SR's Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:FAB 1. BUCS’ SHAKY DRAFTING HAS FORCED TEAM TO BUILD VIA FREE AGENCY
Lovie Smith saw it first hand in Tampa Bay. As the Buccaneers rose to prominence in the late 1990s, the perennial playoff contender was built through the draft. Hall of Famers like defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks were already on the roster when former head coach Tony Dungy and Smith, who was the Bucs linebackers, arrived in 1996, as were Pro Bowl middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson and Pro Bowl strong safety John Lynch.
But shrewd drafting added the likes of fullback Mike Alstott and cornerback Donnie Abraham to the roster in 1996, running back Warrick Dunn and cornerback Ronde Barber in 1997, cornerback Brian Kelly in 1998, defensive tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland, kicker Martin Gramatica and free safety Dexter Jackson in 1999. The Bucs had several misses in the draft at the wide receiver position, including Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green, and along the offensive line where the likes of offensive tackles Jason Odom and Jerry Wunsch and guard Frank Middleton flamed out after a couple of years.
So it came as no surprise in 2002 when the Bucs had to overhaul their receiving corps and offensive line through free agency in order to reach the Super Bowl. New receivers like Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell were brought in during the 2002 offseason, as were left tackle Roman Oben and left guard Kerry Jenkins. That’s what happens when a team misses in the draft. The team is forced to make up for those mistakes in free agency, and it’s more costly.
While the Bucs landed a Pro Bowl cornerback in Alterraun Verner, Tampa Bay is slated to pay the 25-year old an average of $6.5 million per year. By comparison, All Pro Bucs weakside linebacker Lavonte David, who is entering his third season in the NFL, is still on his rookie contract and is slated to earn $705,000 in base salary in 2014. That is a bargain of epic proportions.
With linebacker Adam Hayward’s departure to Washington in free agency, there are no more players left in Tampa Bay from the 2007 draft that was highlighted by the selections of defensive end Gaines Adams, guard Arron Sears and safety Sabby Piscitelli. Adams passed away due to a heart defect, Sears has battled mental illness that caused the end of his pro career, and Piscitelli lasted just two and a half years in Tampa Bay and has been out of the league since 2012.
The Bucs’ trade of offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah on Sunday signaled the official end of Tampa Bay’s 2008 draft class, that also featured cornerback Aqib Talib (first round) and wide receiver Dexter Jackson (second round), a total bust. Zuttah had a sub-par year in 2013 and was deemed to be too expensive at $4 million per season. As a result there are no contributors from 2008 on the Bucs’ current roster.
The departure of quarterback Josh Freeman, whose NFL career is in a downward spiral, last year meant that none of Tampa Bay’s 2009 draft class remains on the roster.
Tampa Bay’s 2010 draft is highlighted by the selection of two-time Pro Bowler and All Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, but after this season McCoy might be the only player left from the Bucs’ nine-player draft class. Defensive tackle Brian Price and wide receiver Arrelious Benn, both second-rounders, were busts, as was third-round cornerback Myron Lewis.
Wide receiver Mike Williams has been a productive player on the field when healthy, but a person of questionable character and citizenship off the field, and that may cost him his job under Smith. If Williams gets cut this year or next, he would join fullback Erik Lorig and linebacker Dekoda Watson as former starters who are no longer in Tampa Bay from the 2010 draft class.
Even the Bucs’ 2011 draft class is on shaky ground as defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers are in the final year of their respective contracts. Clayborn has been a good, but not great, starter for the Bucs, while Bowers, a former second-round pick, has underachieved and been a bust, as has fourth-round tight end Luke Stocker. Starting middle linebacker Mason Foster and seldom used and oft-injured cornerback Anthony Gaitor are also entering a contract year in 2015 and aren’t locks to return after this season.
It’s possible that McCoy, who needs a contract extension before he hits free agency in 2015, could be the lone Buccaneer standing from Tampa Bay’s draft classes between 2007-11. The Bucs picked 40 players during those drafts, and may only have McCoy, the lone Pro Bowler from that span, to show for it in 2015 as Smith and new general manager Jason Licht are forced to use free agency to fill holes in the roster instead of numerous draft picks from years ago maturing into players entering their prime for Tampa Bay.
It doesn’t mean that all of those players that were drafted by former general managers Bruce Allen and Mark Dominik were busts, but there were many. Talib is a Pro Bowl cornerback, but it took him going to New England for two years to stay out of trouble and take his game to a higher level. Defensive tackle Roy Miller, a third-round pick in Tampa Bay in 2009, is a starter in Jacksonville, as is linebacker Geno Hayes, a sixth-round pick by the Bucs in 2008. Watson will join Hayes and Miller with the Jaguars this year, while Lorig will start for New Orleans.
