Bucs G J.R. Sweezy - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Buccaneers received some good news while in Mobile, Ala. for the 2017 Reese’s Senior Bowl scouting for this year’s upcoming draft. Tampa Bay guard J.R. Sweezy has been given a clean bill of health.
“He was actually cleared so he can begin football activities,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht told PewterReport.com at the Senior Bowl.
Sweezy, who was one of Licht’s biggest free agent ventures last year, missed the entire 2016 offseason, training camp and regular season due to a back injury he suffered after the former Seattle Seahawk signed a five-year, $32.5 million contract that included $14.5 million in guaranteed money. That injury, and a setback after surgery, prevented him from even practicing a single down with the team last year. Sweezy was signed to replace veteran Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins, who retired following the 2015 campaign.
Bucs G J.R. Sweezy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
In a veteran free agent class that also included hits in cornerback Brent Grimes and punter Bryan Anger, two Pro Bowl alternates, along with defensive end Robert Ayers, Jr., Sweezy was an obvious miss due to his injury.
When Sweezy returns to the Bucs in April when players are allowed to report for offseason workouts he won’t automatically step into a starting role due to his rich contract, however. Kevin Pamphile, who stepped in at left guard during Sweezy’s absence in 2016, played well in his first season as a starter and the team was quite pleased with his performance.
“I joke with Kevin all the time that he’s going to get paid a lot of money,” Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson said. “Nobody expected him to be the starting left guard going into the season, but due to circumstances he was the starting left guard and played well. He’s going to be a good player for us and he’s going to make a lot of money.
“That’s going to be a tough situation when Sweezy comes back. Two guys like that competing for that job. Wow, man. I just want to sit back and see how it unfolds. It’s going to be a battle.”
Sweezy’s return gives Tampa Bay a sixth starting-caliber offensive lineman, including center Joe Hawley, a two-year starter, who is slated for free agency. But which five will start and who will be the Bucs’ left guard?
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter indicated that will be decided after free agency, but noted that the team had several options.
“That’s our general philosophy, to get our best five guys on the field and from there you might have to adjust it or what happens most time is injuries force you to have to adjust it,” Koetter said. “We believe in cross-training guys so you’re always going to cross-train as many guys that can handle it. You can never have enough guys that can also snap the ball.
“We have a few different ways we can go based on free agency, and then also based on J.R.’s status, but I don’t think Kevin Pamphile should be looking over his shoulder more than anyone else. I know Kevin was disappointed and hurt when we didn’t just automatically elevate him when Logan retired and I think Kevin came in and showed he’s a capable starter. We’re not by any means just saying that J.R. would come in and take Kevin’s place.”
Bucs LG Ali Marpet and C Evan Smith – Photo by Cliff Welch/PR
Sweezy received a $4.5 million base salary and a $5 million roster bonus in 2016, and is due to make $2.5 million in base salary this year in addition to a $2.5 million roster bonus. He could battle Pamphile start at left guard or possibly even start at right guard as the team has contemplated moving Ali Marpet to center if it can’t re-sign Hawley.
“Ali and Evan Smith are both options [at center],” Koetter said. “We’ve always felt that it was a possibility long-term that Ali could end up at center but when we had two proven starting-caliber centers, two guys that have started a fair amount of games in their career in Joe and Evan, we just felt it wasn’t in our best interest for these last two years anyway. That all ties back into [versatility and competition] so either one of those scenarios could happen.”
Licht also threw Pamphile’s name into the conversation at center.
“Kevin can snap,” Licht said. “Yeah we do have some options. We signed James Stone, who has some experience as a center and stepped in for Joe at Atlanta. It’s always good to have guys that have versatility. We preach about it all the time but in this case we do have a lot of guys that can snap the ball. Joe has proven that he can play in this league and we’re definitely not trying to move on from Joe. We’d like to have him back.
“Joe’s another one that’s done a really nice job for us and he’s been the glue in the offensive line room. He’s a great leader and he’s very tough, obviously. But he’s one that we have been talking with, and if it makes sense for both of us we’d love to have him back.”
The 28-year old Hawley told PewterReport.com that he would love to come back to Tampa Bay to finish his playing days.
“I really like this team,” Hawley said. “The culture here is really changing and is changing fast. I really enjoy being around all the guys. We have a great locker room. Obviously, it’s a business at this point, and hopefully I’m going to get what I deserve. I’m hoping this team pays up. It’s a place I would really like to play and finish my career up.”
Sweezy’s return and the potential re-signing of Hawley would only bolster’s Tampa Bay line, which features Marpet, Pamphile left tackle Donovan Smith and right tackle Demar Dotson and two reserves the team is very high on from a year ago in tackle Leonard Wester and guard-tackle Caleb Benenoch. That is eight out of the nine or 10 offensive linemen that the team feels good about that figure to make the 53-man roster in 2017.
