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OVERVIEW You can bank on Tampa Bay taking a defensive end in the 2006 NFL Draft.
Tampa Bay’s defense ranked No. 1 overall in the NFL last season, and DE Simeon Rice played an integral role in accomplishing that feat, notching 47 tackles, a team-leading 14 sacks and six forced fumbles.
The Bucs restructured several players’ contract this offseason in an effort to free up some much-needed salary cap room, but not Rice’s. The 32-year-old Rice has a base salary of $6 million and a team-high cap value of $9.2 million in 2006.
The 6-foot-5, 268-pound Rice has recorded 46.5 sacks over the past four seasons, and he’ll have to turn in another impressive season in 2006 in order to see the final year of his contract in 2007, which is when his cap value is scheduled to escalate to $10.450 million.
Last year, Rice was the subject of trade rumors on the eve of the NFL Draft, but those rumblings proved to be just that — rumors. Don’t look for the Bucs to shop Rice this year given their lack of depth and experience at the defensive end position.
Greg Spires (6-1, 265) likely will start at left end again this season. Tampa Bay was attempting to rework Spires’ deal earlier this offseason, but it freed up the cap room it needed by reworking other players’ deals instead.
Spires, who turns 32 in August, quietly recorded 57 tackles and four sacks in 2005. He has a $1 million base salary and $3.467 million cap value in 2006. In 2007, Spires’ base salary shoots up to $2 million and he’s due a $1 million roster bonus in March. However, Spires’ cap value is scheduled to remain $3.467 million in 2007.
Tampa Bay will be in better shape salary cap-wise next year, but there’s a good chance that Rice /or Spires could become a cap casualty in 2007.
The Bucs are looking for more ways to get Dewayne White on the field this season. White (6-2, 273) notched 30 tackles and three sacks while playing a reserve role.
The former second-round draft pick made a couple of critical plays last season, including blocking a potential game-winning field goal attempt by Atlanta in overtime in Week 16 of the regular season, and scooping up a fumble and returning it for a touchdown in Tampa Bay’s regular season finale against New Orleans.
While he can play at right end, White seems best suited to play on the left side, and he’s capable of playing the under tackle position on passing downs. White is expected to push Spires for the starting job and playing time in training camp and preseason. But the more White sees the field and make plays, the more he’ll be asking for when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2007.
Andrew Williams, who spent all of the 2005 regular season on Tampa Bay’s practice squad, is a player the Bucs are high on. However, he lacks playing experience in the pros and is considered an unproven player. Williams (6-2, 280) is entering his third year in the pros, which means he’s scheduled to become a restricted free agent in 2007.
With White and Williams’ best playing days in front of them, expect Tampa Bay to draft a player that is best suited for the right end position.
The Bucs will consider using their first-round pick on Tamba Hali (Penn State) or Manny Lawson (North Carolina State) if one of both of those players falls to them at No. 23.
Virginia Tech’s Darryl Tapp is a player the Bucs love and would consider taking with their second-round selection. Stanley McClover (Auburn), Victor Adeyanju (Indiana) and Mark Anderson (Alabama) are possibilities in the third round.
Jeremy Mincey (Florida) and Parys Haralson (Tennessee) could be players of interest in rounds 4-5, and Charles Bennett (Clemson), Frostee Rucker (USC), Willie Evans (Mississippi State) and Chris Gocong (Cal Poly) are late-round candidates.
With Rice and Spires getting expensive and older, and White scheduled to become a UFA in 2007, don’t be surprised if the Bucs invest as many as two of their 10 draft picks on a defensive end.
Current Position Grade: B+
Bucs Update Publishing Schedule April 25 – Defensive Tackles April 26 – Linebackers April 27 – Cornerbacks April 27 – Safeties April 28 – Kickers/Punters
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