Still, to possibly have one player remain – McCoy – from a draft class four years ago is quite damning, and is a big reason why the Glazers did some housecleaning with the firing of Dominik, and why they didn’t even consider interviewing director of pro personnel and the former director of college scouting, Dennis Hickey, as his replacement.
Players that were supposed to be entering their prime for the Buccaneers are no longer on their roster – or any roster in the NFL for that matter. That’s why Smith and Licht had to begin the overhaul of the roster in free agency, especially since the team only has five selections heading into the 2014 NFL Draft.FAB 2. IT’S TIME FOR TAMPA BAY TO LOCK UP McCOY WITH A CONTRACT EXTENSION
With all of the salary cap room that has been created in 2014 and 2015 with the departure of pricey players like Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, left tackle Donald Penn, right guard Davin Joseph and offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah, it’s time for the Buccaneers to put that cap space to good use and lock up defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro, with a well-deserved, long-term contract extension. McCoy is entering a contract year this season and is set to earn $12,732,253 in base salary in 2014, which makes him the highest-paid Buccaneer now that Revis is gone.
Now I’m not the first to proclaim this idea as my esteemed colleague, Pat Yasinskas, Bucs beat writer for ESPN.com, beat me to the punch on this one last week.
The good news is that general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith feel the same way.
“I think it’s very important,” Smith said at the NFL Owners Meeting on Wednesday. “In an ideal situation, you do a great job of drafting players and then you reward your players that have come up through the system and done it the right way. The first guy to contact me when I was sitting in my basement down there in Chicago was Gerald McCoy. [He said], ‘I can’t wait to get started.’ I followed him at the University of Oklahoma, his career that he had here, and for our defense, and there’s a reason why.
“[Bucs Hall of Fame defensive tackle] Warren [Sapp] will tell you it was just him, but it’s a position also where you need a special player and Gerald McCoy is that. The guys who drafted him did a great job. You know what he’s done in the community. I know right now coming in he’s going to be one of our leaders. Through free agency, [he said] ‘What can I do?’ Gerald was popping up on the phone quite a bit, texting me, excited about who we’re getting, what we’re doing with his new teammates. So yes, that is definitely a priority. He’s a guy that we definitely want around for a while, to say the least.”
McCoy, a man of impeccable character, faith and leadership qualities, has not only deserved a rich new contract extension, he has shown he can be trusted with his money. The Oklahoma product is already a multi-millionaire, which was assured the day he was selected third overall in the 2010 NFL Draft by Tampa Bay. The NFL didn’t have the rookie salary cap come into place until 2011, so McCoy has the luxury of a huge salary and bonuses in his final year that will push his total earnings north of $15 million.
But McCoy proved his responsibility with a large contract early on, making over $15 million in each of the first two seasons with huge roster bonuses. McCoy received a $3.6 million signing bonus in addition to his $2.295 million base salary and a $12.1925 million incentive bonus as a rookie in 2010. In 2011, McCoy had a modest base salary of $873,750 followed by a roster bonus of $12 million and an option bonus of another $9.975 million.
No one in Tampa Bay should be concerned about McCoy’s level of play or incentive declining with another huge payday. His level of performance has actually increased every year, evidenced by Pro Bowl selections in each of the last two years and a well-deserved All Pro honor in 2013.
McCoy plays the three-technique defensive tackle position, which is the most important role in the Tampa 2 defense, which primarily relies on pressuring the quarterback with four defensive linemen. That’s the primary reason why Smith and Licht want McCoy locked up. He’s the best at his position in the NFL, and it’s a position that’s awfully hard to find great players at.
In fact, the position is so important that the Bucs should still strongly consider drafting Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the winner of the Bronko Nagurski Award, the Outland Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award. The 6-foot-1, 285-pound Donald is the closest thing I have seen to Bucs legendary Hall of Famer Warren Sapp since No. 99 last wore red and pewter in 2003. Donald used his cat-like quickness and wicked swim move to record 59 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles last year.
Drafting Donald to be McCoy’s sidekick, would give the team a vital insurance policy at the three-technique as a safeguard in case McCoy gets hurt, an additional interior pass rusher, and an heir apparent at the position as McCoy just turned 26 in February. Donald, who turns 23 in May, could ensure longevity at the prime position in Smith’s defense for years to come.