Bucs C Joe Hawley- Photo by Cliff Welch/PR
That could prompt the Bucs to stand pat along the offensive line this year while addressing other needs, although Licht didn’t rule out drafting another lineman – possibly late.
“It’s a possibility but I think you always need to keep an eye on developing young offensive linemen,” Licht said. “The Kevin Pamphiles of the world are hard to find. He played solid for us this year and all those guys did well. I think, like Dirk has said before, we are fine with our offensive linemen. We thought they played solid. But yeah, we could [draft someone]. I’m always going to keep an eye on offensive linemen in the draft. I’m not singling any particular person out and saying we need to upgrade that position. Let’s just say if Sweezy’s on our team he can be the prized free agent this year. We’ll throw him in the mix and there will be some different combinations that we go with.
“But I’m pretty excited about the development of these guys. Donovan Smith has played every snap for the last two years. That’s very hard to do and he’s still young. He’s very smart, he’s tough and he has the potential to be very, very good. These young guys do develop. People seem to pick on him, but he’s getting better. He played well during the second half of the year. He took some lumps there for a while, but he’s a young left tackle that’s very big and athletic. He’s a guy you go ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ sometimes with. He’s a very talented athlete, especially for his size, and I’m excited about his future and continuing to work with him. He’s not somebody we’re looking to get better than. It would be hard to replace him.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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
Licht just hurt a lot some armchair GMs’ feeling talking about Donovan Smith there.
PR and a number of posters still seem to be confusing the definition of ‘Starters’ which in Bucs parlence in many areas of chronic need such as OL means ‘the best we have available ‘ with true ‘Starting Caliber’ players which to the rest of the league means those who are talented enough to actually start on playoff caliber teams.
But don’t take it from me, what do I know – here’s the opinion of folks who review every snap – Pro Football Focus:
18. Houston Texans…”We have reached the point in the list where every remaining O-line is, at best, severely flawed….”
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers…The left side of the Buccaneers’ line was a real problem area, with the play of LT Donovan Smith proving to be a real issue. Smith surrendered 57 total QB pressures and 14 penalties over his season, with Kevin Pamphile inside of him chipping in with 32 pressures of his own….
Well, good. We paid him too much money to not suit up for us. He’s a run blocking beast at RG. While I’d still like to upgrade the OL in the next year or two, he’s a part of that upgrade. The OL has depth and versatility. I’d like to bring back Hawley as a backup. Cut E. Smith and Cherilus loose. With a more solid anchor at C, the OL improves, Dirks long developing routes will have a chance to get open and Jameis has time to survey the field/find open receiver.
LT – Smith
LG – Pamp/Caleb battle it out
C – Marpet
RG – Sweezy
RT – Dot/Pamp/Caleb battle it out
Wester, Hawley, Gottschalk, Allen as primary backups.
I have no training or expertise to make the following suggestions other than my penchant for taking wild a$$ guesses on many various and sundry subjects. lol.
First, this is good news and the football gods willing, Sweezy is in physical shape to compete for a starting OG position. I like the idea of moving Marpet to Center. He’s smart, strong, and simply looks the part. Given that Sweezy has not played in a year, I would leave him at RG – a position we know that he has played well. I would leave Kevin Pamphile at LG and let Caleb Benenoch push him for the starting role.
I would re-sign Hawley and let Evan Smith walk. Like Horse, I believe Gottschalk is great depth while he puts on another 10 pounds of muscle. I really like the way the Bucs are positioned with youth on the O-Line that can grow together.
If the Bucs do not want to move Marpet to Center, here’s a thought as I continue to support fair employment for old men. Lol.
The Ravens are projected to have barely $15mil in cap room and have the greatest number of players over 30 in the NFL. They have expressed an interest in getting younger and relieving cap space.
Former Buc center Jeremy Zuttah (30) has been identified as a potential cap casualty. Coincidentally Zuttah was just named to the Pro Bowl to replace Pittsburgh’s Maurkice Pouncey. If Zuttah hits the street, he could be one of those quality 2nd tier FAs that Licht is fond of. Zuttah has 1 year left on a 4 year contract that averages 4.1mil a year.
If Hawley leaves in FA or the Bucs decide to not re-sign him, Zuttah could be a short-term stop gap while we develop our younger men and he would be a definite improvement. Not suggesting they do this, just something to keep an eye on.
That’s an interesting suggestion, Macabee … experienced depth at a fair price seems to be the way that Jason Licht tends to go anyway. Zuttah might be good for two or three more seasons.
I wouldn’t sign Hawley. I don’t care who we get, just not Hawley or or E. Smith.
