The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began the 2015 free agency season by doing what most teams are doing – re-signing some of their own free agents. The Bucs kept seven free agents on their roster over the weekend, re-signing five unrestricted free agents and locking up two restricted free agents. Here is PewterReport.com’s breakdown of those signings:
Bucs’ Unrestricted Free Agents LB Jason Williams
The Buccaneers signed Williams in December last year when injuries hit the linebacker position hard. The chiseled, 6-foot-1, 245-pounder came through with three tackles on defense and four on special teams and really made his mark covering kicks and punts in Tampa Bay.
The Bucs love Williams’ size-speed combination and his hard-hitting ability. With a full offseason and training camp in Tampa Bay, the team is intrigued about his ability to compete at strongside linebacker, or perhaps middle linebacker, while providing sound depth at weakside linebacker, which is where he has the most experience from his days in Carolina.
Tampa Bay does need a starting-caliber middle linebacker to replace Mason Foster, but Williams’ re-signing at least shores up the outside linebacker position for the Bucs, as he joins Lavonte David, Danny Lansanah, Orie Lemon and Brandon Magee on the roster.
S Major Wright
Wright was re-signed to a two-year deal worth up to $4.25 million due to his improved play down the stretch and his intricate knowledge of the Tampa 2 defense, having played the scheme in both Chicago and Tampa Bay over the past five years. The team views Wright as having the ability to start on defense, but will be on the look out for a more talented starting candidate for the long-term. In the short-term, Wright provides good experience to start opposite Bradley McDougald if the overpaid Dashon Goldson is released, as expected.
With Wright as a starting-caliber player, the Bucs aren’t beholden to draft a safety in 2015, especially with a premium pick. That gives Tampa Bay a lot more flexibility in the upcoming draft to use a premium selection on the offensive line, which is a greater need.
Re-signing Wright, who had 51 tackles and a pass breakup last year, gives the Bucs six safeties, including he, Goldson, McDougald, Keith Tandy, M.D. Jennings and Shelton Johnson. That’s comforting, given the fact that the 2015 NFL Draft is not deep with quality or quantity at the safety position.
CB Mike Jenkins
Despite missing the final 15 games of the 2014 season after tearing a pectoral muscle in the season-opening loss to Carolina, the Bucs were able to stave off a developing market for the veteran cornerback by re-signing him to a one-year, $1.5 million deal. What Jenkins’ re-signing does for Tampa Bay is bolster the cornerback position where Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks, who led the team with four picks last year, enter the 2015 season as starters.
Jenkins had the edge on Banks for a starting spot heading into the 2014 campaign, and will provide competition for both he and Verner in training camp and provide insurance at the position in case of injury. Banks and Verner combined to miss three starts last year due to injury.
Because the 5-foot-10, 197-pounder is a true outside cornerback, he’s not expected to contend for the nickel cornerback spot. But Jenkins’ re-signing means that the Bucs likely won’t draft a cornerback in 2015, rather they’ll focus on finding a true nickel corner in free agency or the draft to compete with Isaiah Frey and restricted free agent Leonard Johnson, if he’s re-signed. In addition to Banks, Verner and Jenkins, Tampa Bay also has Brandon Dixon, C.J. Wilson and Jocquel Skinner on the roster.
TE Luke Stocker
Stocker was re-signed for three years by the Buccaneers due to his perimeter blocking skills. He caught just seven passes for 41 yards in Tampa Bay last year, but that’s not where his value is to Tampa Bay. Stocker is the best in-line blocker on the Bucs and that’s why he was retained on a very team-friendly deal.
Stocker increased his worth last year as a lead blocker in the backfield, subbing for a suspended and ultimately injured fullback Jorvorskie Lane last year and doing a very credible job. Stocker could see action at both tight end and fullback for the Bucs in 2015 in Dirk Koetter’s new offense.
The re-signing of Stocker gives the Bucs a full stable of tight ends, including starter Austin Seferian-Jenkins and backup Brandon Myers, in addition to developmental types in Cameron Brate and Taylor Sloat. Stocker’s addition means the Bucs don’t have to dedicate a draft pick to the tight end position in 2015.
DE Larry English
English was a reserve defensive end that got one start last year and finished the season with 12 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. Tampa Bay likes English’s experience, but he’s not necessarily a lock to make the team’s 2015 53-man roster.
English will be in the mix competing with Jacquies Smith, Will Gholston and T.J. Fatinikun, while defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers are not expected to be re-signed in free agency. The team is still pondering whether to keep or cut starting right defensive end Michael Johnson, who underwhelmed and disappointed in 2014 after being signed in free aegncy.
English gives the Bucs the versatility to play either left or right defensive end, and has experience in the Tampa 2 from being on the roster last year. His re-signing is an extra layer of insurance heading into training camp in case Johnson is released.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents LB Danny Lansanah
Tampa Bay loved the production it got out of Lansanah last year, which was a big surprise. After beating out Jonathan Casillas for the starting strongside linebacker role, Lansanah also got starts at middle linebacker and weakside linebacker when Mason Foster and Lavonte David were injured.
After totaling a career-high 78 tackles with eight pass breakups three interceptions, including two for touchdowns, and 1.5 sacks, Lansanah has earned the right to head into 2015 as the starting strongside linebacker. Working against Lansanah is the fact that he’s 29 years old despite entering his third year in the NFL.
While the Bucs have a vacancy at the Mike linebacker position, the team doesn’t view Lansanah as the long-term solution because despite the strides he’s made in pass coverage, he has a ways to go in that area, and the Bucs view him as only an above-average athlete. Tampa Bay likes his versatility and that’s the biggest reason why he was re-signed.
SS Bradley McDougald
The Bucs are incredibly high on McDougald and see him as one of the team’s two starting safeties in 2015. That’s why the team was quick to make a qualifying offer to this young, exclusive rights free agent.
The 6-foot-1, 209-pound McDougald has great size and hitting ability in run support as well as in pass defense across the middle. The team thought so high of McDougald that it traded away starter Mark Barron, a first-round pick in 2013, just to get him on the field more last season.
McDougald had a career-high 46 tackles, seven pass breakups and his first career interception, which came against New Orleans’ Drew Brees in Week 17. McDougald also forced an interception by defensive tackle Clinton McDonald on a hit against Cleveland tight end Gary Barnidge.
Tampa Bay’s Remaining Free Agents
DE Adrian Clayborn – UFA
MLB Mason Foster – UFA
DE Da’Quan Bowers – UFA
MLB Dane Fletcher – UFA
OL Oniel Cousins – UFA
DE Lawrence Sidbury – UFA
RB Bobby Rainey – RFA
CB Leonard Johnson – RFA
FB Jorvorskie Lane – RFA
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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