Additionally, drafting Donald gives the Bucs a little bit of leverage in McCoy’s contract extension discussions with agent Ben Dogra – just in case the numbers start to get a little unrealistic. Former Bucs general manager Mark Dominik tried in vain to extend McCoy last December after Cincinnati Pro Bowler, Geno Atkins, who is generally regarded as the league’s best three-technique tackle, signed a five-year, $54.755-million extension.
Atkins’ deal averages just under $11 million per season and includes a $15 million signing bonus. That deal averages less per year than McCoy or Suh will make in 2014, and that’s why Dominik pursued it, but McCoy’s agents weren’t ready. Yet given the fact that Suh is a three-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro, compared to Atkins being just a two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro, it’s safe to say that either Suh or McCoy will drive the annual base salary price for defensive tackles north of $12 million.
Regardless of the amount, McCoy has proven he’s worth it.FAB 3. BUCCANEERS ORIGINALLY WANTED SUH, GOT THE BETTER DT IN THE END
The Buccaneers had designs on drafting Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh with the third overall pick in 2010, but knew that they would have to “settle” for Oklahoma junior defensive tackle Gerald McCoy as Suh was likely going to be selected second overall by Detroit. That’s what happened, as McCoy became Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 2010.
After writing a pre-draft column for PewterReport.com in 2010 about how more dominant Suh was than McCoy in college – and in the weight room – former Bucs head coach Raheem Morris called me and asked me to tone it down and not bash McCoy too much because he was likely going to be the Bucs’ pick. Morris really liked McCoy, so it wasn’t as if he was a consolation pick, but he didn’t want it to seem like Tampa Bay got the second-best defensive tackle in the draft. Morris even went so far as to proclaim McCoy to be the player the team wanted all along on draft day that year.
Upon meeting McCoy the day after the draft and seeing his infectious personality, and his desire to win and be the best, I immediately got on the McCoy bandwagon. Morris thanked me for having a positive view of McCoy after the Bucs’ drafted him, but it wasn’t at his urging. It was because of meeting McCoy. What struck me was his presence and his believability.
The son of a minister in Oklahoma and a man of faith, McCoy revealed to the Bucs beat writers in his initial interview that he never played with contacts, but desperately needed glasses to see off the field. However, once he got on the football field he didn’t need glasses as he could see as clear as crystal without them. It’s a miraculous story when you think about it, and McCoy said he was blessed. I believed him then and still do.
The first two years were rough as McCoy ended up on injured reserve in each of those seasons with torn biceps, while Suh posted 66 tackles, 10 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception in his rookie season alone. But once McCoy got healthy he used a swim move on the “bust label” he was being tagged with by some in the Tampa Bay area and lived up to his draft status as a dominant three-technique defensive tackle.
Over the past two years, McCoy has stayed healthy, starting all 16 games in each of the last two campaigns. As a result, he has posted comparable – or better – numbers than Suh, who has earned a league-wide reputation as a dirty player. McCoy has notched 80 tackles, 14.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery during the 2012-13 seasons, while Suh has posted 84 tackles, 13.5 sacks and one forced fumble over that span.
The arrow is pointing up for McCoy, who is coming off a career-best 9.5 sacks in 2013, while Suh had 5.5 sacks last year and is still trying to live up to his rookie season. Both are angling for new contracts prior to the 2015 seasons, and it will be interesting to see which player gets paid more when it’s all said and done.
It will likely be Suh, as he has only missed two games over the past four seasons and has 27.5 sacks compared to McCoy’s 18.5. By virtue of staying healthier, Suh’s production will probably warrant a slightly richer deal.
Regardless of which player gets the bragging rights after the contracts have been extended, in the end, the Buccaneers got the better defensive tackle in 2010 when you factor in leadership, character as well as the production.FAB 4. BUCCANEERS HAVE LEAGUE’S LOWEST DEAD SALARY CAP MONEY
Former Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik has been criticized for spending too much on free agents and a very spotty draft record during five-year reign in Tampa Bay, and rightly so as I pointed out in Fab 1. But one area he truly excelled in was salary cap management and he helped initiate a revolutionary approach that is still being used by director of football administration Mike Greenberg, general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith today in the halls of One Buccaneer Place.
That practice involves the use of guaranteed base salaries, typically the first two years of the contract, instead of a signing bonus. The genius is in its simplicity because the first year of a contract with any free agent is guaranteed in theory and reality. That free agent is going to be on the roster in the first year. If the signing doesn’t work out and the Bucs decide to move on after the first year, only the next year typically features guaranteed money and the cap hit is whatever the next base salary is.
