    Would love to get the 2 Bengals, M. Johnson and Collins, and L. Joseph. that would be a great start to FA. Woud help us along both the DL and the OL. Go BUCS and spend your money wisely!!
  • avatar

    Posted this on the Red Board too, so I'll paraphrase it here. Something that's often overlooked by supposed football "experts" and us casual fans is the scheme a player's asked to play in. Zimmer's scheme in Cincy (and the one he's going to run in Minn) requires the DL to occupy their blocker first to guard against the run before trying to get to the QB. Zimmer only had 2 guys in the seven yrs he was in Cincy to record double-digit sacks, and that was Johnson and Geno Atkins in 2012. That's it. So before we judge a player on his stats alone, might want to see what he was asked to do first. Whether the Bucs are after Johnson or not remains to be seen, but you have to think they've reviewed the technique, scheme, production, etc. of the guys they think will be productive in Lovie's and Frazier's aggressive defense.
  • avatar

    I think Michael Johnson is the move. It's weird how PR wrote his bio. He only had 3.5 sacks so the team has decided to move on without him??? I guess. He lost the starting DT that started next to him last year and endured double teams. So his production dropped off in sacks. His overall production remained consistent with his previous 11.5 sack season. AND, he also added 9 passes defensed and 3 forced fumbles. The Bengles have a lot of $$ going out to resign players. Johnson is going to get big $$ and they don't have it. There are several posts from the Bengles faithful, and they are sick to be losing this guy. It reminds me of us with Bennett last off-season. Johnson is a commodity. He's young, he's healthy, he's a talented player, and he's a high character guy. He is NOT cheap. Our 4-12 record could hurt our chances. But, this looks like need meets want head on. I just don't see the down side.
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