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There have been a ridiculous number of rumors surrounding the 2007 NFL Draft over the past month or so.
Most of the rumors are nothing more than that. In some instances, teams are putting information out there to create smokescreens. That might explain why the Detroit Lions, for example, have been rumored to trade up, trade down, select tackle Joe Thomas, running back Adrian Peterson, quarterback Brady Quinn and now defensive end Gaines Adams.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have also been the subject of some of the league’s more interesting rumors, including their alleged interest in trading defensive end Simeon Rice and the No. 4 overall pick in the draft to the Detroit Lions in exchange for their No. 2 overall pick.
On Monday evening, NFL Network reported that the Bucs had emerged as a team that is interested in trading for Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs, who is not happy about getting franchised and wants a long-term contract.
Is Tampa Bay really interested in Briggs? Of course they are. The Bucs are attempting to get younger on defense, especially at linebacker, where Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles are 34 and 35, respectively.
A 10-time Pro Bowler, Brooks has shown signs of slowing down. However, he’s still a great leader and mentally sharp. He recorded a team-high 150 tackles and three interceptions last season.
But the Bucs do have some concerns about the fact that Brooks is slowing down. Much of his game has been built on speed, and much of Monte Kiffin’s defense has been built around Brooks.
Briggs, 26, is considered a younger version of Brooks. He’s a Pro Bowler and has helped Chicago establish itself as one of the league’s better defenses under head coach Lovie Smith, who is running a defense that’s similar to the Tampa 2.
But Tampa Bay’s interest in Briggs probably isn't anything more than a simple inquiry and a case of Bucs general manager Bruce Allen doing his due diligence before the 2007 NFL Draft is held this weekend.
While Briggs would be a great successor to Brooks, the Bucs might already have his successor on their roster.
Tampa Bay convinced LB Jamie Winborn not to buy himself out of the final year of his contract and it has moved him over to the weak side to play behind Brooks.
Winborn, who recorded 14 special teams tackles while seeing a limited amount of playing time on defense last year, might also be given the opportunity to compete with Ryan Nece and newcomer Cato June for the starting strongside linebacker spot.
The Bucs and Winborn’s agent have been working on a new contract for the 27-year old linebacker. The two sides are said to be making progress on that front.
The Bucs are also anxious to get 2005 second-round draft pick, Barrett Ruud, on the field more this year. The team pushed Shelton Quarles’ $1 million roster bonus back to May 1, and they will avoid paying him that bonus by releasing Quarles before this weekend's draft.Â
Quarles, who notched 136 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season despite playing in just 12 games, has spent the offseason undergoing tests to determine whether he’s healthy enough to continue playing football. It is unclear which ailment(s) are in question, but Quarles did not pass the Bucs' physical, which is one of the reasons for his release.Â
The Bucs are currently discussing the possibility of having Quarles work for the organization in another capacity. Those discussions are expected to continue in the next few months.
The Bucs will create over $3 million in cap room by parting ways with Quarles. This move also paves the way for Ruud, who notched 59 tackles and 12 special teams takedowns in 2006, to enter the starting lineup on a full-time basis.
Tampa Bay likes Briggs, but it is not willing to give Chicago its first-round draft pick for him. Some in the Bucs organization feel they could already have their future trio of linebackers in June, Ruud and Winborn. It’s just a matter of when and where they play.
June, 27, will initially start on the strong side, but he could eventually find himself over on the weak side when Brooks is no longer playing with the Bucs. While he’s undersized, June has tremendous speed and should immediately upgrade the strongside linebacker position, especially in pass coverage.
Even with Quarles gone, there’s a chance Kiffin will use the talent he has at linebacker to his advantage by implementing some creative defensive sets, including the 3-4 scheme, which would allow Brooks, June, Ruud and Winborn to be on the field at the same time.
Nece, 28, recorded 96 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year. While the Bucs felt they could use an upgrade on the strong side, Nece is still considered a capable backup and solid special teams contributor, which increases his chances of sticking around in 2007.
Linebacker Antoine Cash might have to show more than special teams ability (17 tackles in 2006) in order to secure a spot on Tampa Bay’s active roster. Evan Benjamin will be hard pressed to make the team in 2007.
By releasing Quarles, the Bucs likely will use a draft pick on a middle linebacker. They are interested in several players, including Michigan's Davis Harris, Hampton's Justin Durant and Kansas State's Zach Diles.Â
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