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OVERVIEW Tampa Bay is awfully thin at the offensive tackle position headed into the 2005 season. However, free agency is ongoing and the NFL Draft has yet to take place.
Don’t be surprised to see some changes along the Bucs’ offensive line next season, and the tackle spots could be the first to get revamped.
Bucs right tackle Todd Steussie, who was benched in favor of Kenyatta Walker in Week 5 last season, appears to be on the way out, and that was before reports surfaced alleging his steroid use as a Carolina Panther and Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Steussie has a $2.66 million cap value in 2005, and if Tampa Bay were to release him now it would take an additional $1 million cap hit, which the cap-strapped Bucs certainly can’t afford.
However, releasing Steussie after June 1 is a possible and likely maneuver. Such a move would clear out $2 million in cap room this year and would spread out the remaining portion of his prorated signing bonus ($2.66 million) to 2006.
If Steussie’s alleged steroid use is admitted or proven, could the Bucs actually take him to an arbitrator in an attempt to get a portion of his $4 million signing bonus returned?
While such a move could give the Bucs some much-needed cap relief, the investigation into whether or not Steussie actually took steroids as a Buccaneer is ongoing, so even if there is a clause in his contract that would allow the team to take such action against him, the cap relief wouldn’t be awarded until 2006 at the earliest.
“The NFL has been investigating,” said Bucs general manager Bruce Allen. “Until they reach a conclusion, there isn’t anything we can do.”
Although his play was somewhat improved last season, Walker (6-5, 302) could also become a cap casualty after June 1, but the Bucs would probably have to have a better player under contract before they would part ways with Walker, who was selected by the Bucs in 2001 after they traded away their first- and second-round picks to the Bills in order to get him.
The 2005 season is scheduled to be Walker’s last year under contract. Releasing Walker, who was scheduled to make $690,000 in base salary before reaching a playing-time incentive in his deal that increased his base salary to $2.5 million this year, could create approximately $2.5 million in cap room this year and would push the remaining $903,000 of his prorated signing bonus over to the ’06 salary cap if the move was made after June 1.
Although he is regarded as a finesse player and lacks consistency and play-recognition skills, Walker could turn out to be the Bucs’ best option at right tackle in 2005.
Don’t look for starting left tackle Derrick Deese to go anywhere this season. The 6-foot-4, 311-pounder has a fairly good value this year. His cap value is just $2.137 million, and the Bucs would only save about $300,000 by releasing him before June 1.
However, just because Deese probably won’t be released doesn’t mean he’ll be Tampa Bay’s starting left tackle again in 2005. The Bucs expect Anthony Davis (6-4, 329) to compete for that job this season, and some within the organization believe the 25-year-old Davis will beat out the 34-year-old Deese in training camp and preseason.
Davis is easily Tampa Bay’s biggest offensive lineman, and he has impressive athletic ability for his size. He really impressed during the 2004 training camp and preseason while starting three exhibition games at left tackle in place of the injured Deese.
While Davis lacks playing experience, the Bucs are confident he’ll earn a starting job this season, which is why Allen attempted to re-sign the exclusive rights free agent to a long-term deal before inking him to a one-year contract on Monday. Although Davis can play at both tackle positions, he’s best suited on the left side.
If this scenario does indeed play out, Davis would start at left tackle and the versatile Deese would likely be moved inside to either replace Matt Stinchcomb at left guard or Cosey Coleman, who signed with Cleveland this offseason, at right guard.
Although Jeb Terry (6-5, 311) was drafted to play guard last season, he spent some playing time in preseason at right tackle. While the Bucs would love to see him improve his pass protection skills, Terry is currently pencilled in to succeed Coleman as Tampa Bay’s starting right guard, which means Deese, who has played every position on the offensive line during his 13-year career, could stay on the left side of the O-line.
The only other tackle the Bucs currently have under contract is Mitch White (6-4, 311), who will likely just be a training camp and preseason body.
BOTTOM LINE Tampa Bay could use upgrades at both offensive tackles spots, but it doesn’t have the funds to do it through free agency and the draft probably won’t lend itself to doing that either since the Bucs aren’t prepared to take an offensive lineman with their first-round pick (No. 5 overall).
That’s why the Bucs are counting on Davis to push Deese for the starting left tackle spot. If Davis can win that job, Deese could serve as an upgrade at the left guard position, which would essentially allow the Bucs to upgrade their O-line without having to sign one free agent in the process.
There are still a few tackles available in free agency, including Seattle’s Chris Terry, Buffalo’s Marcus Price, Jacksonville’s Bob Whitfield, Carolina’s Matt Willig and Chicago’s Aaron Gibson and Washington’s Kenyatta Jones, but it’s difficult to gauge Tampa Bay’s interest in these players at the moment since the team doesn’t have the money to sign them.
The Bucs are interested in drafting a right tackle in April. The collegiate players that are flying under Tampa Bay’s radar include Mississippi’s Marcus Johnson (6-6, 321) Alabama’s Wesley Britt (6-7, 314), Florida State’s Ray Willis (6-5, 327) and Virginia Tech’s Jon Dunn (6-7, 328).
Current Position Grade: C+
Bucs Update Publishing Schedule (Dates Subject To Change) April 1 – Centers/Guards April 4 – Defensive Ends April 6 – Defensive Tackles April 8 – Linebackers April 12 – Cornerbacks April 14 – Safeties April 16 – Kickers/Punters
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