And just who do you have in mind to replace our centers? Drum roll please,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Benny Gottschalk!
Marpet, Zuttah, any other free agent. The Center spot over and over got crushed/collasped/missed assignments. There’s enough film for me that supports the Center is the weakest position on our OL. Just my opinion though.
Good news, certainly, on Sweezy. Our offensive line is extremely far from being set, and while the younger guys are learning, there’s no substitute for proven experience on a quality team that Sweezy brings.
Every season needs to be a season where we’re upgrading the O-line. There’s just too many members of that unit who are getting older, getting injured, or simply underperforming to ever say it’s a finished work.
The Bucs should still sign Ron Leary to play one guard spot. Let Pamphile and Sweezy battle it out for the other guard spot and move Ali to center. That would fortify the middle of the line then allow Pamphile to be the swing guard/center if he losses the battle to Sweezy in camp. Not against Zuttah coming back either if that is a real option although I would prefer we took a look at the Wagner their RT who also would be back as an option to upgrade that spot and then force Dotson to battle Benenoch for swing tackle duties. Turn up the heat on the OL in training camp and make these guys earn the right to protect Jameis and create some excellent depth in the process.
Look mom it’s Sweezy !!!!!!
I only see one cut for a O Lineman this year. That’s Evans, he has really been abysmal for us. Mac had a good point, bring back Zuttah if available. Is that another Dominick screw up? Hard to keep track of all the dumb a$$ moves he made.
I can’t see putting Marpet in as center though. Could he do it? Yes, but he is becoming a pro bowl caliber guard, and that is where he should stay.
Looks like we can scratch off OL man in the first round of the draft.
Now we can get DL man first round.
Or….. throw McCoy money at either Kwan Short or Donteri Poe in free agency and watch out. McCoy and either of those guys would be an awesome center for the D Line.
I like the idea to bring back Zuttah, I never understood why we let him go in the first place!
When he was here he NEVER got the chance to play Center all year because of injury’s to other players,he proved to be very versatile playing both guard position s and Center.
Sorry .. I’m not sure I like Hawley’s attitude. Does he think he’s All Pro Center and the Bucs should overpay for him? We picked him up off the scrap heap. No other team rushed to sign him. Let the market settle and then make s reasonable offer if available or refuse to match a high offer from another team.
WTF is with Hawley’s self righteousness…. “and hopefully I’m going to get what I deserve. I’m hoping this team pays up”?! That is coming from a position that was in my opinion the weakest part of our OL! Who says “I’m hoping this Team pays up”??? “This team”??? How about “our Team or my Team”?
Very poor. Very disappointing. The Sweezy announcement is positive. Maybe these comments are too and will point to an easy decision to move on from Hawley. Continuity is at a premium as well as the right mindsets and I think Hawley’s comments show his “me” mentality. Move on!
Nothing self-righteous about stating the fact that is true for all NFL players – he is an independent contractor who is a proven performer and wants to be paid a market rate.
This isn’t pickup football in the neighborhood – it’s a business.
What makes him feel the sense of entitlement and package that with a comment like “I’m hoping this Team pays up”??? Very poor choice of words and sentiment. Again, I go back to his poor play and the middle of the line exposing your most important piece of this puzzle in Jameis Winston. Proven performer would not be what I call Joe Hawley. But hey we all have our opinions…
And thanks for the education on this not being football in the neighborhood.
You’re welcome … apparently you don’t understand the difference.
In pickup football, you’re not expected to talk up your value. In business you are. Hawley, like all pro football players, is a business man.
Our head coach says he likes Hawley a lot.
You blatantly missed the whole point in my original AND follow up comment. This guy has not performed at a high enough level to warrant the type of comment that he made. MY OPINION. Your nonsense of “not understanding the difference of pickup football” and patronization does not make YOU correct. These are opinions. Coach Koetter is never going to come out and say anything derogatory towards one of his players.
My point originally was more about the tone or the way to communicate as opposed to “I’m hoping this team pays up”. Kinda Neanderthal-ish and very unprofessional.
I get your point Philly. Yes, every employee, or as Naples put it, “independent contractor”, wants to maximize their earnings and hopes the employer or client sees his worth through the same lens. Hawley is no different than any of us. That said, in many of our views, (especially Horse) Hawley’s performance this past season didn’t exactly warrant a demand by him to “pay up”. Licht just might look at his film and reply, “You’re lucky to have a job at all.” Hawley deserves and should expect to be paid as a mediocre, journeyman borderline starting center……whatever $ that is. If he thinks he’s worth more he can find another team who agrees with him. Nothing personal. Just like the real world.
What a way to go out on a vacation, Scubog agrees we need a better Center!
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