That allowed the team to move on from right guard Davin Joseph and offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah to create some needed salary cap room in 2014 and beyond, and do so without any dead salary cap money. Left tackle Donald Penn was one of the last player extensions in Tampa Bay to have a signing bonus, and it was minimal in nature. Penn had a proration of his $2 million bonus accelerate in 2014, which contributed $666,666 worth of dead salary cap money this year because he had two years left on his contract.
Sometimes Dominik’s contracts featured three years of guaranteed money, which is the case of wide receiver Mike Williams. His base salary was guaranteed in 2013, and is guaranteed in 2014 ($1.2 million) and 2015 ($5.2 million). Sometimes the Bucs’ contracts didn’t feature any guaranteed money, which was the case of Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis. Tampa Bay could – and did – part ways with him two weeks ago without any salary cap ramification.
Currently, Tampa Bay has $805,787, according to OverTheCap.com
, which is easily the lowest dead money figure in the league. To put that number in perspective, only five teams have less than $3 million in dead money, and the next closest team to Tampa Bay is Indianapolis, which has $1,867,402. By comparison, 12 teams have at least $10 million in dead salary cap room in 2014, led by Dallas, which has a staggering $20,605,939.
The Bucs used to be like Dallas, and had to make some tough decisions, such as releasing strong safety John Lynch and others as salary cap casualties due to excessive spending in the early 2000s. Since Dominik took over in 2009, the Bucs’ salary cap has been in great shape – due to part to the team’s lack of spending until 2012. But even after signing several players, including wide receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks, free safety Dashon Goldson and Revis, among others, to staggering contracts, those deals were structured in a way that the Bucs could part ways with a player typically after the second year and not face any negative salary cap ramifications.
Dominik was an understudy of general managers Rich McKay and Bruce Allen as he spent 19 years in the Buccaneers organization. After being hired as a pro personnel assistant in 1995, Dominik was a part of the rise of Tampa Bay to a playoff contender in the late 1990s and eventually a Super Bowl champion in 2002. Before McKay left for Atlanta in 2003, he restructured several veteran contracts and doled out lavish pay raises to the likes of wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, defensive tackle Booger McFarland, kicker Martin Gramatica and made defensive end Simeon Rice the highest paid defensive player in the NFL.
Rice’s contract was so excessive at the time that he was the league’s highest-paid defender for three years. That typically doesn’t happen as a player will be the highest paid until the next year when another contract for another player will come along and top. That didn’t happen.
Rice signed a five-year, $41 million deal with Tampa Bay, including $20 million in bonuses back when the NFL salary cap was $75 million in 2003. Rice became the league’s first $8 million-per-year man, and his $20 million in bonus money topped the $19 million that Baltimore gave middle linebacker Ray Lewis a year earlier.
Tampa Bay’s excessive spending on players like Rice, who suffered a career-altering shoulder injury in 2005 that prompted his release the following year, put the team in such dire straits when it came to the salary cap that the Bucs were no longer in position to afford to re-sign wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who had a Pro Bowl season in 2003, or defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who was a cornerstone of the franchise.
Dominik knew that the Bucs couldn’t afford to return to the days where great players and team legends were sacrificed because of negligent cap management. So he instituted a policy of high guaranteed base salaries and little to no signing bonuses for players outside of rookies. That practice allowed Licht and Smith the ability to start free agency with over $18 million in salary cap room and to easily create more cap room by purging the team of some higher-priced veterans without the ramification of much dead salary cap space.
Thankfully this practice has been adopted and continued by Greenberg, and endorsed by the Glazers, as it will continue to serve this franchise well for the current new regime and beyond.FAB 5.
Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• There are still some Josh Freeman supporters out there who feel like he was wronged by former Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano. I was one of them initially, after he was released last October, until I got the full story from sources within the organization. Now, I realize that the Freeman situation in Tampa Bay is clouded with mystery and is still a hot topic for some Bucs fans.
I’ve said all I’m prepared to say about the matters surrounding his departure from Tampa Bay, but here’s a little interesting tidbit from NFL.com’s Gil Brandt, who spoke with Freeman at length last fall in Dallas.
“When the Vikings came to Dallas in November, I talked to Freeman – who was in street clothes – for about 30 minutes, and it didn't look like his mind was on football,” Brandt said. “When Freeman was jettisoned by the Bucs, ending a rocky relationship, I thought he still had a chance to do something in the NFL, because he did have some talent. But I think I was wrong about him. I'm not sure if he has the desire to get better. At this point, I think Vince Young, who is out of football altogether, is better than him.”
I have to agree wholeheartedly with Brandt. Freeman needs to get his life together before he wrecks any opportunity he might have left in the NFL. But it may be too late. Matt Schaub and Blaine Gabbert have been traded for and former backups Matt Cassell, Mark Sanchez and Michael Vick have been signed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Freeman goes unsigned this year or if he ever suits up for an NFL game again as his pro career is in the downward spiral. What a shame.
• I have to give good friend and colleague Luke Easterling of the TheDraftReport.com (follow him on Twitter @NFLDraftReport
), major props for his selection of Tampa Bay taking Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner in the second round of his latest Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft.
The 5-foot-8, 194-pound Joyner may be the hardest-hitting draft prospect pound-for-pound, evidenced by this highlight video.
But what Easterling alludes to and I’ll further point out is that Joyner started his career as a cornerback and a safety before being moved to nickel cornerback during his senior season.
Joyner had a career-high 5.5 sacks, four pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2013 while helping Florida State win a national title. He’s got 13 pass breakups, eight interceptions, 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in his Seminoles career and carries a second-round grade.
While I happen to like the versatility, size and ability of Oregon State’s Rashaad Reynolds, a third- or fourth-round prospect, a bit more, I can’t deny that Joyner would be an ideal fit for the dedicated role of nickel cornerback in Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 defense.
“Our No. 1 and No. 2 corner, whoever that is, they’re going to stay outside,” Smith told me at the NFL Owners Meeting. “Our nickel position is a position in itself. We have a coach, Larry Marmie, that will coach only it, and every second he has will have guys in the nickel room being coached at that position. As far as who that will be, that’s still up for debate right now. We have options, some that you mentioned and others that we have on the football team. But I see, as you look on the offensive side, really there are 12 positions. I count that third receiver as one and I count the nickel position as the 12th position on defense.”
• Some of you agreed with my opinion that it’s time for Tampa Bay to move on from wide receiver Mike Williams, and some of you are against my stance, stating that I’m jumping the gun with a knee-jerk reaction by suggesting to the Buccaneers to cut him. Bucs head coach Lovie Smith came out this week at the NFL Owners Meeting in Orlando, Fla. and said that he wasn’t going to cut Williams because he was the victim of a stabbing.
“I don’t believe a guy should get a death sentence on one infraction,” Williams said. “I made the statement that I’m not going to kick someone off the team based on them being a victim of what I was initially told. Again, you don’t get a (death) sentence from one incident.”
Nor should he, but a lot of Williams’ supporters, Bucs fans and even some in the media took Smith’s words at face value and wrongly assumed that the troubled wide receiver is safe and destined to be on Tampa Bay’s roster in 2014. Here is what Smith also said about Williams.
“You look for a pattern,” Smith continued. “If a player shows a pattern of behavior that we don’t feel like is what we want displayed by our Tampa Bay Buccaneers then more drastic measures come into play. I’m not to that point right now.”
The key words are “pattern of behavior” and “right now.” The fact that Williams has 16 traffic violations since 2010, a dropped DUI charge, a misdemeanor property damage and trespassing charge and five 911 calls from homes that he has occupied or rented within a six-month time span over the past year, in addition to racking up $43,000 in damage to a rented house, followed by doing or saying something to make his own brother want to stab him is a clear pattern of behavior to me.
This negative pattern of behavior with Williams’ off-field antics has embarrassed the organization and the Glazers. That was made clear when the Glazers spoke to the media on Tuesday.
However, Smith is going to cut him “right now” and let this incident play out in the courts while he gathers facts. He’s not going to cut Williams “right now” because he doesn’t want his perception of his players in the locker room to be one of being unfair and unjust.
While Williams was the victim of a stabbing by his brother, witnesses say there was an argument and an altercation and not horseplay, as Williams tried to suggest to the police. It is my belief that Williams will be released prior to training camp because of a pattern of behavior that has now escalated to the point of a violent exchange between Williams and his brother. What’s next?
The Bucs front office’s modus operandi this offseason is to cut players no longer valued by the franchise after a replacement has been secured. Starting right guard Davin Joseph was cut once Jamon Meredith was-resigned. Left tackle Donald Penn was released once Anthony Collins was acquired. Cornerback Darrelle Revis was jettisoned once Alterraun Verner was signed.
Tampa Bay may sniff around former Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who played for
Jeff Tedford at California and was just released by Philadelphia for wide receiver help, but look for the Bucs to draft a wide receiver or two in the 2014 NFL Draft, possibly Clemson’s Sammy Watkins in the first round. Then look for the team to part ways with Williams in May prior to the start of training camp.
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